Dark Agnes #1 Review

by Charles Martin on February 05, 2020

Dark Agnes #1 Review
Writer: Becky Cloonan
Artist: Luca Pizzari 
Colourist: Jay David Ramos
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Dark Agnes is a hellion in 16th-century France. She's a talented swordswoman and a crack pistol shot, and she introduces herself iconically by rescuing a buddy from the headsman's axe.

Agnes charts her own path. Her pal Etienne is very much a sidekick; she is at every point the decisive one -- and the fighter. Her weapons get nearly as much of an introduction as she does: A wicked rapier from her soldierly mentor, a pistol stolen from an English pirate, and a dagger given to her by her sister just before an unwelcome marriage.

The hints we get about Agnes's unhappy origins are some of the strongest parts of this initial issue. Becky Cloonan and Luca Pizzari team up to complicate their protagonist's backstory with a twisted, surreal nightmare that answers a few questions while raising plenty more.

In the real world, Agnes is occupied with schemes tied to a crooked duke. He's the one who ordered Etienne executed, his soldiers killed Agnes's mentor, he puts a bounty on her head -- and by the end of the issue, she's found a bodyguarding gig that will take her straight into the duke's orbit.

Becky Cloonan's script doesn't skimp on the action. Everything we learn about Agnes and Etienne emerges through swordplay and bar-fights and daring rescues. Or, almost everything; when Agnes falls into a drunken sleep, Etienne drops some painfully expository "you push people away but you are a good person" sentiments on her.

I like to think -- and Ms. Cloonan has encouraged the thought with the comic's other, subtler character development -- that Agnes would smack the ever-loving hell out of her pal if she was awake to hear such a thing.

Artist Luca Pizzari puts action (and reaction) first when illustrating this yarn. All of the fighting, fleeing, boasting, and drinking that Agnes does emerges in dynamic, slightly exaggerated posing. That sense of heightened reality carries over into the faces, too; Agnes's face is an expressive (usually smirking) tool for charting her mood.

The colour palette keeps the action clear and faithfully tracks Agnes's fire-red hair. But it's otherwise rather muted, painting town, countryside, and inn (the issue's three main settings) in equally quiet colours.

The dingy colours are, if you'll allow me a little free association, emblematic of a larger problem running through the whole creative effort. 16th-century France is one of the most vivid, adventurous settings in all of history. The idea of a woman hacking her own path through it by force of arms is provocative and compelling. 

And this comic, while telling a fine story, does very little to acknowledge the uniqueness of its setting and protagonist. In the latter case, that's okay; there's an added strength to depicting a strong woman without making a Big Deal out of her stepping outside traditional gender roles. 

But the setting comes off generic, and that's really a shame. I do give Mr. Pizzari credit: He invests extra effort in the complex period costumes, making the characters look good. But conservation of detail is at work here; while the people in the foreground look great, the backgrounds are often vague. It's left up to me as the reader to mentally finish the job of dressing the set, and the hints the art offers aren't encouraging.

Dark Agnes #1 delivers strong plot and character development at a brisk, pulp-y pace. If you're in the market for a swashbuckling tale with a female lead, this will fit the bill nicely. But it doesn't press beyond satisfying. It doesn't make a compelling argument for why such a story -- or this story in particular -- is worth reading. And that's surely a missed opportunity.

Our Score:


A Look Inside


Charles Martin's picture
The panel where Agnes gets excited about charging a nun for bodyguard services is the highlight of the issue; would that the whole thing was that fun.
Charles Martin's picture
The panel where Agnes gets excited about charging a nun for bodyguard services is the highlight of the issue; would that the whole thing was that fun.