Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Back On Point

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #19: Time of Your Life Part III (written by Joss Whedon).

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

REVIEW: After a nearly two month long wait, Joss Whedon and friends deliver the conclusion to the hyped Buffy/Fray crossover, "Time of Your Life." After some still-good-but-slightly-off-if-you-know-what-I-mean issues, Joss finally lives up to the standard he set in the fantastic #16, which kicked this arc off. Revelations--huge ones, in fact--are made, confrontations are had, and things get all sorts of stabby when Buffy faces off against the many, many people in the future who either want her dead or want to prevent her from returning home. With everything on the table, it's definitely the second-best conclusion to an arc we've seen thus far, ranking in just below Drew Goddard's fantastic #15.

There was a lot of plot to tie up here, so it's no surprise that the issue got a few extra pages. The awesome, but non-essential stuff was dealt with in a quick and neat manner, which enabled the story to focus more on the core of the arc and its ramifications on the characters. Harth presents a threat but is taken care of (not dying, obviously, as that's Fray's business if there's ever another series), Gunther's fate is revealed, and the Xander/Dawn fight their final battle with the Green Magic Serpent Things... along with some help from the woodland creature. Wow, never thought I'd type that sentence.

A lot of the main conflict, which can be boiled down to Buffy vs. Fray/Buffy vs. Dark Willow, is made up of action, but the dialogue and the final resolution to the conflict (c'mon, you don't think I'd give it away, did you?) is at once terrifying and sad. There are a few images here that you won't soon forget, I'll say that much.

Also, a major Who Is Twilight? theory is either proven or debunked in this issue (not sayin' which). Let's just say... what we learn leaves us asking more questions that ever before, yet is somehow satisfying. For now.

Looks like, thanks to Joss Whedon, Karl Moline, Scott Allie, and co. taking their time to make sure this issue gets done right, Buffy: Season Eight is back on track. I've had a damn rough past two days, but this issue sort of helped to take my mind off the shit. Thanks, guys. Loved the issue.

Art: Karl Moline is a force to be reckoned with. I thought we might have had to sacrifice a bit of quality in the pencils in order for Moline to get this issue out on time, what with the script being so late, but nope. His work looks good as ever. I will certainly miss his take on the Buffyverse characters, because he really put a lot of his own style into it, all the while making them look like them. There were a lot of epic action scenes and even more epic emotional shots that Karl Moline just nailed. Ah man, I love this 'verse.

Covers: Jo Chen has given us some of her best work for this arc, and this cover is just another shining example. Well, maybe shining is the wrong word. Veiny? A veiny example? The cover is a close-up on Dark Willow, and it's probably the most accurate likeness Chen has gotten. The reflection of Buffy in Willow's eye, the shape of her nose and lips, the crude veins stretching down her forehead and cheeks... stunning. Jeanty's cover, on the other hand, is his least impressive in a while. It's detailed and all, but it's just not as dynamic as his images usually are. His Fray likeness isn't really that great here, though his take on Buffy is awesome as ever. I just wish it were something a bit more than Fray and Buffy standing side by side, no matter how cool the future/present background is.

Characters We Know: Willow, Buffy, Fray, Erin, Gates, Harth, Gunther, Xander, Dawn, Amy, Warren, Twilight, SPOILER!: Riley, Kennedy. Wow, loaded issue.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Questions Are Answered, Decisions Are Made

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #14 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly follows Angel #13.

REVIEW: While it didn't give me the I-can-barely-speak-this-is-perfect reaction that #12 and #13 did, this was still a damn good addition to the series. A lot of stuff is revealed and a lot of the conversations we've been waiting for take place, most with extreme pay-off. The issue starts with Groosalugg battling the jetliner-dragons outside of Gunn's place, spouting off hilarious lines as always. It's a perfectly funny introduction to a pretty serious issue, and it works because it still has a dark undercurrent.

That leads right into what might be the best scene of the issue (it's tied with the final scene). Spike finally finds out that Angel is human, and his reaction is priceless. It's funny, subtly done, and full of nuance, which just another example of the deep understanding Brian Lynch has of the Spike character... and the tone of the larger Buffyverse, actually. I also love that the two most obvious ways to heal Angel were totally written off, leading to a plot twist that pays off a question we've been asking since the first issue- (spoiler:) What is that demony mess that Gunn built? I love the way that was done.

One thing, though. I'm confused as to why the jetliner-dragons didn't try to take out Gunn. Weren't they initially called into action because Gunn tried to kill Angel? I know that the army of demons--the ones that stood in as conduits for the Senior Partners, anyway--were there to (SPOILERS:) heal Angel with the demony mess that Gunn built, but didn't Wesley also say that the reason that W&H called their army was because Gunn tried to hurt Angel? I thought that statement was specific to the dragons, which is why I figured they were killing everyone around the place that Angel was harmed at. It's a small moment in an otherwise great comic that felt off, but I do hope there's an explanation to make that moment read a bit smoother.

I liked the scene with Wesley and Illyria. I would have liked to see a bit more of it, so the big moment in the issue got a bit more build-up, but it was still good. The last scene (the one that tied with the Spike scene) was just fantastic, though. In the final five pages, everything is laid on the table and, in that short scene, it seemed like everything was about to happen. It seemed like Gunn might be staked. It seemed like they might all be sent home. It seemed like a LOT of things were going to happen, because it's such a tense, well-written moment. And the end leaves a nice twist. For me, it wasn't really that surprising because of what came before it, but Gunn's reaction to Illyria's "plan" is what really made it a great ending for me.

Art: For the past few issues, I've pretty much felt the same about Mooney. His work in #12 and #13 were good. I didn't like that he often had the characters in poses from promotional images, and that his shading was a bit too dark, giving some faces a blotchy look. HOWEVER... that changes here. There is a marked improvement in the majority of his art. All of his Gunn likenesses completely and utterly rock, and I love the way he drew the scene where Spike first learns that Angel is human. Also, the scene where Spike vamps out is perfect--it's detailed, and looks nothing like any promo shot we've ever seen. His Connor likenesses have also improved. Mooney has definitely outdone himself with our beloved characters. On the other hand, I didn't really like the demons he drew. This issue pops with demons--including Illyria's true form--and they don't really look that scary or detailed. There is only one real page with demonic Illyria, so it's not at all a big deal, but I just wish that image had been a bit more realistic looking, seeing how realistic Mooney's human likenesses look like. Overall, though, the art is a major improvement from Mooney's work in the previous two issues, which was already quite good. Art Lyon provides colors for this issues, but I feel like there's nothing more to say about his coloring, really. His style, how he bathes entire pages in red and grey, just doesn't do it for me. The scene with Wesley and Fred was, at least, nicely colored. He's definitely cut down on the brownness of previous issues, so I'm glad he's taking fan reaction into account when coloring these pages. Still, though. These pages would look much better with a different colorist.

Covers: Two fantastic covers this time around. Alex Garner provides a truly terrifying rendition of Illyria's true form squeezing the life out of a human Angel. The other cover is sort of a collage of Angel's life so far--maybe chosen due to the timeslips Illyria is doing--done by Nick Runge, who is a great cover artist. It's not as strong as his last cover, but it's still a fantastic, poignant image.

Characters We Know: Groosalugg, Dragon, Angel, Spike, Connor, Wesley, Illyria, Gunn, Betta George.

Rating: 9/10