|Westfield: How did you become involved with the Black Widow mini-series?
Devin Grayson: Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada were two of the first pros I met after breaking into the industry, and as nearly everyone does, I adored them immediately. Though most pros in this really relatively small industry are friendly with one another, I count Jimmy and Joe as actual friends, and had discussed work and life with them many times, counting myself truly fortunate to have such great counsel available (both of them are wicked smart - believe it!). Some time after they formed Marvel Knights, they called to ask if I'd be interested in doing a Black Widow project for them - they already had J.G. lined up for it, and faxed over some of his work, which was amazing. It just instantly seemed like a fantastic team to be involved with, and, as a primarily DC-educated comic buff, Natasha is one of the few Marvel characters I knew anything about, so despite a long-running reluctance to attach myself to work that could be perceived as primarily "female" in nature, I said yes almost immediately.
And it was one of the most enjoyable, hassle-free projects I've ever worked on - Jimmy and Joe had no real agenda for the story, save that it be "cool," and maybe introduce Natasha to a few newer readers who may not have been familiar with her, so I got to choose themes close to my heart. I was also afforded the opportunity to discuss the project with Kurt Busiek, who of course writes Natasha in The Avengers - he was very supportive and generous with his help, making time at a busy convention to sit with me and go over some initial approaches. He also passed on some fantastic ideas given to him by Joe Kelly. It was really the ideal creative situation, where you have lots of support early on, but then get left completely alone to do your work. And then of course watching the pages come in later from J.G. was just fantastically exciting all over again.
Westfield: What can you tell us about the Black Widow mini-series?
Grayson: The story is a sort of a James Bond jet-setting spy-thriller with some very film noir sensibilities. A French scientist has invented a new bio-serum which works very much like the super soldier serum, granting tremendous strength and invulnerability to those exposed to it - only there's a catch. It also accelerates the aging process - so much so that anyone exposed to it literally ages and dies within two to four minutes of exposure! During that time period, though, they're unstoppable fighting demons, impervious to pain or fear. Natasha is contacted by both the American and Russian governments and instructed to get the bio-toxin away from the Rhapastan military, who are in possession of it when our story begins. That quest, which takes Natasha from New York to Rhapastan, and even through Paris and on to Zurich, turns out to be the least of her problems. In addition to this case, she becomes aware of being stalked by a younger woman, Yelena Belova, who is intent on becoming the new Black Widow - and willing to kill Natasha to do it!
Daredevil Matt Murdock makes a cameo in this three part story, with just the most incredible pencils and ink job by J.G. Jones, colored by Brian Haberlin, and edited by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti. This is my first work for Marvel, and I'm thrilled to have had a chance both to work with these extraordinary characters, and also this extraordinary creative team.
Westfield: How do you think your approach to the character of Black Widow differs from what others have done?
Grayson: For me, the key note to Natasha's character was discipline. This woman has been a spy most of her life, and before that, she was a Soviet/Russian trained ballerina - the control that kind of training takes is all but unimaginable to most of us, the grace and the economy, the absolute efficiency of every word and gesture. I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would mean to be able to do that, and what it would mean to complete that training and excel at that kind of work. At some level, you would have to give up a lot of what made you unique, because you would always have to be able to blend in, you could never risk leading your enemies back to your employers. But Natasha is a woman with a rich history and a wonderful, inherent sense of style - so what does it mean for her to be essentially able to suppress that? How long can you lie to other people about who you are and still be confident that you know yourself?
I also tried to carry those ideas into the actual structure of the story. For instance, I made a conscious decision not to use the first-person caption narration I use in Catwoman, because I don't believe that Natasha could afford to be generous about voicing or sharing an internal narrative - not even with herself. In many ways, underneath the adventure, we ended up using a rather reflective, quiet kind of storytelling, for which, of course, comics is an excellent medium.
Westfield: Would you like to write more Black Widow stories once this one is finished?
Grayson: I very much enjoyed getting to know Natasha and her world, and would happily do more work with her for Jimmy and Joe in the future should they ask.
Westfield: Could this lead to a Black Widow / Catwoman crossover?
Grayson: Oh (laughs) I don't know, that sounds awfully sticky! And really, aside from me (and aside from both being female - and don't get me started on that!), those two characters don't have any real reason to communicate - both are independent and suspicious of new people in their lives, and Selina, in particular, is very much a loner. Through the Avengers, Natasha's developed a healthy social support system, but she still doesn't strike me as the type of woman who loves having to work with or against strangers when it can be helped. We could always fabricate a reason for them to meet, I suppose, but frankly, corporate politics aside, it would be enormously difficult to craft a story that convincingly brought them together while giving both women enough space to do their thing. In a sense, they're both cut from a similar archetypal cloth, and it might be a mistake to crowd them together.
Westfield: Are there any characters you'd like to write that you haven't yet?
Grayson: Actually, I've been tremendously fortunate - I've already had the chance to work with all the characters I initially set out to get to know. I think it might be fun to play with Ghostrider some day, and I'd like to do something with Gambit and Nightwing roaming around New Orleans one of these days, but I have a very full plate right now, filled with projects I really care about, so I'm quite satiated.
Westfield: Would you like to say something about other projects you're working on?
Grayson: Actually, right this minute, in addition to the wonderful Titans mania and Catwoman, I'm working with Vertigo editor Joan Hilty on a three-part Prestige format creator-owned project called MUN. The story is about archetype integration, familial pathology, and online role-play gaming, with the virtual world painted and the real world rendered in pencils. We were fortunate enough to get John Bolton for the painting and Sean Philips for the pencils, so this should just be a gorgeous book! It won't show up until winter, though
So in the meantime, I have a four-part Huntress/Scarecrow arc, Fear of Faith, coming out in the Batbooks No Man's Land in February, with penciller Dale Eaglesham. And this spring, DCU will be releasing a six-part debut of my creator-owned DCU team, The Weinbergs.
The book itself will have a different title (we're getting legal clearance on one right now), but I couldn't be more excited about this project and can't wait to start talking about it more - these kids are truly my babies! In a sense, The Weinbergs is my way of using some of my pre-comic-reading-days sensibilities about characters and story-telling to celebrate my newfound love of the medium. When working on JLA/Titans, I was very aware that that project was something of a love-letter to the die-hard fans - it's not a book I would hand to someone unfamiliar with comics. But The Weinbergs was crafted with my non-comic-book-reading friends and family very much in mind - it's meant to be accessible to a very wide audience, and it's the kind of project that really makes me wish there were easier ways to get information about comics out to people who don't normally read them. It was so exciting to "discover" comics in my early twenties, and then to watch my friends and family start to get turned on by them. My mom, a family therapist, now takes comic books to meetings of the American Psychological Association, and reports that they love them there - I just think that's so cool, and as hard a time as the industry is having, I truly believe that the medium is viable, young, and nowhere near to having maxed out on its audience potential. The Weinbergs is my way of saying, look, this stuff's not so scary, it's not all "super" this and "uncanny" that - the stories can be character-driven, you may find you can relate to some of them, and its totally worth checking out. And that this is a DCU book, and I'm able to say all of this from within the superhero genre, is really exciting to me.
And matching my enthusiasm is our artist Yvel Guichet, who just knocked me and editor Jordan Gorfinkel out with his character designs for these kids, and then again later with his pages. I gave him some difficult shots and he just basically kicked their ass! As much as I'm writing from a very new, atypical place here, Yvel has brought this tremendously fresh, exciting, urban sensibility into the art. You can see immediately that it's something new and different. We were at a meeting a month or so ago, and he turned to me with this kind of sly smile on his face, shook his head, and said, "you've got a weird sense of humor..." and I knew right then that he "got" it, that he was willing to take risks and have fun with the art side of it, which was crucial. And editor Jordan Gorfinkel also so clearly "gets" it, and has been enormously supportive, for which I feel very grateful. It's really been a joy to produce, and I really hope that carries, I hope people enjoy reading it even half as much as we enjoyed making it. Keep an ear out for the book's final title!