4 out of 5
Salvador Sanz’s Angela Della Muerte is a visually stunning, narratively simple but conceptually complex bit of sci-fi. Sanz plops in huge ideas almost dismissively – that “evil” exists as a physical force inside bodies and can be siphoned out; that souls can be shuffled from empty husk to empty husk – and gracefully shuffles around his pages with paneling that belies as much in picture as it does with its featured text. The four part tale of the titular Angela, who gets immersed in such evil (after a 2-issue sojourn on the moon in order to recover from surgery), leaving us to witness the evolutions of such an event, is incredibly mysterious as a result – only the briefest dialogue snippets give us our context – but it’s not a mystery that feels borne out of purposeful obfuscation. The patience with which Sanz paces each issue suggests that the creator has a definite grasp on what’s occurring, and at least a baseline justification behind it; the two warring families? / persons? / nations? – Dr. Sibelius and Baron Fluo – who battle over what to do with / how to deal with this force of evil primarily appear as passing references, surrounding Angela’s experiences, but they are equally weighted in importance to the short tale, as are the other characters that pop in and out for a few pages or more. Taking a segueway to explore the life of side character Zebra – a soul-displaced person inside the body of a monkey – would be a narrative sin in most cases, when dealing with such a compressed story, but because Angela’s world feels so well realized beyond the confines of the pages, it works, and Sanz’s art gives it all amazing gravitas.
One break from this is when Zebra speaks or thinks, which is done via illustrated thought / word bubbles. For example, when he attacks at one point, his word bubble is filled with an image from Planet of the Apes. While this gets this point across, the images are either of a different type of context than some of Sanz’s other more surreal imagery, kicking the brain into a different processing state (from the abstract to the literal), and in cases like the Planet of the Apes reference, that’s way too specific to occur in the other-wordly sci-fi setting, rather breaking immersion. Thankfully, the fascinating, if brief, story, and amazing visuals help to swing you right back into the tale.
…Perhaps until the final couple of pages, which places the unexplored pieces of the story a bit too far out of reach. I flipped back through the issues to see if I could give myself some further insight on what had occurred, and then sat with it a while to see if I was okay with Whatever The Heck Just Happened. Something was off, though: the conclusion almost seemed too specific to be something I’m supposed to think about on my own, but these were specifics without any context – like introducing a character we’re told is familiar but whom we’ve never met. And it turns out that there were four issues of Angela Della Muerte before the ones I just read, and now I don’t know exactly what to think. Clearly, whoever made that decision was correct in the (assumed) decision that those issues weren’t required for a reader to enjoy the series, as even knowing that I only read the back half of the tale hasn’t diminished my above opinions. However – and I haven’t read those issues yet, as I didn’t want it to sway my take – flipping through them, it’s apparent that a lot of the unknowns I experienced were addressed therein. So I really don’t know what to make of that, but I do know that I’m really excited to read them, as I am to check out other projects of Sanz’s done previously and going forward.