New miniseries Marvel’s The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes is going where no Marvel comic book has gone before: inside the Russian version of Maxim. The story will initially debut as a serial in the magazine, before seeing print stateside as a three-issue series starting in May, with the first two installments shipping that month.
"It's very exciting to be one of the few comic book creators who has had comics published in both XXL and Russian Maxim," series writer Fred Van Lente told Newsarama, referencing the 2009 Eminem/Punisher story which ran partly in XXL magazine. "I think we need to call Guinness on that one."
Marvel’s The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes stars the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" version of the Black Widow, the one played by Scarlet Johansson in 2010's Iron Man 2 and this summer's Marvel’s The Avengers. For the comic, Van Lente is joined by artists Wellinton Alves, Renato Arlem, Neil Edwards, Steve Kurth, Ron Lim and Agustin Padilla, who each illustrate a separate chapter.
Van Lente catered the story towards Maxim Russia's audience, producing a very different result than the kid-friendly Marvel Cinematic Universe stories he's written for Disney Publishing's movie tie-in magazines.
"It's more risqué material than the typical licensed comic," Van Lente said. "Let's just say I spent an entire morning going through the photo galleries of nightclubs in Moscow, and 'all-ages' are not the first words that leap to mind to describe them."
The entire story is set in Russia, Black Widow's home country in both comic books and movies, and takes place in between the character's appearances in Iron Man 2 and Marvel’s The Avengers.
"The basic premise of the story is that Natasha's hunting down bootleg Stark Industries technology created by Justin Hammer and Whiplash from Iron Man 2, so there's kind of a bridge between Iron Man 2 and Marvel’s The Avengers here," Van Lente said.
During the course of the mission, Black Widow encounters a completely new character — one not previously seen in Marvel comics or movies.
"She runs afoul of a younger female super-spy who is kind of her groupie; who worships Black Widow and wants to take the mantle away from her," Van Lente said of the story, dubbing it "shades of Single White Female." "Natasha's forced to confront her own life choices by dealing with a younger, crazier version of herself."
In preparing for Black Widow Strikes, Van Lente was granted a similar level of access to Marvel’s The Avengers film as he was last year when writing the Captain America: The First Avenger comic book prequel, First Vengeance. Van Lente has read the script, and though he unsurprisingly can't say much, reported that director and screenwriter Joss Whedon — creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a known proponent of female characters who are strong in more ways than one — has given Black Widow a "huge, important" role in the film.
Van Lente said it's difficult to truly compare the comic book version of Black Widow to the movie version simply because the comic version has been through so many different phases in her nearly 50-year history — from Soviet agent to Avenger to leader of the Champions and much more — but called Marvel’s The Avengers' take on Natasha Romanoff "a really great interpretation."
The writer also expressed excitement over Black Widow Strikes providing a chance to show off the genre diversity of the Marvel Universe beyond superheroes.
"I am a huge espionage nut. My first Marvel gig was the Scorpion serial in Amazing Fantasy, that was another kick-ass, albeit considerably younger, female super-spy," Van Lente said. "My obsession with kick-ass spy females dates back to my sixth grade crush on Diana Rigg," referring to the star of the unrelated '60s Avengers TV series.
Other than Black Widow, Van Lente stated that fan-favorite Agent Coulson — the unflappable S.H.I.E.L.D. agent played by Clark Gregg in multiple Marvel Studios productions — and Nick Fury both play a role in his story. But he's reluctant to say too much more about the Marvel’s The Avengers: Black Widow Strikes story or Marvel’s The Avengers film.
"One of my two favorite scenes involves [Black Widow], and I can't tell it to you," Van Lente said of Marvel’s The Avengers film, scheduled for release May 4, 2012. "Otherwise the computer chip they implanted in my brain when I read the script will explode."