Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tipton and Messina Comicize "Smile Time"

What Is It?: Angel- Smile Time adaptation. Original story by Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund, original script by Ben Edlund. Adapted to comic script by Scott Tipton.

Timing: First thirteen minutes of the Angel: Season Five episode, "Smile Time."

Review: I'm not very keen on the idea of adaptations, because I keep day dreaming about how David Messina's art would be better used for an original Angel one-shot or even a mini-series. But I knew I would buy the book for two reasons. One, I've got major love for IDW, who have made 2008 all sorts of good with their Angel line (and some other books of theirs I've been getting into), and they have a lot on their plate for 2009 also, and that looks to be an exciting year for Angel fans. The whole team, from Brian Lynch, to Chris Ryall, to Stephen Mooney, to Scott Tipton, to David Messina and more have all been so great with communicating with the fans, that I knew I'd be buying "Smile Time," if only to support my favorite comic publisher. The second reason was because Tipton, who wrote the fairly entertaining "Auld Lang Syne," promised a few extra tidbits that weren't in the episode. And, he delivered on that front. But I'll get to that in a bit.

As an adaptation, it mostly works. There are a few scenes that come off as rushed and awkward, and some that actually benefit from the medium. The Knox/Fred conversation went somewhat well, but there was an ill-placed speech bubble that almost entirely blocked the Valentine's Day card he was handing Fred, which was a bit odd, visually. Had I not just seen the episode, I'm not sure I would have followed until he began talking about the card. Also (and this is minor), the final beat of the conversation has Knox saying "I do?" when it should be "I do," as in the original script, and to make his walking away make sense. The next two pages are where the awkwardness peaks, because there was a lot of conversation crammed into these two pages. In these scenes and the previous scenes, which were already a bit crammed with conversation, Tipton added some lines here and there, but they don't really benefit the overall flow. New stuff is cool, new stuff is why I came, but a few extra lines (that are mostly exposition where exposition isn't needed) at the expense of the flow is not worth it. In the scene I just talked about, Knox originally said "I know, Valentines was last week. But, um, I didn't take the discount on the card." This time around, he says "I know, Valentines was last week. But I didn't take the discount on the card. Even though the cashier begged me to--no, ma'am, I paid full price." And that expansion of dialogue was what led to the obscuring of the card. Sorry for going back there, but as long as we're on the topic of new lines I'm not sure we needed... Now, I'm not really fond of the concept behind the "Smile Time" episode, but it does have a lot of classic Angel lines. Especially his awkward "Oh, you know... drinking blood" in response to Nina asking him what he's doing for breakfast the next day. I'm not sure why, but in the comic, Tipton decided to change the line, and have him saying "Oh, you know... drinking blood, I guess." Again, I'm all for new stuff, but I think there has to be a balance, so that the new stuff matters, as opposed to new stuff that takes away from the way the lines read.

From that point on, however, things are looking up. The beefy Angel/Wesley conversation, which took up the more time than anything else so far in the actual episode, is done exceptionally well here. It could have felt bloated or rushed--and, perhaps, it SHOULD have felt bloated or rushed--but Tipton defies the laws of physics and makes this incredibly heavy scene flow nicely. The pages are packed with panels to be sure, but the placement of the speech bubbles and the staging of the conversation really helps it flow smoothly. The conversation Angel has with Lorne on the following page, where a few things are cut, also works very well here.

Now we get to the meat an potatoes... an entirely new scene. On his way to drop by Smile Time studios, Angel goes to the parking garage to get his favorite car... which Spike is already in the process of taking. Tipton is fairly skilled at writing Spike dialogue, and has a nice handle on the relationship between the two characters. I'm not sure that Angel would let Spike take his favorite car under any circumstances, but I'll buy it, citing his rush to get out and save some kids. This scene was my favorite, because it's new and helps push the story forward, and the dialogue is decent.

Tipton helped the next scene--which is mostly Angel walking through the Smile Time studio and, of course, being turned into a puppet--read nicely by adding some of Angel's internal thoughts. This, again, is a nice example of the kind of new stuff I was looking for. His thought process here is fairly by-the-books, with lines like "Uh-oh. Company." and "There's your first sign of weirdness." and "Over there." and "Here we go." I wish it had a bit more of that Whedonesque quirk in it, because Angel does have some really interesting thoughts, but I also understand why it was the way it was. It's hard for comics to capture the movement of live action, and I did think that the internal thoughts did help to establish the feel of Angel moving through the building, looking for something.

The last page also has a pretty awesome reaction to Angel turning into a puppet. Again, a great new tidbit.

Overall, I did enjoy reading it. I hope the comic gives me a new appreciation for an episode I never really liked, especially since "Spike: Shadow Puppets" showed me that the whole puppet thing definitely works better in comics. Tipton's new scene here is better than the stuff he wrote in "Auld Lang Syne" and on par with his "Spike" one-shots, which I really enjoyed. I'm not excited for the book the way I'm excited for "After the Fall," "Aftermath," and "Blood and Trenches," but I will continue to pick up the series in hopes that the established scenes will be handled as well as the Angel/Wesley scene and that there will be more new stuff, a la the Angel/Spike scene.

Art: David Messina was the artist behind the earlier Angel books, and I always found that he did the male characters a bit too angular, too muscular, and too square-jawed. But no longer. Messina has been improving with every page he turns in, and the progress from "The Curse" to Spike's "First Night" tale to this is incredible. Everything about his art, from likenesses to the movement to landscapes to the way he draws people in general has improved astronomically, and now it's hard to find much of a fault in his art at all. I do wish he was a bit better at capturing the mood of the characters on their faces, such as Fred's reaction to Wesley not interpreting her signals. She seems more or less happy/sleepy there, when I'm not sure that's what they were going for. Other than the facial expressions--and his Wesley likeness--Messina's art is flawless. The coloring is also great.

Covers: We've got two covers. One is a great David Messina work, featuring Angel turning into a puppet. We see all the in between stages too, which is pretty cool. With the "egg" thing in back of him and the blueish black tone of it all, it's a cool, slick cover. The B cover is a photo from the show, featuring the ironically iconic image of battle-wounded puppet Angel leading Gunn, Fred, and Wesley through the lobby of Wolfram & Hart, a sword slung over his shoulders. I was just going to buy the Messina, because as much as I support IDW, it's an adaptation... but when I saw this, I had to pick both up.

Characters We Know: Smile Time crew, Knox, Fred, Nina, Angel, Harmony, Gunn, Wesley, Lorne, and Spike.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jeph Loebs Takes a Stab At Buffy

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #20: After These Messages-- We'll Be Right Back (written by Jeph Loeb).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Some time, presumably more than a week, after "Time of Your Life."

REVIEW: I honestly thought this issue would be terrible. Jeph Loeb, who was once known as one of comic's brightest, hasn't been that popular recently. While he's certainly a solid dude who makes a great effort to talk to the fans and give his opinions on popular culture, his writing just hasn't been impressing recently. He was one of the driving forces behind the plot-centric nature of Heroes, which some believe to be the show's downfall. Also, the preview of the issue left a lot to be desired. So, needless to say, I was worried.

But Loeb didn't do bad. He delivered one of the best Heroes episodes in a while this Monday, and this week's Buffy issue didn't completely suck like I thought it would. It wasn't good, nor was it anywhere near worth all the hype that lead up to it, but it was--for the most part--better than the preview lead me to believe it would be.

Does Loeb have a feel for Buffy's voice? No. There are moments where it reads as horrid fanfic (The opening line "You come one more inch and... things are going to get all blechy"), and other moments where it sort of works ("Look at you, Will! You're all magicky and gay now!"), but it's a lot more of the latter than it is of the former. I don't know why this made it past the script stage, because the issue would have been a lot better if the dialogue had been redone.

How's the plot? Not bad. It's cool to see present-Buffy interact with the old cast, and the scene with her mom reads a lot better with the comic in front of you than it did in the preview. Things are rushed, yeah, and you don't really get a good idea of how Buffy feels during the whole thing, but that was to be expected. Loeb had less than twenty two pages for the in-the-past section of the comic, and I think he utilized it pretty well. The best little detail is that he actually gave Xander's skateboard the proper send-off it never got on the show. While it really didn't read like Season Eight level material, it also wasn't awful, and convinced me that if an animated series ever happens, I'll follow it.

And the framing scenes? Oh no. "It was all a dream." Yup. He did it. I liked the beginning of the issue, and that the Scoobs were shown to be living in a new place... but the end could have tied things up a hell of a lot better. So Buffy had an in depth dream that allowed her to take a small piece of advice away from it and, maybe, apply it to her current life. Interesting... but enough to warrant an issue like this? No. There should have been a deeper reason behind it, and if a few pages or panels were sacrificed, there could have been.

What Buffy said. So, everyone's talking about the crass Cordelia comment Buffy made to Willow. After Cordelia torments Willow in school, Buffy slyly says to her, "Maybe someday she'll be dead and you'll be a sorceress supreme." Yup. So not only does Loeb not have a grip on Buffy's speech patterns, he also struggles with the fact that Buffy isn't the leader of the Mean Girls. You don't make fun of your dead friends, and the argument that Buffy and Cordelia hadn't become friends by the end of Cordy's time in Sunnydale doesn't work for me. It was a small moment, but it does bring to light the other flaws in the writing that really stood out for me.

Again, the issue wasn't at all as bad as I expected, after reading the preview. The "mystery of the week" with the vampires and the dragon was cool, and really did feel like a throw-back to the past, and I thought the scene where Buffy imagines Angel saying "You look very beautiful" was laugh out loud hilarious. So there were enough gems in this issue to keep it from being the weakest issue of the series, but... I'm just ready to move past it an onto #21.

Art: It's great to have Georges back, to say the least. I loved Moline and he might even be a better artist, but Georges' art feels like I'm coming home at last. Eric Wight and his team provide the cartoony sections, and they're great. They're lively and bright, but still manage to capture the likenesses of the characters and the overall tone of the series nicely. The panel where Giles pretends to be excited about what Harmony will wear, followed by his glare in the next panel was such a great visual gag. Very cartoony, but not cartoony enough to not look real. It's a tough balance to achieve, and Eric Wight did it skillfully.

Covers: What can you say about the Jo Chen cover? By merely looking at it, you understand that you're seeing something great. People have thought that it's a photograph. It's such a precise, beautiful painting in the way it perfectly captures the likenesses--not only the facial features, but the postures and the feel of the characters--and the whole idea behind it, of the Scoobs watching Buffy: Animated on television, is fantastic. Utterly perfect cover. The variant is done by Georges Jeanty, but he attempts to match the style of Wight's animation. It's awesome to see Angel, Cordy, and Giles on a cover with the rest of the gang, and the layout of it all is very dynamic.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Xander, Joyce, Dawn, Willow, Harmony, Cordelia, Snyder, Giles, Angel.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One of the Most Emotional Things I've Ever Read

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #15 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly follows Angel #14.

REVIEW: So, as the title says, this is probably one of the most emotional things I've ever read. I can't really talk about everything I want to without uber spoiling, so what I'm going to do is write my regular review, and then whip up a spoilery paragraph or two that you'll have to highlight to read.

The comic starts where #14 left off. Illyria is in her true form, putting the smack down on LA. She's preparing to end the world--and my one complaint about this comic is that three different characters, in the span of five pages, remind us of this. Other than that tiny quibble, though... there's nothing here but chocolatey, tragic goodness. Any questions I might have had of this series being the best comic I've ever read is gone, because this, Angel #15, has beat out #1, #12, and #13 as my favorite comic in the series. That makes "Angel: After the Fall" as a whole have six "10/10 Classic" issues. I never could have expected the series to be so emotional and so damn daring, but... ahhk, I'll get to that in el paragraph de spoilers.

But yeah. The issue is packed with best-scene-of-the-series after best-scene-of-the-series. Let me give you a bit of a taste of what happens. Illyria uses a timeslip to show Angel the extent of the destruction he will cause when the Shanshu Prophecy comes true. Angel rallies up his friends to make a stand against Illyria. A major character dies, and has a death scene almost as great as the Wesley death scene from Not Fade Away. Illyria is faced with a barrage of memories of Fred. All of these major, major scenes come one after the other, playing off of each other, building up in a climax of action and emotions that is rarely accomplished. This stuff is "Becoming Part II," "The Gift," and "Not Fade Away" level stuff, people, and there are still two issues to go.

Brian Lynch manages to keep the dialogue light and very Whedonesque even in the most dire of situations. Spike's line--"What, just because you're not there doesn't mean it didn't happen. I'm mates with a telepathic fish. You practically dated a dragon, let's move on"--made me laugh through the blubbery tears the previous scene caused. All of the character arcs, both from this and the Spike spin-off come to a head, and all the development of Gunn, Wesley, Spike, Illyria, Angel, and Connor this season climaxes on the fateful battlefield. Most importantly, Angel comes to a realization about Illyria, Gunn, and himself and takes control of his actions, and--like the hero we've all come to love--comes up with an effective plan to tip the battle back in his favor.

What a tragic, epic, hilarious, scary, poignant issue. So true to the series.

Now... spoilers. If you haven't read the issue, please don't read this. Why would you? If you do you'll stink forever. If you're already a stinky person, you'll be unable to control the flow of your drool. If you like being stinky and drooling a lot, you might as well read it anyway, because you won't be allowed into the comic shop if you stink up the place and drool everywhere. SPOILERS: So. Two characters bite the dust. Groo is disposed of by Illyria in a very cavalier way, which really serves to condemn Illyria for me. She's through with trying to live with humans, and that, for me anyway, was her last straw. It was tragic, because really, it's Groosalugg, and I love the guy... but it served its purpose. But on the even more heartbreaking side... the worst thing that could ever happen to Angel happens here. His son, Connor, dies in his arms. After being stabbed by Gunn with the very flaming sword Angel fought with in the battle with the LA Lords. I wouldn't even mention this in the review, but the simple fact is that the death and the way it's handled is one of the reasons why the issue is so good. It's insanely risky, but the pay off is enormous. Because when Connor is stabbed, it feels like everything goes quiet. As Angel says, the "World has just ended." Seeing Angel holding a dying Connor is one of the saddest things I've ever seen, and the final, hopeful words that Connor gives his father will leave Angel with the will he needs to fight. And to win. Major kudos to Brian Lynch, Chris Ryall, Joss Whedon, and the entire IDW team for going there. You made me cry like a little baby, and I'm grateful.

Art: Franco Urru is back! Needless to say, the dude nails all of the power shots. This comic is filled to the brim with iconic images, From the group shot of the slayers, Wesley, Connor, and Spike with Angel leading them that is "Let's go to work" caliber stuff, to the tragic last page, to the more subtle panels like Spike's wordless, emotional frown when he realizes what has to happen to Illyria. The art is crazy good, to say the least. Also, to compliment his awesome pencils, colorist Fabio Mantovani comes on board. His colors give a lot of presence and texture to Franco's arc, giving the stylized images a sort of realistic look, which plays nicely off the weird atmostphere of Hell-A. The best example of his work is on page 19, when Betta George floods Illyria's head with Wesley and Spike's memories of Fred. From the cold, dead atmosphere behind Illyria, Mantovani manages to make this Lovecraftian horror look heartbroken. Franco has finally been paired with a colorist who can keep up with him, and I hope to see them finish out the series together.

Covers: Two doozies. Franco's cover isn't his best work, but it's still really dynamic. Angel, Spike, Wesley, and Connor are hopping (literally, for Connor) into action as the hellish glow of Los Angeles casts creepy shadows over them. The action of the shot is great, but the facial expressions and details of the characters are a bit lacking. Alex Garner delivers a great image of a horrified Angel getting a glimpse of what he will become when the Shanshu Prophecy comes true. And pretty much, you can put a frame on any Garner cover because the man is a master of covers. His best Angel cover will come down the line, with the nearly perfect #16 image, but this is still a great work.

Characters We Know: Angel, Wesley, Illyria, Fred (sorta), Connor, Groosalugg, Spike, Spider, Betta George, Gunn, Nina, Lorne.

Rating: 10/10 Classic.

Angel #15

I've hardly even got time to do this before I head off to work, but I've read Angel #15 and let me tell you... damn. Not only is it the best issue of the series, it's also probably one of the most emotional things I've ever read.

Once again... damn.

I'll write a real review when I get home tonight. I've got a meeting with an artist of a comic I'm working on, but I should have time in between that and work.

But yeah.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Okay, so...

...this ain't about Buffy.

But we haven't had a Buffyverse comic come out in a while, so I don't really feel that bad about whoring my own work through this site. I mean, it's only keeping this blog alive, right? ...Right?

*clears throat*

Here we go.

Laugh Track, my new webcomic, is up and running. You can read, love, hate, enjoy, scream at, smile at, etcetera the first issue over at the new Laugh Track site. It features art by the wonderful Paul J. Hollingsworth and will be updated with a new issue the second Friday of every month.