Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tipton and Messina Comicize "Smile Time"

What Is It?: Angel- Smile Time adaptation. Original story by Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund, original script by Ben Edlund. Adapted to comic script by Scott Tipton.

Timing: First thirteen minutes of the Angel: Season Five episode, "Smile Time."

Review: I'm not very keen on the idea of adaptations, because I keep day dreaming about how David Messina's art would be better used for an original Angel one-shot or even a mini-series. But I knew I would buy the book for two reasons. One, I've got major love for IDW, who have made 2008 all sorts of good with their Angel line (and some other books of theirs I've been getting into), and they have a lot on their plate for 2009 also, and that looks to be an exciting year for Angel fans. The whole team, from Brian Lynch, to Chris Ryall, to Stephen Mooney, to Scott Tipton, to David Messina and more have all been so great with communicating with the fans, that I knew I'd be buying "Smile Time," if only to support my favorite comic publisher. The second reason was because Tipton, who wrote the fairly entertaining "Auld Lang Syne," promised a few extra tidbits that weren't in the episode. And, he delivered on that front. But I'll get to that in a bit.

As an adaptation, it mostly works. There are a few scenes that come off as rushed and awkward, and some that actually benefit from the medium. The Knox/Fred conversation went somewhat well, but there was an ill-placed speech bubble that almost entirely blocked the Valentine's Day card he was handing Fred, which was a bit odd, visually. Had I not just seen the episode, I'm not sure I would have followed until he began talking about the card. Also (and this is minor), the final beat of the conversation has Knox saying "I do?" when it should be "I do," as in the original script, and to make his walking away make sense. The next two pages are where the awkwardness peaks, because there was a lot of conversation crammed into these two pages. In these scenes and the previous scenes, which were already a bit crammed with conversation, Tipton added some lines here and there, but they don't really benefit the overall flow. New stuff is cool, new stuff is why I came, but a few extra lines (that are mostly exposition where exposition isn't needed) at the expense of the flow is not worth it. In the scene I just talked about, Knox originally said "I know, Valentines was last week. But, um, I didn't take the discount on the card." This time around, he says "I know, Valentines was last week. But I didn't take the discount on the card. Even though the cashier begged me to--no, ma'am, I paid full price." And that expansion of dialogue was what led to the obscuring of the card. Sorry for going back there, but as long as we're on the topic of new lines I'm not sure we needed... Now, I'm not really fond of the concept behind the "Smile Time" episode, but it does have a lot of classic Angel lines. Especially his awkward "Oh, you know... drinking blood" in response to Nina asking him what he's doing for breakfast the next day. I'm not sure why, but in the comic, Tipton decided to change the line, and have him saying "Oh, you know... drinking blood, I guess." Again, I'm all for new stuff, but I think there has to be a balance, so that the new stuff matters, as opposed to new stuff that takes away from the way the lines read.

From that point on, however, things are looking up. The beefy Angel/Wesley conversation, which took up the more time than anything else so far in the actual episode, is done exceptionally well here. It could have felt bloated or rushed--and, perhaps, it SHOULD have felt bloated or rushed--but Tipton defies the laws of physics and makes this incredibly heavy scene flow nicely. The pages are packed with panels to be sure, but the placement of the speech bubbles and the staging of the conversation really helps it flow smoothly. The conversation Angel has with Lorne on the following page, where a few things are cut, also works very well here.

Now we get to the meat an potatoes... an entirely new scene. On his way to drop by Smile Time studios, Angel goes to the parking garage to get his favorite car... which Spike is already in the process of taking. Tipton is fairly skilled at writing Spike dialogue, and has a nice handle on the relationship between the two characters. I'm not sure that Angel would let Spike take his favorite car under any circumstances, but I'll buy it, citing his rush to get out and save some kids. This scene was my favorite, because it's new and helps push the story forward, and the dialogue is decent.

Tipton helped the next scene--which is mostly Angel walking through the Smile Time studio and, of course, being turned into a puppet--read nicely by adding some of Angel's internal thoughts. This, again, is a nice example of the kind of new stuff I was looking for. His thought process here is fairly by-the-books, with lines like "Uh-oh. Company." and "There's your first sign of weirdness." and "Over there." and "Here we go." I wish it had a bit more of that Whedonesque quirk in it, because Angel does have some really interesting thoughts, but I also understand why it was the way it was. It's hard for comics to capture the movement of live action, and I did think that the internal thoughts did help to establish the feel of Angel moving through the building, looking for something.

The last page also has a pretty awesome reaction to Angel turning into a puppet. Again, a great new tidbit.

Overall, I did enjoy reading it. I hope the comic gives me a new appreciation for an episode I never really liked, especially since "Spike: Shadow Puppets" showed me that the whole puppet thing definitely works better in comics. Tipton's new scene here is better than the stuff he wrote in "Auld Lang Syne" and on par with his "Spike" one-shots, which I really enjoyed. I'm not excited for the book the way I'm excited for "After the Fall," "Aftermath," and "Blood and Trenches," but I will continue to pick up the series in hopes that the established scenes will be handled as well as the Angel/Wesley scene and that there will be more new stuff, a la the Angel/Spike scene.

Art: David Messina was the artist behind the earlier Angel books, and I always found that he did the male characters a bit too angular, too muscular, and too square-jawed. But no longer. Messina has been improving with every page he turns in, and the progress from "The Curse" to Spike's "First Night" tale to this is incredible. Everything about his art, from likenesses to the movement to landscapes to the way he draws people in general has improved astronomically, and now it's hard to find much of a fault in his art at all. I do wish he was a bit better at capturing the mood of the characters on their faces, such as Fred's reaction to Wesley not interpreting her signals. She seems more or less happy/sleepy there, when I'm not sure that's what they were going for. Other than the facial expressions--and his Wesley likeness--Messina's art is flawless. The coloring is also great.

Covers: We've got two covers. One is a great David Messina work, featuring Angel turning into a puppet. We see all the in between stages too, which is pretty cool. With the "egg" thing in back of him and the blueish black tone of it all, it's a cool, slick cover. The B cover is a photo from the show, featuring the ironically iconic image of battle-wounded puppet Angel leading Gunn, Fred, and Wesley through the lobby of Wolfram & Hart, a sword slung over his shoulders. I was just going to buy the Messina, because as much as I support IDW, it's an adaptation... but when I saw this, I had to pick both up.

Characters We Know: Smile Time crew, Knox, Fred, Nina, Angel, Harmony, Gunn, Wesley, Lorne, and Spike.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jeph Loebs Takes a Stab At Buffy

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #20: After These Messages-- We'll Be Right Back (written by Jeph Loeb).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Some time, presumably more than a week, after "Time of Your Life."

REVIEW: I honestly thought this issue would be terrible. Jeph Loeb, who was once known as one of comic's brightest, hasn't been that popular recently. While he's certainly a solid dude who makes a great effort to talk to the fans and give his opinions on popular culture, his writing just hasn't been impressing recently. He was one of the driving forces behind the plot-centric nature of Heroes, which some believe to be the show's downfall. Also, the preview of the issue left a lot to be desired. So, needless to say, I was worried.

But Loeb didn't do bad. He delivered one of the best Heroes episodes in a while this Monday, and this week's Buffy issue didn't completely suck like I thought it would. It wasn't good, nor was it anywhere near worth all the hype that lead up to it, but it was--for the most part--better than the preview lead me to believe it would be.

Does Loeb have a feel for Buffy's voice? No. There are moments where it reads as horrid fanfic (The opening line "You come one more inch and... things are going to get all blechy"), and other moments where it sort of works ("Look at you, Will! You're all magicky and gay now!"), but it's a lot more of the latter than it is of the former. I don't know why this made it past the script stage, because the issue would have been a lot better if the dialogue had been redone.

How's the plot? Not bad. It's cool to see present-Buffy interact with the old cast, and the scene with her mom reads a lot better with the comic in front of you than it did in the preview. Things are rushed, yeah, and you don't really get a good idea of how Buffy feels during the whole thing, but that was to be expected. Loeb had less than twenty two pages for the in-the-past section of the comic, and I think he utilized it pretty well. The best little detail is that he actually gave Xander's skateboard the proper send-off it never got on the show. While it really didn't read like Season Eight level material, it also wasn't awful, and convinced me that if an animated series ever happens, I'll follow it.

And the framing scenes? Oh no. "It was all a dream." Yup. He did it. I liked the beginning of the issue, and that the Scoobs were shown to be living in a new place... but the end could have tied things up a hell of a lot better. So Buffy had an in depth dream that allowed her to take a small piece of advice away from it and, maybe, apply it to her current life. Interesting... but enough to warrant an issue like this? No. There should have been a deeper reason behind it, and if a few pages or panels were sacrificed, there could have been.

What Buffy said. So, everyone's talking about the crass Cordelia comment Buffy made to Willow. After Cordelia torments Willow in school, Buffy slyly says to her, "Maybe someday she'll be dead and you'll be a sorceress supreme." Yup. So not only does Loeb not have a grip on Buffy's speech patterns, he also struggles with the fact that Buffy isn't the leader of the Mean Girls. You don't make fun of your dead friends, and the argument that Buffy and Cordelia hadn't become friends by the end of Cordy's time in Sunnydale doesn't work for me. It was a small moment, but it does bring to light the other flaws in the writing that really stood out for me.

Again, the issue wasn't at all as bad as I expected, after reading the preview. The "mystery of the week" with the vampires and the dragon was cool, and really did feel like a throw-back to the past, and I thought the scene where Buffy imagines Angel saying "You look very beautiful" was laugh out loud hilarious. So there were enough gems in this issue to keep it from being the weakest issue of the series, but... I'm just ready to move past it an onto #21.

Art: It's great to have Georges back, to say the least. I loved Moline and he might even be a better artist, but Georges' art feels like I'm coming home at last. Eric Wight and his team provide the cartoony sections, and they're great. They're lively and bright, but still manage to capture the likenesses of the characters and the overall tone of the series nicely. The panel where Giles pretends to be excited about what Harmony will wear, followed by his glare in the next panel was such a great visual gag. Very cartoony, but not cartoony enough to not look real. It's a tough balance to achieve, and Eric Wight did it skillfully.

Covers: What can you say about the Jo Chen cover? By merely looking at it, you understand that you're seeing something great. People have thought that it's a photograph. It's such a precise, beautiful painting in the way it perfectly captures the likenesses--not only the facial features, but the postures and the feel of the characters--and the whole idea behind it, of the Scoobs watching Buffy: Animated on television, is fantastic. Utterly perfect cover. The variant is done by Georges Jeanty, but he attempts to match the style of Wight's animation. It's awesome to see Angel, Cordy, and Giles on a cover with the rest of the gang, and the layout of it all is very dynamic.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Xander, Joyce, Dawn, Willow, Harmony, Cordelia, Snyder, Giles, Angel.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One of the Most Emotional Things I've Ever Read

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #15 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly follows Angel #14.

REVIEW: So, as the title says, this is probably one of the most emotional things I've ever read. I can't really talk about everything I want to without uber spoiling, so what I'm going to do is write my regular review, and then whip up a spoilery paragraph or two that you'll have to highlight to read.

The comic starts where #14 left off. Illyria is in her true form, putting the smack down on LA. She's preparing to end the world--and my one complaint about this comic is that three different characters, in the span of five pages, remind us of this. Other than that tiny quibble, though... there's nothing here but chocolatey, tragic goodness. Any questions I might have had of this series being the best comic I've ever read is gone, because this, Angel #15, has beat out #1, #12, and #13 as my favorite comic in the series. That makes "Angel: After the Fall" as a whole have six "10/10 Classic" issues. I never could have expected the series to be so emotional and so damn daring, but... ahhk, I'll get to that in el paragraph de spoilers.

But yeah. The issue is packed with best-scene-of-the-series after best-scene-of-the-series. Let me give you a bit of a taste of what happens. Illyria uses a timeslip to show Angel the extent of the destruction he will cause when the Shanshu Prophecy comes true. Angel rallies up his friends to make a stand against Illyria. A major character dies, and has a death scene almost as great as the Wesley death scene from Not Fade Away. Illyria is faced with a barrage of memories of Fred. All of these major, major scenes come one after the other, playing off of each other, building up in a climax of action and emotions that is rarely accomplished. This stuff is "Becoming Part II," "The Gift," and "Not Fade Away" level stuff, people, and there are still two issues to go.

Brian Lynch manages to keep the dialogue light and very Whedonesque even in the most dire of situations. Spike's line--"What, just because you're not there doesn't mean it didn't happen. I'm mates with a telepathic fish. You practically dated a dragon, let's move on"--made me laugh through the blubbery tears the previous scene caused. All of the character arcs, both from this and the Spike spin-off come to a head, and all the development of Gunn, Wesley, Spike, Illyria, Angel, and Connor this season climaxes on the fateful battlefield. Most importantly, Angel comes to a realization about Illyria, Gunn, and himself and takes control of his actions, and--like the hero we've all come to love--comes up with an effective plan to tip the battle back in his favor.

What a tragic, epic, hilarious, scary, poignant issue. So true to the series.

Now... spoilers. If you haven't read the issue, please don't read this. Why would you? If you do you'll stink forever. If you're already a stinky person, you'll be unable to control the flow of your drool. If you like being stinky and drooling a lot, you might as well read it anyway, because you won't be allowed into the comic shop if you stink up the place and drool everywhere. SPOILERS: So. Two characters bite the dust. Groo is disposed of by Illyria in a very cavalier way, which really serves to condemn Illyria for me. She's through with trying to live with humans, and that, for me anyway, was her last straw. It was tragic, because really, it's Groosalugg, and I love the guy... but it served its purpose. But on the even more heartbreaking side... the worst thing that could ever happen to Angel happens here. His son, Connor, dies in his arms. After being stabbed by Gunn with the very flaming sword Angel fought with in the battle with the LA Lords. I wouldn't even mention this in the review, but the simple fact is that the death and the way it's handled is one of the reasons why the issue is so good. It's insanely risky, but the pay off is enormous. Because when Connor is stabbed, it feels like everything goes quiet. As Angel says, the "World has just ended." Seeing Angel holding a dying Connor is one of the saddest things I've ever seen, and the final, hopeful words that Connor gives his father will leave Angel with the will he needs to fight. And to win. Major kudos to Brian Lynch, Chris Ryall, Joss Whedon, and the entire IDW team for going there. You made me cry like a little baby, and I'm grateful.

Art: Franco Urru is back! Needless to say, the dude nails all of the power shots. This comic is filled to the brim with iconic images, From the group shot of the slayers, Wesley, Connor, and Spike with Angel leading them that is "Let's go to work" caliber stuff, to the tragic last page, to the more subtle panels like Spike's wordless, emotional frown when he realizes what has to happen to Illyria. The art is crazy good, to say the least. Also, to compliment his awesome pencils, colorist Fabio Mantovani comes on board. His colors give a lot of presence and texture to Franco's arc, giving the stylized images a sort of realistic look, which plays nicely off the weird atmostphere of Hell-A. The best example of his work is on page 19, when Betta George floods Illyria's head with Wesley and Spike's memories of Fred. From the cold, dead atmosphere behind Illyria, Mantovani manages to make this Lovecraftian horror look heartbroken. Franco has finally been paired with a colorist who can keep up with him, and I hope to see them finish out the series together.

Covers: Two doozies. Franco's cover isn't his best work, but it's still really dynamic. Angel, Spike, Wesley, and Connor are hopping (literally, for Connor) into action as the hellish glow of Los Angeles casts creepy shadows over them. The action of the shot is great, but the facial expressions and details of the characters are a bit lacking. Alex Garner delivers a great image of a horrified Angel getting a glimpse of what he will become when the Shanshu Prophecy comes true. And pretty much, you can put a frame on any Garner cover because the man is a master of covers. His best Angel cover will come down the line, with the nearly perfect #16 image, but this is still a great work.

Characters We Know: Angel, Wesley, Illyria, Fred (sorta), Connor, Groosalugg, Spike, Spider, Betta George, Gunn, Nina, Lorne.

Rating: 10/10 Classic.

Angel #15

I've hardly even got time to do this before I head off to work, but I've read Angel #15 and let me tell you... damn. Not only is it the best issue of the series, it's also probably one of the most emotional things I've ever read.

Once again... damn.

I'll write a real review when I get home tonight. I've got a meeting with an artist of a comic I'm working on, but I should have time in between that and work.

But yeah.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Okay, so...

...this ain't about Buffy.

But we haven't had a Buffyverse comic come out in a while, so I don't really feel that bad about whoring my own work through this site. I mean, it's only keeping this blog alive, right? ...Right?

*clears throat*

Here we go.

Laugh Track, my new webcomic, is up and running. You can read, love, hate, enjoy, scream at, smile at, etcetera the first issue over at the new Laugh Track site. It features art by the wonderful Paul J. Hollingsworth and will be updated with a new issue the second Friday of every month.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Back On Point

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #19: Time of Your Life Part III (written by Joss Whedon).

Timing: Directly after "Time of Your Life Part III."

REVIEW: After a nearly two month long wait, Joss Whedon and friends deliver the conclusion to the hyped Buffy/Fray crossover, "Time of Your Life." After some still-good-but-slightly-off-if-you-know-what-I-mean issues, Joss finally lives up to the standard he set in the fantastic #16, which kicked this arc off. Revelations--huge ones, in fact--are made, confrontations are had, and things get all sorts of stabby when Buffy faces off against the many, many people in the future who either want her dead or want to prevent her from returning home. With everything on the table, it's definitely the second-best conclusion to an arc we've seen thus far, ranking in just below Drew Goddard's fantastic #15.

There was a lot of plot to tie up here, so it's no surprise that the issue got a few extra pages. The awesome, but non-essential stuff was dealt with in a quick and neat manner, which enabled the story to focus more on the core of the arc and its ramifications on the characters. Harth presents a threat but is taken care of (not dying, obviously, as that's Fray's business if there's ever another series), Gunther's fate is revealed, and the Xander/Dawn fight their final battle with the Green Magic Serpent Things... along with some help from the woodland creature. Wow, never thought I'd type that sentence.

A lot of the main conflict, which can be boiled down to Buffy vs. Fray/Buffy vs. Dark Willow, is made up of action, but the dialogue and the final resolution to the conflict (c'mon, you don't think I'd give it away, did you?) is at once terrifying and sad. There are a few images here that you won't soon forget, I'll say that much.

Also, a major Who Is Twilight? theory is either proven or debunked in this issue (not sayin' which). Let's just say... what we learn leaves us asking more questions that ever before, yet is somehow satisfying. For now.

Looks like, thanks to Joss Whedon, Karl Moline, Scott Allie, and co. taking their time to make sure this issue gets done right, Buffy: Season Eight is back on track. I've had a damn rough past two days, but this issue sort of helped to take my mind off the shit. Thanks, guys. Loved the issue.

Art: Karl Moline is a force to be reckoned with. I thought we might have had to sacrifice a bit of quality in the pencils in order for Moline to get this issue out on time, what with the script being so late, but nope. His work looks good as ever. I will certainly miss his take on the Buffyverse characters, because he really put a lot of his own style into it, all the while making them look like them. There were a lot of epic action scenes and even more epic emotional shots that Karl Moline just nailed. Ah man, I love this 'verse.

Covers: Jo Chen has given us some of her best work for this arc, and this cover is just another shining example. Well, maybe shining is the wrong word. Veiny? A veiny example? The cover is a close-up on Dark Willow, and it's probably the most accurate likeness Chen has gotten. The reflection of Buffy in Willow's eye, the shape of her nose and lips, the crude veins stretching down her forehead and cheeks... stunning. Jeanty's cover, on the other hand, is his least impressive in a while. It's detailed and all, but it's just not as dynamic as his images usually are. His Fray likeness isn't really that great here, though his take on Buffy is awesome as ever. I just wish it were something a bit more than Fray and Buffy standing side by side, no matter how cool the future/present background is.

Characters We Know: Willow, Buffy, Fray, Erin, Gates, Harth, Gunther, Xander, Dawn, Amy, Warren, Twilight, SPOILER!: Riley, Kennedy. Wow, loaded issue.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Questions Are Answered, Decisions Are Made

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #14 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly follows Angel #13.

REVIEW: While it didn't give me the I-can-barely-speak-this-is-perfect reaction that #12 and #13 did, this was still a damn good addition to the series. A lot of stuff is revealed and a lot of the conversations we've been waiting for take place, most with extreme pay-off. The issue starts with Groosalugg battling the jetliner-dragons outside of Gunn's place, spouting off hilarious lines as always. It's a perfectly funny introduction to a pretty serious issue, and it works because it still has a dark undercurrent.

That leads right into what might be the best scene of the issue (it's tied with the final scene). Spike finally finds out that Angel is human, and his reaction is priceless. It's funny, subtly done, and full of nuance, which just another example of the deep understanding Brian Lynch has of the Spike character... and the tone of the larger Buffyverse, actually. I also love that the two most obvious ways to heal Angel were totally written off, leading to a plot twist that pays off a question we've been asking since the first issue- (spoiler:) What is that demony mess that Gunn built? I love the way that was done.

One thing, though. I'm confused as to why the jetliner-dragons didn't try to take out Gunn. Weren't they initially called into action because Gunn tried to kill Angel? I know that the army of demons--the ones that stood in as conduits for the Senior Partners, anyway--were there to (SPOILERS:) heal Angel with the demony mess that Gunn built, but didn't Wesley also say that the reason that W&H called their army was because Gunn tried to hurt Angel? I thought that statement was specific to the dragons, which is why I figured they were killing everyone around the place that Angel was harmed at. It's a small moment in an otherwise great comic that felt off, but I do hope there's an explanation to make that moment read a bit smoother.

I liked the scene with Wesley and Illyria. I would have liked to see a bit more of it, so the big moment in the issue got a bit more build-up, but it was still good. The last scene (the one that tied with the Spike scene) was just fantastic, though. In the final five pages, everything is laid on the table and, in that short scene, it seemed like everything was about to happen. It seemed like Gunn might be staked. It seemed like they might all be sent home. It seemed like a LOT of things were going to happen, because it's such a tense, well-written moment. And the end leaves a nice twist. For me, it wasn't really that surprising because of what came before it, but Gunn's reaction to Illyria's "plan" is what really made it a great ending for me.

Art: For the past few issues, I've pretty much felt the same about Mooney. His work in #12 and #13 were good. I didn't like that he often had the characters in poses from promotional images, and that his shading was a bit too dark, giving some faces a blotchy look. HOWEVER... that changes here. There is a marked improvement in the majority of his art. All of his Gunn likenesses completely and utterly rock, and I love the way he drew the scene where Spike first learns that Angel is human. Also, the scene where Spike vamps out is perfect--it's detailed, and looks nothing like any promo shot we've ever seen. His Connor likenesses have also improved. Mooney has definitely outdone himself with our beloved characters. On the other hand, I didn't really like the demons he drew. This issue pops with demons--including Illyria's true form--and they don't really look that scary or detailed. There is only one real page with demonic Illyria, so it's not at all a big deal, but I just wish that image had been a bit more realistic looking, seeing how realistic Mooney's human likenesses look like. Overall, though, the art is a major improvement from Mooney's work in the previous two issues, which was already quite good. Art Lyon provides colors for this issues, but I feel like there's nothing more to say about his coloring, really. His style, how he bathes entire pages in red and grey, just doesn't do it for me. The scene with Wesley and Fred was, at least, nicely colored. He's definitely cut down on the brownness of previous issues, so I'm glad he's taking fan reaction into account when coloring these pages. Still, though. These pages would look much better with a different colorist.

Covers: Two fantastic covers this time around. Alex Garner provides a truly terrifying rendition of Illyria's true form squeezing the life out of a human Angel. The other cover is sort of a collage of Angel's life so far--maybe chosen due to the timeslips Illyria is doing--done by Nick Runge, who is a great cover artist. It's not as strong as his last cover, but it's still a fantastic, poignant image.

Characters We Know: Groosalugg, Dragon, Angel, Spike, Connor, Wesley, Illyria, Gunn, Betta George.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All Bloody Hail

What Is It?: Spike- After the Fall #4 (written by Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly after Spike- After the Fall #3.

REVIEW: It's hard to believe that the majority of this issue is one fight. It's so emotional, so bloody, so action packed, and so filled with well-written dialogue that it seems like many, many events are happening instead of one long fight. Including Connor was a nice touch, and I especially like his interactions with Non and Spike. Another thing I appreciated was how the focus wasn't taken off Spike or Illyria. Even when fighting the biggest bads, the story was 100% about them. Even the way Non was dealt with in the end was more about Spike's character development than actually defeating Non.

Like any Brian/Franco issue, it's loaded with fun little extras, like Spike taking on a vampire Hugh Hefner, who I think was turned way before LA went south for the fall... and how Spike got his robe. Fantastic. But nothing that happens here is really little, per say. For a book that is essentially a prequel to the main Angel: After the Fall arc, there are such huge, huge things happening here. Illyria has one moment that is frighteningly true to her character, and the way it's handled sheds light on where both Spike and her heads are at. It's definitely an emotional issue, on par with the latest two installments of Angel.

So concludes Spike: After the Fall, one of the most consistently, thoroughly good comics we've got this year. I'm praying we'll see more from the terribly talented trio (Brian/Franco/Spike) in the future.

Art: Brian Lynch has called Franco Urru the best artist in comics... and I'm starting to agree. He manages to nail all the emotional moments, but also captures the motion of the battle scenes so perfectly that you can almost see the characters fighting with each other across the panels. He's a champ at pretty much every aspect, especially his full page revelations which... in this case, are actually heartbreaking. I still think the man's one weakness is the detail of the characters when they're a distance away, but even that has improved dramatically since his work on Angel. I just wish he was paired with a talented colorist to bring out the best in his work. Art Lyon is back on this book, which was especially painful after Jason Jensen did such a fantastic, fantastic job last issue. I Art has improved at incorporating more colors into his coloring, and the book benefits from it. But honestly, how can you not make Kr'ph blue? Kr'ph needs to be blue. I will end with saying this--in this book, Art Lyon did surprise me with the improvements that he did make.

Covers: Franco Urru provides the better cover of the set again (of course). It's a very detailed cover, featuring many characters in the heat of many battles. And there is muuuucho blood. I'm not sure that it's Franco's best Spike likeness, because the face is sort of long, but otherwise it's a great cover. The Sharp Bros also deliver their best cover, with Spike in a circus setting presenting Illyria, the sideshow woman/monster. It's by far my favorite cover by them, and among the most interesting of the series. I love the text on the cover as well.

Characters We Know: Spike, Connor, Illyria, Fred, Non, Spider, Jeremy

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Keeps Gettin' Better

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #13 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly follows Angel: After the Fall #12.

REVIEW: Wow. It's been a hard month for Buffyverse fans, what with the delay of Buffy #19 and the latness of this issue... but as one Frank Barone would say, "Holy crap." The wait was worth it three times over. The writing in this issue is the best it's been, no contest. Subtle and outright references to the past, huge character moments, bad-ass fights, heroism, and ultimate heartbreak pours out of this issue, capturing the tone of the show better than any issue before.

It's a bit hard to talk specifics without spoilering, but here's what you can expect. At least two somewhat major characters die, probably for keeps. We get confirmation of the no-one-dies clause that keeps bringing the slayers back at Gunn's place. We get a fight between Connor and Gunn, as well as Angel's final decision on whether to live or die. Gunn takes his plan to the next, bloody level. Great Spike lines, and some really, really tragic scenes.

It's everything I expected from what looks to be the first act of the climax of Angel: After the Fall. Things are heating up in hell and we've got four issues left. November can't come soon enough.

Art: Mooney, again, did good here. If I had to compare his work here to what he gave us in #12, I'd say that his pencils here are a bit better than last time. He really captures Cordy nicely, as well as Angel, Gunn, and Gwen. His Illyria is also well done. His Spike and Connor are very hit and miss, though he did nail each character in their most important panels (both during the Angel "voice over" section). I'm still not thrilled about his shading technique, but it's his style, and the majority of his art is consistently good enough for me to ignore what I don't like and concentrate on what I do. He had a lot of major, major scenes to execute here, and he did a nice job. Now onto the coloring. Art Lyon, whose brown work has been my biggest complaint about After the Fall, actually does a good job here. I noticed his effort to make things more lively and colorful, and I definitely appreciate him bringing his work to the next level for this book. I'm very much looking forward to Fabio Mantovani (who colored the Gunn story from #8 and did art and colors on the Gwen story from that same issue) to take over coloring duties in #15, but I'm also really happy that Art Lyon brought a better product to the table in this issue.

Covers: The A cover is by the man who is to Angel as Jo Chen is to Buffy. Yup, that's right. The only and only Alex Garner. His cover is a puzzle of Illyria/Fred, with some pieces depicting Illyria and others depicting Fred. It's wonderfully done and a perfect likeness of both characters. The B cover is by Nick Runge, whose work this time around seems to be every bit as good as Garner's. His cover art is fantastic, this time featuring Connor holding a bloodied Angel in a rainy alley. Both of these covers are some of the best of the series.

Characters We Know: Spike, Dragon, Douche Lackey, the Slayers, Cordelia, Angel, Gunn, Wesley, Connor, Gwen, Illyria, Fred.

Rating: 10/10 Classic.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Everybody's Dead TPB

Non-Buffyverse Related

What Is It?: This collects the entire "Everybody's Dead" miniseries, written by Brian Lynch.

Timing: Comes first in what will hopefully become a continuing series, fingers crossed, please, please?

Story: Pretty simple combination to understand here. Dialogue that is halfway between Whedon and Apatow. Characters that fit the archetypes you want to see in a college comedy, while still transcending those archetypes to become fully fleshed out characters. A supernatural situation--in this case zombies--that is both scary, hilarious, and pretty bloody. All of these ingredients are brewed up in Brian Lynch's "Everybody's Dead," a tightly written and enjoyable comic that you really have no excuse for not owning.

Few words to sum it up? Best zombie story since "Shaun of the Dead," which is probably my favorite zombie film, period. Why go Romero when you can go stoner/slacker/hilarious? Also, it ranks pretty damn high as a 'college' film, too. I'd probably put "How High" as number one, followed by this. Simply put? F***ing love it.

Art: At first I was a bit unsure about the art--I read this when it came out as individual issues, then again as a trade--but now, on the second read, I really can still see where I was coming from, I just disagree now. The art totally suits the story. It's not at all realistic, but the thing is, it's not meant to be. Dave Crosland really puts his all into making each panel as wacky as can be. The really well-defined features of each character add to Lynch's already lively cast, and the zombie "effects" are just crazy. The moment when I knew Crosland was at "you-da-man" status was in Issue 2, with the CatMutantCannibalCreature's jaw falling off. Priceless. Great detail, great movement.

Presentation: Really, really nice. Pages are thick, Lynch wrote up a nice intro, and the extras are substantial. We've got a drinking game--which I'll be trying--and a cover gallery, as well as the character designs and profiles that Brian posted on Myspace a while ago. It's very pretty.

Rating: 8/10

Non-Buffyverse Related

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spike-like Smoochies

What Is It?: Spike- After the Fall #3 (written by Brian Lynch.)

Timing: One month after Spike- After the Fall #2.

REVIEW: The issue starts with a wonderful fantasy sequence that Spike is trying to lose himself in, to distract him from the torture. Angel is in the dream, and he's working at the Buffyverse equivalent of Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Fred is there too, playing a very interesting role. The dialogue on this page is brilliant, and is probably my favorite scene of the series so far. "No, thank you, good sod" was hilarious.

This issue, more than the previous two, really strengthens the ties this book has to "Angel: After the Fall." Two characters from the series appear, the first being Gunn and the second being the major reveal on the last page, so I'll keep that hush hush. Gunn has a really cool scene with the big bad of this book, Non, and is classic badass vampire Gunn. I loved the dialogue between these two characters, and seeing the Big Bads of both "After the Fall" series interact was really a joy. Non can't really hope to be as interesting as Gunn, but she continues to shock with her snippy dialogue and her outrageous actions, even going as far as to disgust Gunn. Very interesting character.

The issue climaxes with our heroes, as they always do, take a stand. The big scene that everyone has been wondering about happens here... and that is the kiss. The cover with Spike and Illyria kissing came out months ago, and its been a mystery, because Spike promised Wesley that he didn't think of Illyria in that way in ANGEL #10, and also, who woulda thought? Well, this scene finally puts the kiss into context, but I'm not sure that the event has had any light shed on it. Perhaps it will be elaborated on in the next issue (the conclusion), but at this point, I don't get Illyria's reasoning. Her sentiment, I fully get, but if there isn't more to it, I'm not sure that it was really in-character for her to suddenly do that.

Other than that somewhat confusing moment, this issue is really solid. The end is great and really leaves me yearning for the next one. I hope we don't have to wait another month and a half before getting the conclusion, because I can't wait to see what happens in the prequel that is too good to be a prequel!

Art: Franco Urru does a wonderful job as usual. From character expressions, to emotional moments, to the panel-to-panel movement, to action, to heroic reveals, he is simply the best interior artist we've had on a Buffyverse project. After two comics of Art Lyon greying and browning up Franco's art, we've finally got a good colorist in the mix. Jason Jensen from the early ANGEL: After the Fall issues is back, and he does a completely wonderful job on colors, really adding new life to Franco's already awesome pencils.

Covers: The covers are the best we've gotten from each artist so far. The Sharp Bros give us their best Spike likeness here, and the placement of the shadow looming over him is really dynamic and well done. The crown jewel, however, is the cover with Spike and Illyria kissing. It's so intricate, and so well done, that is bursts with color, life, and volatile energy. This, I want a poster of.

Characters We Know: Spike, Fred, Angel (fantasy sequence), Illyria, Spider, Non, Jeremy, Gunn, (SPOILER:) Connor

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Angel: After the Fall Hardcover Volume Two (First Night)

What Is It?: A hardcover that collects the issues six, seven, and eight of Angel: After the Fall.

The Story: This collection features some of the weakest and some of the strongest parts of "After the Fall." Naturally, the flow isn't as strong as the actual meat of the series (issues 1-5, 9-) because this is made up of five-seven page one-shots that tell what happened to the characters between "Not Fade Away" and "After the Fall." These comics are a lot more hit-and-miss than the actual story arc of "After the Fall," but the overall reading experience is a good one.

Spike's story definitely gets better with each read. I still don't totally grasp the logic of Spike coming to the conclusion that W&H don't have beef with him and Fred (I mean, you're in Hell, man) and also the scene where he spots Fred from the rooftop could have been two panels instead of one, to properly convey the movement of the piece, but I did enjoy the story quite a bit more with each read. The Connor/Kate story is also very good, as is the Gwen tale. Both have their strengths, and both have their weaknesses. There was a tale that a lot of people seemed skeptical about, but I thought it was sad, poignant, and really hilarious. Civilians shows us a bum and a random chick dealing with their first night in Hell, and while it wasn't really as influential on the actual arc of "After the Fall" like most of these ended up being, it was a great read that sort of added a layer of reality to the book.

The only story that doesn't improve with each read is the Lorne tale, simply because I don't think a story structured that way really has a place in the book. In Buffy, "Once More With Feeling" had people singing because of a supernatural reason. Every event in the history of the show that tampered with the format, it was explained to be the characters dealing with the effects of a supernatural event. In the Lorne story, it is what it is. A story about Lorne told in 'verse. As interesting as it was to find out how Lorne got to where he was, the format of it was very hard to swallow.

Now that I got the "What I Liked" and "What I Didn't Like" section out of the way, let's get to the part I like talking about the most. What I loved. The climax of First Night is Gunn's story, the tale that finally reveals how he got sired. It's heartbreaking, and is such a dark, tense read that it will leave your heart racing well after you close this book. The art in this tale, done by Mirco Pierfederici is fantastic. And speaking of art, woah Nick Runge! His work in my favorite tale collected here, Wesley, is nothing short of perfect. His skill in capturing the characters likenesses and making it feel like an Angel episode is unrivalled. While I wasn't overly impressed with Runge's work in issues nine, ten, and eleven, this short tale proves that his only weakness is time. Plus, the coloring in this short is millions of times better than the coloring in latter "After the Fall" issues, and the lush flesh tones and deep blues really bring out the elegant details of Runge's art. And don't even get me started on the writing. It carries on the tragedy of Wesley's death, and really sets up the character's story for the rest of "After the Fall."

Overall, the stories make a great prequel to "After the Fall," my favorite comic series of all time. Most of them are an enjoyable read on their own, but when paired with the other issues of the series, they're great.

The Presentation: Much like the first hardcover collection, the presentation of this book exceeds expectations. The only book I have--and I have thousands upon thousands in my teensy, tiny room--that is as beautiful a volume as this is "After the Fall: Volume One." Again, we’ve got a new cover by Alex Garner featuring everyone's favorite ghost, Wesley. His figure is glossy, with the rest of the cover smooth, which makes his ghost-like form look more translucent. The use of blues and oranges is beautiful, and its overall one of the best covers we've seen. Much like the first volume, the book has thick pages and a sturdy spine that won't wear down easily. The design from the previous book is here as well, and it's quite a nice one, what with the way the chapter pages and the borders of the special features look. There is no bookmark like in the first volume, but that's a non-issue, considering how good the rest of the book is.

Special Features: Yes, it's true. This book has a Groosablog. Instead of a formal introduction by Brian Lynch, this has a sort of recap in the voice of our very own Groosalugg. This feature has an inclusive image of Groosalugg drawn by Franco Urru, and it's probably full of more LOL (pun intended for those who have read it already) moments than anything we've read in "After the Fall" so far. There is a comprehensive cover gallery. Yes, that means all of 'em. It even means sketches. Best of all? It means we get Rebecca A. Wrigley's connecting covers from #6 and #7 as one splashy pagey glorious...ey image. What follows are the pages that I, as a fan, was looking forward to the most. We've got two pages of "First Night" story ideas that were scrapped. We get to see the ideas that Brian had for The Dragon, Spike (different than the actual story), Nina, Betta George (more than his two panel flashback), Lindsey/Eve, Groosalugg, and Cordelia. It's all interesting stuff and ooooooooh what I would give to get my hands on some of those "unproduced scripts." Then--yes, IDW and Brian Lynch are crazy, crazy generous--we get some hilarious and interesting page-by-page commentary on all three "First Night" issues, complete with an introduction from Brian that sheds a little light on his and Joss's outlining process, as well as the birth of "First Night." And, as they say when you speak pidgin, DASSIT!

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Not Joss Level Material, But Still Entertaining

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #18: Time of Your Life Part III (written by Joss Whedon).

Timing: Directly after "Time of Your Life Part II."

REVIEW: I was let down considerably by #17, which felt really phoned in by Joss. You can't blame the guy, because he's got a lot of Horrible and Dollhousey things on his plate that he's eating in some Cabin in the Woods at the moment, but this story arc seems to be suffering a bit from it. While this issue is definitely a step about the previous installment, it's also not at the level it should be. Nope, it's sad for me to admit that the best part of "Time of Your Life" was the beginning... and our only hope is that Joss ends it really, really nicely.

Don't get me wrong, I liked this issue quite a lot. There were some really great scenes, and it does a good job in continuing the story that the previous two issues set up. Nothing at all that major happens, nor are there any great or truly memorable scenes we've come to expect from things Joss Whedon personally writes, but it never made me scratch my head in puzzlement like #17 did. The Buffy/Fray team-up is definitely being taken in an interested and unexpected direction... and the Xander/Dawn storyline is... I don't know. Not what I expected? I think the woodland fire creatures they run into in this issue were definitely funny and made for a good chuckle, but couldn't more interesting things be happening to them? Couldn't Xander show a bit more vulnerablity at the fact that his castle, his home, was just destroyed by the man who killed his best friend's lover? Nah, he's cracking endless jokes. It would be great if the jokes were to cover up for his vulnerability or if the jokes are used to show how calloused he's become when it comes to losing people... but I'm pretty sure they're just for laughs. Though, I gotta say, cheap as they may be, the laughs are quite laughworthy.

There's a great scene with Gunther, and both Harth and Future Willow continue to entertain and intrigue... but I can't help but be distracted by the linguistically hip Fray, who talks absolutely nothing like the character from her mini-series. It's been said that the original "Fray" series can be retconned as a translation so we can understand, but the thing is, some of the slang Fray uses was employed there as well. But it was a sprinkling to add flavor. This? Whenever Fray talks in this, it's not a sprinking... it's basically a plate full of pepper. Not so good. On the bright side, the back and forth stuff from Future Willow to Present Willow rocks, and there is a very...revealling scene with Willow and Saga Vasuki.

Overall, it's definitely a better written comic than #17, but it's not going to that Joss level like I thought it would.

Art: Karl Moline continues to stun. His characters are vulnerable, sexy, and move with such a fluid, page-to-page motion that brings Joss's words to life. The coloring, which I have come to appreciate, is really lush and truly masterfully done. I miss Jeanty like I'd miss a limb, but Moline makes me swoon like a.... swoony... thing.

Covers: Jo Chen provides one of her best covers ever, providing a perfect Dawn likeness, adding another dimension of reality to the cool "centaur" plot. Jo Chen continues to show how she's pretty much the best artist out there, and Jeanty manages to hold his own with his variant. Jeanty's work here is nice and detailed, but the idea itself is just a bit boring.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Fray, Erin, Harth, Willow, Gunther, Kennedy, Dawn, Xander, Saga Vasuki.

Rating: 8/10

After SEASONS of Build Up...

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #12 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly follows Angel: After the Fall #11.
Warning: Oh man, please read this this time. The bigger spoilers will be written in black text. Simply highlight to read. As this is a review, there will be some minor "spoilers" sprinkled throughout the text that don't warrant being hidden. If you have not read the issue and don't want to know anything about the plot, don't read this. Spoilers for previous issues will obviously not be covered.

REVIEW: This is a particularly.... I guess I'll say emotionally significant issue for me. Angel- Season Five was my favorite season of the Buffyverse, and it ended with "Not Fade Away" was my favorite episode. I thought that series was done for good, but I kept myself somewhat happy by mildly enjoying IDW's ANGEL comics. Then, I came across Brian Lynch's "Spike: Asylum" (and, later, "Spike: Shadow Puppets") which showed me, for the first time, that I could like a comic based on ANGEL as much an episode of the actual show. You can imagine how pleased I was to discover that Brian Lynch, with Joss Whedon's help on the plot, was picked to write a continuation to the ANGEL. It would be called "Angel: After the Fall" and it was described as a twelve issue maxiseries.

Twelve issues.

Well now, as I review Issue #12, I'm realizing that if things were different, I might have been reading the final issue of "After the Fall." Thank goodness things are different. Brian Lynch rounds off a year worth of Angel comics with the best, most explosive and emotionally significant issue since the first in the series.

It starts where the previous issue left off, with Angel--and don't forget, he's a human--beaten, bloody, and (alliteration, hoy!) broken. We don't get any major clarity on our hero's fate in this issue, but what we do get is a sort of "Specter Angel" (as someone on the IDW boards said) that is between life and death. He, along with a companion who I'll get to later, watches Gunn stand over his body, unseen. Angel is faced with his own death and his equally-spectery companion (SPOILER:) Cordelia stands by his side, ready to help him with his move into death. Her reveal is really poignant, and also ties into one of the biggest on-going mysteries/jokes of this series: What is the Dragon's name? Read the issue to find out, n00bs.

The issue of Gwen's betrayal in #11 is handled nicely, only taking up two or so pages as to not take much time away from the main plot of the story. It doesn't seem realistic that Gwen would be able to blast Spike back so easily, but the whole vampire/electricity thing has been inconsistent in the actual canon of the Buffyverse, so that's not really a problem at all. The only weak link in this otherwise perfect issue is the dialogue between Illyria and Nina. It's not bad at all. If anything, it's a slightly awkward scene that sets up what seems to be an interesting plot for Illyria.

The rest of the issue is packed with exposition, emotional blows, and revelations we've been anticipating for seasons now. Yup, (spoiler:) the question of the Shanshu is finally answered. We always knew Angel would play a role in the Apocalypse, for good or for evil, but we never knew which. Now we do.

As I said, it's the best issue of the entire series since the pitch-perfect #1, and has so many wonderful, tear-inducing moments. Brian Lynch is a master of his craft and knows these characters--and the fans--well enough that he knows exactly where this story needs to go. He balances what fans want and what the story needs to create a story that lives up to the high bar that "Not Fade Away" set, and I can't wait to see what the next five issues bring.

Art: The art is a considerable improvement. Before I get into this, I have to congratulate one Stephen Mooney. This guy is a huge Angel fan, and an all around great guy. He provided the Slay Alive covers, and even offered to draw exclusive images for a few fans over at the forum. He's shown interest in the Angel: After the Fall series for quite a while (there were some cool demo pages of how he envisioned the alley fight floating around the internet), so it's really cool that he's joined the team as the series penciller. Now, into my praise/critique of his art. Mooney did a good job. Not astounding, but a solidly good job. The problem apparent in his covers is also here--he relies too heavily on very dark shading, which I feel he should leave to the colorist. It does give the comic a sometimes-cool dark mood, but it also makes characters faces blotchy at times. However, on the plus side, his likenesses are consistently better than we've seen thus far in his sequential work, and all his depictions of the characters have improved dramatically. He's a good artist who puts forward impressive work here, and I'm definitely glad and relieved to have him take on the bulk of the next few issues. That being said, Runge's splash page was very good. A different colorist would have done a better job than Art Lyon did at coloring it, but that's no secret, because it also applies to every page Art Lyon has colored in the entire series. But aside from coloring issues, Nick Runge's likeness of Angel in his splash page is horrifying and dead on. But yeah, as far as the pencilling in this issue goes, its definitely a resounding YAY Mooney and YAY Runge!

Covers: Nick Runge gives us a great cover of Wesley with his W&H card, looking very lawyerly. It's a very appropriate image for the issue, and an overall attractive cover. I've been waiting a while for my boy Wes to get a solo cover and Runge definitely comes through! It's not quite as iconic as Mooney's cover for Angel #7, but it's still really great. Next up is Alex Garner, the fantastic artist behind the best art this side of Jo Chen. This painted image, featuring Connor, Fred, and Spike over an empty grave is so beautiful and so sad, and I kinda just love it. Beautiful green and blues, and fair likenesses. Runge's cover may be better this time around, but Garner is still a top dog.

Characters We Know: Angel, Spike, Connor, Gwen, Dragon, Cordelia, Illyria, Fred, Nina, Wesley, Gunn.

Rating: 10/10 Classic.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Do a reviewer a favor

Hey guys,

The first episode of my webseries WHATZ GOOD STUDIOS has finally been released! You can find it HERE:

Watch it in HIGH QUALITY, so you can see all the detail! It's a great feature, and as close to how the actual product looks that YouTube can get, methinks.

So comment, rate, and subscribe! Hope you like it.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Terry Moore Takes Over "Runaways"

Non-Buffyverse Related

What Is It?: Runaways: Season Three #1. (You can call it Volume Three, but that's kinda wrong for two reasons. While this is, by the numbers, the first issue of the third volume, the second half of Season/Volume Two was referred to as Volume Three when it was released in hardcover. Also, creator Brian K. Vaughan has referred to the volumes as "seasons," so I'm rocking with it.)

Timing: Directly after Runaways: Season Two #30

REVIEW: New series writer Terry Moore sure had some huge shoes to fill. Let me give you a little history on Runaways and me. Runaways is like the comics version of Buffy for me. It's a really human story about superpowered teenagers that have spitfire, quirky dialogue. They're constantly in really dangerous situations that have crazy shocking and emotional twists, and every beat of the story was so intelligently written that if never felt as if you were reading a comic consciously directed at teens. I love this story so hard, and when I heard that Brian K. Vaughan would leave in, I was a wee bit heartbroken. The only thing that could have possibly made it better is if my favorite writer were to take the series on... and he did. Joss Whedon took the reigns for the last few issues, closing out the second season. Even with the man who I consider the best writer of our time on writing duties, I was scared that even he wouldn't be able to write these characters as exceptionally as Brian K. Vaughan, the man who created them. I didn't need to worry, though, because Joss--as he usually does--did a wonderful job, and let these characters once again capture my heart. Now, with the knowledge that these characters and this story is strong enough to survive without their creator scripting new issues, I welcomed Terry Moore's take on the series with open arms.

And I couldn't be more let down.

I hate to give this a bad review, because I love the Runaways. I also realize that this is now the team that is going to dictate their story, and that this will effect everything that comes after it. But I just can't help but notice how absolutely awful literally everything about this comic is. I wanted to love this, because as I said before, it's like the Buffy of comics (which is sort of ironic to say, now) to me, and it would be as if a new team of writers and directors made a new televised season of Buffy. But I really just have to be honest. This is a bad comic.

Terry Moore couldn't have captured these characters' personalities less if he made a conscious effort to write them out-of-character. Molly is suddenly five, and she has the complexity and humor of a bad Saturday morning cartoon. Xavin's speech paterns and his actions are nothing at all like the character we've come to know for many issues, and Chase has lost the thick shell and inner pain the character had picked up of late, and is--to be blunt--an idiot. It's as if Terry Moore asked someone what the most basic aspects of these characters were, forgot most of them, and then scripted this.

The basic plot is that Karolina's planet has been destroyed, and the survivors of her race seem to think its her fault, and have come to Earth to capture her. Meanwhile, Chase wants to get a job as a radio personality so he can pay for gas money. It's not the worst idea for a plot, but its the execution that absolutely ruins this book. The panel to panel movement is non-existent, and you feel like you're simply being shown glimpses of what is going on. You would think an experienced author like Terry Moore would know how to script a comic so readers will know what's happening, but apparently not, because during the scene where the Runaways went into the Malibu house, were attacked by security daemons, defeated them, and then took over the house... I literally had to hold my hands back from ripping the comic in two. What... the hell... did I just read?

Here's a bit of positive to mix things up a little. The comic wasn't all bad. In fact, I'm going to give it a 1/10, because one line saved it from being the worst comic I've ever read (which would make it tie with the retched Anita Blake comic). And that line is one from Molly. "Television. It's like YouTube for old people." But alas, Brian K. Vaughan and Whedon used to fill up entire issues with that kind of stuff. With Moore, this is a one shot deal.

If that wasn't enough, all of the romantic and dramatic tension between the characters are gone. They've poofed. From the one-liners, to the depiction of the characters, to the choice of artist, it has never been more apparent that this is aimed toward a younger audience and only a younger audience. Brian K. Vaughan and Joss Whedon managed to make the stories accessible to all ages and, while they may have been directed primarily towards teens, they were universal stories that all ages can enjoy. This feels like Spongebob Squarepants. I am beyond upset with the choices made with this series, and as much as it pains me to say, I am beginning to wonder if it wouldn't have been better to just finish off the series with Whedon's run.

Art: Do you really need to ask? Here. Check it out here. Sure, it would be stunning art if it were made for a REN & STIMPY/RECESS cross-over, but for Runaways? Where is the integrity? Why does Victor, a Latino man, look like a fusion between Sayid and Jin from Lost? Why does Nico wear a shirt that says "Witch"? Why is Molly suddenly four? Why does Old Lace's snout look like a droopy old leather shoe? Why do they all have button noses? Why are the freaking ads the part of this comic I look forward to?

Rating: 1/10

Non-Buffyverse Related

Thursday, August 21, 2008

EVERYBODY'S DEAD #5 (the conclusion)

Non-Buffyverse Related

What Is It?: Everybody's Dead #5

Timing: Directly after Everybody's Dead #4

Note from Me: I've been kind of a spaz when it comes to reviewing comics and reporting news lately. This comic came out last Wednesday and I've already read it twice before even going to review it, and also we've got some cool new art I've yet to link. Sorry all! I've had a lot of stuff going on, both good and bad. My bird Dickie died last night, which is bad and sad. I took the cast and crew of Whatz Good Studios out to dinner last night also, which is good for fun but bad for my wallet, but still overall good shit. Annnnd, for the good stuff, we're almost 100% ready to launch Whatz Good Studios, my webcomic Epitaph (which you can see art for over at my other blog) is coming along nicely, and pretty much I spend way too much time in the day writing, so that is why I've been a ghost around here lately. I'll try to review things--whether they be Joss books, Brian books, BKV books, whatever--faster, in the future.

REVIEW: It's silly, it's hilarious, it's oddly moving, and it's pretty much what you'd expect if one of comics' best writers wrote a stoner/zombie/frat/action comic. There is no shortage of badass moments (mostly thanks to the ever awesome Jack and the SPOILER: zombified Mosby), nor are there many lines that aren't quotable. I mean, check this out:

"Im gonna leap down on them with the paddle of truth and I'm planning on saying 'the truth hurts.'"

"And you can keep each other company in my poop."

"You're like Benedict Arnold mixed with the wheelchair dude from Oz when he was on Lost, with a dash of boobs--"

"I have beer-goggled so you may live!"

"Oh. Snap."

"We're not going to Canada, Doug. They're primitive and their beers and weird."

"I defy the assholes on the world to do their worst."

And that's just me flipping through the pages and picking random funny lines. Like any Brian Lynch comic, this is filled with them. Also, at it's most simple, it's a story about your average college dude triumphing over asshole college dudes... erm, as zombies. It's sort of hard to write this review, because it's not like the last Angel book where I can kind of give a summary about what happened without really spoilering, because pretty much everything that happens in this book is a climax, a twist, or a BAMF moment.

I'll say this much. There are major fights, zomb on zomb violence, s'plosions, betrayals, atonement, more long tongues, and a great ending that both works as an ending and leaves room for more. And it's all so well-plotted that you can see that Brian Lynch was meticulous in getting this book done right. There's no doubt that Everybody's Dead is his baby, and he definitely took great care of it and produced a wonderful series with these past five issues. I am very, very much on board if more of it comes out.

Art: Dave Crosland's art is pretty much perfect for this series. At first I was wary, and thought it might have looked sort of Nickelodeony, but in reading the entire series over and seeing how the art really compliments the story, I take it back. It's not traditionally beautiful, but it's quirky, stylized, and has a nice movement to it, which this book definitely needed for all of the action scenes.

Rating: 8/10

Non-Buffyverse Related

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What We've Been Waitin For

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #11 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly follows Angel: After the Fall #10.

Warning: The bigger spoilers will be written in black text. Simply highlight to read. As this is a review, there will be some minor "spoilers" sprinkled throughout the text that don't warrant being hidden. If you have not read the issue and don't want to know anything about the plot, don't read this. Spoilers for previous issues will obviously not be covered.

REVIEW: For an issue that is basically a conversation between two men, this is one of the meatiest comics we've gotten so far. It's full of revelations, emotions, conflict, character moments, and complexities that make this clearly, undeniably the best issue since #5. Not only is this one of the best Angel issues we've seen so far, it's such a climax and such a tense, captivating read that I read that I stopped in the middle and started over because I was enjoying it too much for it to end. This is how I used to feel while reading every issue of After the Fall and Brian Lynch has recaptured that in such a beautiful way here.

Angel vs. Gunn is everything I wanted and nothing that I expected. There are so many paths this story could have taken, but Brian knows these characters so well that he chose the only one that rings true. When Angel saw Gunn with the vampires, he didn't assume that Gunn was their leader. He assumed that Gunn was in trouble and needed to be saved. So very Angel, and watching him discover the truth of the situation is such a creeping, horrible feeling that just adds to the overall darkness of this series. Also, Gunn's reaction to seeing Angel is so much more complex that it really shows you how unpredictable and explosive this character has become, because upon seeing the man that he blames for his current situation, (SPOILER:) he no longer wants to kill him--he just wants to show Angel how heroic he is, and furthermore, he wants Angel's help. For a while, at least. Those looking for an all out Angel vs. Gunn fight will not be let down. Lynch delivers, and then some.

Through all this, even as things get oh so serious, the witty one-liners stay afloat. The best has to be Gunn saying that he thinks "the bald head makes (the vampire-lemon face) work." The dialogue throughout is pitch perfect, and it's great to see how differently Angel and Gunn react to the same thing, but how Gunn is also so rigid and panicky under the calm and cool surface he's putting on. There was a Spike line, also, that made me laugh out loud. I won't ruin it, because it's all in the context, but the line is "Might learn something, but at what price?" Hilarious. Overall, the writing bursts with ideas and you can tell how much effort was making this climax worth all of the build-up. Maybe I'm partial because one of Gunn's fried (R.I.P) henchmen was named after me, but--eh, nah, this is seriously the best issue in quite a while. And that's not to put down the other issues, which are great in their own way, but this is at a whole different level. The overall package is the best since #5 (placing it in the Top Four), but the writing itself is the best we've seen so far, no question. This is what we've been working up to folks, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

Art: Runge, for the most part, outdid himself in this comic. There are so many beautiful panels that make me forget why I was a bit turned off my some of his work in the last two issues. While Runge's Gwen is consistently lacking, he completely nails the two stars of this issue, Angel and Gunn. In fact, some of Gunn's facial expressions are some of the best art we've seen thus far. Runge has such high potential and, given the time, he would be able to craft some beautiful, epic comics. I mean take, for example, the page that ends with Gunn saying (SPOILER) "Help me save Los Angeles." That entire page, especially the last panel, is literally perfect. Nick Runge is a wonderful artist. His only problem is consistency. It really confuses me, after all those great pages and beautiful panels, when we get art like Panel 4 and 5 on Page 21. From Gwen, to Spike, to Connor. I mean... huh? Overall, the artwork is beautiful, and this issue is so close to the perfect 10/10 score, but I just wish it were more consistent. On the plus side, it looks like Jason Jensen is back as the colorist. I mean, that's what the credits say. There is way less Art-Lyon-Brown, and the Gunn/Angel conversation near the end looks like classic Jensen (early After the Fall) coloring, but some scenes early in the issue still look like Lyon colored them. But overall, I couldn't be happier that Jensen is back, because he brought really nice color to the table in the early issues. Nick Runge did a wonderful job, and I'll definitely miss him because given the time, he gave us the best art we've seen, period (the Angel/Gunn conversation and the WESLEY) story. If only the panel-to-panel consistency were better, he'd be an unstoppable force. While I'll miss Runge, I'm excited to see what Stephen Mooney will do with the next two issues.

Covers: Both main covers are wonderful this time around. Alex Garner's depiction of Gunn fighting Angel flows with intensity and violence, and is definitely one of the top five cover we've seen so far. It's iconic, and really pays off after ten issues of waiting for Angel and Gunn to meet up. Also, currently my desktop, so there's that. Stephen Mooney delivers an extra cover, aside from his already very awesome Angel Interaction cover (which features the Angel characters as chess pieces). This cover features Angel jumping from the Dragon as said Dragon burps out major flames, which is a scene taken right out of the issue. The art is great and the coloring is beautiful, and I for one can't wait to see how Mooney will totally rock the interior art in issues twelve and thirteen. Also, good choice in not using the Brian Miller cover that look like Gunn and Inexplicable Vampire Angel are Eskimo kissing. This is the first time since Issue #5 that I truly loved both main covers.

Characters We Know: Angel, Gunn, Betta George, Nina, Fred, Dragon, Spike, Connor, Gwen, Wesley

Rating: 9.5/10

Monday, August 11, 2008

ANGEL news, BUFFY news, ANGEL cover, BUFFY cover, ANGEL extended, BUFFY delay, ANGEL arist change, BUFFY soliciation


It's been a while since I've dished the news, so sorry for the lag. I'm working real hard on my own webseries at the moment, so blogging has kinda shifted to the backburner. But I'm going to be going real hard to keep up with the news, and point you in the direction of new covers whenever they're released.

And speaking of which... Brian Lynch has the full color version of Stephen Mooney's ANGEL #11 cover over at his blog.

If you go to that link, you'll notice that we've got two great comics coming out this Wednesday. We've got EVERYBODY'S DEAD #5, which concludes that series, so everyone that's been following this epic/funny/weed-smokey tale better put in the order for this book. And, of course, ANGEL #11 comes out tomorrow, and it has a certain former-human-current-vampire's climatic meeting with a former-human-former-evil-vampire-former-ensouled-vampire-current-human.

So it's getting closer to that time. Here's a few bits of news you may or not know concerning the end of "Angel: After the Fall" and the future of the ANGEL franchise.

1. "Angel: After the Fall" was set to end at #16. Now, it looks like IDW may extend the series by one issue to give it a beefier ending.

2. After #11, we say goodbye to Nick Runge and welcome Stephen Mooney, who takes over art duties for #12 and #13. You can see a preview page from #12 right here. You may know his art from the "CONNOR" and "KATE" stories from Issues #6 and #7, and also the SLAY ALIVE covers from #1-#12. Check out Brian's report on that right here, and also dig some of Mooney's really awesome takes on Wesley, Spike, and Gunn. Looks like the eye of ramras is back.

3. It seems that, after Mooney finishes up #13, FRANCO URRU is joining the team to finish out "After the Fall."

And here... here is the big news... if you haven't see this yet a) you're a n00b and b) get ready to soil yourself.

4. After "Angel: After the Fall," we're getting some more of our favorite broodster. KELLEY ARMSTRONG, supernatural novelist, takes on writing duties for ANGEL: AFTERMATH, which picks up on what Angel and the gang are doing after the conclusion of AFTER THE FALL. Kelley talked about the series on her forum, and gave out a few great bits of information.

+ "It'll be a 5-6 volume single story arc."
+ "The story will be approved by (Joss Whedon)."
+ "It will follow from the events of Angel: After the Fall, it will continue that storyline and subsequent storylines will follow from it. So, yes, it's considered canon."
+ Brian Lynch will also write a continuation, later down the road. Kelley says, "I should clarify this. Brian is writing a separate story arc. Both will continue the series from the TV show (and After the Fall), but they are separate stories, so if readers do decide my contribution is a "best-forgotten alternate reality blip", the blame will fall solely on me, unfortunately..."

5. John Byrne, comic book legend, is going to be writing/pencilling an upcoming ANGEL flashback book titles ANGEL: BLOOD AND TRENCHES.

Ah, Buffy. A lot of great stuff is going on over at Dark Horse concerning the Buffy comic, so I'll give yall the sitch.

1. We've got the entire map out for SEASON EIGHT, it seems. I'll give you the list after I post various bits of other news.

2. Season Nine is definitely a go, and Joss Whedon will be involved. Scott Allie says that Joss will definitely Executive Produce it, but he's not sure how much Joss will be able to write, due to his involvement in DOLLHOUSE and CABIN IN THE WOODS (a film he wrote with Drew Goddard) which has been given the FREAKING GREEN LIGHT. Great news all around.

3. Solicit for Buffy #20 is out today. The blurb reads, "Written by Jeph Loeb, penciled by Eric Wight and Georges Jeanty. Comic-book writer Jeph Loeb was set to executive produce, alongside Joss Whedon and animator Eric Wight, the proposed Buffy animated TV series. While Buffy fans won't be viewing that show anytime soon, Loeb, Wight, and Whedon offer the next best thing -- a comic inspired by the animated series!" (Speaking of which, you can check out that animated show that we "won't be viewing anytime soon" right here! Great month to be a Buffy fan.

4. Georges Jeanty's #2o cover is above. It's in the style of the original ANIMATED series. In the actual comic book, I think Georges is pencilling the present scenes while Eric Wright draws the flashback scenes in the style of BUFFY: ANIMATED.

5. Sadly, now this is a wee bit of bad news, Buffy #20 is delayed about a month. It comes out November 26th instead of the first week of November, which isn't a big deal. I'd rather a small planned delay than a... erm, not planned delay. Would you agree?

#20: "After These Messages ... We'll Be Right Back" written by Jeph Loeb
#21-25: The arc described by Scott Allie as "Vampires in the Vogue." It consists of standalone issues, each written by a different writer. Jane Espenson kicks it off and is followed by Doug Petrie, Drew Greenberg, Jim Krueger, annnnd one person we do not yet know.
#26-30: OZ arc, written by Jane Espenson. (If this is a five issue arc, there will be no standalones. If it's only four, however...)
#31-35: Arc leading up to the conclusion, written by Brad Meltzer
#36-40: Concludes SEASON EIGHT, written by Joss Whedon
Alright guys, a lot of stuff to swallow, probably most of which you already knew. Ah well, I'm late sauce. Gotta go put in the order for EVERYBODY'S DEAD #5 and ANGEL #11. Catch you on the flip.

PS: If you have time, subscribe to Episode One comes out AUGUST 29th, and we worked really hard on it to make it as shiny as we could, which we think is pretty damn shiny. Check out the trailers and such until it's released!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Spike vs. The Dragon


What Is It?: Spike- After the Fall #2 (written by Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly after Spike- After the Fall #1.

REVIEW: Brian Lynch is pretty amped on this story. Whenever he talks about it, he mentions how much he loves it and how well it's coming together. His enthusiasm for this title had me looking forward to it real hard, and I wasn't let down at all by the first issue. We get a new character, Jeremy, set up to be Spike's buddy, and a great cliff hanger. The band of demon/women that later on become Spike's groupies imprisoned the civilians Spike was looking over and Spike was left facing off against Angel's dragon...

...and that's a dynamic that I loved seeing. The introduction to this issue gives us a hilarious idea of what Spike's opinion on Angel and the dragon is, and it also throws back to a scene from "Not Fade Away," which is awesome. I love the entire scene between the Dragon and Spike, which ends with the Dragon trying to enlist Spike's help in Angel's achy breaky back situation. But we don't really see Angel... I mean we do, but... it's hard to describe. The mystical stuff at work here in that scene, as well as the villain's powers, are really well-thought out and make for some crazy visuals.

This issue is very simple and doesn't have any real climatic scenes--it is really very set-uppy, which is a good thing for an Issue #2 to be--but it forwards the story nicely and gives us some awesome character moments. None of the pages, none of the panels, feel wasted, as we're also treated to a little joke or reference to pop-culture or Angel history. Those little moments, those appreciative chuckles, are what elevates this beyond "just a good Spike story." Lynch handles each panel with a great knowledge of how comics, as a medium, work. Take the Spike and Spider show-down for example. A back and forth like that could only work in comics, and the movement of it is just brilliant and so hilarious.

The villain, a sort of mer/witch/necromancer/hottie/something woman, is a good one. Her dialogue is great and she's really a threat, unlike her demon/woman groupies. She, and this series, has a lot of intrigue that I can't wait to see paid off. It works great as a companion to "Angel: After the Fall" but is solid enough that it stands completely on its own.

Art: Franco does a great job. Pretty much the same I said last time, paste here. Art Lyon marginally improves, but still sticks way too much to washed out colors. The Hell-A sky was stunning and terrifying in the early A:AtF issues, but now it's just red. Looks sort of like a perpetual sunset. I do love the detail Lyon puts into the things he wants to pop out at us--the dragon in the beautiful splash page looks real--but I wish that everything wasn't so red, brown, and washed out. I'm sort of left yearning for the earlier colorists, who truly brought out the beauty of Franco Urru's intricate panels.

Covers: The Franco Urru cover is simply a win. A blatant win. Totally relevant to the issue, and sort of conveys how differently Spike is responding to the situation when compared to Angel. Such a great idea and executed nicely by Franco. The Sharp brothers also provide a cover, which isn't bad, but is more blah than good. I don't so much get the cover, but it's not horrible. Their next one, the one for #3, is when they really shine.

Characters We Know: Angel (sorta), The Dragon, Spike, Angel (sorta... in a different and more real way but still sorta), Spider, Fred, Illyria, Jeremy,

Rating: 9/10

Who's That Lady? (who's that laaayydayy)

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #17: Time of Your Life Part II (written by Joss Whedon).

Timing: Directly after (and a bit of it during) "Time of Your Life Part I."

REVIEW: It's a good issue. Doesn't quite crack great, and it definitely doesn't make a jump-shot for perfect like the last issue did, but it was entertaining enough not to be much of a letdown. But I'll start from the beginning, much like this issue did.

I liked that the first half of this issue sort of parallels #16, in that it shows what Fray and co. were doing before she ran into Buffy. The fact that we get to see this through Fray's eyes shows that Joss isn't just throwing Fray into BtVS as a minor character, but that this is a true cross-over and that both Buffy and Fray are, rightfully so, co-stars. It's great to see Fray, Erin, and the villainous Harth again, but something is noticeably off with the most important character in this crossover. And that's Fray herself. I don't know if it was all set-up for Buffy to say the "I should have treated (the English language) better, maybe it was make Haddyn more like the futuristic world of Firefly, or maybe it was just Joss trying to have fun, but Fray is speaking like she's a different character altogether. While she still has Fray's back story and design, she simply doesn't speak the way that Fray from the FRAY series does. In fact, every single sentence she says in this comic has a futuristic slang word in it. Surely, language would evolve (and break down) after hundreds of years, but it throws the consistency of the character out the window. The Fray series was peppered lightly with futuristic slang, but in this it's pretty much a Futuristic Slang Party With A Free Futuristic Slang Keg Open All Night, Drinks For Free! I just want that character to be more similar to the character I read and loved in FRAY.

That's the only majorly bad thing about this issue. The build-up to Fray's clash with Buffy is nice, as are the side stories. Harth has teamed up with a major villain from Buffy's past, who is cloaked on shadow on the cover. People have been guessing that it's Drusilla, even after the cover for Part IV showed Dark Willow, which sort of boggled my mind... but I'll let you see for yourself who it is. The last page, like many Buffy issues, is the big villain reveal, though in reality the colorist revealed who it was on Page Seven. You'll see what I mean. I like her relationship with Harth and her extreme creepy way of talking, to show how far this character has come since hundreds of years have passed. It's a really exciting plot that has plenty of room for Joss to break our hearts, so that is pretty much what I'm most excited for in this issue.

The Dawn and Xander plot continues on, and gets really good. They don't have as much page time as I would have liked, but let's just say that the missile--as I speculated--was not merely an explosive device. Oh it, to quote Kate, "s'ploded" some things, yeah, but it also made some really interesting, really green problems for Xander, and I ain't talking Ralph Nader clones. Another great thing about this scene was the sexual tension between Xander and Dawn when she tells him that he has to ride her. This ain't Season Five's Xander and Dawn, and if you don't mind a bit of speculation, I'd say that Xander is about to be real close-like with a Summers girl.

Overall, it's a good bridge between issues, with a few problems here and there. In addition to the Fray talk, Willow gives a really not-so-good written expository speech about how Buffy was sucked into the future. It's fine, making sense wise, but it takes a bit of re-reading to suss out what she means. This may seem negative, but those are really the only two things about this issue that bother me, so in the end it's an issue with one huge problem, one teensy problems, and a lot of awesome stuff that almost makes up for it.

Art: It's Karl Moline, so you know it's gonna be great. There are some really awesome pages and some that are not so much. My best guess was that he had less time to work on this issue, because it lacks the extreme detail of #16, but it's still good enough to make me stare at each panel with a dazed look of joy in my eyes.

Covers: Both covers are attractive pieces. Jo Chen's cover isn't as beautiful as her contributions to the other issues in this arc, but it is still a very good looking piece. We're looking up at Buffy and Fray through the watery screen of Gunther's tank, while said "mer-sleaze" swims toward us. Very dynamic piece, but wouldn't be listed as one of Chen's best--or most details--paintings. Georges Jeanty also gives a good looking cover with a great concept behind it, and it's always cool to see different artists tackle new characters (in this case Harth). It's a very shadowy cover, and basically created to make us wonder who the "mystery woman" cloaked in shadow next to him is.

Characters We Know: Melaka Fray, Erin, Harth, Willow, Kennedy, Xander, Rowena, Leah, Dawn, Buffy, Gunther.

Rating: 7/10