I feel compelled to preface this review by stating that I didn’t know what this book was when I requested it. I just thought the title sounded fun. Undoubtedly, there’s plenty of nuance that I missed, even after getting the backstory from a dozen poorly-written wikis. Then again, the story begins in medias res, and proceeds to immediately begin jumping back and forth in time, so maybe you’re supposed to be a little disoriented.
That said, there’s plenty to love about Angela: Queen of Hel #1, even if, like me, you’re not entirely sure what’s going on at first.
- The Artwork. Oh, my god, yum! I love the art in this book. It’s so rich and luscious. There’s something soft and velvety in the coloring that juxtaposes beautifully with the action, much of which is pointy and brutal. Angela is usually fierce and in motion, and her hair constitutes a separate entity, which is also fierce and in motion independent of what the rest of her is doing. She, and her hair, seem hard to pin down, physically, as if she doesn’t quite belong in any world, while her companion Sera’s figure always appears a little stiller, sharper and more in focus. The backgrounds are all sweeping lines of light that appear to constantly be doing battle and winning with the patches of darkness. Every panel is pretty stunning and some of them are transcendent.
- The Relationship. You don’t need to read a wiki to see that the two main characters are seriously in love. They may banter at times, but they care. They are together because they want to be together. Even without the lovingly and passionately rendered kissing panels (three, plus some cuddling), Angela’s determination to protect Sera from enemies real and imagined shines through, particularly in a darling and careful sequence in which Angela is protecting Sera from the effects of a bad dream. In the time-honored mythological tradition, Angela literally goes to Hel to retrieve the woman she loves. That, dear readers, is what you call love.
- The Monsters. I don’t even know what they are. In a flashback sequence, Sera saves Angela from a “bugbear” (it looks like a demonic dragon), which is pretty cool. There’s also a random tentacle that springs up from the ground only to be hacked back again with a single sword stroke, a small detail that I really liked. The best enemy is the hierophant. Even after reading all those wikis, I’m not entirely sure what the hierophant is supposed to be, but it’s about fifteen feet tall, shrouds its face, and walks around with massive wings and an enormous halo of fire and knives, and it can throw the knives at you if you upset it, which Angela does. Hierophants are worthy adversaries.
- The Conception of Hel. In one of the articles I read, Marguerite Bennett reiterated her idea, also explained in the comic, that Hel is, above all else, a place a memory. This is a prominent theme throughout the story. In fact, memory appears to be Hel’s main defense (although there’s also a wonderfully rendered labyrinth), and most of the story takes place in a series of flashbacks that seem selected for their ability to disorient Angela. As I said, I was somewhat disoriented myself, but after reading the comic five or six times it more or less resolved itself. Sera also delivers a delicious line about the reality of Hel: “For the wicked, it is punishment. For the righteous, it is reward. For everyone else, it’s pretty chill. No Taco Tuesdays and no wi-fi, but, you know.” That line alone wins it for me. Of course there’s no wi-fi in Hel. Obviously, that’s what makes it Hel.
So, if I, a person who rarely reads in the Marvel Universe and began with no idea who these people were, or what conflicts they were working through prior to picking up this title, can enjoy Angela: Queen of Hel, imagine how much someone already invested in the journey of Angela and Sera, and knowledgeable about their world, will love it.