“If you like action, intrigue, and adventure, and have always wanted to travel back in time to the beginning of the Renaissance, this is the story for you,” says Becky Cloonan of Marvel ‘s new miniseries, Dark Agnes. Cloonan is writing the series, accompanied by artist Luca Pizzari and featuring covers by Stephanie Hans. Cloonan’s having so much fun doing it, she tells us in an email interview, because she loves all of these things and is certain fans of Robert E. Howard’s work will too.
Not that you need to know anything about Howard’s work to enjoy Dark Agnes. Cloonan isn’t embarrassed to admit that she knew nothing about Agnes de Chastillon before taking on her story. “She’s a lesser known Robert E. Howard character. I expect a lot of the readers will be joining in as new fans as well!” However, new fans may recognize Howard’s more well known creation, Conan the Barbarian, whom Agnes recently appears alongside in Conan: Serpent War.
Though Conan stories were Howard’s priority, Howard spent enough time with Agnes to create an intriguing and memorable character that stands out amongst similar characters and Howard’s other creations. Published after Howard’s death, Agnes came to life in the 1975 story, Sword Woman. “The first thing that struck me about Dark Agnes was the setting,” says Cloonan. “It’s a straight-up historical fiction with no crossover to any other of his stories. It’s the Renaissance, not the Hyborian Age! Howard liberally peppered Dark Agnes with real places, events, and people (except that one time she had to fight a sorcerer, but I mean, it was 1520, so who really knows).”
Escaping from an abusive father and an arranged marriage by murdering the bridegroom and running away, Agnes meets Etienne Villiers and Guiscard de Clisson. The latter trains her in sword fighting, and, later, she and Etienne venture off to 16th century Italy for swashbuckling adventures as sellswords in two more tales.
“I think my favorite thing about Agnes is that she is full of agency,” says Cloonan. “She has goals, hopes, and fears, and is constantly moving towards them — all the while struggling with her past, her temper, and her identity.”
Though Howard’s Agnes stories were few, Cloonan feels that the character was “at the doorstep to higher adventures that he was only able to scratch the surface of.” With as much care and appreciation for his characters as she can offer, Cloonan feels that she has woven them into a worthy story that is just as fascinating and relatable now as it was in the 1930s when Howard first dreamed up the character.
“Howard created a character who symbolically cast aside her womanhood in order to try and achieve equality,” says Cloonan, “Although she doesn’t try and conceal her gender, she did cut her hair short, and dresses in a doublet and britches. Honestly, I couldn’t relate to a character more! And what could be more relevant than striving for the recognition of your actions and deeds, but constantly being held back by a society that doesn’t recognize your personhood?”
Dark Agnes’ and Etienne’s adventures will continue across a five-part series starting in February. If you want to get a feel for what kind of vibes you can expect, we asked Cloonan to put together a playlist for the sword pair. “I love making ridiculous playlists, so here ya go!”
– Power Trip – Executioner’s Tax
– Lucifer’s Friend- Ride the Sky
– Uriah Heep – Easy Livin’
– Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance
– David Bowie – Move On
– Adam & the Ants – Stand and Deliver
– Iron Maiden – Blood Brothers
– Run DMC – It’s Tricky
While Dark Agnes’ story plays out and beyond, Cloonan will be busy with many more projects for the new year. As she’s mentioned on Twitter, she tries to do something new every year. It’s early days in 2020, but “who knows what the future will hold? Sometimes it’s best to live in the mystery.”
Whatever the future may bring, let’s hope that it includes lots more of Dark Agnes:
Dark Agnes #1 (OF 5)
ROBERT E. HOWARD’S SWORDWOMAN IN HER FIRST SOLO COMIC SERIES!
Forced into an arranged marriage, Agnes de Chastillon took matters into her own violent hands to free herself from the yoke of a life she never wanted. Now, the woman known as DARK AGNES, along with her mercenary partner ETIENNE VILLIERS, make their way through 16th century France as sellswords on their way to join the wars in Italy, where the real money is! But when Etienne is captured by the DUKE OF ALENCON’s forces and set for execution, it’s up to Dark Agnes to save the day! But what evil designs are being enacted on Agnes, and will she doom herself by saving Etienne?
An all-new story following up Robert E. Howard’s tales, the swashbuckling saga of DARK AGNES in Marvel Comics starts here!
Dark Agnes #2 (OF 5)
MAYHEM, A MASKED BALL, AND MURDER MOST FOUL!
AGNES and ETIENNE enter the lair of the beast-sneaking into the palace of DUKE D’ALENCON, even as his agents hunt for them! But when a murder victim turns up in the court, will they escape notice or be drawn deeper into the labyrinth of disaster forming around them? All this and the return of a ghost from Agnes’ past!
Dark Agnes #3 (of 5)
DUEL TO THE DEATH!
The DUKE may be away, but the palace is not safe for wanted brigands AGNES and ETIENNE! Agnes encounters a bitter enemy—and she’ll stop at nothing to get her revenge! Meanwhile, a plot is put into motion that may cut Agnes’ stay at the palace very short indeed…