Friday, February 29, 2008

Much, Much Better than "Smile Time"

What Is It?: Spike- Shadow Puppets TPB

Timing: Four/Five months after "Asylum." Directly after "Smile Time."

REVIEW: There aren't many reasons why you shouldn't own "Shadow Puppets." The majority of IDW's previous work on the ANGEL and SPIKE series has been underwhelming, but this is a top notch comic adventure. It's by the same team that delivered Spike- Asylum, which was so good that Joss Whedon, after reading it, recruited writer Brian Lynch and penciller Franco Urru to write the long awaited canonical continuation to "Angel the Series." Even if you didn't like "Smile Time," the Angel episode that this miniseries was a sequel to, you will absolutely love this book. Me? I hated "Smile Time." It was one of the worst episode of the series. But "Shadow Puppets" is one of my favorite comics, mostly because some stuff just works better in comics. But that isn't the only reason why.

Brian Lynch's comics are some of the most layered that I've read. The panels erupt with pop culture references, character moments, and in jokes aplenty. The commentary in the back will help you catch each of these little tidbits, which makes this series even more enjoyable. Another great thing about this is that it's very, very focused, nailing home a central theme with every page, giving Spike some very essential character development. Speaking of our leather-clad ensouled vampire, Lynch continues to perfect Spike's voice, especially with the internal narration that drives this book along. Both Spike and Lorne are more in-character than anything we've seen from IDW before (expect Asylum, which also captures them great), though I would have liked to see Spike say "wee little puppet man" about five less times. That Trots was brutally beat to death.

I did enjoy Asylum more, but that's only because Asylum was more consistent. The first three issues of "Shadow Puppets" are perfect, but then issue four feels WAY overstuffed. The jokes from the scene where Spike fights puppet versions of his friends all--oddly--seemed to fall flat, and the whole scene feels distinctly crammed. After the fight is over, things slow down and Brian brings the series to a close with a great final few pages, which ties the theme up nicely and almost makes up for the first half of the issue. As far as other negatives, there really aren't any, except a continuity error. A flashback shows a post-Asylum scene with Beck and says that it happened five months ago. Then, Lorne references the events of Asylum as happening four months ago. It had been pointed out by numerous fans and should have really been fixed for this TPB version, but as far as errors go, it's easily forgivable.

It's not as dark or consistent as Lynch's "Asylum," but I don't think it was meant to be. What it is is funny, light, and really kind of poignant in a few spots. Overall, it is a must-have for any Buffyverse fan.

Art: Franco is such a badass. I was so impressed by his art in "Asylum" that I was a bit iffy about his stuff in "Shadow Puppets." But then I compared both of them and saw that Franco's art from Shadow Puppets is even BETTER. It was just that I was so surprised to get such perfecty quality art in "Asylum" (the previous Buffyverse art had been not-so-much), that I expected each page to be like a fresh orgasm. Well, now that I'm taking a closer look, it's orgasmy enough for me. Franco's covers are all frame-worthy and his panels carry Brian's meaty story with slick skill.
Special Features: Lynch is the master of comic special features. The commentary is hilarious and damn generous. We get comments on almost every page, which rocks. A lot of in-jokes are revealed, and it gives a nice context to some of the dialogue some may have missed. Also, we get some info on scenes that could have happened but didn't. Add that to a full cover gallery (the regs, the variants, the one super variant, and crabnabbit! even a few sketch covers!) and you've got one happy Buffyverse fan. Everyone. Beg Brian to write the "Spike- After the Fall" series he mentioned. Please. It must be done. With Beck and Tok!

Characters We Know: Spike, Lorne, Ratio Hornblower, The Gentlemen. We also get dream versions of some characters and puppet versions of others, and those include: Angel, Wesley, Illyria, Angelus, Fred, Connor, Cordy, Gunn. We also get hilarious call backs to Andrew and Buffy.

Lynchverse Characters We Know: Betta George, Beck, assorted Mosaic patients

Rating: 8/10


Anonymous said...

"Timing: Four/Five months after "Asylum." Directly after "Shadow Puppets.""

I hope that you by "Shadow Puppets" mean "Smile Time", or that made absolutely NO FRAKING SENSE.

Good review. You make me want to read this.

I will read this.


Maybe I should re-read Asylum first, though.

Anonymous said...

(I'm not sure WHY you make me want to read this, though, as your tastes clearly can only be the kind that's from some oddly flavoured shrimp-like multiverse where "Smile Time" didn't rock)

Kenictionary said...

Yeah "Smile Time" was one of my favorite episodes.

PatShand said...

Shit. That is what I meant. *goes off to edit it* Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Aaaand this and Asylum is hereby orderd.

From, though, so probably won't arrive 'til late April. On a randomly sharing note, I also threw Origin on the shipment, as well as Scott Lynch's second Gentlemen Bastards' book and an introduction to Ancient Egypt that I think I'm in sore need for to wrap my head around this text-study-course on Ancient Egyptian religion I'm taking, all the different era-names and dynasties are making my head spin.

Matt said...

You know, I sort of agree about Smile Time. I enjoyed it and I still like watching it from time to time, but it's definitely not an episode that stands the test of time. The sheen wears off a little bit more each time I watch it.

Personally, I disliked Shadow Puppets as a whole. It felt too...I dunno, fan-servicey? Sequely? I'm not sure what word I'm looking for. It felt derivative and sort of took away a lot of Smile Time's steam - seriously, how many times throughout the mini-series did Spike refer to someone as "wee little puppet something"? Once is a cute callback, but anymore than that and you're just beating a dead horse.


Loki said...

Ouch. That's exactly, more or less to the letter, what I've been thinking I'll feel when reading it.

Really hope I won't, though.

PatShand said...

Loki, the only time you'll feel that was is during said "wee little puppet" jokes. Everything else is solid. You'll find a decrease in quality in the over-the-top issue four as the review says, but you'll be pleased as a whole.

Loki said...

Okay, so I read it. I have to say that it was much, much, much better than I feared - but some stuff rang very wrongly in my ears. Making a fake puppet Angel-cast to fight Spike makes little to no sense, there is no real reason that should be more efficient than the ninjas. It seems like a stupid cop-out-attempt at geting to do all the Angel-characters as puppets without having to transform them and deal with the consequences. I pretty much loathed that entire thing, despite a few funny lines coming out of it, especially from the Charleses. The Illyria-Fred-thing was the one good thing about it. And even that was utterly ruined by the inane "Spoiler-Wesley" and the jokes based on something that not only takes place after this, but that needs parodying about as much as "The Body" needs it. Having this happen before it is horrilby cheapening to the actual scene once it comes around in NFA. (And I know this isn't technically canon - that's irrelevant to the experience of reading it. When you read it, you need to pretend it happens and take the story seriously, even when it's a silly one like this. At least I do.)

Another thing they could have spared themselves was the giant-brained man. There was in general too much nonsensical extra stuff like that in a story where the main plot is so silly that the rest of the elements really should try to stay serious for some believability.

That being said, I do believe the writing was actually a step up from the writing in "Asylum" (which is saying something, as Asylum is pretty darn awesome) even though I enjoy the more down to earth premise and story of Asylum far more than this. I would also never say this is superior to "Smile Time" - the plot is basically a rip-off from ST despite being somewhat more fleshed out, and most of the plot-based jokes are either repeats of ST-jokes or (to my tastes) way over-the-top. But it's a decent sequel that's well worth the read. Why? Exclusively due to the writing. Lorne and Spike (and also Betta George) are very entertaining in this story, and they for the most part feel like themselves. My one complaint in that area is that Lynch plays Spike's distaste for Angel up a little bit too much. Yes, it's a big deal. But making it all he thinks about is just unnecessary.

Timing isn't directly after Smile Time, by the way. This is clearly taking place after Fred died - and so did "Asylum". Plus the fact that the horse-puppet defected from Smile Time as you say four or five months ago, and in that scene references the episode "Smile Time", verifying this. I see that wikipedia lists both of these two stories to take place between "Time Bomb" and "Girl in Question", which seems like as good and reasonable placement as any I could suggest.

PatShand said...

Good point about the timing. I'd forgotten that Illyria was in this when I did the timing section.

Loki said...

Interestingly, this means that several (4-5) months probably passed between "Shells" (or possibly even "Time Bomb") and "Girl in Question" as both Asylum first and then later Shadow Puppets are to fit in there. Which funnily enough has as a side-effect that Angel's relationship with Nina must have been a rather lasting one - and probably a ton of other things.

PatShand said...

Not really. What makes you think that Asylum is set in that time period. It fits in quite nicely earlier in the season. Somewhere around "Damage" was what fans from other message boards were working with. I think it's considerably before "Shells." If I had to put a timeline, I'd do it like this.

+ Damage
+ You're Welcome
+ Asylum
+ Why We Fight
+ Smile Time
+ A Hole in the World
+ Shells
+ Underneath
+ Origin
+ Time Bomb
+ Shadow Puppets
+ The Girl in Question (could be why Spike was so hesitant to go on yet another trip out of the USA!)
+ Power Play
+ Not Fade Away

Loki said...

Spike had some remarks in "Asylum" which I took as heavily implying some stuff taking place after "Smile Time" - can't recall the particulars right now, but I'll look 'em up and re-comment here once I find the time.

Loki said...

Ok, so I did the checking:

Asylum HAS to take place after Smile Time due to Spike hallucinating several of the ST-characters.

Additionally, I kind of assume that the "Some [women] I tried to save"-remark he does internally early on in the story refers to Fred and "A Hole in the World"/"Shells". Otherwise the remark refers to nothing in particular that we know of.

I think there was a third thing which made me think this was after "Shells", but I'm unable to find it. But be that as it may, it's clearly after "Smile Time".

PatShand said...

Ahh, I forgot about the puppety visions. It must be after "Smile Time," then, but the remark about "Some [women] I tried to save" is clearly about Buffy to me. One of the most important character moments was his whole "every night I save you" thing. I've always took that to be about Buffy, as she was--as important as Fred was--more vital to Spike than Fred was.

Considering that and the puppet comment, I'd put it firmly after "Smile Time."

Loki said...

Even if the "Every night I save you"-thing were to refer to Buffy - which I agree with you probably makes sense - I still think the "Some women I saved"-one is likely to refer to Fred. The next sentence is "some women I tried to kill AND save", which is obviously Buffy, it'd make more sense if the sentence before it meant someone else.

Lorne singing "You can't take the sky from me" might be a very post-Fred thing for him to do, by the way, if this is taking place shortly after Shells. But I agree, it doesn't need to be set after it like I first thought. Seems to me to make more sense if it is, though.