When Neil Gaiman’s angelic warrior woman Angela was introduced into the Marvel Universe in the final issue of 2013’s “Age of Ultron” miniseries she was a woman in search of her past, and in the current “Original Sin” tie-in miniseries Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm” she’s finally getting the answers she was searching for, much to her chagrin. That’s because Angela is a woman trapped between two warring realms: Asgard, ruled by her father, the god king Odin, and a secret Tenth Realm of angelic warriors that trained her to hate Asgard.
The secrets Angela uncovers in “The Tenth Realm” and the actions she takes because of them will leave her in a difficult place with only one way out: use her deadly skills to balance the debts she has accrued. This November, writers Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett and artists Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans will chronicle Angela’s quest to free herself and forge her own destiny in “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin,” a new ongoing series announced by Marvel during today’s “Avengers NOW!” panel at Comic-Con international in San Diego. CBR News spoke with Gillen and Bennett prior to the announcement about their new series, what debts Angela will need to repay, and the full-length and short stories contained in each issue.
CBR News: Marguerite, last year you broke into comics and the DC Universe, and this year you landed your first gigs at Marvel, a backup story in the “Amazing X-Men Annual” and an issue of the “Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy” miniseries. In November you kick off your first Marvel ongoing series with “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin.” How does that feel? What’s it like moving from the DC Universe to the Marvel U?
Marguerite Bennett: Every morning I wake up so grateful and so bewildered that this is my life. I feel so happy and fortunate to be a part of all of this, but it is very intimidating coming across the aisle so to speak. I hope people love what we’ve got coming.
Kieron, were you familiar with Marguerite’s work before this assignment?
Kieron Gillen: I was. For a variety of reasons I wanted a co-writer on this book. I thought about who might be interesting and Marguerite is a very cheery person who writes really well about horrible people. [Laughs] She also writes really interesting villains and conflicted people. Those are a lot of the things I thought about Angela. She’s troubled and troubling, and I thought she was someone Marguerite would get.
â€¨I kind of see the thing that allows me to write Loki in Marguerite’s writing. I think she could do a killer Loki. So I thought she would be someone interesting to do “Angela” with. When we were talking she was one of the names that came up and everybody agreed with me.
Bennett: [makes heart shape with hands]
Let’s talk a little bit about your protagonist. What do you find most interesting about Angela and what she’s become in the Marvel Universe? Which aspects of her personality are you especially interested in exploring in this series?
Gillen: Angela is almost an Asgardian Black Widow, and I mean at all levels. We’re looking at how someone like that would operate in Asgard. The “Avengers” movie popularized the “red in the ledger” aspect to Black Widow. Angela almost has that as a religion. She is someone who is religiously, kind of like in a “D&D” Paladin way, obsessed with the concept of debt. The idea of her owing anyone anything or someone owing her something and the debt not being repaid is traumatic to her.
That’s kind of the core character thing for her; what she owes people and what they owe her. Of course there’s an especially interesting drive to the story when she owes other people things. That’s kind of the heart of it for me. She’s gone through this really big change that makes her question all of these debts. Makes her ask, “What do I owe all these people?” Does that make sense, Marguerite?
Bennett: Absolutely. That’s something that really appeals to me about her also; this idea of ostensibly perfect justice that has been put in fallible hands. As Kieron was saying, Angela has this concept of absolute debt and has this constant list in her head of whom she owes and who owes her. Coming from Asgard, there’s this sense of inherited nobility, about what you’re supposed to strive for and what you’re supposed to become, but for her that nobility isn’t just a burden — it’s an absurdity. Why would you ever live that way?
So with this absolute sense of justice there’s no room for mercy or personal revenge. Everything is the balancing of the scales. She’s someone whose internalized that struggle and dealt with it her entire life, and now she’s realizing that might no longer be the way that she can conduct her life.
Gillen: Yes, she used to be someone who quite happily lived inside that system and now she goes, “actually, maybe not.” That’s sort of the journey of any character built along that axis. Living by a code is pointless unless the code gets questioned or you question why you’re doing the code anyway. So that makes things interesting and conflicted especially in our story where we’ll dig into the question of what she really values. Why the hell is she following these rules anyway?
That’s interesting to me. I’m someone who’s mildly obsessed by the concepts of debt, ethics and how we essentially live as good people. There’s one guy I owe a drink to from when I was 21. He bought me a drink and it was a double. It was like six quid, which was a lot of money back then. I asked for a double as I thought there was an offer on, but now in my head I know if I ever saw that guy I would have to pretty much drag him into a bar and buy him a drink because I’m still really hung up on that. That’s Angela. [Laughs]
Jason Aaron’s “Thor: God of Thunder,” Al Ewing’s “Loki: Agent of Asgard,” and the co-written “Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm” have been setting up a political intrigue storyline that stretches across the now Ten Realms of Asgard. I know you probably can’t divulge too much, but what can you tell us about Angela’s role in that storyline? It sounds like she may be in debt to Asgard, but has no real loyalty or allegiance to them.
Gillen: I would say yes, that is correct, but I can’t really say any more. I don’t want to step on Jason and Al’s story in that way. The whole thing shakes Angela up fundamentally. The key thing in our story is she feels she has debts to both Asgard and the Tenth Realm. It doesn’t mean she likes them. [Laughs] In her head though she still owes them drinks.
â€¨Gillen: So I’ve just turned into a British writer. Everything must be a drink metaphor.
[Laughs] Will this series be involved primarily in mythic and supernatural affairs? Or will readers see Angela involved in super heroic affairs as well?
Gillen: We will. One of the driving elements of the first arc is seeing Angela in that universe. She’s still a very new character. She’s new to Asgard. She’s new to the mythic side of the Marvel Universe. She’s new to Earth, and she’s even new to the cosmic side.
â€¨The structure of the first arc is that exploration. That takes her everywhere. That’s kind of the fun of it. You get to see her rub up against all of these things and by rubbing up against them it defines how she sees these things.
Bennett: Her integration will become more authentic as you see her put up against all these different sides. It brings out these different qualities from her.
I imagine the main story in “Angela” will revolve around the title character’s status quo, but I understand each issue has a short story as well. What can you tell us about how those stories will work?
Bennett: We’ve got Stephanie Hans doing the internal stories, which will be mini tales that will heighten, reflect and tell individual stories about Angela and her legend to characters in the Marvel Universe. They’re given an idea of what she’s been reported to be; the horror stories, cautionary tales and dire warnings, and what she’s meant to live up to. Then we confront those with who she is and what she actually wants. So I’m hoping just with Stephanie Hans’ extremely gorgeous art that people will really respond to them.
Gillen: They’re very much embedded stories in the narrative. Angela has a friend in the story named Sera and she’s Gabrielle to Angela’s Xena, which is an easy way to describe their relationship, though it’s not quite like that. Sera’s a bit more verbal, and these stories are embedded in the larger narrative, which gives you an interesting contrast between what Stephanie does and what Phil [Jimenez] does and what I do and Marguerite does, because I’m doing the main story and Marguerite is doing the kind of embedded story.
â€¨That’s kind of the structure of at least the first arc, but it’s not exactly true. We’re plotting the stories together, but in terms of the actual execution of the pages that’s the way we’re doing it.
It’s quite fun to experiment with these kinds of structures. I’ve never worked with Phil before, but he’s somebody whose art I loved even before I was really reading comics regularly. And Stephanie is somebody I’ve known from the beginning of “Journey Into Mystery.” “JIM” #645 is probably the best issue I’ve ever done for Marvel and that’s in no small part because of what Stephanie did. So it’s an interesting thing. It’s quite formalist, and also quite experimental, but we get to have fun with that.
Right, it seems in terms of artist you have Phil, a guy who’s known for drawing strong warrior women, and then you have Stephanie who is fantastic with the sort of mythic and surreal aspects of the Marvel Universe.
â€¨Gillen: Yeah, essentially the idea is that Stephanie is doing the story section and Phil is doing the real world sections. There’s always a question of when someone is telling the story of whether it’s real or not, and Stephanie plays to that sense of myth, majesty and magic. These are meaningful stories. The contrast between the two artists is key and when you’ve got multiple artists on one book if you don’t do that it’s kind of sub-ideal. There has to be a reason why one person is drawing one section and one person is drawing the other.
So Stephanie’s short tales will always appear in the main tale? There won’t be a ‘here’s Story A’ and now ‘here’s Story B’-style structure?
Gillen: Yes. There will be a reason why that story is being told and someone will be telling it within the narrative. Unless we change it before the final issue. [Laughs] She won’t become a balladeer by issue #4, but that is what we’re planning.
You named Sera as one of the supporting characters earlier — what else can you tell us about the supporting cast of “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin?”
Gillen: Not much. [Laughs] As we said, the opening arc is a tour of the Marvel Universe. It’s her own series so we want to define her relationship with anybody who we think is important. That’s why anyone who is important to Angela will at least appear briefly. Would that be fair to say?
Bennett: Yup, I would say so!
You did say people who are important to Angela. That suggests to me that there will be a Guardians of the Galaxy appearance?
Gillen: That would make sense, and not just because I want to write Rocket Raccoon.
Gillen: I will stress that I want to write Rocket Raccoon only for a page. I’m not after Skottie [Young]’s job. He’s bigger than I am, and could easily kill me.
Let’s start to wrap up by talking a little more about the initial arc. You said it will involve a journey across the Marvel Universe, but what else can you tell us about the plot and themes of the tale? Can you reveal anything about the antagonist of the story?
Bennett: In a lot of ways Angela is her own worst enemy. I think the struggle she’s going to have to go through to integrate with the Marvel Universe and to accept who she is, and then process what that means for who she has to become will involve her fighting with herself just as much as her fighting with physical obstacles around her.
â€¨Gillen: Yeah, in some ways it’s all Angela’s fault. That’s what it means to have red in your ledger. Your actions are driven by the fact that you owe people stuff. So Angela, at least in the first arc, is her own worst enemy.
â€¨That will probably change because the Marvel Universe is full of many people who can be much worse enemies.
Finally, as we mentioned, “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin” will exist alongside Jason Aaron’s new volume of “Thor” and Al Ewing’s “Loki: Agent of Asgard.” I know you want this title to stand on its own, but will we see ripple effects and easter eggs from the events of those other titles?
Gillen: I would hope so. We have three Asgardian-oriented books here, and they’ve got three different characters. I used the Black Widow stuff earlier because it’s an easy way to sort of sell the idea — though Winter Soldier is arguably just as good a comparison. You get how that might work as a concept; the assassin character through an Asgardian lens versus Loki versus Thor. If you put them all in a room they will solve problems in a different way. That’s part of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we all don’t dance into each other further down the line to some degree.
You mentioned Angela solving problems which makes me wonder what sort of weapons she might employ to solve the problems she’s faced with in this series. Will she stick strictly with ancient weapons like swords or will she be more like, say, the Olympian God Ares who used both ancient weapons and modern ones like machine guns?
Bennett: She’ll absolutely be using both.
â€¨Gillen: She’s a practical lady.
I want to once again stress how amazing the team is that we have working on this book. Phil is a writer/artist and working with a writer/artist is always different in terms of the conversations you have and what you talk about. Me and him would bounce a series of very long e-mails back and forth before we got on the phone.
He was like, “I’m not sure I get the character.” And I was like, “All right, this is what I’m thinking.” And I went back and really justified Angela. He was then like, “Okay, now I get it. Let’s really do this thing.”
You get the best work out of an artist who cares, and there are definitely some artists who can’t work if they don’t care. I think Phil is that kind of guy, and that excites me about the project. This is a book with a team who has a lot of elements that are really, really powerful. We can do some really interesting things.
â€¨I think this is going to be good and I say that as kind of somebody who hates himself and all his faults. So for me to say I think it’s going to be good is kind of a rare thing.
Bennett: [Laughs] I’m so excited. This series is going to be so rich, fierce, and fantastic. I simply cannot wait for you guys to see what we’re going to come up with.
“Angela: Asgard’s Assassin” debuts in November from Marvel.