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.
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.