Angela: Queen of Hel #3 Review

Why does Sera look so different?

Marguerite Bennett continues to go wild with her signature epic-comedic style. Angela: Queen of Hel #3 overflows with classical allusions and snarky comics references and non-stop wordplay. Angela continues to battle her way through various Hel-ish trials, accompanied all the way by Sera’s non-stop wit and tongue-in-cheek narration. But all that wit and cheek-tongue doesn’t stop Angela from taking itself seriously–and beautifully–when it wants to.

As in the previous two issues, the flashback sequences are the highlight of this book. Angela and Sera’s simultaneous re-telling of their childhoods unfolds like a double-exposure: two intertwining sides that enhance and reflect each other. Bennett may be playing up her ironic geek cred, but she’ll occasionally hit you with a beautifully-constructed comics love poem. Like I said, it’s a weird, wild little mix. And speaking of beautiful moments, A:QoH #3’s other highlight is definitely Angela’s epic duel against her old rival Meresyn. It’s wonderfully drawn by Kim Jacinto, capturing awesome violence and emotional tension in every panel.

I’m not going to spend much time reviewing this issue. Here are the essentials: it looked great, I liked it, and it was a good issue for all the same reasons that #1 and #2 were good. If you liked those, odds are you’ll like this too. But there’s something else that I really need to address at some point, and this is probably as good a time as any. Namely, Sera is being drawn very differently than she was in Angela: Asgard’s Assassin and 1602: Witch Hunter Angela. Her skin is noticeably lighter and she has a noticeably slimmer body type. She’s not emaciated from wasting away in a prison cell–she basically looks like an entirely different person.

1602-2

1602 Witchhunter Angela art by Stephanie Hans

Angela: Queen of Hel #3, art by Kim Jacinto

Angela: Queen of Hel #3, art by Kim Jacinto with colors by Israel Silva

For a couple of reasons, I’ve held off on commenting on this change so far. I’m a fan of this series, and I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt and see how it played out. In both Asgard’s Assassin AND 1602, Sera was not who she appeared to be. She’s been impersonated and cursed and reverse-double-impersonated very recently, so I wondered if her physical changes might reflect yet another shape-shifting storyline of some kind. Like I said: benefit of the doubt, right?

But if I’m going to be honest, that possibility seems unlikely. Shouldn’t Angela have mentioned that Sera looks different by this point? Or shouldn’t Sera have done so? After all, she gets a maniacal enjoyment out of expositing anything and everything else.

There’s been no textual acknowledgement about the change in Sera’s appearance. And there’s been no clever meta-textual acknowledgment, either… which is all the more glaring because a lot of this issue’s charm comes from Sera’s in-jokey, genre-savvy, fourth-wall break-y wit. She’s name-dropping comicbook backstories and Xena: Warrior Princess and Kieron Gillen all over the darn place. A:QoH #3 even adds Leah into the mix, who’s just as quick-witted and quick-tongued and reference-ready as Sera. Essentially, Angela: Queen of Hel wants to be a comic that Knows What It’s Doing. And for the most part, it succeeds. It’s a well-made book featuring Marvel’s only LGBTQ lead, a queer love story, and (at least to my knowledge) All-New, All-Different Marvel’s only trans character.  Which is why Sera’s physical change is so, so disappointing.

To put this change in some larger context, Marvel has an embarrassing history of lightening the skin of dark-skinned characters. (If you haven’t read Ron Wimberly’s comic about his experiences, stop and do that right now.) And there is painfully little diversity in female body types in superhero comics. (A few standout examples come to mind, but we all know that they’re subject to change depending on who’s drawing them, and it’s not uncommon to read a team-up book where every woman has the exact. same. body.) Honestly, I don’t know why Sera looks so different now. But I’m having trouble imagining an explanation that doesn’t piss me off.

Sure, this could be a simple, well-meaning artistic idiosyncrasy, an innocent misunderstanding. But in that case, it’s confusing why someone (The writer? Or any of the editors? Isn’t this their job?) didn’t step in at some or any point and explain to Kim Jacinto and Israel Silva why it’s super uncool to lighten a character’s skin and give her a completely different body.

On the other hand, this could be editorial intervention (It’s enough that Sera is queer, trans, AND dark-skinned, maybe? We can have two but not three?), which would seem like an incredible conspiracy theory, except for the fact that Axel Alonso et al. are so consistently, incredibly incompetent about LGBTQ representation that I’m increasingly, shall I say, credulous. Because here’s the thing: there is a marked movement towards inclusivity and representation in superhero comics. It’s capturing mainstream (non-comics) media attention in publications like New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter.

But all that well-meaning emphasis on representation isn’t always well-executed (when it’s executed at all, I mean). Iceman’s coming out made headlines, but also made a lot of people feel angry and ignored. Alonso fumbled on Hercules and then on Angela. Marvel has a whole list of canonically queer characters, but with the exception of Angela, they’re not getting their own books. Emma Houxbois wrote recently about how many trans characters in comics are basically written for and by cis people. So those characters can easily end up being alienating, offensive, or simply relatable to actual trans people.

So, Sera represents a bit of catch-22. For me, at least, criticizing Sera feels like a catch-22. First of all, I’m not trans or dark-skinned, and I don’t want to speak for Angela fans who are. But more than that, I recognize that the change in Sera’s appearance represents a step backwards for positive, progressive, intersectional superheroines.

In the last few years, I’ve observed a noticeable increase in both LGTBQ characters and characters of color in superhero comics. It feels like there’s an increasing awareness in the comics industry that Representation is important. At least, concepts like diversity and inclusion are acknowledged. At the very least,they’re words that important comics creators have been known to use on Twitter! #Discourse, am I right? (The painful dissonance between how diversity gets talked about and how it’s executed is an important subject in and of itself, but I’ll leave it be for now.)

But Sera wasn’t only a trans character or a dark-skinned character or a full-figured character. She was all those things. And now she’s not. And if you thought that there weren’t many trans or lesbian or dark-skinned or chubby women in superhero comics, then characters like Sera are essentially non-existent. If Sera’s been summarily slimmed-down and whitened-up, it narrows down the totality of who and what she is, and who and what she represents. Effectively, as comics fans and as human beings, we’re forced to choose between her sexuality, her gender, her skin color, and her body type, as if we couldn’t handle a character who had more than one identity or checked more than one demographic box.

Again, I don’t know what is causing this change. I don’t know if it’s an unfortunate, problematic oversight, or a calculated decision from Marvel’s often out-of-touch editorial powers. I mean, gosh–it might still be a plot point that’ll be explored in a future issue of Angela: Queen of Hell. I’m not holding out hope, but hey–it’s possible, right?

Written by Marguerite Bennett

Art by Kim Jacinto and Stephanie Hans, with colors by Israel Silva

Letters by Travis Lanham

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Mad Moll Green

Mad Moll Green writes in Los Angeles and Vancouver. She loves horror movies, comic books, and ironic spandex.
  • http://sergiorex.tumblr.com/ PowerSerg

    I think it’s the artist and colorist here being bad. It’s not mentjoned because when writing she didn’t knoe what would be changed by the artist. It’s like how in new avengers everyones body shapes are awful and not fitting. It’s not that billy is buff now it’s that the artist simply doesn’t care and that is an issue.

    In queen of hel the story telling goes past the art unlike new avengers but yah.

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