Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Spike, Brian Lynch, and Franco Urru Reunite

What Is It?: Spike- After the Fall #1 (written by Brian Lynch.)

Timing: After Spike's "First Night" story in Angel: After the Fall #6. Before Angel: After the Fall #1. To make it less complicated, you can pretty much say it's between "Not Fade Away" and "Angel: After the Fall."

REVIEW: All in all, it's the best Buffyverse comic we've seen from IDW since they released Angel #5 in March. The overall consistency of a comic written by Brian Lynch and pencilled by Franco Urru is really, really strong, and I'm more than pleased to have those two back together. I miss that team so hard over on the Angel book, so this comic feels sort of like a soothing cream over the open wound.

What we've got here is a prequel that feels nothing like a prequel at all. What you might have noticed, if you've been following Brian Lynch's work, is that this man never just churns out comics for the sake of putting something out there. He fills each page with action, character reveals, and hilarious one-liners that you can just tell he has a blast writing. Spike is as in-character as ever here, showing how he's really taken charge as the defender of his group of humans. Even though we all know where Spike's character is going by the end of this book due to his early appearances in "Angel: After the Fall," Brian still manages to surprise us with how he handles Illyria/Fred as well as the humans he's looking over. Jeremy (or, as Spike calls him, Jerry) is an awesome addition to the cast that Spike really seems to have a nice rapport with. I love that Jeremy challenges him, which leads to some hilarious and even slap-stick moments. Though what I'm a bit worried about is (SPOILER:) the lack of Jeremy in "Angel: After the Fall." Looks like he might end up being not-so-alive not-so-long from now.

As Brian moves the story forward, both he and Franco really put their all into each panel and pull off a lot of sly little winks and references throughout the book. From Angel, to Spike, to Everybody's Dead, to Monkey Man, I've read more Brian Lynch this year than I've read Whedon, so it was extremely awesome to see that the place Spike has taken up residence in is none other than Happytime Studios, which is the very same place where his original character Monkey Man sold his soul and momentarily "misplaced" his nuts in a previous Lynch scripted miniseries. Also, fans of "Spike: Shadow Puppets" might see an old friend in the shape of a duck. And, call me crazy, but I think Spike gave a child to/threatened Bernard and Rose from Lost early in the issue.

The stuff with Fred/Illyria is great, to the point where I don't know which character I want to stick around. Both of the characters have defining moments, that read a little something like this-

Illyria: "Ours."

(pst, it's all about context, because that is a *perfect* moment)


FRED: "Spike, what are you doing? He was feeling oogly--"

"Oogly." So Freddy. She's speaking Freddish. It's been so long since I've heard some great Fred dialogue, because she's pretty much been Illyria for the majority of "Angel: After the Fall" and other than that, she's pretty much been dead since 2005. So it's really, really awesome to hear this character speak again. And even better because she mentions her time spent in Pylea, which--in seeing her interact with the regular Angel case--we so easily forget about. But now that she's in Hell, I thought it was great to bring that comparison up. Very, very nice.

Now I see why Brian is so enthusiastic about this series. Great character stuff, great plot so far, spot-on dialogue, and amazing art (which I'll get to down below). As dark as it is, it's a lot lighter in tone than the Angel book. Great, great read.

Art: Franco Urru. I've written a lot of great stuff about dude, but seeing his art in this issue was so bittersweet it made my heart ache in the worst way. I love seeing his pencils, think it's great that he's on this book, and just... the "Angel" comic misses him so bad. Anyone who was hating on this guy has to a) be higher than Angel was when he fought the T-Rex, b) be sexist, c) be racist, d) be a Nazi, and e) like the Doom movie. The guy's stylized art works so well for the series, nailing both the action and the facial expressions of the characters. There is never a moment when I had to squint at a panel to see what was going on. In fact, in subsequent reads, more details pop out at you. I can't say I don't wish Urru was still doing pencil-work on the "Angel" book, simply for consistency and the fact that I'd enjoy it a lot more than I have been if Urru was still the artist, but this is still such a treat. As far as the colorist, I'm so not a fan of Art Lyon, but I think Urru is too strong an artist for his pencil work to be brought down by Art's washed out coloring. So yeah, this team--Brian and Franco--should pretty much write and pencil everything, because dayum.

Covers: Franco provides two covers, one with Spike standing atop a building in vampire-lemon face, the other a repeat of that image with Spike in human face. Both covers are awesome, and the use of colors (dark, royal reds and purples in the VLface cover and white/orange in the Hface cover) makes both similar covers look drastically different. Joe and Rob Sharp provide an incentive cover with a "grindhouse" effect. It's an awesome image, though the fact that Spike's face is traced from an extremely famous promo image but the rest of his body wasn't looks a bit awkward. The Sharp bros actually commented on that, saying that they were worried about not nailing the likeness, which is beyond understandable. What you'll notice in the subsequent issues is that the Sharp bros no longer use promo images and still manage to give great likenesses which pretty much shows that they're just overall really strong artists. I wouldn't mind seeing some interior pencils from these guys in an Angel or Spike book one day.

Characters We Know: Spike, Illyria, Fred, Dicky Duck, the Dragon, Spike AtF ninjagroupiescrazies.

Rating: 9/10


Loki said...

Liked it well enough, it was entertaining and one of the stronger issues Lynch has written in the 'verse.

(On with the pointless rant about the one thing that thoroughly irked me)

Still, one thing that popped up that is an example of something I'm really sick of in Lynch's writing - present-day-references and fourth wall-breaking meta-remarks. Both bring me out of the story going "how would character X know about something that doesn't happen until a year or two after this?" or "the character is aware he or she's in a story?" There wasn't any of the latter in this issue that I could see, but the "Tonight. We dine. Like tourists" is a very good example of the former. Sure, Spike could be referencing the graphic novel and not the movie, but I don't really see Spike reading graphic novels about ancient Greece, and even if he did, the "Word. For word. For word"-performance of it is popularized with the movie and recognizable because of the movie, and he wouldn't quote that part if not for the movie.

I know it's a petty detail, but honestly, Lynch keeps doing these things, and whenever he's confronted with it online he seems to wave it away as humour and light-hearted fun. Honestly, to me, that feels like not taking the story seriously enough. Sure, you can break the fourth wall every now and then, but "Angel" did that maybe three times in its entire run, and Lynch has done it, what, three times already in eleven canon issues? If you take the story seriously enough, the characters in it needs to think it's real, and they need to act as though it is, not as though it's a story taking place five years after it's taking place.

'Cause individually, the "Tonight we dine"-joke is funny, like most of these things is, as Lynch is a good writer, particularly of the funny stuff. It's just that doing that kind of jokes without even bothering to check if it makes sense in the story is symptomatic of an attitude to the characters and the world I feel smacks too much of "it's just a comic, what's the big deal, if it's funny it's funny" and too little of serious storytelling. Which is a little sad, I've waited years and years for this continuation, I'd like it's writer to take his own story a little more seriously.

Anyway, looking forward to the next issue of this. It didn't blow me away by a long shot, but it was entertaining and the two known characters felt mostly spot-on. Anyeone know how much Whedon was involved with the plotting of this story?

Thomas said...

I loved it when those random kids ragged on Charmed -- "...the internet is down, and the only thing on TV is that show about the witch sisters."

I didn't even catch that "tonight we dine like tourists" was a 300 reference, though I can see it now that you mention it, Loki. But now that I see it, I don't care. Here's why: On Angel the TV show, it never really mattered what exact year we were in. Nothing went on that was so closely tied to real-world events that it would matter whether it was 2008 or 2007 or 2005. From time to time the characters made jokey pop culture references (especially Lorne in Season 5 with his Hollywood connections), but those weren't very year-specific either. On the other hand, to the extent that those types of jokes were funny, it was because they were references to culture that was sufficiently contemporary that the audience would get it and find it funny. Pop culture has a short attention span sometimes. If Lynch were to scrupulously write everything like it was still 2004, these comics would just end up being less funny, because they'd be deprived of that particular type of joke -- a type which is true to the tone of the TV show, and often funny.

Incidentally, Joss should get Brian Lynch to write some episodes of Dollhouse, at least if it gets picked up beyond the first half-season.

Loki said...

That's a rather good point, Thomas, but... I'm not so much minding the use of such jokes as I am minding the attitude towards the universe that Lynch seems to have and that they're a symptom of - as a media for channeling what he finds to be fun. And sure, I'm not denying it, it usually is, he's a good writer. But it takes me out of the story when he does things like claim vampires do not shave or does jokes the characters can't really be doing, because to me, the most important thing is always buying the universe as real whilst reading it first. Having fun whilst doing so has to be secondary. It's not that Lynch doesn't take his writing these characters seriously, he clearly does, it's just that he takes more liberties with the world they live in than I'd like. But it's just a small protest, on the whole, he's doing a very good job.

Sadly, though, I'm increasingly tiring of the artwork. It's my main issue with this series, and the only one that really matters that much. No offense to any of the artists that have been on the book, but it is too much like paintings and artwork and too little like illustrations. Compared to even the worst issues of Buffy art-wise (and I'm sorry but it IS a natural comparison to do all things considered) the more traditionally comic book-style of artwork in that series always communicates the story more effortlessly than After the Fall manages. It's pretty, it sets a mood, but it's (to me) often unnecessarily inaccessible. I didn't mind that much early on, but I find I'm growing increasingly worn by having to ponder what's going on in at least a handful of panels per issue, often not feeling certain what happened until I go online and see what people say about it.

That's a complaint about After the Fall in general, though, and not Spike After the Fall in particular, so sorry about the ramble.

PatShand said...

Quick thing about Brian. He's getting way, way, way too much flack for the shaving thing. The continuity on the shaving thing had *already* been messed up. Flashbacks show that vampires do get facial hair. "Deep Down" showed that they don't.

The writers of the televised show, in general, always cared a bit more about the story and characters than continuity. Brian has done an outstanding job in working with some already very shifty continuity.