Full disclosure: when Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 debuted a few weeks ago, I didn’t pick it up. I was familiar with the character because I’d read a bit of her adventures in the Guardians of the Galaxy comic; however, while I liked her, I wasn’t so in love that I wanted to know more. I’m not one to turn my nose up at a free comic, though, so when one of my coworkers offered me his copy, I was happy to accept it—and to my surprise, it exceeded my expectations.
Spoilers for the issue below the jump.
The first issue of Asgard’s Assassin follows Angela, burdened with what looks like a swaddled baby, as she tries to make her own way after a tremendous paradigm shift. Raised as an angel, she was taught to give nothing for nothing; basically, nothing is free, and any favor or gift demands equivalent repayment. Because of this mentality, she is meant to hate Asgardians and all they stand for, and so she’s still coming to terms with the fact that she’s actually Asgardian herself. She meets up with her companion Sera, another angel (and a lady of color!). Sera brings their onlookers up to speed on how Angela works by sharing an anecdote from their past, in which Angela killed a man she’d saved as a child because he would not repay Angela the debt he owed her for saving him. In the present, Sera and Angela prepare to ride out, but are stopped by a horde of Asgardians, led by the Odinson (the no-longer-Mjolnir-wielding hero formerly known as Thor), Sif, and the Warriors Three. It turns out that Angela’s burden is indeed a baby—the new heir to Asgard, of all the babies to have—and the Asgardians are less than pleased. We end on Angela about to engage the entire horde in battle.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. While I did enjoy reading about Angela in Guardians of the Galaxy, that had a lot to do with the relationship between Angela and Gamora. Since Gamora isn’t in Asgard’s Assassin, I wasn’t expecting to care as much as I did. But Angela ended up being a compelling character; she clearly has a close bond with Sera, but she’s uncomfortable with affection freely given — it turns out the reason she stole the baby from the Asgardians was that she was so overwhelmed by the sappy homecoming she was given as Odin’s daughter that she needed to give them a reason to hate her again.
I didn’t realize until I opened the comic that Kieron Gillen of Young Avengers and The Wicked and the Divine fame was writing. I’m a big fan of Gillen’s writing in both of those titles, but I’ve never read any of his Asgardian work. (Although I own his whole Journey into Mystery run—or, well, at least the part that focuses on Kid Loki—I haven’t had a chance to read them.) After this issue, I’m looking forward to digging in to more of his work. His writing is gripping as usual and I’m definitely going to pick up the next issue. Sera’s story—which was cowritten with Marguerite Bennett—was especially great; it effectively introduced Angela’s character and mindset, presented almost as a fairy tale in terms of tone.
The art is excellent as well; both the cover art and the interiors (by Stephanie Hans, who is one of my absolute favorite comics artists, and Phil Jimenez) are gorgeous, and are never cheesecakey. This is a serious risk with a character like Angela, whose battle bikini attire rivals that of Red Sonja for apparent inadequacy. Rather, both the action scenes and the more quiet scenes are engaging and compelling, and it’s never hard to follow.
On the note of battle bikinis, though, Angela is one of those characters whose outfit I’m less likely to criticize, simply by dint of her being a very powerful character. She doesn’t need a lot of armor to protect herself because she’s not going to die from something silly like an arrow to the exposed abdomen. Is there still a hint of sexism in her character design? Sure—you’d never see a male character (except maybe Namor) dressed similarly skimpily.
Sadly, although the only two characters of note in the comic are two women, Angela and Sera, this issue doesn’t pass Bechdel. I don’t want to give it too much shit for that though; the reason it doesn’t is because their conversations are all about Angela’s pursuers, and given the urgency of the situation in this issue, I can understand. On that feminist note, though, I do really appreciate that Angela is weird and complicated and dealing with her emotions in awkward ways because we don’t often get to see women doing that, and I also appreciate that the character who looks to be her longtime companion is a woman of color. And truth be told, given Gillen’s other works, I don’t particularly fear that this series will tend toward the problematic—he’s been clearly dedicated to inclusion in his other works.
The moral of the story is this: if you haven’t checked it out yet, give Angela: Asgard’s Assassin a try. You might be surprised at your reaction.