Timeline: Betta George's storyline seems to take place during Issue 5. The other three stories take place right after "Not Fade Away."
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 (and art): Since each story has a different artist, I'll bunch these two categories together.
1. Betta George: Oh. Well, okay. After two issues of Betta George introducing and concluding each issue, this issue only has one George page at the beginning, which doesn't really conclude anything or really solidify the George stuff as it's own story. But I guess, in the end, it never was meant to be its own tale. What it does do is, by showing George's desperate situation, nail home the idea that "We're all on our own" on the first night, which is especially significant for how the Gwen and Civilians story (and, in a different way, the Gunn story) ends.
2. Gwen: I pretty much liked the Gwen story. The idea behind it is perfect, though, so that's worth mentioning. We've seen how being in Hell has had effects on supernatural creatures before this (Nina is stuck between being a human and a werewolf, vampires feel euphoric and bursting-into-flames at the same time, Illyria is time-slipping again which makes HER shift back in time to when Fred was occupying that 'shell,' which makes her able to be the REAL Fred at times, and Connor is suddenly able to remember things that happened when he was in the womb and an infant), so it only makes sense that Gwen's powers would go wonky as well. The short story pretty much shows how LA-gone-to-Hell effects her while she's on a date, so Brian Lynch took the opportunity to show where Gwen's mind is at since we last saw her in Angel: Season Four, where she acquired a device that enabled her to touch people without frying them. The very sexual touching scenes work here well, mostly because of Gwen's history and how Brian utilizes that. I like the story, and I might have really liked it, had it not been for the last page. Gwen talks to herself (SPOILER:) and the dead body of the man she accidentally roasted for the entire page, which just reads really awkward. Spike's shouting at the sun in #6 worked because a) Spike would do that, and b) Spike was in a triumphant kinda mood. But here, Gwen's monologue doesn't work at all. It's weird, because if this story used internal thoughts like most of the other "First Night" stories did, that Gwenxposition could have been delivered through captions and would have read very smoothly. Which, I feel weird saying, because I took points away from #3 because it relied too much on internal thought captions, so I recognize how hard it is to decide when a story needs captions, how many captions it would need, and when a story should just rely on dialogue. But I just can't picture Gwen talking like she did in that scene. However, on a positive note, Brian's improved massively on mastering Gwen's voice. Her dialogue in #2 was strained and sounded more like Faith than Gwen, but Gwen's dialogue here sounds like it's coming right out of Alexa Davalos's mouth. The art is good. Gwen looks perfect, though I would have liked if Nate (her date) had been a bit more consistent. This is minor, because the focus of the story was Gwen, but in one panel it seems like he has a chocolate-milk mustache. But overall, the art is good and impressed me more than I thought, because I was iffy about it when I saw the preview. But it's really good, particularly the tight-shots on Gwen's face and the colors. The colors are nothing short of stunning.
3. Civilians: Very, very interesting. I wasn't sure I'd like this, but after reading it, I'm glad that Brian included this story. It's about a homeless man who has been rattling on about how "The End is Near" in front of a movie theatre for a long time (since he found a ladder in his alley, which he took as a signal from the Powers That Be to get to work, which was a nice--and hilarious--touch). A woman who works at the movie theatre provides for the main conflict of this story. There's a nice little plot here where the homeless man calls everyone who doesn't believe him (especially the girl) stupid, only to have his crazy beliefs confirmed when LA actually does go to Hell. Seeing how his inner thoughts reveal a sense of loneliness is cool, but my favorite part of this was how much Brian's sense of humor comes through this character. Lines like "I hope I'll be able to hear you over the sound of me eating soup and the world ending" make me really happy, as does most of the dialogue in this story. It's not as exciting, per say, as seeing what happened to the main characters of "ANGEL," but it's something very worth reading. The art is interesting, and not really what I usually dig, but I really liked it. It was something different, and had a lot of cool details and funky facial expressions.
4. Gunn: Okay, now. This, along with the Wesley and Spike story, is what we've been waiting for. As far as how the story turns out... I love it. Love it. Theories of "WHO SIRED GUNN" has been bouncing through the forums since Gunn was revealed to be a vampire in November 2007, so it's such a great pay-off to finally know who did the deed. Most people thought, myself included, thought it would be Harmony, based on the character having no where to go and no one to go with... but turns out Brian had a different--better--idea. Reading the story is a very emotional experience, so I won't reveal how it was done or what Gunn's response was (though, honestly, that was the least shocking thing ever--if you know Gunn, you know how he'll react to getting turned into a freaking vampire), because it's a very emotional experience for a fan of "Angel." We get more pages of the alley fight here than we have before, and we finally see get the grisly details. At this point, we know exactly how all the characters (except Nina, which was unfortunate) got to the point they're at now, which is the highest function that "First Night" could have served. The Gunn story is a great bookend to the series, and is just dark and heart-string-plucking enough to lead into the best character arc Gunn has ever had ("After the Fall.") The art is great for the Gunn scenes, and probably the best we've seen in "First Night" after Runge's Wesley story. The alley scenes were okay, but they pale in comparison to the scenes of Gunn in the hospital bed, because those are just phenomenal.
(X. Preview for #9: This won't have an effect on the overall rating, because it's really just not part of the story. It's really cool that they gave us a preview of #9 in this issue, because really, online previews aren't nearly as cool as having the pages in your hands. And, forget what I say here, because I'm still way excited for #9 to get back to the main arc... but I hate the art. The art is terrible. The art on these two pages are worse than anything we've seen since IDW started the Angel line, except perhaps the Gunn story from the "ANGEL: Spotlight" miniseries. When I opened up to this page, I literally had to go back to my copy of #7 to make sure that Nick Runge was really the dude that pencilled the "Wesley," story, which is mind-bogglingly the best art I've seen from IDW. The idea I'm getting from this art is that Runge had more time for the "Wesley" story, so gave it his all... but had only a bit of time here so just churned out these pages. I hope the rest of #9 is more detailed and frankly better pencilled than this, because these two pages are simply awful. I hate to give such bad reviews, because I love the writing of the series and have loved the art so far, and I'll probably love #9 (if for nothing but the writing), but I can't help but be shocked by the difference in quality between these two pages and Runge's "Wesley" story. I mean, take the panel when Wesley gets his new duds. Compare it to the same image of IncorpoWesley in the first page of preview. How can that be done by the same artist? I hope, and trust (because, after what we've seen, how could we not trust Brian Lynch and Chris Ryall?) that the rest of the pages will be markedly better than this.
Rating: My main thoughts are uh-oh, but again, just re-reading some of Lynch's work so far just makes me cross my fingers and hope that the rest of the issue is better.)
Covers: Astounding. The David Messina cover is his best work. Comparing Messina's great work on the "SPIKE" story from #6 shows how much dude is improving, and again, comparing THIS cover to that again shows an amazing jump in quality. Hell, take Messina's cover to #1. Not good by anyone standards. But this? Freaking frame-worthy. This is the first time I bought a Virgin cover along with the regular covers, and hell, it was worth it. Brian Miller provides a cover featuring the homeless dude from "Civilians" as well as the movie working chick, and the cover is just a really attractive image. One would think a cover with no Angel characters (though Angel's face can be see in the background) wouldn't be as interesting as one with, say Gwen, on it... but damn if this isn't in the top 10 covers we've seen from "After the Fall" so far. Mooney's SlayAlive cover is also great, as he provides an image of Gunn and Gwen that at once gives a nod to their former 'relationship,' and also shows what Gunn has become.
Self-Promotion (I Suck): Please check out TV THAT DOESNT SUCK later on tonight. I'm doing an entry on Diablo Cody's new HBO show coming this Fall, so check it out. I get paid. Which, in a way, has to do with this comic, because if I get enough money, I'll a) be able to buy these comics and b) won't be like the dude from "Civilians."
Characters We Know: Betta George, Douche Lackey, Gwen, Gunn, Angel, Spike, Illyria