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-
(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.