Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Some of the Best Stuff We've Seen (as well as some of the not-so-best stuff we've seen)

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #9 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly after "After the Fall #5"

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: The writing here was really good. It was a bit more uneven than issues #1, #2, and #5 (which are the best of the series, in my opinion), but it was overall a solid and well-written book. There were certain scenes that were as good as anything from those "10/10" issues that I mentioned, but the only thing that takes away from it was that the writing wasn't consistent, in that one scene would be great and the next would feel off.

The major plot of the issue is great. It covers--you guessed it--Angel and co. fighting the Champions of the LA Lords. A lot of stuff gets paid off in this issue such as...

1) How the hell is Angel going to survive this?
2) Wouldn't the Angel we know have a better plan than just challenging a bunch of demons, especially now that he has no super strength? (Hint: He has a bit more up his sleeve than rash actions /hint)

3) What's up with Spider anyway? What is she?
4) What is going on with Fred? How much does Spike know?
5) Those hagan shafts? What's good with them?
6) Fred/Illyria /Wesley? How is THAT going to work out?
7) Confirmation on whether or not the Connor/Gwen speculators were right to think they've been sharing googly eyes

With a lesser writer, this issue could have went the way of "Auld Lang Syne #3" and just been an all out twenty-two page brawl. But Brian Lynch knows the things that makes the show (and now the comic) work, and he fills these pages with nods to past events, a bit of foreshadowing, a load of humor, and more than a little bit of romance... topped off with a load of creepy. The highlight of the issue was the end, where Illyria (or Fred?) and Wesley have a heart to heart... in which three great things happen, which are minorly, minorly spoilery. (SPOILER:) First, Wesley tells Illyria something that he did, that will make fans of the former female lead of ANGEL very happy. No, not saying her name even though this is in spoiler text, just read the damn book. Second, we get sort of a mirror image/nod to of the best scene in the history of television (Wesley's death). Lastly, Illyria starts to let her (and Fred's) emotions show how she really feels about a former/now-current fuddy-duddyesque dressed bespectacled man. End sorta-spoilers.

So far, that sounds like all praise. And don't be fooled by this next paragraph, there is a LOT to praise here. But there are also a few not-so-solid things that I have to mention. There is a panel where Angel says "Bippity boppity... and boo." And it was during a moment that could have/should have been as epic as "Recompense," which in itself was nearly as epic as "Let's go to work," which again was as epic as "Well, personally..." You get the picture. But Angel's silly "Bippity boppity" (along with his facial expression, which I'll mention in the art section) totally ripped me out of the story for that moment and ruined the scene for me. Little thing, I know, but it's just something that Angel wouldn't say, and while it was a bit funny, it felt like that it was putting humor over character for a moment. It just didn't work for me. Neither did the rest of that entire page. It seems really light-hearted, and I get that the crowd and everyone in it would be lighthearted after such a great thing happens (won't spoil that, kiddies), but what Wesley says and then what Connor says... it's just a bit too silly. I'm all for witty banter and the character's acting silly (I love that stuff, I mean some of the silliest stuff in "After the Fall" is some of the best stuff) but this entire page, from "bippity boppity" to "Game face, Angel!" didn't work for me at all. That page was my only real issue with the writing, though I have one more minor quibble: Where did Nina go? Wasn't she supposed to come through with a huge like tank or something? I also remember her scratching a champion from #5... but she was MIA here. Probably just because she was a side character, but I would have liked to at least see her fighting in a panel or something.

That felt really complainy, but I do think that issue with the page is valid. The rest of the book is great, though, especially where everyone goes *after* the battle. Ah, man. Any fan of the show is going to have major, climatic moments of payoff during this issue. It, like #5, will make you cheer. Hell, last page will probably make you tear. Those complaining that each issue ends with a reveal (which is an invalid complaint, because this is COMICS! that's how it works!) will love the way this book ended. Hell, anyone who likes ANGEL will love how this issue ended.

Overall, it's a nearly perfect book with a oddly off-game page that throws the story a bit off course. But the "home" scene as well as the Wes/Illyria end totally gets it back on track. Hell, it doesn't only get it back on track, it gets back on track, paints the track gold, and plants a garden around the track.

Art: I'm not going to beast out too hard on Runge for a few reasons. A) Brian said his artwork in #10 and #11 is way better. B) Brian also that Runge himself wanted to redo some of the artwork here, so at least he recognizes that a lot of this was sloppy, so it was more a time issue than a half-assing it issue. C) The artwork problems aren't all Runge's fault. And finally, D) there is some good stuff here. Let's get into it.

NICK RUNGE (penciller): Hit or miss. I'm still a bit peeved that the dude turned over a perfect short for "Wesley" and then gives us such an uneven book here, but I understand the time constraints. A twenty-two page book is a lot more work than a short, but some of this feels really sketchy at best. Wesley suffers a bit from lack of detail, as does Fred. God, especially Fred. Fred looks awful in the first few pages, and that's pretty hard to make someone with Amy Acker's face look awful. However, the first few pages are child's play compared to the second half of the issue, which Runge steps up his game majorly on. From when Spike comes through wit Spider and his ladies (an iconic image if there ever was one), the art is pretty much consistently great. The Wesley scene (both his exchanges with Illyria, who looks PERFECT here--a earth-crushing improvement over how Fred looked earlier on) was a great piece of work.

ART LYON (colorist): Not bad. Lyon is clearly experienced, and he clearly put a lot of work into making the colors jump off the page... but he also made Spider strawberry-blonde. Spider, for five issues, had dark brown hair. Maybe she got some hair dye between armoring up and going to the battle, but I think her hair is something that should be amended in the TPB of this, as well as further issues. Overall, good job on colors.

Covers: Holy wow there is a lot. We've got Alex Garner's first ANGEL cover, and it's a beauty. In fact, it's the best cover we've seen so far, and that's saying a hell of a lot, because we've seen a hell of a lot. The only one that comes close to topping this is Runge's cover for #12 (which, again, proves Brian's point that Runge got better as the series went on), but Garner's #9 is frameworthy. Runge's cover for this one... not so much. It's a great image, but the thing is that it's simply traced from an Angel promo shot. Still, I bought the cover because the background is well done, but I think when he tries, Runge is good enough at likenesses to not rely on promo shots like he did here. I mean, check out how he nails Wesley (heh hehe) on page 21. Mooney's cover is a cool image, and says a lot about the issue and the friendship of all our heroes, but there's anoter coloring mistake. The colorist must have not read #5, because she colored Spike's jacket red, as if he were still wearing his PJs at this point... but Stephen drew it to be his duster, so it looks a bit awkward. The TFAW photo cover is great, as is the foil incentive Fred/Illyria cover, which is freaking AWESOME. The regular cover is Illyria, you open it up and there's Fred. Beautifully done, IDW.

Characters We Know: Spike, Fred, Angel, Wesley, Illyria, Groosalugg, Gunn, Connor, Gwen, Spider, Lorne, Loan Shark, and all the LA Lords and Champions

Rating: 8/10


Thomas said...

Some very interesting plot developments, and some well-written and affecting character moments. It's hard for me to imagine how much I would have liked this issue had it been drawn in a reasonably competent manner -- whether by Urru, or by Runge with enough time to do it right, or by any other good comic artist. If drawn well, it might have been the best issue yet.

But the art brings it way, way down for me. It's not just the likenesses (though those are a problem) -- it's that Runge doesn't seem to be able to draw action in a way that makes it easy to follow what's happening in a fight scene, or even what's happening amongst a crowd of people talking to one another. I don't know if those problems are due to lack of time or not, but they sure as hell are problematic.

Also, I mean, IDW brought this issue out one week after the previous issue. I don't love comic postponements (e.g., Fray, Astonishing X-Men), but couldn't they have pushed back the schedule a little to give Runge enough time to do some decent artwork, if that's all he needed?

Elijah said...

It's possible you're in my head on this one. I feel exactly the same on every single point.

I actually reread the Bippity-boppity part about 10 times before I decided to move on. Once again you are correct, that whole page seemed off. I went back and read the whole book again, about an hour later and things fell into place for me, but it was definately off overall.

Overall, the issue was a homerun as far as moving the story forward. Absolutely loved Wesley/Fred/Illyra and the Hotel.

Art was spotty.

Loki said...

No issues with the bippety boppety boo, seems like exactly the thing Angel would do in that situation. He's always been one for cheekily rubbing it in with a silly remark in a trademark sombre delivery when his shaved knuckle in the hole goes through. (I didn't get the "game face"-remark, so I don't feel qualified to comment on it. Someone explain it to me? How can he have game face when he's not a vampire anymore? And how it is funny to ask it of him either way?)

The art, however... I don't mind the style. Really don't. But half the panels rub me the wrong way. And I never care that much about the art. To me, art is functional, and the less of it I notice the better. I noticed it here, way too often. The ending scene - I do realize some of it is because it's a comic book and not live action, but - it just did not resonate with me like that event SHOULD have done. The art just communicated it poorly. Sure, som panels here and there were good, and as I said, the style of it wasn't bad at all. But actions, movements and faces often looked weird and strange, in several cases to such an extent that I didn't really understand what was going on, or needed to go out of the reading of the story to ponder it before I could understand . That's just not well done. I'm not critisising the artist, he clearly did well in some panels and in the Wes-story a while back, so he's not incompetent. I'm just critisising the book. Whoever decided this was ready for publishing made a sucky decision. The writing was among the best Lynch has given us, and the artist clearly could do better than he did.

I would rather have waited an extra month or even two and get more thorough work. I loved what happened in this issue much more than I enjoyed reading it. And that just aint right.

Despite that, yet another quality Angel-comic from the writer's side. Hope it'll keep going this well.

Thomas said...

I loved what happened in this issue much more than I enjoyed reading it.

That's it exactly.

Loki said...

I think so, yeah, the more I think of it. And thanks, I'm glad something of my blabbering hit the mark. ;)

kali said...

I had some issues with the art, especially at the start of the issue, but I am just so happy to see Gunn finally looking like Gunn that I was extremely pleased. I felt like Runge drew Gunn, Wesley and Spike perfectly and drew Angel and Illyria/Fred quite badly (until the last couple pages, where he seemed to get it).

I liked the plot stuff - the end made me teary eyed. Loved the She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named shout-out (you didn't say her name, so I figure I shouldn't either). Enjoyable issue, and I'm really glad to be getting back to this story after First Night.