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!