Legendary writer Neil Gaiman’s most famous comic book creation is “The Sandman” for DC Comics/Vertigo, but he’s also made his mark on Marvel Comics as well. First with 2003’s “Marvel 1602,” a miniseries which recast Marvel characters as heroes and villains of the Elizabethan era. Gaiman followed up his Marvel debut with 2006’s “Eternals,” which took a new look at Jack Kirby’s titular Space Gods. His most recent contribution to the Marvel Universe came in 2013 where he introduced the angelic warrior Angela, originally created in the pages of “Spawn,” into Marvel’s shared universe.
In the monthly “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin,” writers Kieron Gillen and Marguerite Bennett along with artists Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans continue fleshing out the Marvel Universe history and exploits of their title character and her companion, the sorceress Sera, in a unique series that utilizes both a main narrative and sub story each issue.
This June, Gillen, Bennett, Hans and a rotating team of sub story artists combine Angela with Gaiman’s first Marvel creation in the “Secret Wars” series “1602: Witch Hunter Angela” which casts Angela and Sera as members of a holy order of monster hunters in a Battleworld domain inspired by “1602.”
CBR News spoke with Gillen and Bennett about Angela and Sera’s roles in this new world, the supernatural beings they hunt, switching writing roles on the series and the artists that will bring the series’ sub stories to life.
CBR News: Kieron and Marguerite, in “1602: Witch Hunter Angela” Marvel asked the two of you to put one Neil Gaiman concept into another. How does that feel?
Kieron Gillen: It’s fundamentally very amusing! It’s one of those things where the idea was sort of suggested and we thought, “Yeah that makes a lot of sense. We could have fun with this.”
Both Marguerite and I are big fans of the real world period and Neil Gaiman. So the idea of me doing Gaiman style material is not exactly a new riff. “Journey Into Mystery” very much could be read as dancing with “The Sandman.” In fact there are explicit sections of “Journey Into Mystery” that are engaged with “The Sandman.” My Nightmare was sort of explicitly a “Sandman” piss take. [Laughs] I say that with love.
â€¨I mean, the first line that my Nightmare says in “Journey Into Mystery” is “He’s ripping me off!” He’s of course talking about the Serpent, but he’s also saying it to camera. There was, shall we say, a meta reading of that in terms of my mea culpa.
Anyway though, there’s a natural synergy here! Angela is a bounty hunter and she hunts monsters. In the setting of 1602 mutants are monsters. So here Angela has a purpose and it’s a bit loaded. [Laughs]
Over the years the 1602 reality has been revisited in several sequels. How does your take on 1602 compare to what readers have seen before? Have any events gone differently or characters pushed in different directions?
Marguerite Bennett: So much of the creation of our world comes from transgressing borders and the interaction of different cultures with each other to bolster and progress this civilization, and in “Secret Wars” the strict nature of those borders prevents all of that. So there are some things where we’re trying to be logical and take it to its projected historical conclusion; the ways these societies took shape. There’s no way you can get to 1602 though, as it was in Neil Gaiman’s original series [Laughs] without the influence of these other nations that now don’t exist.
It’s even down to things like the increasing tensions with Spain and France. Well, Spain and France don’t exist! [Laughs] So we decided that we were just going to have a lot of fun with it and make it more of an alternate history. So as opposed to making it exceedingly and off puttingly monocultural it’s much more multiethnic.
I’m a huge fan of the North African influences, Stephanie [Hans] included. We’ve got a lot of things that maybe, logically should not appear but we think adds to the richness of the story and we think it’s going to be a lot more fun to get to explore in that capacity.
It’s an alternate history of a way this place could have arisen. So we have the Guardians of the Galaxy being this sort of traveling troupe.
Gillen: Marugerite’s riff on the Guardians is delightful. I say that full of admiration and joy. It’s much more thoughtful than my riff. By way of example, I did a M.O.D.O.K. In the first issue you meet Elizabethan M.O.D.O.K., which is probably worth the entrance money alone, though doesn’t exactly speak to the higher intellect.
In the 616 Marvel Universe Angela and Sera have their own personal codes and believe in each other. In this reality, however, they act in service to the king and battle his demonically enhanced enemies. Do they believe in a larger cause?
Gillen: Angela is defined by her relationship to a completely unquestioning order structure that she has to live by and she often chafes against that. That’s a key thing though. What the actual system of order and law is almost doesn’t matter. It’s more how Angela feels about it.
In terms of Sera? Sera is a storyteller in the era of the great Elizabethan playwrights and poets. Marguerite especially gets a chance to riff on Marlowe. The Faustians are explicitly a “Faustus” reference, especially since in the story we have Marlowe talking about how annoyed he is they’re using that name.
â€¨So Sera is a storyteller in an age of great storytellers.
Bennett: As far as their dynamic, being members of this holy witch-hunting order creates an interesting strain on their relationship. It’s something that fuels their affection and passion for one another and it’s also something that distracts them, pulls at their loyalties — which vow do you hold more dear? Your love or your God?
So perhaps there’s a conflict where one believes in the cause much more than the other?
Bennett: Yes, and what they consider the actions that will benefit the greater good and the preservation of their realm. Or which actions will preserve their relationship and each other.
In the Battleworld domain of 1602 Sera is part of a holy order that fights supernatural beings. Will that impact her sorcery skills at all?
Bennett: That’s something we’re playing a little close to the chest. It will be fun. We’re not shying away from that. It’s more that when the witchcraft is in service to the Lord, our God/Doom, it gets categorized as a miracle instead. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Kieron mentioned them earlier so I wanted to talk about the the targets Angela and Sera will pursue in this series, the Faustians. Are these reimagined Marvel characters or new creations? And are they sinister figures or will their motivations be less clear than simple black-and-white?
Bennett: We will ideally see a full spectrum of grays — of people doing things they believe are virtuous which come to be horrifying, or are so warped by their needs and perspectives that they never considered the consequences. You’re definitely going to see some known faces from the Marvel Universe, which we had a really great time in choosing.
â€¨There will be cases of people choosing to make what are essentially deals with the devil for their own gain. There will also be cases of people making these deals out of desperate straits. Those instances are where we’ll ask questions about Angela and Sera’s sense of sympathy. Can they even have a sense of sympathy within the structures of their moral codes and holy order? How much do they get to negotiate the vows that they took? Where is there a chance for their personal identities beneath the mission that they believe in?
How will Angela and Sera’s hunt for the Faustians unfold? Is “1602: Witch Hunter Angela” comparable to a story about cops chasing a killer?
Bennett: Yes, there is a larger villain that they’re hunting, and in each of the issues we’re going to be dealing with someone who’s wound up in this grander villain’s wake; someone who has made a deal. So they’re piecing together how they can destroy this dealmaker with the consequences this dealmaker has left behind for other people, the Faustians.
Earlier you mentioned the Guardians of the Galaxy and M.O.D.O.K. Are there any other 1602 incarnations of characters you can talk about?”
Bennett: Oh goodness! You’re going to see Bucky Barnes [Laughs] which I’m very enthusiastic about. We needed the most handsome man you could picture and there were various arguments. We were thinking maybe Gambit, but then we didn’t want to hit the Witchbreed note again too hard. [Laughs] So we elected pretty, pretty Bucky Barnes.
In “Angela: Asgard’s Assassin” Kieron pens the main narrative story and Marguerite tackles the sub story, but I understand the two of you are sort switching chairs for this series and Marguerite will write the longer story while Kieron tackles the shorter one. What prompted you to switch roles?
Gillen: If someone is going to do lead on the dance floor they should allow another person to take their turn as well. I’m very happy to move forward and backward. That’s a bad metaphor! You got me when I’m jet lagged!
I had my plans for the first arc before Marguerite came on. So it was like, “Here’s the story. This is what I’ve got to do, and here’s kind of the commissions.” Marguerite and me then kind of built the story. We chewed over the concepts, put our ideas out, and then Marguerite put them into what she though her narratives should be and we discussed them from there.
â€¨So on our first arc I was pretty much plotting by myself and then Marguerite came on and we changed that. We kind of put our ideas together. Now Marguerite does the tight plotting and we discuss things some more. Then Marguerite does the fifteen-page story and I do the five-page shorter one.
In this role I feel like I’m filling the narrative role that Marguerite did, but I also feel like I’m being a guest rapper in some ways. I’m coming in and dropping a killer verse and then leaving. It’s fun.
Did I mentioned I’m jet-lagged? I’m jet-lagged.
I was going to use a tag team wrestling metaphor, where one of you is on the apron and then is eventually tagged into the ring by the other.
Gillen: I think that works. I would use your metaphor because me using a music metaphor might be a little bit hackneyed. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Marguerite, for the other story in “1602: Witch Hunter Angela” you’ll be working with your “Asgard’s Assassin” collaborator, Stephanie Hans. How is it penning a larger story for her? And what’s it like for you moving from five pages up to fifteen each issue?
Bennett: Oh, man. It is so daunting! [Laughs] But this team has just been so splendid. Kieron, Stephanie, Phil [Jimenez] Wil [Moss], Jon [Moisan, the book’s editors] down to [inker] Le Beau Underwood and [colorist] Romulo Fajardo.
Everyone is bringing their absolute best. So there’s always this joyful pressure of “how dare I bring them any less than my best” also. When we did “Angela” #5 in the five-page Sera sub story she actually does this full battle song epic poem with rhyming quatrains and everything. [Laughs] So I sat there into the night trying to count the meter and making sure the rhythm and the time worked. It was so ridiculous and intense.
â€¨That’s how I feel about trying to come up with a story that is worthy of this Neil Gaiman universe, worthy of the team I’ve got, Kieron and Stephanie and everyone involved, and worthy of the readers who care about these characters.
It seems like Stephanie is a perfect fit for this world. She’s got this dreamy ethereal style that appears especially suited for this supernatural and quasi medieval domain of Battleworld.
Bennett: Absolutely. I was looking at art for “Angela” issue #6 today and oh my gosh, I got chills! [Laughs]
Did Stephanie get to redesign Angela’s costume for this time period?
Benett: Yes! Her designs are just incredible. She put together a Pinterest for it and we’ve been going back and forth. She knows all this stuff about weaponry, costume design and functionality. Stephanie is so terrific! I cannot sing her praises enough.
We’ve talked quite a bit about the over story. Kieron, let’s move to the sub stories of “Witch Hunter Angela.” I understand your story in #1 serves as sort of a prologue for this series, correct?
Gillen: Yes, back at the summit when me and Wil Moss were first talking about the “Secret Wars” stuff and the idea of “1602” came up, this was my immediate idea. It’s like, “We open like this. And then this happens. Angela stabs this person. Hard cut to the rest of the story.” It’s kind of like the James Bond before credits cold open. It explains the context of the world. It explains what the world is like, and it shows what Angela is like in it.
So we’re doing “1602” and Marguerite especially is someone who’s really into the cadences of the time. I must admit the biggest influences on my stuff in this outside of “1602” is the second series of “Blackadder.” This is basically the Elizabethan era of “Blackadder” and that’s a very broad comedy. To me, that’s when “Blackadder” got good. It’s a brutally scathing pastiche of everything Elizabethan. There’s a character called Flashheart and my Angela sort of enters the story like Flashheart does.
Bennett: I’m the lucky one, here — I’m just getting these scripts and Kieron makes me laugh so hard at the horrible puns and the jokes. I love it. I love how quick and crackling his dialogue is. Kieron is always terrific.
Kieron, for that first story you’re working with Marguerite Sauvage, who is perhaps best known for her covers including one she did for your for your Image Comics series “The Wicked + The Divine.” It looks like she’s a great fit for this series since a lot of her art involves powerful women and also has an almost ethereal quality to it.
Gillen: I love her. It was actually Wil’s suggestion and I liked that because minimizing the names involved in a project is good for me. I prefer that everyone involved with the book was called Marguerite. [Laughs] It would make things easier.
We pick our cover artists for “WicDiv” very carefully. We want them to be beautiful objects. So Marguerite did a cover for us and then Wil suggested her and of course he didn’t know she was doing a cover for us. I was like, “Yes! That sounds like a very good idea! Let’s do that that!” So I’m really looking forward to seeing what she does with the pages.
She’s great at design, and if you’re doing a period story whether it’s “Mad Men” or “1602” the costumes are a big part of it. Marguerite is very strong there. She’s a really good cartoonist, and as you said her women characters are regal and imperious. I really like what she can do.
We can’t talk about all of them yet, but we can discuss two other great artists you’ll be working with: Irene Koh, who’s doing the art for your story in issue #2, and Frazer Irving is working on issue #3.
Gillen: Yes, weirdly Irene is a friend of a friend. I’ve been following her work for awhile. She often works with a friend of mine, a games journalist named Cara Ellison. They do bits and pieces together, and obviously Irene does more stuff in comics.
This is one of the things I find really appealing about working with a different artist. It’s like, “You look really interesting. Let’s do a short project together and see how it works.” It’s kind of like our last issues of “Young Avengers”; the jam issues. It’s a similar sort of thing.
â€¨So Irene is somebody I’m really excited by. I think she has an interesting sensual line. I really want to see what she does
And Frazer is an old friend. I’ve known him for about a decade now at least — I suddenly now feel very old. His “Gutsville” was coming out around the same time the original “Phonogram” was. We had done an issue together before. We did a Doctor Strange story called “The Cure” which was in “The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange,” a black-and-white anthology that came out a few years ago.
He’s a guy who I find incredibly powerful. I think his work was great then and has only gotten better. He owns his palette. His palette is fundamentally Frazer and it’s creepy. There’s nothing that isn’t creepy about Frazer’s story. I mean, there’s a reason why we wanted him for the “Wicked + the Divine” cover he did.
â€¨We start with Marguerite who has a very lively color scheme and the story is very much going to speak to the artist.
Finally, I understand like all of the “Secret Wars” series, “1602: Witch Hunter Angela” isn’t just a fun, one-off alternate reality look at your main characters. It will be a story that will have some lasting impact on Angela and Sera’s status quo post-“Secret Wars” as well.
Gillen: Oh no, our story is entirely disposable! [Laughs] I can literally see Marvel PR throwing a brick at my head. No — it’s very much building on what we’ve done and setting the route for where’s next.
Issue #6 of “Angela” has this feeling of “Fuck! We’ve got to go and do this thing immediately!” And then the Marvel Universe ends. We leave the characters in an awful place. So it’s kind of like “What’s going to happen?” And then we go to this very, very different place.
Bennett: This series will definitely have lasting consequences. It’s not like, “Oh, this happens in a closed off environment and has no effect on what’s happened before and what is yet to come.” We play so much with the nature of time and life and death that no one is safe. I just want everyone to know that. [Laughs]
I’m so happy to be involved with this book. As Kieron will tell you we’re being very clever. It’s like, “Oh, you’re doubling down on Gaiman out of coincidence!” [Laughs] Oh, my sweet summer children.
Gillen: A big part of our thinking was the important pieces that we create in this story are immediately going to slam back into things. That’s the best way of putting it. So yes, this is a 1602 version of Angela, but there are profound and meaningful echoes that will travel forward. That was part of the planning.
Bennett: I also want to really thank our readers for how absolutely supportive they’ve been through all of this. I really hope they enjoy it. In a way there’s a tone shift because of “Secret Wars” and the nature of the ‘verse that we’re getting into. Angela and Sera have been the heart of this story from the beginning though and if you love them and their dynamic you’re going to have a great time.
Gillen: This is fun. I’m really excited especially with where we’re going. “Secret Wars” excited me a lot, and where we’re going after is exciting. It’s kind of like Angela has seem to have found her place. She’s a weird character, our Angela. She’s not very likable. There’s a deep amount of charisma and sadness with her, but she’s not somebody who would be fun to be around. There’s a level of awful compellingness to her.
That’s kind of our thing. We’re looking at what roles are not filled in the Marvel Universe. I kind of wanted to make her awkward and interesting. We dig deep into that vein. We want to leave people wondering, “What on Earth is this woman going to do next?”
“1602: Witch Hunter Angela” #1 arrives June 10, 2015 from Marvel Comics.
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