FIRST LOOK: Neil Gaiman's avenging Angela will make Marvel history
Her name is Angela and she’s a bounty hunter on a mission from God — and heaven help any Marvel character who’s not on the side of the angels.
The image above, by fan-favorite artist Joe Quesada (who “moonlights” as Marvel Chief Creative Officer) is the first look at the scantily clad celestial agent who will make her Marvel debut in the 10th and final issue of Age of Ultron – but many longtime comics fans already know the name (and that barely-there outfit) from her past life beyond the Marvel multiverse.
Angela first appeared in 1993 in the pages of Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn where she was introduced by writer Neil Gaiman and artist Todd MacFarlane, two of the biggest names to emerge from the comics scene of the past three decades. The two creators were also the top names printed on a mountain of legal documents during their decade-long legal battle for control of Angela. That was resolved in early 2012 and Angela now gets her wings, so to speak, in a Marvel issue co-written by Gaiman and Brain Bendis.
Her background: She was a foe and then romantic interest to Spawn and a flip image of him in many ways – he represents a conflicted antihero fashioned by the fires of hell and while she is a strident soul and ferocious warrior that won’t be mistaken for a cherub anytime soon. Interestingly, the biggest change to the character visually would be the tweaking of the wings on her headgear, which were perhaps a bit too close to the feathered fashion of Thor’s crown.
Gaiman (whose new prose novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, arrives this summer) will also write an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy that will further weave Angela into the Marvel mainstream, where she will carry on as a story citizen after spending recent years in publishing purgatory.
Asked about the revival in a Thursday e-mail exchange, Gaiman sounded like he was in seventh heaven as a creator after watching Angela spend years in limbo.
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“I’m ridiculously proud of Angela: a hunter, a warrior, a take-no-prisoners kick-ass lady angel with whom you would never want to mess,” Gaiman wrote as an opening line. “Creating her was fun, writing her early exploits was a delight. It made me sad that her time in comics was cut short, and that people who loved her (including me) thought they’d never see her again. I am happy that, after a long time in the wilderness of non-existence, she has come back to us again.”
The e-mail was also figuratively stamped by old-school Marvel zeal with Gaiman’s closing statement about Angela: “And given what I know about how she’s come back and the role she’s going to be playing in the Marvel universe (not to mention the wonderful Joe Quesada designs) she is, as Stan Lee used to delight in saying, “Back…! And better than EVER!”
Quesada wouldn’t divulge the plot situation that delivers Angela into the Marvel mosaic, but he pointed to a landmark Marvel moment of the 1960s as an instructive lesson as far as mythology merger.
“There was somewhat of a roadmap for doing this kind of thing that Stan Lee established back in 1962 with the return of Captain America, [the story in Avengers No. 4] ” Quesada said, referring to the issue that Lee and Jack Kirby used to insert a WWII-era creation to a new generation of readers.”He found a clever way to not just bring him back but to introduce new character elements, like the man-out-of-time subplot that added a real sympathy to Cap.”
He elaborated: “That was instrumental in why people fell in love with Cap…that’s the kind of approach we looked at. What would we do if this was a character that had been in our library a long time, but doesn’t necessary fit into our [contemporary] concept of the Marvel Universe? How do we take her and make her work?”
Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso said the actual process was key — only with Gaiman’s input would Angela arrive as a full citizen not just an out-of-place tourist.
“We took what Neil had laid down for the character and found a way to collaboratively fold her into the Marvel Universe in a seamless way,” Alonzo said. “What’s fascinating to me about what we have done is Angela is clearly a part of the Marvel universe by the time people understand her back-story. It’s as if she’s always been there. It doesn’t feel like we’ve just opened some portal and brought something new and strange and completely different into our universe.”
Quesada says that adoption process may be unprecedented in Marvel’s history, which dates back to 1939.
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“I can’t think of anything in our history and we’ve talked a lot about it,” Quesada said. “It’s something that our competitor [DC Comics] has done in the past but not really anything that we’ve done in the past. So it is really interesting in that sense. And of course it poses us with challenges but I think we really can put something together that is really going to excite Marvel fans in a great way.”
As Quesada mentioned, DC Comics has a long tradition of conspicuous expansion through heroic acquisition. The publisher of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman was there to pick up the pieces when competitors Fawcett (Captain Marvel, Black Adam, Spy Smasher), Quality (Plastic Man, Kid Eternity, Uncle Sam) and Charlton (Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom) gave up the corporate ghost.
“This is reminiscent of that but Angela is a much more modern character, of course,” Quesada said, “and we’ve worked out a great game plan for her and Neil Gaiman was very, very helpful as was Brian Bendis and our entire editorial crew.”
Angela won’t be the first naturalized citizen of the mainstream Marvel universe, however.
There’s a long tradition of importing mythology (Thor, Hercules, Dracula, etc.) as well as contemporary properties from other media. In 1977, for instance, Marvel launched the series Godzilla, King of the Monsters and for two years the cinema’s most famous kaiju stomped through the center of the Marvel universe, much to the chagrin of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents assigned to turn him away from American shorelines. In the same decade, Marvel also found title characters on the toy shelf (Mego’s Micronauts and Mattel’s Shogun Warriors) and the music charts (KISS and Alice Cooper were each plugged into Marvel’s pop-culture amps).
More interesting than Angela’s arrival, perhaps, is the slow-simmer Marvel interaction with Gaiman, whose era-defining Sandman saga for DC Comics sits on the top shelf of the medium’s most acclaimed works. In the 1990s, Gaiman drifted away from comics by the allure of novels (his first, Good Omens in 1990, would head a list that includes American Gods, Stardust and The Graveyard Book), novellas (Coraline), television scripts (Neverwhere and Babylon 5) and film work (he co-wrote the screenplay for the Robert Zemekis-directed Beowulf).
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“His body of work speaks for itself and he’s just a very kind and giving individual and a very giving collaborator and he was just very helpful in helping us construct a back-story for Angela,” Quesada said. “How do can you quantify the impact a guy like Neil has had on comics culture in general?”
Quesada took over as Marvel editor-in-chief in 2000 (a post he held through 2011) and one of his early aspirations was seeing Gaiman’s name on a major Marvel project that ventured out beyond the walls of the monthly Marvel adventures. That led to the eight-issue 2003 series Marvel 1602, which reimagined the company’s most famous characters over the Elizabethan era in an ambitious epic that, in sensibility, lived somewhere between Game of Thrones and Marvel’s Secret Wars.
The Marvel 1602 project set the stage for the next chapter in Gaiman’s Marvel adventure and sent resources to a second front in his legal conflicts with MacFarlane; a portion of the proceeds from the series went to Marvels and Miracles LLC, a company the author set up to “liberate” a character with far more history than Angela, namely Marvelman (a.k.a. Miracleman) whose publishing history is a knotty, contentious affair that dates back to 1954 and has included Gaiman since the mid-1980s when he inherited an ownership stake and the writing chores from Alan Moore, the mercurial mastermind behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Marvel acquired the rights to the Marvelman character in 2009, published a primer in 2010 and by all indications is ramping toward a more substantial launch in the weeks and months ahead.When Marvelman arrives at Marvel it will be like in his own version of the Great Beyond — if so it’d be appropriate if he bumps into Angela somewhere inside the celestial terminal. After all, no two characters have arrived for their first Marvel flight with more baggage in tow.