SDCC 2014: ANGELA Gets Ongoing Series... in ASGARD!
Angela: Asgard's Assassin variant cover by Stephanie Hans
At Friday’s “Avengers NOW!” panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego, Marvel announced that the avenging angel Angela is getting her own ongoing series. Titled Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, the series follows up on the recent revelation in Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm that Angela is in fact the long-lost daughter of Odin, and therefore sister to Thor. In this series, Angela has come to accept her Asgardian nature but her bloody past has festered in her mind to the point that she’s looking for a change. Described by series co-writer Kieron Gillen as an ‘Asgardian Black Widow,” Angela was born in heaven but has been through hell and is out for a clean slate.
Gillen returns to Asgard with series co-writer (and first-time Marvel writer) Marguerite Bennett, along with a talented one-two punch of artists in Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans. Angela: Asgard’s Assassin will be split up into two stories per issues; a lead story of 15 pages illustrated by Jimenez, followed by a side story of 5 pages drawn by Hans. The writers promise a whirlwind tour of Asgard and the larger Marvel Universe, with no cheesecake and only Angela as a “scary mother fucker” according to Gillen.
Newsarama: Kieron, Marguerite, Stephanie, a lot of questions come out of just this title alone. So tell me, what is Angela: Asgard’s Assassin about?
Kieron Gillen: The book is about Angela – kind of an Asgardian “Black Widow” is the best way of putting it. She’s enormously trained, fights in very specific ways, and has a lot of red in the ledger.
What’s interesting about Angela is that she’s religiously devoted to the concept of debt on a deeper level than anyone we’ve seen. It’s unique and psychological to feel like we owe someone, or that someone owes us. For Angela, there’s a small series of weird oaths that runs her life. But the push and pull of trying to live up to those oaths, that code, might be contrary to how she feels. Her identity was made up of that code, but show she’s essentially been cut free and ends up having to question everything she’s lived for up to this point. Questioning doesn’t mean escaping that though, and the debts to her and her debts to Asgard are at the core of the series.
Marguerite Bennett: Angela: Asgard’s Assassin will be about restoring balance—pathologically, terrifyingly—as Angela comes to terms with the truth of her birth and the deception of her loyalties. She must find a way to cancel the debts under which she’s suffering, and decide, for the first time, what she wants, what she is—and seize it.
Gillen: And this is a true Asgard story. Whereas with Loki you get stories about a trickster and Thor that of a warrior, Angela’s story is an Asgardian “Black Widow” or an Asgardian “Winter Soldier” if you want to flip the gender.
Nrama: This is the first time any of you have done Angela – so what’s your appraisal of her?
Stephanie Hans: Angela is a warrior, in flesh and in mind . She doesn't make any compromises.
Bennett: Angela is a character of absolute justice to me; she delivers exactly what is agreed and deserved, no more and no less. There is no room in her for personal revenge, pettiness, or spite, but nor is there room for mercy. She is the reckoning, the balancing of the scales, a force of nature trying to become its own person.
Gillen: When I was originally asked to thing about Angela as a series, it was because I had quite a lot of experience with Asgard. For a lot of jobs the work is figuring out a problem. For Angela, it was about what to choose to take, and how to best explain the character. And more importantly, how she fits in with the Marvel Universe.
Characters don’t exist on their own; they’re part of a world, in this case Marvel, and part of the job of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin is making it work inside Marvel. So if you have a character that already does the same job, then there’s no point to do another. Angela is an assassin who questions what she does; she’s more hunter than assassin, but what she hunts includes men if you know what I mean.
Angela: Asgard’s Assassin will also dig into the culture of heaven. On the front page of my original pitch for this, I included an extended quote from the old BBC adaptation, I, Claudius. There’s a wonderful scene in a completely alien world view that somehow makes sense. In this series, Angela has a different way of seeing the world – it’s not like the way we do, or even the Asgardians.
There also comes this whole “Black Widow” / “Winter Soldier” Side of her, and how a character like that operates in an Asgardian sense. She’s Thor’s long-lost sister, and how does she rub against the Nine Realms?
So all of that comes in when I approach this, and deciding what bits you amplify. For Angela, she’s trying to live by a code she doesn’t necessarily understand or agree with. On top of that, she doesn’t handle feelings well. People who tend to live by a code, myself included, hide from complexity of emotions. So that’s kind of the heart of it. There’s also this real cute aspect to her; these psychic ribbons that change depending on what she’s feeling.
So this series about what she cares about, what she used to care about, and what she lost.
The series will also have a lot of physicality. One of the original thoughts for the Angela: Asgard’s Assassin pitch was that I wanted Angela to scare the shit out of people. [laughs] She’s not a friendly presence; when she walks into the room, she makes people feel uneasy. The fact that she has a provocative costume is not part of it for me; there’s no cheesecake poses… she’s literally, a really scary motherfucker. At the same time, that’s her game face – covering up a more delicate side. A lot of my stories are about her being afraid of losing her game face.
And of course, from the start I knew this was a project I’d like to co-write with someone. I talked with Marvel about the people who might be a good fit for this, and Marguerite Bennett came up. She seems to be a really good fit, and if you’ve read her stuff you can see it. She’s a really sweet person in the flesh, but the people she writes are fucked up. [laughs] She writes quasi-villains – those in the grey – really well. I imagine she’d do a very good Loki.
And the structure of the book came quite early as well. One artist doing a 15 page story in the front, and then a second story that’s five pages. These five page stories aren’t back-ups, but they fit inside the larger story being told.
And I have to talk about Phil Jimenez, who’d doing the 15 page stories. He’s an incredible draftsman and storytelling, and one of the best parts is that he really needed to be talked into doing this. That’s good because he didn’t want to do the job unless he believed in the story. We spent some time on the phone together and now he understands the series inside and out.
And Stephanie Hans, who is doing the second story in each, worked with me on Journey Into Mystery. Stephanie painted style brings a certain mythic-ness to the story.
Hans: The short stories will bring some background and density to Angela. We're looking for a more legendary feeling I guess. Mostly, my main job on these stories will be to keep her as deadly and badass as Tenth Realm-y as possible. Give her strength, flesh, bones, and dignity. Never mind the tiny armor. It’s all in the attitude.
Nrama: Kieron, as you mentioned earlier this is a return for you to Asgard – after your previous runs on Thor, Beta Ray Bill and Journey into Mystery with Loki. Of the modern Marvel writers, you’ve written it more than anyone. What’s it like coming back?
Gillen: It’s fun. And there will be elements of my previous work turning up here. Even away from Asgard, I did an arc with Malekith in Iron Man. I will be intertwining the connective tissue from previous stories here to Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, even picking up elements from “Everything Burns.” Hel is quite important in this new series, and there might be another character coming too.
It’s quite natural, Asgard. I know the terrain of the Nine Realms, and how Angela can integrate into it. As someone who loves the Thor side of the Marvel U, I want this to feel like Thor does – an extension of the mythology. Marvel’s Thor isn’t mythological Norse Thor; there’s a fundamental difference. In the Norse myths Loki isn’t Thor’s brother, but rather Odin’s, so he’s Thor’s uncle. But Marvel changed that for their Thor, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Angela fits into that wonderful mess.
Nrama: So this takes place on just Asgard, or does it go elsewhere as well?
Bennett: We are having ourselves a good old-fashioned American road trip. [Laughs] (Only, you know, Kieron’s British and Stephanie’s French and a lot of the story is in outer space.)
Nrama: Could readers see you bring back other characters from your previous Asgard stories, perhaps Loki or someone else?
Gillen: I’m attempting to resist the urge to bring back other characters, but never say never.
But I’m trying hard to resist Mephisto. I don’t need Mephisto. I try to resist, but you never know. Especially if my co-writer Marguerite says “I really want Mephisto.” There’s a degree of push and pull that’ll happen, but I will be picking up story elements from “Everything Burns”… the All-Mother and several other things.
Nrama: So we’ve talked about Angela, we’ve talked about Asgard – what about the things she’ll be up against. Who will she be fighting with?
Bennett: Herself. And a great number of other people. But, if she was not already her own worst enemy, the revelations of her parentage have certainly caused her to become so.
Gillen: Who won’t she be? The structure of this story takes her across the entire Marvel universe. She’s cut away from her master… a ronin of sorts. It’s like Jack Kirby and Lone Wolf & Cub-y. I think about stuff like cowboy movies with the isolation of the plains, and that cowboy nature, for this series. I feel my Beta Ray Bill stories had that.
And it’ll also be how Angela fights. She’s all about speed. She’s very strong, but her fighting style isn’t about the bludgeoning of another; she’s very much about the speed, choosing her attacks. She has the preciseness of a katana.
But this story will take her across the Marvel U, and rub her up against a lot of people. We’ll be taking in the nine worlds, Earth, space. You’ll be surprised if the Guardians of the Galaxy don’t turn up eventually. By the end of the story, I want readers to know what Angela is fundamentally.
Nrama: It’s perfectly understandable if this whole book is Angela and a bunch of adversaries, but is there anyone to be seen here who Angela isn’t angling to kill?
Gillen: Definitely. I’ve no interest in doing a character who just kills. Yes she’s been good at it for a long time, but what if she begins to question why? For a time, losing herself in the moment was good enough but now it’s troublesome. Angela is someone who doesn’t make friends easy; since she came to Marvel, one of the few has been the Guardians of the Galaxy’s Gamora – basically, saying “We’re both bad-asses, aren’t we?” It’s like bonding over shoes, in a murderous way. It’s kind of shallow – it’s like football; a friendship based on something comfortable to both of them.
For Angela’s supporting cast, her cub in the metaphor is her best friend, Sera. She is someone who allows you to unlock her; you get different emotions by rubbing her against Angela. Sera is the Gabrielle on Angela’s Xena.
Nrama: [laughs] Haven’t heard that in a while.
Gillen: Yeah. It’s not exactly the same, but that’s a good way of explaining it to someone.
Nrama: Let’s talk about your partner in this, Marguerite. I’m not sure which of you is Gabrielle and which of you is Xena, but tell me about this process? You’ve co-written stories with several people, but how is it working out in this instance?
Gillen: Well, every co-writing job is different. I’ve done it, and gotten to the point where I can say I’ve done it a bit. How me and Matt did Uncanny X-Men, and how me and Mark Waid did Hulk vs. Iron Man for Original Sin are different. With Angela: Asgard’s Assassin, the first arc is me doing all of the high-level planning. In terms of plot-based execution, that’s a conversation between Marguerite and I. In terms of scripting, the way we’re currently planning it is I do the main story and she does the short stories. But a lot of planning together; we might swap stories one issues.
Nrama: Marguerite, how is it for you?
Bennett: Kieron is such a wonderful, encouraging person, and I’m so honored that he felt I’d be a good fit for the project. We get to Skype and e-mail every couple of days, and due to good timing had a chance to scheme between drinks at the end of the last Marvel retreat. A lot of the story rises from sheer conversation—what would be fun, what would be true, what would be exciting, what would be meaningful. I can’t wait for y’all to read what we’ve dreamed up.
Gillen: It’s fun having two different writers and two different artist on the book. This is a really good team of people, which I feel strong about. It’s like when Doug Brathwaite and I were doing Journey Into Mystery; we were thinking,” we’re going to make this book good. This isn’t something Marvel is just throwing out there.” Not be derogative, but we were committed to making it good.
One of my pet peeves in comics is how some readers are cynical towards new characters. This is an Asgardian/cosmic book, and it will have its own atmosphere. I don’t want it to be like another Marvel book; it’s as unique as Young Avengers,Journey Into Mystery, Hawkeye,Elektra, All-New Ghost Rider and so forth. For it to work, it has to be its own voice.
Nrama: Stephanie, we haven’t heard from you much – what are you looking forward to particularly in Angela: Asgard’s Assassin?
Hans: Everything is a challenge from my point of view. My main interest for these stories is to draw her while keeping the feeling of something grand, legendary, mythical. I love to draw strong female characters, warriors, fighters, or just ordinary women being strong. I usually don't want to think about it because I mostly crave for the challenge of drawing anything new but it's true that I'm very comfortable in that kind of universe. I love mythology, any kind of it and Asgardian stories just give me the chance to feed that love.
Nrama: Last question and we’ll let you get back to work – what’s coming in Angela: Asgard’s Assassin that would surprise people who have preconceived notions about the series?
Gillen: The second story-arc will have a surprising Neil Gaiman connection. It’s also interesting who Angela fights.