By Molly Jane Kremer. As a character, Angela is a difficult prospect, to say the least. Still new to the Marvel Universe, the character languished for ten years in legal limbo as Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane sued over ownership rights, right up until Gaiman’s win (eventually) sent Angela crashing headfirst into Marvel continuity.
She’s been appearing in the current Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing since its fifth issue, and Brian Michael Bendis has been writing her splendidly and engagingly – even if she was still completely lacking in any backstory. Since then, she’s only received the semblance of a 616-universe origin in this past summer’s Original Sin tie-in, The Tenth Realm. But that’s where this comic comes in, which writer Kieron Gillen has described as an “Asgardian Black Widow”, and the comparison is very apt.
In The Tenth Realm it was discovered that Angela is actually an Asgardian, the long-lost daughter of Odin and Frejya, raised in the forgotten realm of Heven. The events of that series left her a woman without a country, and that’s where Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 opens: she walks through an empty “desert that [isn’t] a desert”, a fitting comment on and parallel for the blank slate the character truly is. Tasked with the daunting prospect of filling that blank slate are writers Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett, one who is already well-seasoned to tell tales of Asgard after his critically-acclaimed run on Journey Into Mystery, and the other taking a stab (pun intended) at the Marvel end of the superhero block. They both have a lot of room to build in, and are taking the slow and methodical approach.
Throughout the comic’s “main story” (the book has an additional “substory”, more on that later), Gillen keeps the dialogue sparse (mostly for our eponymous heroine) and the action maximized (especially for our eponymous heroine). Much of the script consists of narration, but Gillen makes it a joy to read: the language in it is succinct, cutting, and to the point, thoughtfully communicating the stark sense of reciprocity and obligation Angela constantly holds herself to. There’s sadly less of Gillen’s trademark snarky humor to be found, but Angela’s friend Sera has a few lines that sufficiently cut the drama (“… by the ludicrously ornately barbed flail of the mistress of minor murdering…” is a gem), and Angela herself deadpans a couple choice remarks.
Phil Jimenez was an inspired choice as artist for Angela; his hyper-detailed style and knack for drawing ladies-who-can-kick-your-ass-without-blinking are well-suited for this book. His splash pages are always explosive, his panel layouts inspired, and after his popular stint on Wonder Woman, it’s fascinating to see him pencilling this much more brutal, merciless character. Despite being given a costume to work with that might re-define “skimpy” (think bra + panties + armor, under a scabbard belt bigger than her undies), Jimenez manages not to sexualize Angela, not even once. There’s not an ass-shot or brokeback pose to be seen in this comic, but there is a whoooole lot of slicing and dicing. There’s a reason this guy is one of the most sought-after artists in comics, and this book proves it, yet again.
Adding yet more gorgeous art to the issue, Stephanie Hans has five pages in the book, a flashback “substory” co-written by Gillen and Bennett. The integration of the story-within-the-story is seamless, and Hans’ softer, painterly style contrasts in a very fitting way with Jimenez’s sharp realism. While Hans is known more for covers, pin-ups and the like, her Angela pages are dynamic, and have good flow and great storytelling; an entire issue of her beautiful sequentials would be welcome indeed, at some point. (Also, the fact that both of these two ridiculously talented artists are splitting the book makes one hope the title might escape delays, hopefully making a monthly schedule an attainable goal.)
The substory being told by Sera gives us some much-needed background on Angela. It’s nice to see Bennett, already making her name on some of DC’s marquee characters, begin to sink her teeth into some of Marvel’s as well. She and Gillen pair nicely (“… argue with the flood and the storm and the mountain that vomits fire and stone on your town and all you love…”), but hopefully these revelatory substories will be bigger in the subsequent issues, or perhaps the present-tense storyline will divulge more of Angela’s past. We still know next to nothing about her, and these five pages were the only potent glimpse into her backstory that was given.
As much as learning more about Angela herself would have been a welcome addition to the issue, Gillen is a writer who goes for the long-game, where often the lack of a quick and cheap thrill has a rewarding, immense pay-off further down the line. Gillen knows all too well how to weave a story of mythic proportions, and with a character like Angela – and also a history in comics, yet without one (“… the angel who wasn’t an angel…”) – he, Bennett, Jimenez and Hans have all the room they need to forge something epic, memorable, and massive.
Written by Kieron Gillen; Substory written by Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett.
Art by Phil Jimenez and Tom Palmer; Substory Art by Stephanie Hans.
Colors by Romulo Fajardo.
8.5 out of 10