Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Spike-like Smoochies

What Is It?: Spike- After the Fall #3 (written by Brian Lynch.)

Timing: One month after Spike- After the Fall #2.

REVIEW: The issue starts with a wonderful fantasy sequence that Spike is trying to lose himself in, to distract him from the torture. Angel is in the dream, and he's working at the Buffyverse equivalent of Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Fred is there too, playing a very interesting role. The dialogue on this page is brilliant, and is probably my favorite scene of the series so far. "No, thank you, good sod" was hilarious.

This issue, more than the previous two, really strengthens the ties this book has to "Angel: After the Fall." Two characters from the series appear, the first being Gunn and the second being the major reveal on the last page, so I'll keep that hush hush. Gunn has a really cool scene with the big bad of this book, Non, and is classic badass vampire Gunn. I loved the dialogue between these two characters, and seeing the Big Bads of both "After the Fall" series interact was really a joy. Non can't really hope to be as interesting as Gunn, but she continues to shock with her snippy dialogue and her outrageous actions, even going as far as to disgust Gunn. Very interesting character.

The issue climaxes with our heroes, as they always do, take a stand. The big scene that everyone has been wondering about happens here... and that is the kiss. The cover with Spike and Illyria kissing came out months ago, and its been a mystery, because Spike promised Wesley that he didn't think of Illyria in that way in ANGEL #10, and also, who woulda thought? Well, this scene finally puts the kiss into context, but I'm not sure that the event has had any light shed on it. Perhaps it will be elaborated on in the next issue (the conclusion), but at this point, I don't get Illyria's reasoning. Her sentiment, I fully get, but if there isn't more to it, I'm not sure that it was really in-character for her to suddenly do that.

Other than that somewhat confusing moment, this issue is really solid. The end is great and really leaves me yearning for the next one. I hope we don't have to wait another month and a half before getting the conclusion, because I can't wait to see what happens in the prequel that is too good to be a prequel!

Art: Franco Urru does a wonderful job as usual. From character expressions, to emotional moments, to the panel-to-panel movement, to action, to heroic reveals, he is simply the best interior artist we've had on a Buffyverse project. After two comics of Art Lyon greying and browning up Franco's art, we've finally got a good colorist in the mix. Jason Jensen from the early ANGEL: After the Fall issues is back, and he does a completely wonderful job on colors, really adding new life to Franco's already awesome pencils.

Covers: The covers are the best we've gotten from each artist so far. The Sharp Bros give us their best Spike likeness here, and the placement of the shadow looming over him is really dynamic and well done. The crown jewel, however, is the cover with Spike and Illyria kissing. It's so intricate, and so well done, that is bursts with color, life, and volatile energy. This, I want a poster of.

Characters We Know: Spike, Fred, Angel (fantasy sequence), Illyria, Spider, Non, Jeremy, Gunn, (SPOILER:) Connor

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Angel: After the Fall Hardcover Volume Two (First Night)

What Is It?: A hardcover that collects the issues six, seven, and eight of Angel: After the Fall.

The Story: This collection features some of the weakest and some of the strongest parts of "After the Fall." Naturally, the flow isn't as strong as the actual meat of the series (issues 1-5, 9-) because this is made up of five-seven page one-shots that tell what happened to the characters between "Not Fade Away" and "After the Fall." These comics are a lot more hit-and-miss than the actual story arc of "After the Fall," but the overall reading experience is a good one.

Spike's story definitely gets better with each read. I still don't totally grasp the logic of Spike coming to the conclusion that W&H don't have beef with him and Fred (I mean, you're in Hell, man) and also the scene where he spots Fred from the rooftop could have been two panels instead of one, to properly convey the movement of the piece, but I did enjoy the story quite a bit more with each read. The Connor/Kate story is also very good, as is the Gwen tale. Both have their strengths, and both have their weaknesses. There was a tale that a lot of people seemed skeptical about, but I thought it was sad, poignant, and really hilarious. Civilians shows us a bum and a random chick dealing with their first night in Hell, and while it wasn't really as influential on the actual arc of "After the Fall" like most of these ended up being, it was a great read that sort of added a layer of reality to the book.

The only story that doesn't improve with each read is the Lorne tale, simply because I don't think a story structured that way really has a place in the book. In Buffy, "Once More With Feeling" had people singing because of a supernatural reason. Every event in the history of the show that tampered with the format, it was explained to be the characters dealing with the effects of a supernatural event. In the Lorne story, it is what it is. A story about Lorne told in 'verse. As interesting as it was to find out how Lorne got to where he was, the format of it was very hard to swallow.

Now that I got the "What I Liked" and "What I Didn't Like" section out of the way, let's get to the part I like talking about the most. What I loved. The climax of First Night is Gunn's story, the tale that finally reveals how he got sired. It's heartbreaking, and is such a dark, tense read that it will leave your heart racing well after you close this book. The art in this tale, done by Mirco Pierfederici is fantastic. And speaking of art, woah Nick Runge! His work in my favorite tale collected here, Wesley, is nothing short of perfect. His skill in capturing the characters likenesses and making it feel like an Angel episode is unrivalled. While I wasn't overly impressed with Runge's work in issues nine, ten, and eleven, this short tale proves that his only weakness is time. Plus, the coloring in this short is millions of times better than the coloring in latter "After the Fall" issues, and the lush flesh tones and deep blues really bring out the elegant details of Runge's art. And don't even get me started on the writing. It carries on the tragedy of Wesley's death, and really sets up the character's story for the rest of "After the Fall."

Overall, the stories make a great prequel to "After the Fall," my favorite comic series of all time. Most of them are an enjoyable read on their own, but when paired with the other issues of the series, they're great.

The Presentation: Much like the first hardcover collection, the presentation of this book exceeds expectations. The only book I have--and I have thousands upon thousands in my teensy, tiny room--that is as beautiful a volume as this is "After the Fall: Volume One." Again, we’ve got a new cover by Alex Garner featuring everyone's favorite ghost, Wesley. His figure is glossy, with the rest of the cover smooth, which makes his ghost-like form look more translucent. The use of blues and oranges is beautiful, and its overall one of the best covers we've seen. Much like the first volume, the book has thick pages and a sturdy spine that won't wear down easily. The design from the previous book is here as well, and it's quite a nice one, what with the way the chapter pages and the borders of the special features look. There is no bookmark like in the first volume, but that's a non-issue, considering how good the rest of the book is.

Special Features: Yes, it's true. This book has a Groosablog. Instead of a formal introduction by Brian Lynch, this has a sort of recap in the voice of our very own Groosalugg. This feature has an inclusive image of Groosalugg drawn by Franco Urru, and it's probably full of more LOL (pun intended for those who have read it already) moments than anything we've read in "After the Fall" so far. There is a comprehensive cover gallery. Yes, that means all of 'em. It even means sketches. Best of all? It means we get Rebecca A. Wrigley's connecting covers from #6 and #7 as one splashy pagey glorious...ey image. What follows are the pages that I, as a fan, was looking forward to the most. We've got two pages of "First Night" story ideas that were scrapped. We get to see the ideas that Brian had for The Dragon, Spike (different than the actual story), Nina, Betta George (more than his two panel flashback), Lindsey/Eve, Groosalugg, and Cordelia. It's all interesting stuff and ooooooooh what I would give to get my hands on some of those "unproduced scripts." Then--yes, IDW and Brian Lynch are crazy, crazy generous--we get some hilarious and interesting page-by-page commentary on all three "First Night" issues, complete with an introduction from Brian that sheds a little light on his and Joss's outlining process, as well as the birth of "First Night." And, as they say when you speak pidgin, DASSIT!

Rating: 9/10

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Not Joss Level Material, But Still Entertaining

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #18: Time of Your Life Part III (written by Joss Whedon).

Timing: Directly after "Time of Your Life Part II."

REVIEW: I was let down considerably by #17, which felt really phoned in by Joss. You can't blame the guy, because he's got a lot of Horrible and Dollhousey things on his plate that he's eating in some Cabin in the Woods at the moment, but this story arc seems to be suffering a bit from it. While this issue is definitely a step about the previous installment, it's also not at the level it should be. Nope, it's sad for me to admit that the best part of "Time of Your Life" was the beginning... and our only hope is that Joss ends it really, really nicely.

Don't get me wrong, I liked this issue quite a lot. There were some really great scenes, and it does a good job in continuing the story that the previous two issues set up. Nothing at all that major happens, nor are there any great or truly memorable scenes we've come to expect from things Joss Whedon personally writes, but it never made me scratch my head in puzzlement like #17 did. The Buffy/Fray team-up is definitely being taken in an interested and unexpected direction... and the Xander/Dawn storyline is... I don't know. Not what I expected? I think the woodland fire creatures they run into in this issue were definitely funny and made for a good chuckle, but couldn't more interesting things be happening to them? Couldn't Xander show a bit more vulnerablity at the fact that his castle, his home, was just destroyed by the man who killed his best friend's lover? Nah, he's cracking endless jokes. It would be great if the jokes were to cover up for his vulnerability or if the jokes are used to show how calloused he's become when it comes to losing people... but I'm pretty sure they're just for laughs. Though, I gotta say, cheap as they may be, the laughs are quite laughworthy.

There's a great scene with Gunther, and both Harth and Future Willow continue to entertain and intrigue... but I can't help but be distracted by the linguistically hip Fray, who talks absolutely nothing like the character from her mini-series. It's been said that the original "Fray" series can be retconned as a translation so we can understand, but the thing is, some of the slang Fray uses was employed there as well. But it was a sprinkling to add flavor. This? Whenever Fray talks in this, it's not a sprinking... it's basically a plate full of pepper. Not so good. On the bright side, the back and forth stuff from Future Willow to Present Willow rocks, and there is a very...revealling scene with Willow and Saga Vasuki.

Overall, it's definitely a better written comic than #17, but it's not going to that Joss level like I thought it would.

Art: Karl Moline continues to stun. His characters are vulnerable, sexy, and move with such a fluid, page-to-page motion that brings Joss's words to life. The coloring, which I have come to appreciate, is really lush and truly masterfully done. I miss Jeanty like I'd miss a limb, but Moline makes me swoon like a.... swoony... thing.

Covers: Jo Chen provides one of her best covers ever, providing a perfect Dawn likeness, adding another dimension of reality to the cool "centaur" plot. Jo Chen continues to show how she's pretty much the best artist out there, and Jeanty manages to hold his own with his variant. Jeanty's work here is nice and detailed, but the idea itself is just a bit boring.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Fray, Erin, Harth, Willow, Gunther, Kennedy, Dawn, Xander, Saga Vasuki.

Rating: 8/10

After SEASONS of Build Up...

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #12 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly follows Angel: After the Fall #11.
Warning: Oh man, please read this this time. 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: This is a particularly.... I guess I'll say emotionally significant issue for me. Angel- Season Five was my favorite season of the Buffyverse, and it ended with "Not Fade Away" was my favorite episode. I thought that series was done for good, but I kept myself somewhat happy by mildly enjoying IDW's ANGEL comics. Then, I came across Brian Lynch's "Spike: Asylum" (and, later, "Spike: Shadow Puppets") which showed me, for the first time, that I could like a comic based on ANGEL as much an episode of the actual show. You can imagine how pleased I was to discover that Brian Lynch, with Joss Whedon's help on the plot, was picked to write a continuation to the ANGEL. It would be called "Angel: After the Fall" and it was described as a twelve issue maxiseries.

Twelve issues.

Well now, as I review Issue #12, I'm realizing that if things were different, I might have been reading the final issue of "After the Fall." Thank goodness things are different. Brian Lynch rounds off a year worth of Angel comics with the best, most explosive and emotionally significant issue since the first in the series.

It starts where the previous issue left off, with Angel--and don't forget, he's a human--beaten, bloody, and (alliteration, hoy!) broken. We don't get any major clarity on our hero's fate in this issue, but what we do get is a sort of "Specter Angel" (as someone on the IDW boards said) that is between life and death. He, along with a companion who I'll get to later, watches Gunn stand over his body, unseen. Angel is faced with his own death and his equally-spectery companion (SPOILER:) Cordelia stands by his side, ready to help him with his move into death. Her reveal is really poignant, and also ties into one of the biggest on-going mysteries/jokes of this series: What is the Dragon's name? Read the issue to find out, n00bs.

The issue of Gwen's betrayal in #11 is handled nicely, only taking up two or so pages as to not take much time away from the main plot of the story. It doesn't seem realistic that Gwen would be able to blast Spike back so easily, but the whole vampire/electricity thing has been inconsistent in the actual canon of the Buffyverse, so that's not really a problem at all. The only weak link in this otherwise perfect issue is the dialogue between Illyria and Nina. It's not bad at all. If anything, it's a slightly awkward scene that sets up what seems to be an interesting plot for Illyria.

The rest of the issue is packed with exposition, emotional blows, and revelations we've been anticipating for seasons now. Yup, (spoiler:) the question of the Shanshu is finally answered. We always knew Angel would play a role in the Apocalypse, for good or for evil, but we never knew which. Now we do.

As I said, it's the best issue of the entire series since the pitch-perfect #1, and has so many wonderful, tear-inducing moments. Brian Lynch is a master of his craft and knows these characters--and the fans--well enough that he knows exactly where this story needs to go. He balances what fans want and what the story needs to create a story that lives up to the high bar that "Not Fade Away" set, and I can't wait to see what the next five issues bring.

Art: The art is a considerable improvement. Before I get into this, I have to congratulate one Stephen Mooney. This guy is a huge Angel fan, and an all around great guy. He provided the Slay Alive covers, and even offered to draw exclusive images for a few fans over at the forum. He's shown interest in the Angel: After the Fall series for quite a while (there were some cool demo pages of how he envisioned the alley fight floating around the internet), so it's really cool that he's joined the team as the series penciller. Now, into my praise/critique of his art. Mooney did a good job. Not astounding, but a solidly good job. The problem apparent in his covers is also here--he relies too heavily on very dark shading, which I feel he should leave to the colorist. It does give the comic a sometimes-cool dark mood, but it also makes characters faces blotchy at times. However, on the plus side, his likenesses are consistently better than we've seen thus far in his sequential work, and all his depictions of the characters have improved dramatically. He's a good artist who puts forward impressive work here, and I'm definitely glad and relieved to have him take on the bulk of the next few issues. That being said, Runge's splash page was very good. A different colorist would have done a better job than Art Lyon did at coloring it, but that's no secret, because it also applies to every page Art Lyon has colored in the entire series. But aside from coloring issues, Nick Runge's likeness of Angel in his splash page is horrifying and dead on. But yeah, as far as the pencilling in this issue goes, its definitely a resounding YAY Mooney and YAY Runge!

Covers: Nick Runge gives us a great cover of Wesley with his W&H card, looking very lawyerly. It's a very appropriate image for the issue, and an overall attractive cover. I've been waiting a while for my boy Wes to get a solo cover and Runge definitely comes through! It's not quite as iconic as Mooney's cover for Angel #7, but it's still really great. Next up is Alex Garner, the fantastic artist behind the best art this side of Jo Chen. This painted image, featuring Connor, Fred, and Spike over an empty grave is so beautiful and so sad, and I kinda just love it. Beautiful green and blues, and fair likenesses. Runge's cover may be better this time around, but Garner is still a top dog.

Characters We Know: Angel, Spike, Connor, Gwen, Dragon, Cordelia, Illyria, Fred, Nina, Wesley, Gunn.

Rating: 10/10 Classic.