‘Angela: Asgard’s Assassin’ Creators On The Scariest Woman In The Galaxy [Interview]
Created in the early '90s by Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman in the pages of Image Comics' Spawn, Angela is a supremely violent immortal warrior/hunter/angel/naked woman, sent to Earth to slay Hellspawn as a soldier in the war between Heaven and Hell.
Or at least, she was. As a consequence of litigation whose transcript word counts are in excess of every Marvel comic ever published in history (not really), Angela is now something and and perhaps someone else. Who that is remains a question -- an unexpectedly compelling question. Indeed, some longtime comics fans were bemused by Marvel's heavily promoted induction of a character created not just with another comic book publisher, but by McFarlane himself, one of Marvel's most famous creative "defectors." Not to mention the fact that in the character's entire history, she'd appeared in just a handful of comics, only four of which by written by Gaiman, and the last of those came out 20 years ago.
That readers were meant to accept the stated importance of Angela on little more than Marvel's marketing say so seemed like a tough sell, but the twists kept coming. She became a surprisingly major part of Brian Michael Bendis' Guardians of the Galaxy cast. A half-naked angel running around in space with a talking raccoon, yes, but somehow it worked. It was later revealed that Angela's the daughter of Odin and sister to Thor, and was just heretofore unseen while she lived in a distant realm (that we like to call the McFarlaverse). And that works, too.
Now Marvel is committing fully to Angela with the character's first ongoing series, Angela: Asgard's Assassin, which comes with yet more surprises. It's a solo title starring a female lead, which of course is still rare in American superhero comics, and it's also drawn by Phil Jimenez, whose long association with certain amazon princesses and other distinctly powerful women characters sends a very loud and clear message about Marvel's intentions for Angela.
Joining Jimenez is writer Kieron Gillen, himself one of Marvle's most acclaimed Asgardian scholars, if you will, having done very well regarded runs on Journey Into Mystery and Thor. Also writing Angela is Marguerite Bennett, who's penned numerous books for DC and other publishers, but who this year landed two ongoings in the form of Angela and the recently announced Sleepy Hollow. As part of the book's unique "stories-within-stories" structure that you'll read about below, Bennett will collaborate with noted cover artist and illustrator Stephanie Hans, who's making a relatively rare visit to the realm of sequential storytelling to help make Angela that much more distinct.
ComicsAlliance spoke with all four creators and series editor Wil Moss about the endlessly impressive surprise that is Angela.
ComicsAlliance: Angela is a character with a convoluted real-world history (to say the least), but not a huge back catalog of stories to catch up on. Will the previous Marvel appearances be required reading for issue #1, and are you looking back to the previous interpretations (like Gaiman's and McFarlane's/Capullo's) for inspiration?
Kieron Gillen: There will be no required reading bar every line we put in the book. It's a new series. I'm informed by everything that came before, especially the seismic events of Original Sin: Thor & Loki - The Tenth Realm... wait. I appear to have started writing in PR speak. SEISMIC EVENTS? What is wrong with me?
New comic. I want you to be able to pick it up and enter this world, and understand exactly what makes the character compelling, with nothing other than what's on the page. That's just a general rule. Even with other series, I don't write assuming that everyone knows what happened previously. Even when you're part of a bigger picture, you should be complete picture in and of yourself.
CA: You're credited as co-writers for this title. How, exactly, will that work? Are you sharing responsibilities? Or is one providing plots and one dialogue? Are the artists contributing to the writing?
KG: We have no understanding of the word “responsibility”. We're writers.
Marguerite Bennett: Professional liars.
KG: Do not trust us.
MB: The stories will function as a glimpse of what the larger Marvel Universe sees Angela as -- the expectation, the legend, the cautionary tale. One might be a herald of Angela as she was supposed to be, and then the fuller issue might reveal her as she truly is. Conversely, one issue might paint her at her present, while the embedded story will prophesy what she will become. It’s terribly fun.
KG: Basically, we're working together on higher level vision, but in terms of the first storyline, we're splitting the issue. I'm doing the main ongoing (drawn by Phil Jimenez) and she's doing the shorter story that's embedded in it (drawn by Stephanie Hans). I don't mean a backup story, I stress. It's literally a story-in-a-story structure.
From then on? We'll see.
CA: How would you describe the vibe of this series? The last comic book with Angela as the title was decidedly epic and violent. Is it going to be widescreen sci-fi (in the vein of Angela's recent appearances in Guardians Of The Galaxy)? A fantastical family drama? A swashbuckling romp? Or something else entirely?
KG: My one-phrase description is “Asgardian Black Widow.” It could as easily be “Asgardian Winter Solider,” but I like the red-hair continuity. I stress, that shouldn't be taken as a 1:1 thing. The “Asgardian” is key. I thought of Journey Into Mystery as “Asgardian Nick Fury. With a Kid.” Stories of a certain shape warp when you enter a different part of the genre.
She's an assassin – a hunter, strictly speaking, but when you hunt men, you can stretch it a little. Or rather, she was. She's no longer with Heven. She's certainly not with Asgard. She's alone with red in her ledger – and she believes in the concept of “debt” in a literal religious way. She's a dark, conflicted and oft lonely character.
In terms of other stuff – specific mood touches on Ronin Samurai stuff, plus a lot of the most austere Westerns. The first image in the book leans on that. There's also a touch of Lone Wolf & Cub to it.
The first story is a tour of the Marvel Universe. She's on the run. It takes her places. It allows us to show all those different parts of the MU she'll interact with. Her with the Nine Realms. Her with the Guardians places. Her with Earth. Running, never quite escaping the debts.
CA: Phil, your association with certain other warrior princesses and the like makes your presence on the Angela title a very clear message about what Marvel wishes to be known about the Angela book, aesthetically. As the primary artist, what's exciting you about this character? Are there elements you're especially looking forward to drawing, or directions you're looking to take the characters in?
Phil Jimenez: Ha! Well, If there's one thing we all know, it's that I can draw fairly well, super-powered female warriors in bathing suits. Angela, though, is different from some of the other characters I'm known for, in that while they fight for justice and peace, Angela is a mercenary. She's quick, decisive, deadly, with a different kind of edge -- and that will certainly affect the way I draw her, especially her body language and my approach to her fighting style.
If anything, I'm really interested on finding the humanity in a character like this; those brief little moments of joy or sorrow or confusion, the ones that lie under her deadly serious facade. What sold me on the book was this idea that Angela has a lot of layers, and while she might not be outwardly expressive, there would be moments here and there to capture all of her many facets, even subtly, and I love that kind of challenge. I'm looking forward to exploring not one or two but three worlds, and seeing how Angela reacts to each -- and how the denizens of the world react to her.
The team has come up with some wonderful beats for her, and I hope I can make them even stronger, visually, and help add depth and range to this character.
CA: Part of Angela's characterization to date has been a certain regal distance, an inaccessibility and emotional remove. She's been presented as a warrior, a huntress, and a massive enigma; more of a catalyst than a character, so there's plenty of room for development. Can you tell us about your insight to the character and where you’d like to take her?
KG: I’ve touched on some of it above – Asgardian Black Widow, a once loyal member of an organisation now questioning some of the actions. But the mask is there. She doesn't show much – which is why, when she does, it's incredibly powerful. She's not good with people. She's not good with small-talk. When other people were doing small-talk she was learning to throw a dagger through a man's eye from orbit. She cares and feels deeply, but isn't very good at dealing with those emotions.
She starts the series lost, looking for a new way to be. She may even find it.
In a real way, the fact little has been done with her bar the aura of enigma gives us a lot of space to play.
I'll say this, though: a core desire was to make her scary. She's a character dressed the way she is, and she's a creature of complete fear. When she walks in the room, I want people to crap themselves. A lot of that is in how Phil and Stephanie is approaching the page – the problem is less what a character wears, and how an artist chooses to frame the images. You can have a girl dressed in the most practical gear in the universe, but if the artist chooses an ass-shot, it's cheesecake. We're not doing cheesecake. We're doing the scariest woman in the galaxy.
Yeah, Gamora. You heard. There's a new queen in town.
CA: It's also established (or at least strongly hinted) in the first issue of Tenth Realm that Angela isn't just Odin's daughter, but also Freyja's – making her a full blood member of Thor's royal family. Will that shift in the Asgardian power dynamic be an element of the story you're telling?
KG: Oh, I imagine we'll be touching on the lineage of Asgard. That would make sense, wouldn't it?
CA: Stephanie, you're mostly known for your striking covers and spot illustrations. What appealed to you about this project in terms of storytelling?
Stephanie Hans: I think the real challenge here is to make her real. I want to give her hard flesh and strong bones. Kieron said he wants to make her scary, and that's exactly the thing I'll keep in my mind. I'm gonna draw her like her very existence is a threat, exsuding confidence and dignity.
On another level, it's a real pleasure to dive back into Asgardian stories. It feels a bit like a foreign country in which I would spend a few months each year, discovering each time a new spot.
It's really interesting to see how writers make the stories their own each time and I'm really looking forward working with Marguerite and help her bring her own vision to the world.
MB: I will tell you that the most terrifying thing of this whole project is not writing a character held by Neil Gaiman or drawn by Greg Capullo (though that’s cost me sleep as it is!). The scariest part is having to come up with stories good enough to warrant Stephanie freaking Hans drawing them.
CA: Kieron, your runs on Thor and Journey Into Mystery are highly-regarded, and you also featured Loki as a central character in your Young Avengers run Why return to the mythological corner of the Marvel Universe now, with this series? Is there some Asgardian itch that you just need to keep scratching?
KG: Having a chance to return to the Nine Realms after a little break was one of the attractive things about the job – working out how best to make Angela part of that whole part of the universe a key drive. We know how a Thor story works. We know how a Loki story works. The differences define the books. Our job is to show how an Angela story works.
But yes, there's some part which is attracted to returning there. Certain loose ends Matt [Fracton] and I left with [the "Everything Burns" storyline] struck me as worth exploring.
CA: We’d like to know more about the assemblage of this creative team. Will, what was your mission for the series and what do you think each member of the team brings to it?
Wil Moss: What I want from this series is for it to firmly establish Angela as a part of the Marvel Universe and, more important, for it to really make Marvel readers like Angela as a character. Kieron, Marguerite, Phil and Stephanie are all over those two objectives, especially the second one. Kieron’s done such a terrific job over the years of breathing life into Asgard and the rest of the Nine Realms, it was a no-brainer to go to him when it came time to do the same for the Tenth. (Plus I’m secretly hoping he’ll work in Loki’s dog Thori somehow.)
In Marguerite’s relatively short time in the industry so far, she’s shown she has an inventive mind and is capable of writing all kinds of characters and all kinds of genres --- from Lobo to Lois Lane (“The Marguerite Bennett Story!”).
Phil is, no joke, a modern master -- we’re beyond thrilled to have him as our lead artist. The guy knows a thing or two about drawing (and writing!) powerful, relatable women. And as for Stephanie, well I mean, did you see that cover?! C’mon.
Angela: Asgard's Assassin debuts in November from Marvel Comics.