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.