Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Comic Critique- Angela: Asgard's Assassin

Sent from Heven above, Angela has had a long journey to getting her own series at Marvel Comics.  She was created at an entirely different company by Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane in the pages of Spawn.  Her character was used sporadically in various issues of Spawn throughout the 90s, but then began one of the most hotly contested legal battles in comic book history to decide who owned the rights to the angel Angela.  Eventually, Neil Gaiman won and promptly sold those rights to Marvel Comics. 

Cool cats never look back at the explosion

Angela made her first appearance at the end of the major event Age of Ultron (no relation to the plot of the movie except having the eponymous android as the main villain) in 2013 as the Marvel Universe began to show its first signs of collapsing. Time travel and universal abuse had fractured reality, changing people’s history, sending Galactus to the Ultimate Universe, and opening the gate to the new-found Tenth Realm of the World Tree, which allowed for Angela to enter the 616.  In the following year, during the Original Sin event, the eye of Uatu the Watcher revealed a secret to Thor Odinson: he had a sister.  This sister had been taken and thought to be murdered by the Angels of Heven who attacked Asgard because they felt Odin owed them a debt, and Angels do nothing for free.  In his rage, Odin and Freyja severed Heven from the World Tree and sealed them away, to forever be forgotten. 

As Thor and Loki went to Heven to get vengeance upon the Angels for the death of their sister, Angela worked with her recent allies, the Guardians of the Galaxy, to return to her home.  They crossed paths and, raging battle fiends that they are, Thor and Angela quickly came to blows.  Angela defeated Thor and moved back to Heven, but Loki revealed the truth he had discovered: Angela was truly Aldrif Odinsdottir, Thor and Loki’s sister.  As an Asgardian, Angela became labeled an enemy of Heven, but, as they cannot leave the scales unbalanced, the Queen of Angels let Angela leave as payment for all the great deeds she performed while in her service. 

Now, with her Asgardian heritage revealed, Angela has chosen to travel the universe and discover what secrets it may hold.  Written by Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett and with illustration duties shared by Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans, this book is both incredibly tightly plotted and gorgeously drawn.  Obviously, Gillen picks up the majority of the background from the Original Sin: Thor & Loki- The Tenth Realm series, but he uses plenty of references and makes the series feel a continuation of his Journey Into Mystery run, with plot thread carried over from the Manchester Gods and Everything Burns storylines.  However, the writing succeeds in walking the fine line of using plot threads that came before without it feeling necessary to have read those previous arcs.  All information is laid out clearly enough that it is understood in the context of this story alone, but the well-placed editor’s notes let those who are interested know which books to pick up to get the deeper understanding of the series.  Bennett’s contributions should not be undersold, whatsoever.  Her voice can be seen in the flashback sequences of the book, carrying a poetic style that fits rhythmically with the mythological tone of the series.

Poor Odinson. He lost his hammer, his arm, and his siblings hate him.

Jimenez, who is a legendary artist well-known for his acclaimed run on Wonder Woman has taken a huge shine to Angela.  The detail on every character is refined and his penchant for big hair plays perfectly into Angela’s design early on.  Angela’s power set and attitude being quite akin to Diana with more anger issues really drives home that he was the perfect fit for this book.  Hans in the flashback and side-stories is the painting master she always is.  Her art has such life and energy that it should be hung in museums to gain appreciation.  

Disir: like Bloody Mary, but you only need to say it once
... and there are eleven of them.

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin leads Angela into conflict with all of Asgard when she takes a treasured item from Odin and Freyja, her own parents, and flees with her closest friend, Sera.  Angela allows herself to be vulnerable for the first time in her Marvel appearances when she is with Sera.  She speaks more kindly with Sera and trusts her, even when sent into a situation that seems to be certain death.  Sera as a character presents a wonderful type of commentary on transgender people, as well. Sera was born a male Angel, known as an Anchorite, who are silent and constantly praying.  When she saw Angela fighting a beast, she joined in the fight, as she never felt that she was an Anchorite. She eventually found a way to change her body to the way she felt comfortable, in the form of a woman.  I must applaud Marvel for letting this storyline go through, because it sends a fantastic and empowering message, and it did so even before the recent Caitlyn Jenner media coverage.

Foreshadowing a villain for future arcs. Hopefully we get the chance
to see this book relaunched post-Secret Wars.

One of the very interesting things of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin was that it did not seem to have a direct villain, instead it centered on the conflict brought by perspective and a major lack of communication skills.  True villains are definitely within the book, but they do not take a primary position. In fact, a villain is closer than you might think during portions of the book.  Taking this non-traditional approach makes the storyline stand out from other mainstream Marvel comics and give it more of an adventure story flair rather than being a superhero beat-‘em-up.  

Gamora is immune to Quill's pelvic sorcery
and not about to take any of his shit. 

Guest appearances of the Guardians of the Galaxy provide a good portion of the book’s laughs with some terrific banter.   Peter Quill has the jokes, Rocket never shuts up, and Gamora is engaged in a serious rivalry because she does not want to admit there is a woman stronger than her.  As with most Asgardian books, you get the opportunity to experience multiple worlds, traveling through space, teleporting to Earth, meeting with dwarves, fighting Dark Elves in the forest of Alfheim, and learning that Heven is not a place on Earth, much to Quill’s chagrin.  This constant flux is a pleasurable shift from the status quo setting of New York, New York seen in most books, and the characters being in so many backgrounds lets you really feel the magic of the tale.

Heven is a battlestation full of angry, angry Angels

One of the biggest moments in the book is when Angela changes her costume.  When she came to the Marvel Universe, CCO and famed artist Joe Quesada updated her design slightly, but she mostly retained her look from the Spawn series.  Angela’s look is very much in the Red Sonja vein of a battle-hardened warrior who is woefully underdressed.  Cleavage, stomach, most of her legs are bared by her original outfit. It’s a well-designed and iconic look, but its utility is under serious question.  Angela’s new outfit is a full-plate battle armor.  The shine and design make her look like a Holy Paladin, reminding me of Agrias of Final Fantasy Tactics (in practicality, not in fashion) and it makes her feel more Asgardian, as the book is driving in her familial ties.  My only issue with the new design is with the new headdress and hairstyle. Where Angela previously had a winged piece of jewelry that rose above her ears, she now has a bladed, jagged headdress which shoots out to the sides of her eyes. Also, her previously flowing hair, reminiscent of late 80s Mary Jane (apt, considering her original design was drawn by McFarlane who had a highly-acclaimed Spider-Man run at that time) now feels drawn as one large Mohawk that pulls back to fly behind her, as if she were a redheaded Super Saiyan 3 with only one spike.  I hope that future iterations will keep her armor, but return her old hair and headdress, since they have a ton of leeway to tweak her design again since the entirety of the Marvel Universe needs to be rebuilt and reestablished post-Secret Wars anyway. 

On the left, Angela's new look. On the right, her original design.

Ultimately, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin is a great choice if you are looking for a well-written self-contained story featuring powerful women.  There are few books that can match it in terms of intricately detailed art and varied locations.  It belongs on the bookshelf of any comic fan of the Thor mythos or the sword and sorcery genre.

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Look into previous Comic Critiques: American Born Chinese, Thor: Goddess of Thunder, and Marvel's The Black Vortex

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