Timing: Directly follows "After the Fall #2"
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.
REVIEW: This issue was big on action. The majority of the issue is made up of action, starting with a fight between Angel and Illyria and then a fight between Illyria and Angel's dragon. As with any Buffyverse episode, the banter between the characters during the fight scenes was amazing. It was especially a treat to "hear" Illyria speak again.
Illyria: You're half of what you were.
Angel: I know
Angel: I know
Illyria: I can find another pet, Spike. One who doesn't so obviously try to steal glances at me while I soak.
This issue is also really big on revelations. Everyone who was still worried about where Spike's character is headed--despite Brian Lynch's insistence that everything will be chill--see what is really up with their character here. I'm starting to think they should replace the title "After the Fall" with "Nothing Is What It Seems" (not seriously, though) because Spike--of course--didn't just decide to become a music video pimp. (Spoiler:) The fact that his Hugh Hefner act is just that, an act to cover up the fact that he is using his mansion to house people who he has saved, should settle all the Spike-lovers down. Also, Spike's drama sets up an interesting situation for Angel, who is conflicted in more ways than one. He is, though he'd never admit it, happy that Spike and Illyria weren't behind the murders in Westwood. He's beyond pissed off that Connor and Spike are palling it up, and also he's peeved at Connor's insinuation that Spike is saving more people than him. As if Angel didn't have enough on his plate already.
I was glad that the last few pages were less action, as the fight with Illyria was jarring on my first read. There is some time-slipping involved, and we get a glimpse at Liam, Puppet Angel, and Future Angel, all confused by present-day Illyria trying to kill them. Each of these versions of Angel gets internal dialogue/narration WHILE we're also reading (1) dialogue and (2) present-day Angel's narration. I didn't enjoy reading that as much as the other "After the Fall" stuff on my first try, but I immediately embarked on a second read-through. Now that I knew what was coming, I was prepared, and I got it and enjoyed it thoroughly. But yeah, back to the end of the issue. We see Angel and Wesley team up (sort of) to approach the Lords of LA, who are having a meeting to discuss the death of Burge's son at Angel's hands. As you could have guessed from the blurb of Issue #4, this issue ends with Angel issuing a challenge to the lords (some of whom we recognize, such as the hooded sorcerer from "Enemies" and the Loan Shark from "Tabula Rasa") to decide the fate of LA.
I gave the last two issues perfect 10/10s, which is rare for me. However, there were a few minors points taken away in this issue. I don't like that different characters keep repeating the same phrases (Connor/Spike: "bottom-feeder" .... Nina/Angel: "up-and-up") but that wasn't only in this issue. I only actually noticed it here. Gunn isn't here, and I understand that. It's just... he's become so interesting that I just need to know what he's up to. And, as much as I loved the Angel/Illyria fight on my second read, a half-point probably gets taken away for the huge amounts of narration. The issue, as a whole, could have benefited from less internal dialogue, because there was a lot of it. Though that half point is won back by (I never thought I'd say this) including that damn Loan Shark. That's a pretty ballsy move. Not only was the Loan Shark the cheesiest demon, who nearly ruined "Tabula Rasa," he's almost universally loathed by fans. It takes some, as Lindsey would say, brass testes to include him in this comic. Question is... does it work? Yeah, actually it does. The Loan Shark fits into this medium far better than television and he actually almost looks scary. Go figure, right? Once again, despite a little thing here or there, Brian, Franco, and Joss deliver.
The issue ends with what is pretty much the biggest revelation/cliffhanger/thing in this history of not only Angel, but the entire Buffyverse. Holy crap.
Art: Franco draws an amazing Illyria. The couple of times we get a side-view of her face, I could have sworn I was looking at Amy freaking Acker. The expressions are perfect, and he pretty much just nailed the character. There is this one panel, where Illyria looks back at Spike after he tells her she's in no condition to fight the dragon. Her facial expression is, all at once, incredulous, "wtf," and "don't make me kick BOTH of your asses to prove you twice as wrong." On the other, less positive side of things, the few panels that are--for want of a better term--not close-ups, the character's faces are a bit distorted. A few more details would clear it up but, seeing as the 'regular' panels are so beautiful, I think the art would be more consistent if the farther away panels had the same quality.
Oh, speaking of quality... The quality (and weight) of the paper is back to normal. I don't know what happened with Issue #2, but Issue #3 has the same crispness of #1. That was a pleasant surprise.
Characters We Know: Angel, Illyria, Spike, The Dragon, Connor, Wesley, Loan Shark, Cloaked Sorcerer Demon from "Enemies"
Lynchverse Characters We Know: Spider, Burge
Speculation: I'm not even going to touch this one. All I can say is that.... Nah, can't even. You'll understand what I mean after reading the last page of this issue. It will leave you, like me, salivating for more. Best. Ending. Ever.