Review: Dark Agnes #1 is a not-so-great pulp yarn
Dark Anges #1 is based on a more obscure Robert E. Howard creation that may have been one of the inspirations for Red Sonja. Agnes de la Ferre aka Dark Agnes is a French woman, who killed the disgusting man she was going to be forced to marry and became a great swordswoman and adventurer. Writer Becky Cloonan, artist Luca Pizzari, and colorist Jay David Ramos definitely understand the swashbuckling, pulpy tone of a Howard story. Even if the execution is lacking in times in the parts of the story that aren’t dialogue. The characters, Dark Agnes and her sidekick Etienne, are more stock than three dimensional. Cloonan writes some witty dialogue and places them in settings that would be out of place in a capital “R” French Romantic novel written in the 19th century, but set centuries before.
However, Dark Agnes #1’s chief weakness isn’t with its prose, but with the visuals. This comic seems to suffer from the “Dynamite problem”, which is having a fantastic, inviting cover and incomprehensible-to-above average (At times) interior art. If it wasn’t for Cloonan’s shout-y dialogue, the initial scene of Dark Agnes rescuing Etienne would have zero suspense. Luca Pizzari handles the big reactions, or flashback dreams, but not the little things that make a set piece great in Dark Agnes #1. There are too many moving parts in his action sequences, and a scene that should be epic (Aka Dark Agnes kicking ass with a sword in her mouth.) falls flat because the focal point on the panel is off center. However, Jay David Ramos does a decent job emphasizing Agnes’ flame red mane as well as using a muddy palette to evoke the stench of stereotypical “Dark Ages” France. He uses brighter colors when Etienne and Dark Agnes take on a rich woman and her nun companion to protect towards the end of the first issue.
One thing that these modern Robert E. Howard adaptations can do is add interiority and shading to pulp archetypes. However, Dark Agnes #1 doesn’t do that, for better or worse. I hate to say it, but Becky Cloonan and Luca Pizzari basically transpose the story of Red Sonja to medieval France. And it’s not intrigued, well-researched medieval France, but just a backdrop for swashbuckling adventures and interspersed French dialogue. The Duke of Alencon seems to be the bad guy, but he could easily be substituted by the Duke of Burgundy or the Sheriff of Nottingham or any such mustache twirler. Hopefully, his real menace is shown down the road.
I do like the basic premise for the character of Dark Agnes, and that she is a woman in an incredibly oppressive time period, who overcomes trauma to be a badass. Even though the storytelling around her is wooden, Cloonan, Pizzari, and Ramos give her true energy to match her flame red hair beginning with the opening of Dark Agnes #1 where she rescues the “damsel in distress” Etienne from execution in a scene that is actually pretty funny. Her sheer swagger coupled with the foreboding images of her dreams sow the seeds of a potentially interesting pulp heroine, and the final pages definitely up the stakes. In video game terms, think “fast travel”.
I definitely wish that Becky Cloonan had the opportunity to both write and draw Dark Agnes because her work on Dark Horse’s Conan shows that she is a natural fit for high energy, bloody adventures. However, that is not the case, and the visuals of Dark Agnes #1 make the book seem more sluggish than exciting. The writing and plotting isn’t pristine either with a generic sense of setting and several cliches even though Cloonan’s dialogue is musical and humorous sometimes. It’s a comic to definitely trade wait for
Story: Becky Cloonan Art: Luca Pizzari
Colors: Jay David Ramos Letters: Travis Lanham
Story: 7.3 Art: 5.8 Overall: 6.0 Recommendation: Pass
Marvel Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review