When I first heard about the recently published YA book about the popular Marvel character Black Widow, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Most of my experience with the character of Black Widow has been from the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films and while I’d always praised her as one of the most bad-ass members of The Avengers, I hadn’t really dug into the history of the character. In Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, we see a few small references to Black Widow’s dark past including the Red Room and it was just enough to get me curious. Margaret Stohl’s Young Adult novel Black Widow Forever Red dives deeper than we’ve ever been into the backstory this mysterious superhero–all within the canon of the MCU.
Gif Credit: cheezburger
The basic, spoiler-free version of the plot is that Natasha Romanoff’s former Red Room teacher, Ivan, is stirring up trouble again right around the time a bunch of children go mysteriously missing. This forces Natasha to confront her history with him while attempting to save a young girl, Ava Orlova, from his clutches. But Ava isn’t just any teenager, she forms a special connection with Natasha that impacts both of them over the course of the story. Because of Natasha’s involvement with Ava, she’s constantly confronted with the trauma she experienced in her past, even discovering a few pieces of history that were previously unknown to her. The action-packed story also involves a teen named Alex Manor whose quick wit and passion brings a lot of fun and emotion into the story. However, for me, examining the psyche and complexity of Black Widow’s backstory is the most intriguing piece of the novel.
Image Credit: Heather Mason
With an insight into Black Widow’s inner thoughts, the story takes place within the MCU, after the Battle of New York. The Avengers are a real part of pop culture, making it even more difficult for Natasha to remain, as she would prefer, unknown. Throughout Black Widow Forever Red, Natasha straddles the line between opening up to those around her and trying not to get too attached. But being in pretty dire situations with Ava and Alex forces her to become more dependent on those around her than she’d typically allow.
Author Margaret Stohl said that one thing she loves about Natasha is “that she can be powerful and flawed and still relatable”. With favorites like Tony Stark and Agent Coulson also making appearances in this action-packed novel, Natasha shines as a heroine who just can’t seem to believe she’s actually a hero. We asked Stohl a few questions about the difficult task of writing a history for this complex character.
Geek & Sundry: What was your process for creating and expanding upon the backstory of Black Widow?
Margaret Stohl: Once I had a basic concept, there was so much research! I read every Black Widow comic I could get my hands on, going back fifty years. I watched every Marvel movie over again. I read only spy novels and CIA non-fiction accounts for the entire year I was writing. I even visited the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. (Okay, so I happened to be visiting for the Pokémon World Championships, but it still counts…) I wrote a 70-page treatment and then ripped it up and wrote another one. I basically have never worked so hard in my life, and I think it’s a credit to both Disney and Marvel that they manage to find people who want the job more than anyone else in the universe–because that’s the kind of love you have to feel to get you through a process like that.
G&S: What was the biggest challenge in writing a book for an established character with some pre-established history?
MS: Natasha has had a lot of creators contribute to her past fifty years, some of them very intimidating, like Stan Lee and Joss Whedon and of course, the incredible Scarlett Johansson. I just had to immerse myself in the entirety of it all, and then find a through-line, a part of her character and backstory that was the same in every one of those incarnations. It became quickly obvious to me that for Natasha, it was both the brokenness and the strength of her heart–everything and everyone that went into breaking it, and everything that kept her from giving into that kind of pain and giving up.
G&S: Are there any specific parts of Black Widow’s past you want to explore more in the future?
MS: So many, but really I’m equally interested in her future. Black Widow Forever Red was both an origin story and a legacy story, with the exploration of Natasha’s past as the Black Widow and the creation of the Red Widow. It was a very specific arc, and now I’m excited to get to see what happens with two Widows unleashed on the world, especially in terms of their own troubled relationship, as well as the Avengers at large.
What do you see in the future for Black Widow? What do you appreciate about her past? Let us know in the comments!
Featured Image Credit: Marvel