Monday, December 28, 2009

Is Willow Redeemable?

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: Willow- Goddesses and Monsters

Timing: After "Chosen" and before "The Long Way Home." Likely set during the fifth season of Angel.

Warning: 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: I recently had a conversation with a professor of mine about Willow. He mentioned how much he loved her, and I shrugged. "I'm over Willow," I said. He simply replied, "I'm not." I made the argument that it's less the character's fault and more the writers, but I just couldn't forgive Willow for what happened at the end of Season Six. Killing Warren, I got. Chasing Jonathan and Andrew, I got. But the whole ending the world thing was too grand, too villainous, and too much to ask for the fans to swallow. Then, in Season Seven, with the whole Kennedy thing, and Willow acting how she was, it was just too much. Then, she came back in Season Eight with a whole bunch of unexplained powers, and I was just so, so over her.

And then, Joss did little things that sort of made me see glimmers of the old Willow in her. The one that I loved, the one that my professor isn't over.

And then, Joss wrote this one-shot. In the best Buffy installment since #16, he humanizes Willow without really making it obvious that he's setting out to do that. He manages to suggest how she got her powers without really showing it. He shows how Saga Vasuki, whose real name is Aluwyn and whose role seems to be titled Saga Vasuki, was introduced to Willow and kind of what role she plays, but he leaves the rest up to the imagination. A few folks commented on the forums (snort, geeky chuckle) said that this feels like the first issue of a miniseries, but I couldn't disagree more. Joss gives us what we need here. We see sort of who the elemental goddesses are, because we don't really need specifics unless the story dictates that. And I feel sort of like a douche saying this, because it's such a Scott Allie line, and he uses that so often to cop out of editorial and story screw-ups. Stuff that should be in the story is an elaboration of how the world is so convinced that vampires rock. But this issue has a great balance of what we need to know and what we just need the suggestion of.

So yeah, Joss is a master.

Also, the balance between the drama and the funny is at a place it hasn't been in way too long. I got to used to Buffy: Season Eight being mediocre with splashes of good and splashes of terrible, but Joss really brought the greatness here. Scene after scene, idea after idea, it's brilliant. The dialogue is at a place is hasn't been in way too long, and Willow is damn likable. I feel her pain, I feel her happiness, and I'm both scared and excited for her when she takes control of her own journey and makes an important choice about who is going to be her guide.

I'm thrilled that Joss is on again for the next issue, and I definitely have hope for Meltzer. Espenson's arc, which was uneven at best and shark jumpy at worst, left me feeling pretty sad for the state of the series, but this one-shot showed me that Joss, as sucky as recent issues have been, does have a plan. I'll trust him. I can't really forgive how bad some issues, particularly #29, were, but now I have faith that he can redeem the series and make sense of all the stuff that, from here, looks nonsensical. I'm pretty excited for what's to come, which hasn't happened for me in a long time, so... that says something about how excellent this issue was.

My favorite story (well, aside from ANGEL) is in your hands, Mr. Whedon. Don't go breaking my heart.

Art: Man, does Karl Moline how to draw Willow. The quality of his pencils here are insane. So much so that I'd probably put him as my second favorite Buffyverse artist, after Urru. It's really just insane how much better this art is than the art of Jeanty, who seems to be sort of rushing through the "Retreat" arc. If Dark Horse is going to start looking for a series artist for Season Nine, they should look no farther than Karl Moline.

Covers: Really good stuff. Jo Chen's cover is elegant and really beautiful, with amazing colors, but I will say that Willow looks a bit too voluptuous here. Faith, that's okay. But Willow... eh. Tone down the boobage for the betterment of the cover. Moline's cover is excellent, for the most part, except for the random design on the bottom. I mean, what? The image of WIllow is just great, so why not stick with that? Good covers, but there are little things that take away from them, preventing them from being truly great.

Characters We Know: Willow, Kennedy, Aluwyn AKA Saga Vasuki, and (SPOILERS:) Tara.

Rating: 9/10

Friday, December 25, 2009

Lynch & Mooney's Last Angel. Get it? Because the book is CALLED "Last Angel," but it's also the LAST Angel book they're doing. See what I did there?


What Is It?: Angel Annual #1: Last Angel in Hell. Written by Brian Lynch, art by Stephen Mooney.

Timing: The story in this book, which is essentially a bad action movie based on what happened when LA was sent to Hell, never actually happens in the Buffyverse. However, the film was shot, and it exists as a fictional film in Angel's world. A preview of the film premiered at the Sci-Fi Convention in Angel #26.

REVIEW: So this is it. The last Brian Lynch penned ANGEL comic we're probably ever going to see. Thing is, though, it's not really even an Angel comic. While it uses a shitty screenwriter's version of the characters and slightly uses the situation of "After the Fall," it's way more a parody of bad action films than a parody of "After the Fall." There are definitely the kind of jokes this needed to have to make the book work ("What, like a reboot? That's kind of a cop-out, no?"), but the action of the film was so wildly misinterpreted by the fictional screenwriter that it doesn't comment that much on "After the Fall" itself.

And that is probably the one thing I would change. As awesome as it is that this is 100% friendly to newcomers, I do wish there had been a bit more in-jokes. There is the instant hilarity of seeing how they turned Spike into a lady, Gunn into Hurley-from-Lost with a gun obsession, Fred into a black chick in a suit of body armor called I.L.L.Y.R.I.A. that gives her Gwen-like powers, Spike into a lady, Betta George into a dog, and Angel into Nic Cage. Angel's loner-ness is made fun of, the idea of snow in Hell-A is played with, and there are even some specific situations and lines that are winks to fans, but in a project as meta as this, there should just be more meta. It should be the meta-est. Other meta things should look at this with envy and desire to hold a meta-stick to the meta of this issue.

Now, for the great.

The book is funny as hell. PUN! Pretty much every page has a great line (well, usually a line so purposely bad that it's hilarious), and that kicks ass because the thing is 48 pages long. If this comic went to a school of other comics, it'd spend most of its time kicking the shit out of punier comics. Probably stealing their lunch money, too. Oh, and definitely the occasional swirlie.

I never thought plot inconsistencies would be a positive thing about a comic, but Brian Lynch totally skewers action films perfectly here by hinging the entire story on a plot twist that doesn't make sense. (Lady) Spike (whose name is Sara, she's only called Spike because of an offhand reference Detective Angel Cartwright made to her teeth looking like spikes) essentially causes Hell to come to Earth by spilling a lot of blood at her and Angel's wedding (yup), but it turns out that she was on Angel's side all along and only pretended to be bad to kill the devil. Yup, sounds just like a Michael Bay film, right? Right. There are all the cheesy, big moments where the heroes conquer the one, random thing that always held them back that was awkwardly introduced for easy pay-off at the climax. There are all the expected, clunky action flick lines (at Doublemeat Palace, where the sign outside says "Over five billion serves," Angel Cartwright says to an employee "You just gotta do one thing... change the sign outside. Because three more are about to get served" before he kicks the ass of some vampiredemonperpscum. Also, there's the awesomely bad product placement, and not just the ads. The whole Doublemeat Palace thing is totally milked for all its worth in this. The existence of this book and the funniness of those scene almost justifies the existence of that Buffy episode for me now, which I'd thought was an impossible feat.

There are a lot of awesome lines, and it's pretty much page-for-page entertaining. I dig it, I'll come back to it over and over, and it's a good way for Lynch to end his stint on Angel. I hope to hell there's a sequel ("Next Last Angel in Hell"), and, I can't help it, I hope the dude comes back to the main title someday. Since Spike: Asylum #1, Brian Lynch has been my favorite comic writer, and he's made the recent years kick ass for Angel fans. I can't wait to see what he does with the SPIKE on-going, but until then, we've got all his Angel issues, all his Spike issues, and now this bad-boy to enjoy.

Art: And Stephen Mooney. This is also probably Mooney's last issue, and I'm pretty torn up about that as well. Not only has he been one of my favorite Angel artists, he's just an all around great guy. He puts his best work forward here, for sure. The art is cinematic, appropriately cheesy, and the characters just look great. If he has to finish up his run on Angel, this is the way to do it. Bravo, sir.

Covers: Two of Mooney's best. The main cover is probably the most epic ANGEL cover ever, which is kind of ironic, seeing as this isn't exactly an ANGEL book. It's an iconic image, and if there is ever one book that collects all of "After the Fall," this should be the cover. It's that bad-ass. Then, the B cover features the same characters, except as played by their "Last Angel in Hell" actors. Freakin' awesome.

Characters We Know: Hm... I never thought this would be a difficult section. Betta George actually appears as an extra in the movie, which was great. There are fictionalized versions of Angel, Spike, Gunn, Fred/Illyria/Gwen, Wesley, and Lorne.

Rating: 9/10

Brian Lynch, Stephen Mooney... thanks for this, thanks for the past few years of great work you've done, thanks for everything. I'll be following both of your post-Angel careers, so keep up the fantastic work.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Crown is Passed Down

What Is It?: Angel #28- The Crown Prince Syndrome, Part One. Written by Bill Willingham, art by Brian Denham. (Back-up story: Eddie Hope in A Devil Walks Into a Bar, Part One. Story by Bill Willingham and Bill Williams, script by Bill Williams, art by David Messina.)

Timing: Weeks, maybe months, after Angel #27.

Warning: 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 hidden.

REVIEW: In many ways, this issue starts a new 'season' of Angel. Brian Lynch has written his final ANGEL issue and is moving over to the on-going SPIKE series. The characters are all back together (this happens after ANGEL: ONLY HUMAN), but they also haven't really had it out about any of the stuff that happened during the Fall. This new chapter of ANGEL starts out with a whole mess of potential, and it's up to new series writer Bill Willingman to turn that potential into a great run.

Now, I've read Willingham's stuff before, so I sort of knew what to expect going in. I read and enjoyed the first three arcs of his award winning FABLES series, and plan to read the rest when I get a chance, so I didn't have that "What's going to happen?" feeling that I had when Kelley Armstrong took over for the AFTERMATH arc. I look back on my review of her first issue, and I see that I was being so easy on the book, cutting her so much slack because it was her first try. But... I'm not going to do that this time. I'm going to review this as an ANGEL book, no strings attached, no "aw, but it's his first issue" stuff. The same way I reviewed Brian Lynch's first ANGEL issue, which just happened to be utterly fantastic.

So. Bill Willingham's ANGEL.

Actually, a good book. A legitimately good read. The thing that did annoy me was that it had the potential to be a great issue, but a few of Willingham's choices prevented that from happening. The book opens with Connor fighting a pack of horager demons for seven pages. Now, I love how this is a call back to the first issue of AFTER THE FALL, where Angel was fighting similarly green demons with a sword in an alley. Only thing is, that was a much quicker fight. Willingham spreads the fight out and uses the scene as a vehicle for exposition through Connor's internal monologue, which... why? Connor explains his whole "I have three fathers" thing again, explains how all of his lives were different and how only one of them are real, and--the only thing we needed to know--how horager demons actually come from Quor'toth, the hell dimension where Connor grew up. Connor's voice is pretty much spot on, and that is a huge relief since there is just so much of him, and Willingham is handling him very much in the same way that Brian Lynch did. Connor is cool. He's no longer the whiney kid from Season Four. He's the hero from AFTER THE FALL. And I dig that.

The focus remains on Connor for the vast majority of the issue, and things get all foreshadowy when a group of robotic(?)/metallic(?) demons(?) jump to Connor's rescue, just as he is about to be killed by a horager. The demons (spoilers:) claim that Connor is "The Promised One" and "The Honored One" and that they are his army. This is where the comic really picked up for me, and Willingham shows that he has a good sense of the trademark gothic juxtaposition that Whedon and Lynch utilized to such great effect. The mix of the high (an army of demons addressing Connor as their king, all proper-like) and the low (ending the scene with one of the demons giving Connor is card and saying "Call me later. We'll talk.") is hilarious. Unfortunately, Willingham ends the scene with the tired old joke "Funny. I thought he'd be taller" which, as small a moment as it is in the scope of the issue, annoyed me. It's been used so many times, so why not come up with something better? It's an easy line, and Willingham is better than that.

Now, here's the odd bit. Connor takes a cab ride back to the Hyperion, where Angel Investigations has moved to (thank God). All the exposition from the first seven pages is given to us again, just condense. And it reads so damn well. If the opening scene had just been the battle with no exposition except for the necessary horager stuff, and all the "I'm Connor, this is my life" had been left for the cab scene, it would be a much, much stronger book. The exposition in the cab scene works, because Connor is essentially comparing his oddness to the normalcy around him. To him, the cab driver is one of the lucky ones, one of the ones that Connor, is one of his lives, got a chance to be. And... well, to the cab driver, Connor is just a geek with a prop sword. Best scene in the book.

And now, the moment of truth... when we head back to the Hyperion to see the rest of the gang. The moment when we see how Willingham handles the rest of the characters, and the dialogue as a whole. So what's the verdict? Well... not bad at all. The majority of the scene is Spike trying to tell everyone what happened to him in Vegas while everyone else is wondering where Angel is. The dialogue doesn't have a really organic flow to it yet, but it is a damn crowded scene, so I don't really blame Willingham for that. Packs into the lobby of the Hyperion are Spike, Gunn, Betta George, Illyria, Kate, James, Dez, and Connor. Willingham isn't as spot on with the voices as Brian Lynch, but his Spike is hilarious and I can definitely hear Marsters in my head while reading Spike's dialogue. Gunn is also very well done. I didn't like Willingham's take on Illyria, who seems to be talking more like a logic machine than the Illyria that Whedon created and Lynch developed the hell out of. James actually gets a good chunk of dialogue, and he's... pretty funny. And you know what, I'm glad that Willingham kept Dez and James in the mix. As much as AFTERMATH outright sucked, the characters have been introduced, and the on-going story is canonical, so we can't just ignore a whole arc. I just hope that Willingham can make good characters out of them, or... well, kill them and make their deaths matter.

Now, the scene with all these characters isn't bad. It seems to say that, after the Fall, all of these characters really need each other, so they're grouping together... and that's interesting. But how much more interesting, and how much more organic, would it have been to actually see these characters come together? If Connor, Kate, Dez, and James (the AFTERMATH team) were the main crew, Willingham wouldn't have needed the awkward scene in which it's decided that, in Angel's absence (I'm getting to that), that Connor should be the leader. It would have been awesome to see Spike doing his own thing and finding his way back to the group, with George in tow. Also, I really needed to see the scene where Gunn and Illyria come back to the group. I mean, it's not as if Willingham is ignoring all the atrocities Gunn committed, because he makes sure to have Connor give Gunn a dirty look, and that subtlety for me is more interesting than an out-of-place and random argument (YOU KILLED ME?! HOW DARE YOU!?), but it would have certainly been great to see Gunn's apologetic re-entrance into the Hyperion, wondering if he's going to be accepted or denied. But, we've got what we've got.

And now, Angel. We only get two pages on him, because he's... well, he's (spoilers:) been kidnapped. His situation is really interesting and a bit sad and a bit funny, and I can't wait to see where Willingham takes it. From what we hear from Angel--a lot of internal monologue, because... well, he's not really in the position to speak right now--seems to be as spot on as his Connor dialogue.

It's a flawed but promising start to the new chapter in the on-going ANGEL saga. Now that all the exposition and "this is the new status quo" stuff is out of the way, I'm expecting Willingham to deliver a great ANGEL story.

Art: The art ranges from great to annoying. The likenesses are always spot on, and good enough to place new series artist Brian Denham among my favorite Angel artists. He's really got a handle on the characters faces, and the opening scene also shows that he's awesome at action. However... he can't seem to blend the two together to create the movement appropriate for the scene in the Hyperion. The scene has a lot of characters, so I can't imagine how hard that was, but a lot of it felt like still photographs with the characters posing. No one is ever really looking at each other, and way too often, the characters are facing the reader. Also, the characters are standing one place for one line of dialogue and then next to someone entirely different for the next line. It's not really well-staged at all, and if there are going to be a lot of Hyperion scenes, I really hope Denham works on that, because the rest of his work in the issue was stellar. He's great at expressions, faces, and action... now he just needs to work on his lengthy dialogue scenes. Oh, and I can't end this section without mentioning colorist Alfred Rockefeller, who does an utterly fantastic job. Holy crap.

Back-up Story: This was one of the highlights of the issue. We get a bad-ass, action packed, and morally ambiguous introduction to Eddie Hope... a devil who may either be a hero or a villain. He goes to a bar, seeking out folks who did terrible stuff when LA fell, in order to... well, kill the shit out of them. It's violent, gruesome, and really awesome. It's short, at just four pages, but it works. I also love that instead of making the main story of the issue feel short (it's 18 pages instead of 22), it just makes the book as a whole feel more complete. I can definitely see Eddie's story building a lot throughout the arc, and I'm already anticipating the moment when Bill Willingham decides to pull the character into the main story, because something tells me that Eddie Hope is going to want a piece of Gunn. And, er, not in the sexy way. The killy way.

Covers: A lot for this one. Unfortunately, I can't really afford buying all the retailer incentives anymore, because I'm producing a feature film which is woah a lot of money, but I'm still able to get the A and B covers, and give my take on the prettiness of the others, via internet pics. The main cover, by Jenny Frison, is decent. Angel looks pretty sick (well, he should, considering his situation), but he also looks a bit too bulky. It's not a bad cover, but there are a few details on it that make it pretty jarring. I do love the angels and demons that are crawling all over the cover, which really works well. The B-cover is by Messina, and it features Angel (who is looking a bit cat-like) and Eddie Hope. The style of the cover is pretty awesome, and the red city over the blue, demonic image looks cool. Brian Denham's retailer incentive cover is a badass black and white skull with a crown on it that has a crazy amount of detail, and Jenny Frison also offers a new years themed incentive, featuring Angel and Spike. All the covers range from decent to great.

Characters We Know: Connor, Spike, Illyria, Gunn, Betta George, Kate, James, Dez, Angel.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Awful? Nah. Good? No way.

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #30: Retreat part V (written by Jane Espenson; art by Georges Jeanty).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Right after "Retreat part IV."

Warning: Since this review is super late, no spoilers are going to be blocked. If you took as long to read it as I did to review it, go get the comic instead of reading this!

REVIEW: Sigh.

Well, it's not as bad as #29. Not nearly. It doesn't fix any of the stuff that is fundamentally wrong with the story, but it pushes the characters forward in a slightly more interesting way than I expected after the utter travesty that was the last issue. I had to sit on this book for a long time to really get a sense of my reaction, because I didn't want to go in with my #29 anger fresh in my head, and I also didn't want to keep you guys waiting too long. So here we go...

THE GOOD
+ The threat of the goddesses was actually handled rather nicely. As random and odd as their appearance was, the scene when the Scoobs realize that the goddesses aren't on their side was pretty chilling. I didn't really get why the goddesses didn't just stomp their temple for maximum killage, but that I can suspend my disbelief for.
+ Riley. We find out that he's been on Buffy's side all along and that Twilight might have known it. I hope his time spent undercover is elaborated on a lot in future issues, because all he gave Buffy was "You need a miracle." This, I'm excited to see. And in Buffy: Season Eight, anything that excites me is a rarity and a blessing.
+ Another thing that excites me... Buffy flying. Yup. It happens at the end of this issue. It seems to be the one thing that Scott Allie said they were building toward this season that actually seems as if they were building toward it. It's a great moment, and I'm thrilled to see where that is going. It has the potential to continue the terrible, shark jumping trend of making everything so damn large scale, but it also has the potential to inject new life into a story that, at this point, seems kind of tired.
+ Fun stuff between Twilight, Warren, and Amy.


THE BAD
+ Still with the guns and the not caring. It was sort of touched on when Buffy asks everyone to give even their wounded enemies shelter, but how how how can you have Xander, Dawn, Buffy, and these characters shooting humans and not show any sort of emotional reaction? What is going on?
+ While it might be necessary, the mass murder of the slayers here--as well as their loss of power and Buffy's gain of super power--seems like a really obvious way of putting things back to the status quo of Buffy strong, everyone else weak. Is it important for the story? Probably. Does it cheapen Chosen? Unfortunately.

Art: Jeanty's busy panels continue to suffer. It's impossible to tell any of the males, aside from Xander for obvious, eye-patchy reasons, apart. You have to skim through the book to see who is wearing what color shirt in order to see who is who. The first time we see Andrew and Giles, it looks as if two new characters with mushy heads have been introduced into the fold. The close-ups of the faces for the non-war moments, however, are the best they've been in a while. Jeanty's really handling the Buffy/Xander/Dawn love triangle well through his art, even though I have no idea how the whole new found Buffy/Xander connection makes sense, story-wise. An improvement over what Jeanty's been doing, but I wish he were as consistent as he used to be.

Covers: Jeanty's cover is... eh. I have no real opinion about it. It's the same way most of his covers have been recently. Terrible compared to what he's done before, but, on it's own, just boring. Adam Hughes is on A cover duties, and his coer is the better of the two, but also really weird. Buffy has "realistic face, cartoony body" syndrome, and the rest of the cover is blocked by snow. It's not bad, but not particularly good either. Seems to be going around a lot in this issue.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Xander, Dawn, Willow, Giles, Andrew, Oz, Kennedy, Amy, Warren, Twilight, Riley, Faith, Satsu, Leah, Rowena.

Rating: 5/10

"Meep."

What Is It?: Angel: Only Human #3 (written by Scott Lobdell; art by David Messina)

Timing: Directly after Angel: Only Human #2.

Warning: 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 blocked.

REVIEW: I'm way less jazzed about Angel: Only Human after reading this issue. The first issues were solid 8/10s, and while the story is still continued effectively here, some of the dialogue is just sloppy. And an in continuity book set in the Buffyverse should have anything but bad dialogue. Lobdell didn't show an amazing skill for Whedonesque dialogue with the first two issues of the book, but at least both Gunn and Illyria seemed in character. If you can't amaze me with the dialogue, at least don't jarr me. A few turns of phrase here jarred me, especially in Illyria's narration. However, nothing came close to when Gunn, in reaction to seeing Illyria get engulfed in an explosion of flames, said, "Meep."

"Meep."

"Meep."

Really.

Charles Gunn.

"Meep."

I... don't know. I can't hear J. August saying this. I can't picture Gunn ever saying this. I can't really even picture a grown man saying this at all. I don't know.

Moving on, the rest of the issue is fairly good. While it's definitely brought down a few notches due to some seemingly rushed writing and Gunn's odd utterance, there are some really cool bits here. We get some cool insight into Gunn and Illyria's past, Illyria through explicative flashback and Gunn through a plot device called "soulfire." But I don't mind plot devices, and it worked well. We got a pretty emotional look at Gunn as a child on two separate occasions: When he saw his first vampire and when his grandma died. The latter is a really emotional and effectively done scene, especially considering how it's cut up with bits of Illyria's flashback. Also, a great little touch was seeing Gunn walking with his sister at the hospital. The connection between Gunn's memory of his sister hasn't really been explored yet in his post-vampire life, but at least showing her is good attention to continuity.

The majority of the issue is flashback and action. The action is handled rather well, without too much narration, and the flashback is solid. While my review might seem negative, this is still a pretty decent book. Lobdell just needs a better sense of Gunn and Illyria as characters in order to understand how they would speak in a given situation (as in, never ever "Meep.") Also, the pacing in the issue was a bit wonky, especially how it ends on such an odd note. We've got an epic fight going on between Illyria and Baticus. So many great places to end. Then, Baticus, towering over Illyria, says "Why won't you fall, Illyria!? At long last... fall!" And Illyria replies with a simple "No."

The end.

Er... what?

It literally seems as if Lobdell was writing this, realized he was on page twenty-two, and said, "Eh, good enough."

Art: Messina's art is as amazing as always. He's gotten to the point, like Franco and Mooney, that there isn't much I can say about him that I haven't already been said. His art is beautiful, violent, vibrant, and graceful. I dig it.

Covers: Only one cover this time around, and it's the best so far. The green and pinks are amazing here, and Illyria's likeness is fantastic. Though, I have to say, maybe the whole "Illyria's true form looks like a vagina" could have been a taaaaad bit more subtle here. The watering lips (I feel like I'm writing a porn here... COME BACK NEXT WEEK FOR ILLYRIAPORN) are a bit too much.

Characters We Know: Illyria, Gunn.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"And Men Shall Call Him... SPANGEL!"

What Is It?: Angel #27- Boys and Their Toys, Part Two (Written by Brian Lynch; art by Stephen Mooney)

Timing: Directly after Angel #26.

Warning: 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 hidden.

REVIEW: This was a bittersweet reading experience... kinda. It's hard to define, really. In a way, this is the last Angel story that Brian Lynch and Stephen Mooney are going to tell. And nope, I don't mean as a team. They're both spent a lot of time with Angel, and both of them have said that after this, they're moving on. So this is sort of an end. But they do have the Last Angel in Hell annual next month, which is kinda Angel, so that made this a bit less sad. Also, Brian is signing on as the writer for the Spike on-going next year, so again, less sad. It didn't have that "Is this really the end?" feeling that the final issue of After the Fall was laced with, but that might just be because it's a funny issue.

It continues the story from where the last installment left off. Everyone at the Sci-Fi Convention has become the characters that they were dressed as... and Spike was dressed as Angel. I was thrilled to see that Spike wasn't just behaving as his grandsire would... he was behaving as he thinks Angel would. Saying things and thinking things and doing things that he thinks Angel would. It gives a funny, critical, and at times sweet look at how Spike really thinks of Angel, which is something we rarely got on the show, as it's pretty hard to chip through Spike's sarcastic exterior. This issue has way more action than anything else, though, so it's not as if it's a full out character study. It's a glimpse into Spike's head, and as I mentioned in my review for #26, a really cool launching point for his solo series.

So, the action. There's a lot of it. It doesn't feel like too much, because the characters never really get lost in the action, but I do wish we had been able to spend a little more time with Spike, while he was (as he called himself) "Angel #1." Spike's emotional reaction to realizing that he wasn't Angel felt pretty quick, and though it was earned not only through this issue, but since the first time we saw how much Spike looked up to the guy (Buffy, Season Two), I do wish there was a bit more back-and-forth dialogue to play with there. And the thing is, there certainly could have been. There is an entire page where Angel essentially recaps what happened in the previous issue. But why? This is a direct follow-up of the issue, so we shouldn't really have to hear Angel talk about it in page space that could otherwise be used for more character development and action. In the grand scheme of things, it's just a page, but I do think it could have been better utilized.

There also aren't as many laugh-out-loud moments as the previous issue, but I don't fault that much. Most of this is battle dialogue and quick interactions between Spike/Groo and Angel/Jeremy (no, not in a shippery way, you slashers), so there isn't room for any full comedy scenes like the Last Angel in Hell bit and all the funny Groosalugg stuff from the previous issue. What we have here is still funny stuff, though; especially the scene where Spike as "Angel #1" and Groosalugg face off against a group of squishy-headed "aliens" that believe they're from the planet Skrum. One of the lines that I did lose it on was when an alien holds a laser to Groo's chest, saying "You! Carbon based, Fabio-esque lifeform! Take me to your leader!"

All in all, it's a fun comic with a little bit of character insight. It's not as much of a riot as the previous installment, but I don't feel like it's trying to be. It's nothing earth-shattering or shocking, but it is a highly enjoyable reading experience that, as with all Brian Lynch's writing, feels 100% like Angel. If this is indeed the last Angel comic that Brian Lynch ever writes (though, I have a dream that one day he'll come back, years later, when the series is past #100, to finish off the series with one last, epic, final arc), then it was a solid end to my favorite run of my favorite comic.

Art: Stephen Mooney's likenesses are stellar, as always. He's less fluid with the action in some parts than I would like, but the vast majority of the panels here are really good. I've written paragraphs and paragraphs about Mooney's art, and I feel like I've watched it grow so much. This is good stuff; not his best (his best certainly seems to be Last Angel in Hell, because from what I've seen damn), but still solid stuff. The panels are just super busy, what with all the fighting fans-turned-warriors in the background, so sometimes the details of a character's expression loses some of the time that could have been spent on it in a quieter panel. The story called for it though, so I'm certainly not faulting the art at all. It was definitely something different from Mooney, whose last two Angel projects were the epic and tragic After the Fall and Not Fade Away adaptation, so the jump to comedy here must have been tough... but it was well done. I wish the man would stay on Angel, because it's clear that the title is better for having him play a part in it, but if we can't have him now, all we can do is wish him luck in his next projects and cross our fingers that he'll want to play in Angel's world again someday.

Covers: Both of the covers are better than last time's, which were already fantastic. Mooney's Spike/Angel split might be his best likeness of both Spike and Angel ever, as well as his best use of shadows. The faces are just perfect, and wow I hope this cover is used for the Volume Six hardcover. It's simply a perfect piece of Angel art. Nick Runge's is also very cool, featuring Angel and Spike standing in front of a poster of Angel that Spike's face has been taped over. Similar idea to Mooney's, but completely different execution. And I dig both.

Characters We Know: Angel, Spike, Groosalugg, Jeremy.

Extras: In the back of the book, there is an interview between IDW Publishing and Angel himself (likely written by Bill Willingham) that talks a little bit about what to expect in Willingham's first arc, Immortality for Dummies, which kicks off with #28 (which has it's own title: The Crown Prince Syndrome). Angel's voice is funny, and slightly mocking, which is perfect for a piece like this. I love this kind of meta stuff, and it's just getting me more excited for this arc that I've been looking forward to since the announcement at Comic-Con. Also, we get a quick interview with Bill Williams, who is going to be writing four page back-up stories in each of Willingham's issues. Angel is going in a whole new direction, and I can't wait to see how the two Bills handle it!

Also, my Angel: After the Fall fan film came out today! Check it out and please leave feedback here or on the YouTube page! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtbCo61IIXs

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Halloweenie Treat

What Is It?: Angel vs. Frankenstein- The Heir (by John Byrne)

Timing: Early 1800s, after the action of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

REVIEW: Much like John Byrne's Blood and Trenches, this was a treat. It was told in a different style than the Angel stories we've been getting that have been set in modern times, offering a dark, gothic, and truly creepy tale just in time for Halloween. Unfortunately, I'm not in time to review it for Halloween, but... yeah. I really enjoyed it, and I think it's just what the doctor ordered.

These kinds of tales should be what IDW looks for to spice up the Angel title. Brian Lynch's one-shots and the current Boys and Their Toys two-parter (Part Two still hasn't come out in NY! No matter how busy I am, I do tend to drop everything to get my Lynchcomic reviews out, because, to be honest, they're at a higher level than any Buffyverse comic being published now) have been fantastic, but it's clear that the series is in a transitional period before Willingham takes over with the Immortality for Dummies arc in December. Stories like this one, though, help remind us where Angel comes from. As much fun as we can have with the comedy issues, and as heroic as Angel is now in the more dramatic issues, this served as a harsh reminder to me where he comes from. And that, at this point in the series, is essential. Each season was loaded with flashbacks, but the on-going series really hasn't seen much of that until now, other than Blood and Trenches, which showed a troubled but essentially good Angel. This... not so much.

It's a battle of the villains as Angelus and Frankenstein go head to head for an inheritance that neither of them really deserves or, considering what the inheritance has dwindled to, really want. It's more of a war of ego and honor between two monsters, one whose heart turned cold because of the way people treated him, the other who likes to snap necks and ravage virgins. So yeah, it's clear that Frankenstein is the better of the two here, but his nonchalance about taking human life to get what he wants throws this story into a dark, dark place. There really are no heroes, no one to root for or get behind. It's just two dark forces clashing, and it's damn chilling.

The language Byrne uses to tell the story is great. It genuinely feels like it takes place in that era, and besides a few awkward turns of phrase ("...He has been called Angelus. A name given to him as an ironic joke." Eeek.), Byrne uses dialogue and Frankenstein's expository monologue to set the tone here. Despite the idea having comic book fight written all over it (I mean, what hero hasn't fought Frankenstein?), Byrne takes the realistic route and totally succeeds. It's nothing earth shattering, but it's an enjoyable and well-written comic that works as an Angel tale, a Frankenstein tale, a standalone horror tale, or a start to a longer Angel vs. Frankenstein saga. And man, I hope for that last bit.

Art: So, so different than Blood and Trenches. I loved the washed out, newspapery look of that book, and I thought we might get something similar here, but nope. Byrne's likenesses are as strong as always, but the darkness of the story seeps through into the art. It's shadowy without being too dark, bright in places without breaking the mood... actually, it's almost as if it's a comic being told by candlelight. Colorist Ronda Pattinson should just color all the Angel comics, because her work here isn't just attractive, it also works perfectly with the story. Great, great art.

Covers: Not my favorite by Byrne. There are a lot of arms, and it is sort of messy. All I can think of when I see it is, "Is that Frankenstein's leg? How is it there. He's so tall that his knee caps are at Angelus's shoulder. Heh. Why? They're in a forest? Why is Angelus holding her that way? Looks uncomfortable for him. Why is her hand bent that way? Looks uncomfortable or her. Is Frankenstein stroking Angelus's hair. Sexy. But no." So not the best. Byrne showed in Blood and Trenches that he's way better at interiors than covers, but this is definitely below his usual standards. There are some very cool things about it, but they're all trumped by the sheer awkwardness.

Characters We Know: Angelus. Oh, and he hasn't appeared in the Buffyverse until now, but... Frankenstein, who you should know. If you don't, leave this blog now. Go. Shoo.

Extras: So I'm a geek. Know this before you read what follows. I love TPBs and hardcovers, and I love seeing what goes into them and what doesn't make it. As of now, it seems that this book doesn't really have a place in any collection. So, geek that I am, here are a couple of suggestions.

Angel- Volume __ - Short stories- Make it a part of the on-going series. Throw it in a hardcover. And no, not randomly. Wait until there are a bunch of one-shots. Fables, Sandman, Y: The Last Man, and so many other series do it. Have it start with Masks, then this, then Last Angel in Hell, and and the next few one shots that come out. Whatever volume hardcover has been published by then (I'm thinking Angel- Volume Seven- Immortality for Dummies) make it the next one!

Or...

Angel vs. Frankenstein TPB- I know what you're saying. "But Pat! It's only a one-shot! It would just be the very same comic in an ill fitting larger cover!" But "wait," I say! Make it a friggin' series. It works. The ending calls for it. It should happen.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Updates

Reviews will be back on track soon.

Reviews for ANGEL: ONLY HUMAN #3, FALLEN ANGEL: REBORN #4, and ANGEL vs. FRANKENSTINE will be coming by Wednesday.

Also, I'm closing down the sister site to this blog, http://patshand.blogspot.com



Keep up with my new stuff at these sites:

STINKY BURGER PRODUCTIONS: www.stinkyburgerproductions.com

YOUTUBE: www.youtube.com/stinkyburger

FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/stinkyburgerproductions

TWITTER: http://twitter.com/stinkyburger

E-MAIL: stinkyburgerproductions@gmail.com

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Closest "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Has Ever Come to Jumping the Shark

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #29: Retreat part IV (written by Jane Espenson; art by Georges Jeanty).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Right after "Retreat part III."

Warning: 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 was my first reaction to the issue, the day it came out:

"Okay.
I'm sorry. I love Joss Whedon. Out of every writer I've ever worshipped, his work has just GOTTEN to me. It's great. They played Dr. Horrible today in my New Media class, and I basically cheered. And my favorite Whedon work? The Buffyverse. It's close to my heart, and, in my opinion, one of the best stories ever told.

I've had my issues with Season Eight since #17, that's for sure. It's see-sawed from bad to really great, but it's been consistently (at least) good for a while now.

But after reading this issue, I don't know what to think. It felt like Buffy as done by Michael Bay if Bay had a slightly better ear for dialogue. It was a mess of action, melodrama, and people who resemble the characters I've come to love fighting and killing faceless humans. What was the big end to the whole getting rid of magic thing? Not showing the world that the slayers were demons. It was to start using guns and torpedoes against an army. What was the RESULT of the whole getting rid of magic thing? Colorful goddesses coming out of the ground. What? Super cartoony, and utterly non-Buffyesque. In tone, characterization, and even down to the ever changing, maybe non-existent theme, this is not the Buffy I've grown to love for seven seasons and a whole bunch of wonderful comics.

I don't know what to think. It's the same team. Is Whedon spread too thin? Maybe. Dollhouse is great. Maybe that is taking up all of his time. But what about Espenson? Her last two issues were very good, and the one before that was also decent. And "Briar Rose" was phenomenal. What is going on? I'm just left scratching my head. Are the flaws inherent in the plot? Is the story just too big?

Whatever it is, my suspension of belief was completely blown, and it's breaking my heart."

I decided that, before I posted my review, I'd let myself cool off. I read it again. I felt no better about it. Then, one night, I turned on "Surprise," one of my favorite Buffy episodes. From the dream sequence in the beginning, to the cliffhanger ending, the whole thing has a very foreboding, Gothic tone that really defined the early series for me. But here's the thing. All the way to the end of the televised series, I was never really let down. Sure, Season Six and Seven had some clunkers, but they also had incredibly strong moments that made up for the problems. These seasons were still good Buffy stories, and they were great television. And Season Eight started that way too. #1-16, excluding #5, were great Buffy stories. The season was on its way to becoming the best season since the epic fifth year. But then, things started getting messy. The plot started making no sense. Scott Allie kept having to explain things that were happening off stage, shaking his head at readers for not realizing that these things--which are essential to the plot--didn't matter for "the story." We were expected to believe that humans no only accepted vampires, but knew that vampires were killers... and that this was basically a unanimous view amongst humanity. Okay. Very strange, very un-Josslike, but sure. I trust the man, so I'll rock with it.

And then Jane Espenson started cleaning house a bit. The first installment of her game-changing arc felt way too rushed, but did set things in motion. The idea of slowly getting rid of magic was suspect, but then again, the arc had just started. The next issue was better, and the next issue--last month's #28--was actually really great. Things started to seem real again. I started to allow myself to reinvest in these characters.

So I don't know what the heck happened this month, but this is not Buffy. This isn't the same series that "Surprise" was a part of. Not even close. It's sloppily written, silly, and doesn't even take itself seriously. The scenes where the slayers and friends are handing out guns should be grave and solemn, because that is the one thing that they never wanted to do. But the scenes are played for comedy. They're long, expositiony, and outright boring. The emotion isn't there in those scenes, or any other scenes in the issue. Willow has a random breakdown, after the calm she achieved in last month's issue, and it reads like a soap-opera gone the way of comics. I really, really don't get it.

The rest of the issue is basically a war comic. None of the human life seems to matter to any of the characters or the creative team, because it isn't even a plot point that they're killing humans. All we see is guns and torpedoes firing, no reaction, just a lot of ohshittery when the slayers realize they're losing, and then yayness when they get a bit of a break. When Angel killed a human in his series, it was a major thing... but in this issue, this choppy, speedy, sloppy narrative doesn't miss a beat. It doesn't matter in the book, and that is just weird to realize that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has become this.

Can Joss Whedon save it? Yeah, obviously, he's Joss Whedon. But it's going to take a lot. Angel: Aftermath was bad, and that was a somewhat standalone arc by a writer who won't be returning. This is a key piece in the puzzle of Buffy: Season Eight and it's written by Jane Espenson. What the...?

By far the worst issue of Season Eight and the lowest point of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a whole. Boring, badly written, and damn near insulting. I don't care about what's happening to the characters because it doesn't feel like them. It's not just a bad Buffy story... it's a bad comic.

Art: Busy, busy panels. I really can't fault Jeanty in this one like I have in the past for opting to not include a lot of details, because there is so much going on in any given panel. Some emotion from the characters in the art might have made the book a slightly better read, but in this instance, Jeanty isn't really at fault. It's the story. The art isn't great, but it's passable.

Covers: The main cover, by Y: The Last Man cover artist Massimo Carnevale, is really cool. It features Twilight flying over a stretch of mountains, and it's the best cover image we've gotten of this season's Big Bad. It would have helped if Twilight was featured in this issue, but it's still a very cool cover. Jeanty's, not so much. While it attempts a #9 like effect, both in cartooniness and the pop-culture reference, the cover is just ugly. The faces are sloppy, and everyone is nearly unrecognizable besides Buffy, Xander, and Rowena. I guess the girl on the far right could be Satsu, but there is no definition to her face. The girls on either side of Xander might be Faith and Kennedy, but which is which? They both look like interchangeable, angry brunettes. Thankfully, Jeanty's cover for next month's #30 is better than this, because this is just ugly.

Characters We Know: Xander, Dawn, Oz, Giles, Faith, Andrew, Satsu, Buffy, Willow, Kennedy.

Rating: 1/10

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Most Anticipated Since #17

What Is It?: Angel #26- Boys and Their Toys, Part One (Written by Brian Lynch; art by Stephen Mooney)

Timing: Things are finally back in chronological order. A while after Angel #22.

Warning: 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 hidden.
REVIEW: The idea has been going around for a while. Brian Lynch first mentioned that a hack screenwriter would be making a crappy movie out of the events in LA, and that our heroes would go to check it out. Back then, it was said to be part of the SPIKE series. But instead, it kicks off something that is as sad as it is hilarious... Brian Lynch's last three issues of ANGEL ever.

Why funny? Well, the plot is insane in the best way possible. Angel goes to San Diego Sci-Fi Festival ("Rip-off of the Comic Con," says Connor) and catches a screening of "Last Angel in Hell." It's starring Nick Cage as Angel, Jorge Garcia as Gunn, a dog as Betta George, and a lady as Spike, who is Angel's love interest. To top it all off? It's directed by Michael Bay. Okay, it's doesn't say that exactly, but the director is a spitting image of Bay, and has a similar love of explosions. So it's Bay. Along with Angel, we get a sneak peak of the film that is glorious in its complete cheesiness (get the entire thing in Brian Lynch's "Last Angel in Hell" Angel annual this December). The scene with the movie and the crowd reacting is just sheer brilliance, commenting on shitty action films, the nature of fandom, and the canon issue in five of the best comedic comic pages ever. While the "Last Angel in Hell" material is funny for obvious reasons (and even funnier to watch Angel witness this complete mockery of his life), the bespectacled fellow that asks Bay about the canonical status of a "Last Angel in Hell" tie-in comic is Brian Lynch's wink at his loyal readers. It must be frustrating writing for a fandom as canon-obsessive as this one can be, and this little fun-poke is just what the Buffyverse fandom needs to lighten up about the canon issue. Why are we like this guy, who has "lost much sleep" over the canonical status of a story? If the story is good, the story is good. That's it.

And this one, even putting the hilarious "Last Angel in Hell" stuff to the side, rocks. Groosalugg's flaming sword--the weapon that killed Angel and Connor--has gone missing. Why? "Not many weapons can claim it killed you. Three or four, at most. So far." A standout line, though it isn't as shiny as it would have been if the grammatical error had been caught. It should have read "Not many weapons can claim to have killed you" as opposed to "it killed you." The former refers to the idea that few weapons killed Angel, the latter makes it seem as if there aren't many weapons that would claim the flaming sword killed Angel. English major. Sorry. The moment is actually really cool, and not only because it's awesome to see Angel, Groosalugg, Connor, and Kate (in her normal clothes, thanks to Mr. Mooney) hanging out together. It also shows how Connor is web-savvy, how research is going to change drastically with use of the interwebs.

Okay, rambling. It's late. This is what happens when I try (ahem and fail) to get reviews out on time with my schedule.

The issue essentially becomes an Angel and Spike team-up when their paths cross at the Sci-Fi Festival. It's got all the comedy of The Girl in Question, though more arc significance. Instead of seeing Angel and Spike chase around an ex-love (which was admittedly fun), they simply deal with each other in a very post-After the Fall way. Their relationship has changed, and this reflects it. Angel is aware of Spike's unspoken affection for him, and despite the consistent snarkiness, they're able to... almost hang out. As friends. Spike openly admits his lack of direction now that he has a completely open path before him, and Angel understands that. These characters have come a long way since Not Fade Away, and it's great to see some of the seeds planted in #17 finally starting to grow.

Also, Jeremy is in this. Yup, Spike's buddy from Spike: After the Fall that bit it, thanks to Illyria tragically misunderstanding something. He fits in perfectly with Angel and Spike in the setting, which makes me thrilled that Brian Lynch confirmed the character would appear in Spike Unlimited.

There is a big surprise at the end (though it isn't a surprise if you've been following the covers), that makes this episode at sort of sequel to the Buffy: Season Two episode, Halloween. The same spell goes down, turning evil assassins that came to the festival to purchase the fiery sword (guess why?) into cute cuddly bears and it turns Spike into... well, read the issue. It's great, and it's going to make for some hilarious and possibly heavy and character-reveally moments in the next installment.

Brian Lynch excels as much at a funny issue as he did with the heavy stuff in After the Fall. It's the funniest thing I've read from him yet, and that's including all the amazing stuff from Shadow Puppets. I mean, check out these lines:

"Angel, I have planted a flag at the beginning of the line to enter the auction room. A few similarly dressed warriors tried to invoke something called 'cutsies' but I held my ground."

"Hey, look at you yelling, which is the opposite of subtle."

"Horses, prepare to be played!"

"It had commentary on the human condition and love and drama and that stuff is great. Also I love explosions. And hell, with its flames and crap, was like one big ongoing explosion."

But yeah. You get the point. Very funny. Very appropriate for the characters at the point in the series. Forward movement, engaging storytelling. Just what the series needed.

Brian Lynch is on the regular ANGEL title for one more issue that ties up this storyline, and then after The Last Angel in Hell, he's said he's done with the title. He'll be writing the on-going SPIKE series, but this sort of feels like the end of an era. So sad, but I can't wait to see what Brian Lynch brings to our other favorite ensouled vampire and what Bill Willingham brings to ANGEL.

Art: The art is very good. Not Stephen Mooney's best or most consistent, but still very good. The opening pages are all out great, and there are a lot of perfect panels spread through-out, but there was one character that seemed to really suffer... and that's Jeremy. I wasn't really a fan of the way Mooney drew Jeremy, and while that would normally be a footnote, it's a bit more important here because a) we haven't seen Jeremy in a long time and b) he's in the issue a lot. Mooney's Angel, Spike, Groosalugg, Kate, and Connor likenesses are as great as they've been since Mooney's wonderful After the Fall arc, and he does great with the comedy here. I just would have liked a bit more details on Jeremy, who seemed to get pushed to the side a bit here.

Covers: Two great ones. Nick Runge's cover shows Angel and Spike surrounded by fans at the Sci-Fi festival. Spike looks great, and the setting is really cool, but something is off with Angel's face. Still a very cool cover. Stephen Mooney's is just as interesting, appearing to be Angel as an action figure. Both covers work hand in hand to show how big Angel has gotten in his own fictional world, winking at the real world Angel fans with a bit of meta-fiction.

Characters We Know: Angel, Spike, Connor, Kate, Groosalugg, Jeremy.

Rating: 10/10

Saturday, October 3, 2009

As Fun As You'd Expect

What Is It?: Fallen Angel: Reborn #3. (Written by Peter David; art by J. K. Woodward)

Timing: Directly following Fallen Angel: Reborn #2. The miniseries takes place in Angel: Season Five, between "Time Bomb" and "The Girl in Question."

Warning: 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 hidden.

REVIEW: If you caught the first two issues and liked them, you'll like this too. It's nothing really surprising, nothing super insightful, but it's a fun action-adventure starring two awesome female characters. Illyria and Liandra, the Fallen Angel, really play very well off of each other. Illyria's first person narration gives insight into Liandra due to Illyria's cold, almost scientific observations, and the snark that Liandra throws Illyria's way makes this pairing both funnier and more tense.

I usually like to give really long reviews that really get into why the issue was good, but the fact of the matter here is that there isn't much plot or character development to talk about. And that's not a bad thing in this case. The plot is simply that Illyria is trying to get her icons in order to become her full self once again. It's your essential epic quest. And we already know what happens to Illyria after this, so, as a rule, this book can't really do anything character-changing. And yet... it succeeds. Partially because it revels in the endless fun that is making Illyria fight creatures. Illyria fighting creatures never fails. What it also does, though, is tell the story through visuals. In a way, it excels at what ANGEL #25 failed at. It takes the story from point A to point B, but still manages to tell an almost entirely visual story. It has sight gags, cool kills, and a stunning setting.

This seems to happen once in every Fallen Angel: Reborn issue, but there is one line where Illyria speaks out of character. Peter David loves sarcasm--hence Liandra--but Illyria doesn't. Illyria just wouldn't say "Oh, wonderful-" when she's being attacked by a polar bear. But the rest of the issue, which is narrated by Illyria's inner monologue, is consistently in character, so give it up for Peter David!

Art: Very nice. As I mentioned before, the issue is very visual, so Peter David really leaves a lot of the storytelling to J. K. Woodward, who does a phenomenal job. Get this dude to do some more ANGEL books! I've got an interview with Mr. Woodward coming soon, so keep a look out.

Covers: The three covers all feature Illyria and Liandra in this snowy dimension. J. K. Woodward's main cover is consistent with his interior work, and my favorite cover of his we've seen so far in this miniseries. It features Illyria and Liandra staring at a lanky, looming monster covered in a sheet of ice. Woodward's other cover pays homage to MADAGASCAR, and it's a riot. Runge's cover is also exceptional, featuring our two heroines in more iconic comic book poses as snow falls on them. Me gusta.

Characters We Know: Illyria.

Rating: 8/10

It's a mad world

If you missed my super late review for ANGEL #25, click here.

My review for FALLEN ANGEL: REBORN #3 will come out by Monday.

My reviews for ANGEL #26 and BUFFY #28 will be up on Wednesday, on time!

And now, I have some me to talk about.

I've been doing short films with my production company, Stinky Burger, for a while now. We've made a lot of comedy and a lot of horror, so I figured it was time for something a bit... as in a lot... different.

So I wrote and shot this film called "The Dreams in Which I'm Dying." It's a dramatic short, starring two great actors that I had only worked with in theatre stuff prior to this. They are Dennis Allen and Kari Nicole Washington, and you should really check them out.

Also, check out the film:



Coming along with the ANGEL #26 review is the first video promo for my ANGEL fan-film, "Gamers: After the Fall." It features Gunn (as played by Dennis Allen) calling out... eh, well you'll see.

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sorry! At last, the review for ANGEL #25

What Is It?: Angel #25- Drusilla, Part Two (Written by Juliet Landau and Brian Lynch; art by Franco Urru)

Timing: Directly after Angel #24. During the fall.

Warning: 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 hidden.

REVIEW: Well, #24 was great.

I know I took too long to review this. I actually planned on writing up my opinion right after I read it, but then I sat down, read it, shook my head in confusion, read it again, cocked my eyebrow in confusion, read it again, and then sighed in confusion, figuring I needed some time to digest it. Since then, I've seen a lot of people's opinions, from any of the many Slay Alive users to Brian Lynch himself. There are a lot of theories about it, and I guess I just kinda had to come to my own... and I think I've got it figured out, but I'll let you be the judge.

First of all, this two-parter should have been a one-shot. Would it take away from the graceful, exercise-in-how-much-Franco-rocks that #24 was? Yeah, definitely. Franco had the entire first part of this two parter to strut his stuff and make the entire issue a beautifully bloody mess. But the success of that issue depended entirely on what the next issue did with all the set-up. And unfortunately, the answer is not much at all. The structure of the issue is this:

Pg 1-4: Drusilla continues to walk through her massacre.

Pg 5-14: Drusilla, suffering from visions, predicts some of the big events Heroes style by drawing various LA-in-Hell scenes.

Pg 15-22: A lot of audience confusing, little to none audience explanation.

It might have made an interesting little one-shot that explored the crazywonky place that is Drusilla's mind, but for a two-parter... you just expect more. There were some cool flashbacks popping up throughout the issue. We get to see how Angelus and Darla destroyed Dru's life and then turned her, which was interesting... but even the flashbacks weren't organically inserted, as they were in the show and in "After the Fall." ANGEL #4 starts with how Angel found out he was human because ANGEL #3 ended with us find out out he was human. Perfect. THE GIRL IN QUESTION had flashbacks of the Immortal screwing Spike and Angel over, because the episode was about the Immortal screwing Spike and Angel over. I can't think of any way to relate Drusilla's flashbacks to what happens to her in this issue.

Now, onto the speculation. I won't black text these spoilers, because a) the issue has been out for a while and b) this doesn't really have any impact on the overall arc of the series. First, it's never really revealed who wanted Drusilla locked up. Is it hinted that it's Wolfram & Hart? Um, kinda? Only because they are the default ANGEL villains. It doesn't really matter in the long-run, but the idea that there was a larger plan in keeping Drusilla locked up was one of the most interesting ideas in #24, and it isn't elaborated on at all in this issue. I remember writing in the review for #24 that "(the) second part will surely reveal who is behind this wonky experiment and why." Optimistic me.

Then, Drusilla draws a bunch of stuff and levitates. While she levitates, one of her drawings (a bunch of people, including KENDRA the Slayer she killed and the Chaos demon) comes to life. The people from the drawing swarm her and presumably knock her out. Well... what I think happened is this. Hell amplifies power. Hell screws with power. Just refer to the opening monologue of #3 and Illyria's entire After the Fall arc for that. So my best guess is that Hell is amplifying Dru's power, hence her levitating, and hence her psychic abilities amplifying so much that she is able to make her own artwork come to life. There's nothing in the actual text of this two-parter to justify that explanation, but it's context in After the Fall seems to suggest that. It's such an interesting concept, and I wish it was played with more. While #24 needed to be super visual and succeeded at that (it's probably my favorite post-After the Fall comic of the year after Become What You Are), this issue absolutely needed to be more ploty and spend more time on certain things. And it really, really didn't.

The issue ends with Drusilla waking up. She's in LA gone to Hell, only she doesn't see it as Hell. She sees it as her homeland, before she was sired. It's all golden (literally) with memories and warmth and love. She goes into her house, hears her mother's voice, and rejoices in her teddy bear. It's a sweet and interesting ending to an otherwise confusing issue, but it also brings up a few questions. I'm fairly certain that what Landau intended us to think that this is how Drusilla sees Hell. That she can rejoice in Hell. That, to Drusilla's messed up mind, Hell is the closest she can get to the happiness of her human home. But if that's the case, there should have been some cutaway shots that show Drusilla walking through how Hell actually looks to show the juxtaposition to how she sees it. To really make the point instead of just hint at it.

Basically, #24 stands as a brilliant, beautifully executed issue. #25 isn't a bad read, but it is a bunch of potential wasted. There should have been more time spent on the actual plot, and I do wish some of the stranger sequences had been executed a bit differently. At this point, while I really enjoyed Gunn and Illyria in Become What You Are and Drusilla in #24, I'm ready for the dream team, Brian Lynch and Stephen Mooney, to bring back our two favorite vamps with the Boys and Their Toys two-parter.

Art: Fantastic, as always. Franco Urru is my favorite artist working today, and most of the points I'm going to give this book are thanks to his wonderful pencils an Fabio Mantovani's great colors. Drusilla continues to move like Drusilla does (like a dancer), but this time, the highlight is the creepiest scene ever in an ANGEL comics. Drusilla picks up a severed head and attempts to talk at it. Franco pulls off the macabre as good as he does the action and the emotion. I can't wait until the SPIKE series starts so I can get a steady dose of Urru.

Covers: Oddly enough, none of the covers are as great as the ones for #24, but let's be honest... the covers for #24 were uncommonly great. Urru and Runge both turn over decent covers, featuring Drusilla reveling in LA gone to Hell. The photo incentive is Angelus hugging Drusilla, and the superexpensiveincentivethatiunfortunatelycouldn'tafford is another great one by Sam Shearon, who should definitely stay on the series as an on-going cover artist if they can't nab Alex Garner!

Characters We Know: Drusilla. Angelus and Darla, via flashbacks. Angel, Connor, Gunn, Cordelia the Dragon, Spike, Illyria, Wesley, the Chaos Demon, Kenda, and Spike's harem also appear via Drusilla's artwork.

Extras: There is another photo gallery, and it's a lot more... random than the last one. Juliet Landau really shows how she can look like totally different people. I love the short-haired Fight Club homage photos, and the two paintings by Mark McHaley and Sam Shearon at the back are really great.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Illyria Chats With the Exs

What Is It?: Angel: Only Human #2 (written by Scott Lobdell; art by David Messina)

Timing: Directly after Angel: Only Human #2.

Warning: 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: Not only is Only Human the best non-Lynch, post-After the Fall tale IDW has told so far, it's also the funnest. Which is weird, considering the dark place both Gunn and Illyria are at, mentally. But while this issue does explore the ramifications of their actions in Hell, it keeps the emotions as an undercurrent instead of letting them take over the plot. And the plot is damn interesting, as it involved The Scourge using (SPOILER:) a device from Illyria's recent past to revive another Old One. Yup, The Scourge is back, and these demon baddies are up to their old ways of killing the "impure" breeds of demons. To tell the truth, the set-up that re-introduces The Scourge is way too similar to "Hero" (the last episode they appeared in). I mean, they had the sympathetic demon kid, they had the big but friendly group of demons, and they even had the flashback with them being hunted. I know, The Scourge doesn't do much else but hunt these kind of folk... but a different way of introducing them would have been nice.

That said, the motif of purity that runs through this issue is pretty amazing. The Scourge claim to be pure, going so far as to dedicate their lives to cleansing the world of the impure. But... in the face of Illyria, an Old One, a true pure demon... what are The Scourge? How can they be pure if only the Old Ones are pure? And now that Illyria is inhabiting Fred's body, is she pure anymore? She's exploring her humanity, which she admits is there, but she's still the closest thing the Earth has to a pure demon (SPOILER:) Well, until page 20. And going with the motifs of purity and humanity, Gunn was a vampire. A moment later, he's a human. But doesn't what you were in the past always inform what you are today? If Gunn was a vampire, how can he be purely human--only human--now? I'm stoked that Lobdell's series is posing these questions only two issues in, especially in the midst of such a fun and action packed story.

Sometimes, though, Scott Lobdell has trouble finishing a thought. During Fred's uncle's funeral, Gunn's thought caption reads, "It doesn't last long... but honestly, every word is agony." We know he means that being at a Burkle is painfully ironic, as the Burkle's don't know Fred is dead and her demon-possessed corpse is walking around, passing for Fred-gone-goth. But make that connection. If the thought is good enough to be started, it's good enough to be finished. Also, there is some syntax confusion that rubbed the English major in me the wrong way. After Illyria has a conversation with Fred's old prom date (which makes a great connection to her behavior in Spike: After the Fall #3, elaborating on how she's beginning to use Fred's romantic/sexual side to her advantage; great continuity!), Gunn's thought captions say, "I let her digest whatever it is she's feeling. Just grateful it isn't Jason Polt." Again, we know he means to say that he's grateful she isn't digesting Jason Polt. But the way the sentences are written, it is saying that Gunn is grateful Illyria isn't feeling Jason Polt. The "digesting" needs to be repeated, or the sentences need to be rephrased.

Grammatical issues aside, the issue was crazy good. Better than the first one, which was already a really cool read. It's not a full number grade better, but it's damn close. I saw a TPB solicited, but really... IDW should give Only Human the hardcover treatment. This is a badass series, and is definitely going between my Volume Six and Volume Seven hardcovers when they come out.

I know, I'm a geek.

Art: You may as well copy and paste my praise for David Messina's art from #1 in here. One thing you can leave out, though, is my gripes about Gunn's inconsistent beard. The art in this issue is 100% consistent, and Messina added that he would be fixing Gunn's beard for the collection.

Covers: Both of these covers are considerably better than the ones from the first issue. The Messina cover is at once brutal and beautiful, featuring an image of Gunn in creepy blue lighting that makes his eyes all shadowy, with an image of Gunn as a vampire slicing through the middle of the issue. The same format is used for the rest of Messina's covers in this arc, and I love it. And this time, Dave Dorman's cover is just as great as Messina's. Over a beautiful blue and purple backdrop, Gunn and Illyria, all promed-out, are dancing. Gunn dips Illyria, and to his horror, demonic tentacles whip up in front of them. That could be collection cover status.

Extras: If you have a question for Mr. Lobdell, ask it here! I'll be conducting an interview soon.

Characters We Know: Gunn, Illyria, The Scourge, Wesley (flashback), Fred (flashback)

Rating: 8/10

I Love Knowledge

I'm back in college, so updates won't be as immediate as usual. They'll just be a few hours later at most, but still... I love you guys enough to give you a bit of a heads up.

Here's when stuff will be posted:
REVIEW FOR Angel: Only Human #2- Tonight
REVIEW FOR Fallen Angel: Reborn #3- Tomorrow night
REVIEW FOR Angel: Blood and Trenches TPB- Before October
REVIEW FOR Angel: Smile Time HC- Before October
REVIEW FOR Angel Volume Five: Aftermath HC- Before October

Also, I was lucky enough to be chosen by SLAY ALIVE to be a member of their blogging staff. Check my stuff out over there!
Wondering what the title is a reference to? Check out this song, I Love Knowledge, a parody of Asher Roth's hit. It's by the lead MC in one of my best friend's bands, and I must say... it's better than the original.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Storyteller Reclaims His Comfy Chair

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #28: Retreat part III (written by Jane Espenson; art by Georges Jeanty).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Right after "Retreat part II."

Warning: 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: If you liked "Storyteller," you'll like this. To discover who is Twilight's mole, Andrew picks up his trusty video camera and follows his friends around, accidentally catching some of the most tender and revealing moments we've seen all season.

As far as the Funny goes, this issue always walks up to the cusp of hilarious, peeks over, then turns back. It's not as wildly funny as storyteller, and maybe that's appropriate given the fact that this is the middle issue of a very dire arc. There are standout lines like "The next time I catch up with Xander, he's taking the time to just sit with his friend Buffy and yak" as Xander and Buffy yack next to a gigantic yak. He has two conversations with Giles in the issue that I thought would be crazy funny because the two have such chemistry, but it just stayed pretty funny. What might have been the issue is the needless exposition where Bay, Oz's new wife, explains what has been going on with the slayers. They're getting rid of their magic by pushing it back into the Earth via hard work, and that is so interesting, but it's explained by Bay as soon as the story gets rolling, then showed to us directly after it's explained, and then once again explained when Willow and Oz get to chatting. No big, because the pages that follow contain some huge pay-offs, but how much better would the issue be if the story got rolling right away?

Oh. But one moment that was truly hilarious was Andrew illustrating his past with Dark Willow. And a super tiny Jonathan.

I try not to do spoilers here, but with an issue that pretty much thrives on paying off what came before, it's kind of hard not to. I won't get into specifics, but Buffy/Faith have a conversation that easily shows where they're at, how they're different, and sort of what they can do for each other. Xander and Buffy have a talk that touches on the disconnected feeling Buffy has been suffering from since her resurrection in Season Six. It's a sweet moment, and really (SPOILER:) sets Buffy/Xander shippers up for heartbreak at the end of the issue. And as big as these conversations might seem, the one-two-three punch that follows is even better.

Punch #1- Willow and Oz talk. This is the emotional core of the issue, and it gets to a more sophisticated place than the series has been at for quite a long time. Oz gets Willow to confess her very adult fears to Oz, who responds in a way that only Oz can. Willow gets a bit teary, and since we're all so invested in these characters, I suspect she won't be the only one.

Punch #2- As soon as Oz leaves the room, enter Buffy. She's ready to talk to Willow about something that's been eating at her for a while. Those left puzzled by the resolution (or lack thereof) of the Time of Your Life arc might rejoice in this conversation. Espenson is starting to piece together the puzzle pieces that Whedon, Vaughan, Goddard, and more have set up. It's been a long time coming.

Finally, punch #3- Remember in #12 when everyone walked in on Buffy doing something? Well, this time Buffy does the walking in, and she walks in on something I've been wanting/expecting for a long time. May I just say.... YES! Great, great character choice to have (SPOILER:) Xander and Dawn hook-up. It's been going that way for a long time, longer than Buffy: Season Eight has been around, and I'm damn glad.

So you've been hit with the 1-2-3 punch. What would you do if I tell you that Jane Espenson follows it up with a pretty big cliffhanger? Well, don't get too excited, because in this crazy emotional issue, the cliffhanger didn't feel exactly organic, and if THE DOG had been used instead of the cat (read the issue, you'll get it), Andrew's previous joke would have been paid off. A missed opportunity, yeah, but it's still a pretty exciting ending.

Battle is on the horizon...

Art: Georges Jeanty. Loved his earlier stuff, hated his recent stuff. The art in this issue is a definite improvement, and Jeanty is re-learning to spend the appropriate amount of time on facial expressions and likenesses. For the first time ever, Oz and Andrew don't look alike. Buffy looks like Buffy, Willow looks like Willow, Giles looks like Giles. It's sort of annoying that this is happening during the 28th issue of the series, but the art is back on track.

Covers: Beautiful cover by Jo Chen. Buffy and Willow are meditating (some folks over at Whedonesque are saying that Jo got the pose wrong, but that is a complete non-issue for me) while Giles watches in the background, scratching his chin. I'm sad that this is going to be the last Jo Chen cover we see this year, but at least she went out nicely. Willow's chest looks like she's more Christina Hendricks than Alyson Hannigan, but that's the only flaw I can find. Jeanty's cover is once again way worse than his interior art. Buffy looks like she's sleeping with her eyes open while standing while raking while wearing crazy Tibetan clothes. Willow's head looks like it has a huge indent in it. It looks like a crescent moon. Is that Faith or Kennedy behind Buffy? Awful cover, and it's a shame seeing as how his interior art improved so much.

Characters We Know: Andrew, Giles, Leah, Willow, Oz, Rowena, Kennedy, Satsu, Buffy, Faith, Dawn, and Xander.

Rating: I haven't been able to give this high a grade to Season Eight since last November, but here it is.... 9/10

Monday, August 31, 2009

An Angel: AtF Film?

Pissed about that upcoming Buffy film that is going to go against Joss's vision? Love Angel: After the Fall or the Buffyverse in general? Ever wondered if you'd see a live action version of all those memorable characters, from Angel to Gunn to Connor to Gwen, ever again?

Well, then you might want to check this out.

COMING NOVEMBER 2009.


Review for Buffy #28 on Wednesday!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Angel: After the Fall Hardcover Volume Four

What Is It?: A hardcover that collects the final five issues (thirteen through seventeen) of Angel: After the Fall.

The Content: What can I say about Angel: After the Fall that hasn't been said already by countless fans (myself included)? Brian Lynch crafted an epic, tragic, hilarious, and smart tale that was true to the characters and the story that had already been established. It referenced, ran with, and paid off plot threads that have been part of the mythology since the first season of the show. It kept the momentum of the series finale, "Not Fade Away," which I consider to be the best hour of television ever produced. It has become my favorite comic, and has set the standard for Angel tales to come, and some would even argue for Buffyverse comics to come. It's by far my favorite comic (and this, specifically, is my favorite volume of the series). I've also had a great personal experience with this comic, having met Brian Lynch and Comic-Con in NYC and getting an early look at the final issue of the series... a memorable experience to say the least. So here I am, having re-read this hardcover that collects the final five issues today, with no idea how to sum up my feelings about the series in a new way. This is probably the last time I'm ever going to review or speak at length about After the Fall, so I want to make this time mean something.

I'll start with the art. Stephen Mooney does the first two issues and Franco Urru does the last three, and their styles are so utterly different, but unlike the different artists used in Spike vs. Dracula, the different styles here don't clash. They're both crazy good in their own right, with Stephen getting the likenesses and the dark tone of the series across in his pencils, and Franco getting the fluid action and the raw emotion across in his. Both of them are fine artists, and I'm glad that they got a chance to work on this series. They did Joss Whedon's world and Brian Lynch's words justice.

And speaking of those words. Brian Lynch manages to bring his own quirky writing style to the world of Angel without it being intrusive. His style completely compliments these established characters, and he has come to know them so well over these seventeen issues that they wouldn't sound more in-character if we had the actors themselves reading the lines. His writing is at its most emotional here, giving us both the saddest of tragedy and the happiest eucatastrophe of an ending. Like any Buffyverse finale, there is triumph, there is loss, there are tears, and there are a whole shitload of epic fights. Brian Lynch has given added a beautiful chapter to Angel that sums up everything great about the series, gives it a great ending, and sets up everything that is to come. Since Spike: Asylum, the first comic I ever loved and the first time I realized this medium can be as exciting as television, Brian Lynch has become my favorite comic writer, and if you don't think he's one of the best in the business, well... I don't know, you're wrong. And you smell.

In short, I love this story. It's my favorite book, and it makes me laugh out loud, feel all tense, and cry like a little bitch every time I read it. I guess, to bring this all to an end... I just want to thank Franco Urru, Stephen Mooney, Nick Runge, David Messina, Chris Ryall, all the inkers and colorists and other artists who worked on the series, Joss Whedon, and especially Brian Lynch. You guys made this fandom and our little fanny lives brighter and I appreciate it a big damn lot. Thank you.

The Presentation: ...Crap. Feels kinda like an anti-climax to talk about the technical stuff after that send-off. I feel like the awkward guy who gives a really emotional goodbye at an airport or someplace and then realizes they're walking the same way as the person they said goodbye to Darn. But yeah, the book looks beautiful as always. IDW changed the color of the spine and inside to a blueish black in order to make it vibe with the Alex Garner cover. And damn am I glad they chose that cover. Angel getting dusted as he waves goodbye to the reader, his bones turning to ash in a burst of flames is just so perfect for the final volume of After the Fall. Also, we've got awesome chapter headings (though a bit spoilery if it's the first time you're reading it), the cloth bookmark, and pretty much all the physical perks from the first one. That sounds sexual. It's not. But the book DOES smell great.

Special Features: This is the only place where this book suffers in comparison to the other volumes. While it still has way more extras than most other TPBs or HCs, it doesn't have nearly as many as the other After the Fall collections. Here's what it has. All of the covers, including Stephen Mooney's Time&Space/SlayAlive cover that was missing from the last volume, three original drawings by Stephen Mooney (including the Angel/Gunn Christmas card), some page layouts and pencils by Stephen Mooney, and Brian Lynch's original Issue One proposal to Joss. It's a really interesting read, seeing what could have happened and how certain things did end up happening down the line. I think this book really did deserve an introduction, and I would have also liked to see commentary or just a few notes or insight into the final two issues, but that's just because I'm spoiled. The extras, as they are, are great.
Sigh. Again, thanks, and...

Rating: 10/10 Classic.