Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Brian Hits It Out of the Park, Runge Does Well

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #10 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: The proverbial morning after "After the Fall #9"

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: As far as the reading experience goes, this book is most similar to #3 and #4. It's not as strikingly good as #1, #2, or #5, nor does it have any real noticeable weak spots. The thing you have to do with this book, again like with #3 and #4... is read it twice. The second read, when you know what to expect, really gives the story and the character moments a chance to sink in. That's not really a strength or a weakness of the issue, it's just a thing that I've noticed happens in some comics. Happened in Season Eight a couple of times (most notably #2 and #4), and it's perfectly fine with me that it happened here. Reading a Brian Lynch penned "Angel" comic twice in a row definitely gives me a happy.

So here we are. The fight with the Lords is done, the Fang Gang is back in the Hyperion, and Gunn's plan is coming along nicely. Well, evilly, but nicely for him, I suppose. As Brian Lynch said, from this point and on there will be less Earth-shaking revelations and more heart-stopping, nail biting payoff... which indeed there is. But there also manages to be one more Earth-shaker of a revelation, which I'll get to later.

This issue was very calm, and followed the pace of the show nicely, allowing the characters to interact and go on a seemingly regular mission... which leads to much larger, highly unexpected stuff. But what am I doing, let's start with the beginning. The issue starts with a dream sequence, in which Angel pictures himself as an old man watching Spike and Connor play Batman and Robin (drawn in the style of the classic superhero comics, which was hilarious), which sort of gives Angel his first real "I miss being a vampire" moment, which is beyond big. When he wakes up, he and the Fang Gang gather and embark on a quest to find out what vampire killed the Lord of Westwood and all of his slaves (from Issue #1-2), which leads to great character interaction, especially between Angel and Nina. A pretty big conflict ignites between Angel and Connor when the gang finds out, through the ever blunt Illyria, (SPOILER:) that Angel is no longer human. Connor thinks Angel is in over his head, and not wanting to see his father hurt himself, he and Gwen leave Angel, Nina, and Illyria to find the Vampire In Question themselves. It's a great character moment to see Connor booking it not because he's being the immature one, but because he is for one being the mature one. Really shows how far he's come since the Season Four days. He might have been a bit rash to just leave Angel, but it's understandable.

What I love most about this issue, other than the final page, is the interaction between Gunn and Betta George. The "I'm still a good guy even though woops I kill and eat people"-ness of Gunn, which has been my favorite aspect of "After the Fall" continues to shine on. Gunn is milking George for all his psychic juice... but the thing is, it seems that he's not only using George, he's actually starting to LIKE him. Which is more than I can say for what George thinks of Gunn on the other hand, but what Brian is doing with Gunn's character, the directions he's pulling him, is really admirable. Not only does it tinker with the vampire mythology in the same way that Harmony's character did, it also gives us a creepy feeling of "Gunn kinda has a point" at certain points. Very, very good writing. And the scenes aren't just character development for Gunn, we also get some scenes with the slayers from #7 as well as the MAJOR revelation we've all been waiting for: Has Hell come to LA or was LA sent to Hell? And how does the larger world see this event? Fans of SPIKE: ASYLUM and SPIKE: SHADOW PUPPETS will love how that revelation is handled. And speaking of Spike, there is also a short scene between Wes and Spike that was nice, and I thought I'd mention it before I proceed to gush about how the issue ends.

So onto that last scene. A certain two people we've been waiting to see together finally... come together. And the way it's done, the surprise, the look in their eyes, the outline of the dragon in the sky, Betta George's gratified quip.... It's the best issue-ender since #3, which was THE best issue-ender. So yeah, it was really, really great. Overall, the writing is a solid 9/10, though it came very, very close to being a perfect 10/10.

Oh, and I loved the explanation of why LA was snowy. Totally not expected, which kept me on my feet from Page One. Great issue.

Art: Brian Lynch promised us that the art would be better than it was in #9, and for the most part he was right. As a whole, Runge's pencils have improved dramatically in this issue. They're nowhere near where they were at in the Wesley story, but they're--by and large--better than what we saw in #9. He's got the overall character design down well, and has moments of excellence. And he draws a great Lorne. Overall, it's literally a crying shame that Franco isn't on this book because needless to say, he'd make this issue much, much better... but it isn't horrible that we have Runge. In fact, it's good. Runge is a good artist that does a good job. But Franco is an impossible act to follow, and a lot of the issue I was wishing we were still seeing "the creative team handpicked by Joss Whedon" instead of "the writer handpicked by Joss Whedon and new artist Nick Runge!" Again, let me reiterate that I like Runge... but Franco simply made "After the Fall" a cosmic event. But we've got no one to blame for him being off of this project other than those complaining ass Whedonesquers. But let me sum this Art section up before I get ranty and give a rating of the fandom as a whole. Overall, I was pleased with what Runge turned in this time around, which was a very pleasant surprise. However, what I was not pleased with was the coloring. Art Lyon's colors are very washed out, and most of this issue is inexplicably brown. I mean, the panel where Connor jumped off of the building looks like he was suddenly turned to stone. In one panel, Wesley is completely brown for dramatic effect. However, it just doesn't seem to work in this book. I'd rather the colors stick more to realism, like the colorist from #2 and on, until now, did. The fact is, if there weren't so much damn brown, the page-to-page art would look considerably better. I kinda don't know what Art Lyon was thinking, but it sort of takes the punch away from Runge's otherwise nice art. So yeah, while the coloring was a letdown, Runge's art was surprisingly good. Just... the whole thing left me yearning for the same book with pencils by Franco and colors by .

Covers: There is a special place in my fanheart for Alex Garner's cover. It features Angel and Illyria in a snowy Hell-A, their legs bent, ready to jump into demon slaying-action. It's the first Garner cover I ever saw, and just proves that this dude is one of the best. Nearly Jo Chen level greatness. He gives the covers a really comic-y, superhero kinda feel while simultaneously keeping the mood, tone, and likeness of the Angel characters at a high level. We've seen four of his covers so far, and this is one of the best. For the second cover, other than a cover from Runge like we got for #9 (and will get for #11-13), Brian Miller supplies a cover that is... let's say weird? Yeah, weird is good. It's the same idea as Garner's cover, except Angel looks photo-realistic and Illyria looks like Skeletor. Overall, it's not horrible and not worthy of the panning we fans (including myself) gave it when it was first released... but the thing is, it's just kinda funny. Which isn't really a bad thing, it's just like a cheesy strange version of Garner's image. Still worth buying, and not the worst cover we've seen by a long shot. Kinda wish we got a Runge cover instead, but hey, Miller's cover looks a lot better in person than it did online.

Characters We Know: Spike, Connor, Angel, Nina, Groo, Lorne, Spider, Gwen, Illyria, Wesley, Betta George, Gunn, Beck, Biv (the invisible man from "Asylum"), and Anna (the ringel demon from "Asylum")

Rating: 8/10... Wait... Nah, 8.5/10


Thomas said...

...wait, did "complaining-ass Whedonesquers" really have something to do with Urru no longer drawing Angel: ATF? Or was that just a quip?

I miss Urru. This issue: great writing; adequate art; I loved the stabby Gunn/George scene especially, and also the Nina stuff for some reason. And Spike/Wes.

PatShand said...

Totally meant NO LONGER A VAMPIRE. Shit.

Loki said...

I actually really really liked the art here with only a few exceptions - but then again I was never as crazy an Urru-fan as you. Too bad Runge couldn't do this good work on 9.

Regarding the re-reading, I'm not in agreement either. I actually HAVEN't re-read it yet, but I don't need to. This is one of my favourite issues of the series, and I believe that off the top of my head, I only consider the very first issue to be considerably stronger. The unevenness of "After the Fall" is really bugging me, especially in the inevitably comparable light of the ever-awesomer Season 8 (I used to love AtF much more than S8, but those scales tipped around long ago), but at least this one goes down in the books as a clear hit after several half-misses. Loved just about every second of it, both the writing and the art. Really, truly hope that it'll stick to this level of great now and stop with the "great, good enough, decent, awesome, alright, decent"-roller-coaster. Because this one was a bullseye.

Matt said...

I think the biggest miss of AtF thus far, for me at least, has been "First Night." Overall, I found those three issues to be, on the whole, boring and unnecessary (Lorne and the civilians were cute, Kate felt shoe-horned). It should have stayed as a seperate mini-series, personally, as opposed to completely halting the action and keeping us waiting for the *real* story to continue for three months.