The revelation of Ronin’s identity in last month’s Widowmaker #3 — a four-part miniseries originally intended to be a crossover between Hawkeye & Mockingbird and Black Widow — caught some fans off-guard, especially ones not familiar with their long-term Marvel history.
The current Ronin, a guise previously used by both Echo and Hawkeye in the pages of New Avengers, is Alexi Shostakov, the original Red Guardian. He’s the ex-husband of the Black Widow, and a character originally introduced in 1967’s Avengers #43 — and one that hasn’t been seen much other than that Silver Age story, outside an appearance in Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run back in 2004.
“That’s one reason why we didn’t end on a last-page reveal of him unmasking and expect everybody to immediately recognize who he was,” said Jim McCann, writer of the issue and the Hawkeye & Mockingbird series that preceded it, in a phone interview with Newsarama. “There was a little bit of concern, but he had been mentioned throughout [Paul Cornell-written 2009 miniseries Black Widow:] Deadly Origin recently. I like to be able to play with people’s established histories, because I think that in this day and age you can go online and find out more about the character, you can ask your friends — it makes comics a more communal experience, when everything isn’t all exactly spelled out, or when things don’t go the way the Internet fans have anticipated it to go.”Making Ronin a far-from-obvious choice had the added benefit for McCann and Widowmaker co-writer Swierczynski of keeping readers guessing up until the reveal.
“There was a lot of speculation as to who it was, and I never saw anybody really speculate that it was Alexi,” McCann said. “That actually made me happy and excited. While it may be a letdown because some people love to have their guesses be validated, at the same time, that lets down other people, because it’s like, ‘Oh, well, everybody already guessed that.’”
Though McCann said there would be no point in simply going for shock value — having it be someone nonsensical like, to use his example, Annihilus — there was one unavailable character he admits would have been a neat choice for the new Ronin.
“I kind of wish that Bullseye hadn’t stayed dead,” McCann said about the long-time Daredevil villain who took over Clint Barton’s Hawkeye identity during “Dark Reign” and was killed off in the recent Shadowland story. “It would have been fun for it to be Bullseye, just constantly changing costumes, and following Clint. I just thought, ‘Oh, that’d be so cool to follow up on their rivalry,’ but he’s dead.”Rather than being motivated by surprising readers, McCann said that the original Red Guardian being Ronin was an important plot element of the Widowmaker story, since it tied together all of the main players.
“Not only was it personal for Natasha, but it brought in Hawkeye with the association of Ronin, it brought in Dominic Fortune, with him having killed the last Ronin known before Maya Lopez brought back the identity,” the writer said “Mockingbird was just being used and played. I had already put her through the wringer[in Hawkeye & Mockingbird] and put her dead-center in the target, so I kind of wanted that to be a swerve this time, where it actually didn’t have anything to do with her this time — she was being used to get to Clint, instead of the reverse.”Within the comic, Shostakov explains his motivations as a desire to restore Russia to its Soviet Republic days — as he calls it, “the greatest power in the world.” To achieve that goal, he allies himself with the Japanese “Dark Ocean Society.” The fictionalized Marvel Universe Dark Ocean Society is based on an actual historical group that existed in the late 1800s and early 20th century, and McCann said that the real-life issues between Japan and Russia helped to inspire the story. “Right as the first issue was coming out, talks broke down again between Russia and Japan in real life over [the Kuril Islands],” McCann said. “I thought, ‘Oh please, don’t let anybody come after me.’ I am not answering the door to ninjas.” With one issue of Widowmaker out this coming Wednesday, Feb. 9, written by Swierczynski (who also wrote issue #2 and the Black Widow series leading up to this story), McCann said that there will be definite “ramifications” felt from the Ronin reveal — starting with his four-issue miniseries Hawkeye: Blind Spot, which starts this month (the first issue is scheduled for Feb. 16) and is illustrated by Paco Diaz.
“I’m picking up very much on what happens to Hawkeye, where he is coming out of this,” McCann said. “That said, you don’t have to have read Widowmaker, you don’t have to have read Hawkeye & Mockingbird, you don’t have to have read Black Widow.”
The writer shares that while much of Hawkeye & Mockingbird was told through the latter character’s point-of-view, this series will give readers a chance to find out why Hawkeye is “so awesome.”
“This really is a turning point for him,” McCann said, advising that with one issue left of Widowmaker he couldn’t go into any specifics like which villains would show up in the series. “Obviously, he’s in the Avengers movie coming out, played by Jeremy Renner, so there will be a lot of interest there. Some cynical people out there are going, ‘Oh, they’re just doing this because there’s a movie.’ But this is actually the Hawkeye story I’ve wanted to tell.”
McCann stated that Mockingbird won’t be seen in at least the first two issues of Blind Spot, but Spider-Woman, Steve Rogers, Iron Man, Thor and Maria Hill will all play a role in the series, which will focus in part on the “civilian” side of Clint Barton.Beyond Hawkeye: Blind Spot, McCann is working on two projects far removed from the superhero realm — the follow-up to his widely acclaimed Archaia original graphic novel Return of the Dapper Men with artist Janet K. Lee, and A Zombie Christmas Carol from Marvel — which surprised folks when first announced this past December by being a Christmas story scheduled to debut in the spring. McCann explained that it’s being released then so a complete collected edition can be available by this coming Christmas.
“It’s actually not too creepy,” McCann said of his revision of the holiday classic. “I didn’t want to go the Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter route. Dickens in and of himself is very dark. If you read the original text, it’s a freakin’ scary book, until Tiny Tim and the end.”
McCann’s beginning early work on the Dapper Men sequel, Time of the Dapper Men, and trying not to be intimidated by the overwhelmingly positive critical reaction the book received.
“I’m trying not to let that put too much pressure on me, thanks for bringing it back up,” McCann said with a laugh. “As soon as Archaia saw the finished product, they had already wanted us to start thinking about future volumes.”