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Comic Book / Robert E. Howard's Dark Agnes

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Robert E. Howard's Dark Agnes (often referred to simply as Dark Agnes) is a 2020 limited series from Marvel Comics, based on characters created by Robert E. Howard and licensed by Marvel. It’s written by Becky Cloonan with art by Luca Pizzari and Andrea Borccardo, and color art by Jay David Ramos.

The series stars Agnes de Chastillon, an adventurer and outlaw in 16th century France. After fleeing an arranged marriage to a deeply unpleasant man, Agnes trained to become an expert with both blades and pistols. Now aided by her sidekick, Etienne Villiers, she seeks revenge and becomes embroiled in the plots of others.

Howard only completed two short stories about Agnes (Sword Woman and Blades for France), neither of which was published before his death. A third story (Mistress of Death) was still in draft form when he died. The Marvel Dark Agnes series is a sequel to those stories, not a direct adaptation, so doesn't directly retell her origin - which also means it starts at a point after some significant characters have died.

Agnes made her first Marvel appearance in another series, Conan Serpent War, which also starred Conan, Solomon Kane and Moon Knight, linking her into the shared Marvel Universe - although this is not directly referenced in her solo series. Similarly, although the final Howard story contained supernatural elements, none directly appear in the published Dark Agnes issues.

Dark Agnes was one of several Marvel comics Cut Short by the initial impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, with only two issues published before supply chain issues forced Marvel to reduce their output. Marvel did not announce any attempt to complete publication of Dark Agnes before they lost the rights at the start of 2023.

Titan Comics, who gained the rights to Howard's characters in 2023, have announced plans for their own Dark Agnes series.

The first issue was released Feb 5, 2020. The second (and last) was released March 4, 2020.

Robert E. Howard's Dark Agnes contains the following tropes:

  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Dark Agnes is an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's Agnes de Chastillon stories, which weren't published until after his death. The comic is a sequel rather than a direct adaptation, covering her history briefly in flashback.
  • Cut Short: Dark Agnes was intended as a five-issue limited series, but supply chain issues from the COVID-19 Pandemic meant that publication halted after two. Marvel subsequently lost the rights to Howard's characters, meaning that even if they completed the series before their licence expired, they might only be able to keep it in print for a short time. As of January 2023, when the rights moved to Titan Comics, it remains incomplete.
  • The Executioner: Etienne starts the first issue awaiting his own Public Execution for a long list of crimes. His executioner is a Malevolent Masked Man, hooded, gloved and robed, with a huge two-handed axe. His features are completely concealed, with not even his eyes visible. This is partly because 'he' is actually a disguised Agnes, about to stage a rescue.
  • Groin Attack: Discussed. When avoiding a potential bar brawl, Agnes boasts about her marksmanship skills, mentioning a codpiece as an example target. The man starting trouble takes the hint.
  • Off with His Head!: Etienne starts the first issue at his own Public Execution, where The Executioner is about to decapitate him with a huge axe. Saint Denis, who's reading the charges, even shouts "Off with his head!" when Etienne starts talking too much. Fortunately, the executioner is actually Agnes in disguise.
  • Posthumous Character: The series starts after the original stories, rather than retelling them, so Agnes's mentor Guiscard de Clisson (who dies during the stories) is only seen in dreams and memories.

Alternative Title(s): Dark Agnes