Monday, December 8, 2014

Heavenly Beginnings: Angela: Asgard's Assassin #1

The following is my review of Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In this era of reboots, recons, and remakes, it often feels as though the bar for success is exceedingly low. These days, most fans will consider any remake that doesn’t dump burning napalm on their childhoods a success. It’s like every remake is a plane that’s always about to crash. It can only work if those involved can walk away alive. Even the successes, such as J. J. Abramas’ Star Trek, feel like flukes rather than accomplishments. Failures such as Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tend to be the norm.

These are the circumstances in which Marvel had to remake Angela, a character who is not at all native to their universe. She was an established character in Spawn. She had her own history and her own place in that world. But thanks to negotiations with Todd MacFarlane’s lawyers, which may or may not have included a deal with Mephisto, Marvel gained the right and the opportunity to incorporate her into the Marvel Universe. It has taken them a while to make good on that opportunity. At times, it has taken too long. But now Angela has a place in the Marvel Universe and Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 makes it akin to the hot new club in town.

Make no mistake. This Angela is not the same Angela from Spawn. She has the same name. She has the same look. She has the same knack for slaying unholy monsters in ways befitting of any Angel of Death. But she is a different character. This issue attempts to build on what was established with Angela from the aftermath of Age of Ultron and Original Sin. While the results probably won’t satisfy those who enjoyed following her in Spawn, it does plenty to make her worthy of being in a universe where she can arm-wrestle Thanos and Dr. Doom.

The development of her character has been somewhat slow since Age of Ultron. It wasn’t until Original Sin that Angela established a more definitive place in the Marvel Universe, being the lost sister of Thor and raised in the Tenth Realm of Heven. This issue does build on the aftermath of this revelation. It even explores the personal impact it has on Angela. However, that impact is secondary. No matter what universe she’s in, she’s still Angela. She’ll find a way to be a badass, monster-slaying Angel of Death in any universe.

This is what brings her remote backwater portion of the universe reminiscent of Mos Eisley on Tatooine. She’s fresh off the disturbing revelations of her heritage and looking to take it out on someone. She puts herself in a perfect position to do so. She arrives with a stolen baby in her arms and plenty of angry monsters chasing after her and not the kind from Child Protective Services either. They attempt to attack her. Angela makes them wish they hadn’t. There’s absolutely nothing about her actions that’s out of character. This may even be her way of coping with the revelations of her Asgardian heritage. It’s not exactly the healthiest kind of therapy, but it works for her.

Angela’s ability and prowess in battle ends up being the central theme to the story. She does not fight the same way as She-Hulk, Black Widow, Catwoman, or Wonder Woman. She’s not some overly sexualized vixen who hides the impracticality of fighting in stiletto heels. She’s not overtly masculinized and she’s not completely devoid of sex appeal either. Angela fights with a style all her own. It’s a style that’s visceral, focused, and right at home in a universe where giant green monsters and killer robots are the norm.

This unique style helps give the story some flavor. It’s not just another case of a beautiful woman beating up monsters like a superpowered slasher movie. It gives Angela a unique appeal among male and female characters alike. And in a market flushed with powerful female characters like Storm and Captain Marvel, that in and of itself is an accomplishment. However, it isn’t just her fighting that makes Angela appealing. It’s her motivations that help her stand out and not necessarily in a heroic sort of way.

While Angela is fighting, her friend, Sera, gives a brief anecdote about why she does what she does. She may be Asgardian now, but she still sees herself as an angel. And angels in the Marvel Universe are anything by heavenly. They’re more like loan sharks and debt collectors for the mob. Angela’s motto is, “Nothing is for nothing.” Every act, including something as basic as saving a baby from a crashed spaceship, incurs a debt. And anyone who ever took out a student loan understands the dangers of debt


It sounds like the way Tony Soprano would operate and not an angel, but Angela still comes off as much more likable. Sure, she’s okay with wacking those who can’t pay, but she won’t take pleasure in it. She won’t be unreasonable about it. She’ll give others multiple chances. If they choose not to take them, then she will dish out Columbian Neckties with her sword. It’s not as cruel as it sounds, but it’s every bit as unheroic as it sounds.

This overview of how Angela operates provides great insight into her character. However, the insight does cause the story to drag considerably. Given how long and tedious it has been to get Angela to this point, it certainly tempers the impact. However, there is a major payoff in the end when it’s revealed whose baby she took and why monsters are coming after her. It leads right into a conflict that feels like a natural outgrowth from Original Sin. It feels like an investment that has finally paid off and without the need for insider trading.

There are many ways Angela can contribute to the Marvel universe. She’s shown she can be part of a team. She’s also shown she can fit into the overly convoluted history of the Marvel Universe. Now, Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #1 shows that she can hold her own and do things her way. There will still be Spawn fans that refuse to accept that, but that’s their problem. It isn’t the perfect template on which to recast an established character. At the very least, it’s a blueprint for actually making it good and not just avoiding a horrible crash.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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