Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"After the Fall" Reaches Its Climax

What Is It?: Angel- After the Fall: Issue #16 (written by Brian Lynch, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch.)

Timing: Directly following Angel #15

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: Words like "beautiful" and "love" are used way too often. We're all guilty of using those words, when we really mean "pretty" or "nice." More often than not, the music we call "beautiful" is really just good. More often than not, shows that we say we "love" we really just like. They're extreme words that pack a lot of meaning into a compact unit, and I find myself using them a bit too liberally.

That being said, Angel: After the Fall #16 is beautiful, and I'll be damned if I don't love it.

As we all saw in the-preview-that-wasn't-meant-to-be-but-was-anyway, the issue starts with a tragic image. The first panel features Angel holding Connor, then a newborn baby, in the alley he was born in. The next panel is a direct copy of it, except they're in Hell, Connor is a teenager, and he's dead in Angel's arms. It's tender and tragic, and as rough to read without tearing up as Wesley's death in Not Fade Away is to watch. And the worst thing that has ever happened to Angel, of course, leads to the climax of the series.

We've been waiting for this since November. Brian started the story with a bang, revealing that Gunn is a vampire, Wes is a ghost, and that Angel's plan peeved off Wolfram & Hart so much that they sent the entire city of LA to Hell. What a story. What potential. And how daunting a task for Brian to deliver on the promises that the first issue. With so many people so emotionally involved in the series, it almost seemed impossible for the climax to be as fantastic as all the considerable set up. But I'll be damned (again) if it wasn't.

Filled with references paying tribute to iconic moments at the start of the series, major revelations, emotional character moments, and--of course--explosive action, Brian Lynch delivers a fitting climax to say the least. It starts with a tender moment, and explodes into a fit of violence when it finally sinks in that Connor is dead. Angel strikes out at the demon army that, under orders from Wolfram & Hart, doesn't fight back. Because if they did, and if Angel dies, Wolfram & Hart would have to pull a different Angel out of a different timeline. (SPOILERS:) And Wesley, "as usual," used that bit of information to help Angel win the day. He's a bit closer to Wolfram & Hart than anyone else in the group, due to his status as the last official representative of the LA Branch, so he knows that the whole Hell situation? The way they're doing that is freezing Angel between moments. I can't really go on in the review without spoiling what happens, so please keep this in mind... it's better if you read it. If you haven't, I'm going to take a page from Spike's book and tell you to piss off. If you have read... Wesley bids a final farewell to Angel, who responds "Thank you, rogue demon hunter" (brilliant), and waits by Illyria's fallen body until Wolfram & Hart responds to what happens the way he knows they will. Angel makes Gunn kill him. The scene is so emotional, and has been building since we learn that Gunn is a vampire. He has it in for Angel, and he finally gets to kill him. Moreover, he finally gets to step up, finally gets to be a hero... because killing Angel forces Wolfram & Hart to reach back into time, because Angel's timeline here is ended. They have to go back to the alley, the last moment where Angel was alive. You might think this is a reset, but it's not. I'll explain why later. I want to elaborate on the moments leading up to the return to the natural plain of existence.

Anyone can tell that the script is fantastic. The dialogue is spot on, timing and mood is perfect. But the things that's easily forgotten is the plotting of the series. Brian Lynch and Joss Whedon worked together to break the story, and woah what a job. Every moment led to this, and how all the numerous plot threads were all tied together in an issue that was only one page longer than normal just shows how much thought put into the actual plotting of the arc. Unlike breaking the story of a movie or a miniseries, this is a seventeen issue title complete with a four issue spin-off. Huge task, carried out exceptionally well. Brian's insights into how the series changed as it went along also shows how well this was carried out, because the fact that he was able to get to the same point in an unexpected and more natural way shows a natural understanding for the way that stories work.

Now onto some of that (SPOILERS:) pre-return content. Brian's been talking a lot about his favorite scene in the series, and I have an idea of what it is. It's either a talk between Spike and Wesley or a moment between (SPOILERS:) Angel and Connor at the end of the book. Both moments are equally glorious, but the Wesley and Spike talk really sums up both of their "After the Fall" arcs and speaks volumes for their relationship to Angel, Wesley, and Illyria. Spike's emotional explosion ("What the hell is that? What the hell is THAT?") when he runs over to (SPOILER:) Angel's dead body is almost sob enducing, and the sensitivity of the conversation between him and Wesley that follows is remarkable. Also, a nice touch is the (SPOILER:) blade that goes through Spike's arm, same one as in the First Night flashback, when LA returns to normal.

And wanna know something? We finally get to see something we've all been aching for since the first issue. (SPOILERS:) The alley fight, from beginning to end. And with the dragon, now alive and on Angel's side, it goes quick. But let be rewind a bit, and ease all those "Booooo, it's a reset" folks. Thing is, it's not. Everything happened. Everyone remembered. Though none of the deaths that happened took, everything that everybody did matters. Gunn still felt himself kill Connor. He felt how evil he could become. Illyria, now restored to Fred's "shell," has a better grasp of humanity and finally understands how her infecting Fred destroyed Wesley. Angel gave up his humanity again, and still very much felt his son die in his arms. Connor still found love in Gwen, and she still knows that she betrayed him... and so does he. Also? Everyone else recognizes Angel. Even... wait for it... Westerberg from EVERYBODY'S DEAD, who was in LA at the time. He makes a cameo, and reveals to Angel that he's a big time LA celeb.

Before I go on, there is one flub in the issue, and that's when Angel is (SPOILER:) carrying Gunn. One moment, he's in front of Illyria and walking forward. Next, two panels, he's behind her and walking forward. One smallll other tiny thing is that the doctor who leans over Gunn looks too much like Wesley. A bit disorienting, especially since he seems to be looking wistfully at Angel in the second panel of page 20.

Running out of steam here, so this is where I start listing shit. Highligh to read, it's all spoilery.

+ So many awesome references to the first issue. (SPOILER:) The dragon returns, alive, with a callback to his reveal in the first issue. Snurt, followed by a blast of flames to destroy demons in an alley. Perfect for the climax of the issue. Makes me nostalgic for something that just came out a bit over a year ago. I'm crazy.

+ 'Nother dragony callback. (SPOILERS:) Triumphant, the dragon flies over LA, reminiscent of the huge spread in #1 where the Dragon flies over Hell-A.

+ This time, (SPOILERS:) Angel saves Gunn. And he deals with Gunn's sire (by the way, is the dude meant to look/speak like Desmond from Lost? Awesome if he is. I was so pleased to find out that my suspicions of Jeremy being modeled after Jim from The Office was correct.) That Angel gets to right one of his biggest wrongs here is so powerful, and Gunn's plea to have Angel let him die is just proof how much the "After the Fall" arc mattered.

+ Hospital scene is a dose of reality that really grounded the issue. Didn't know I needed it, but I did. Worked great.

+ And the first, tragic page (SPOILERS:) was paid off with the Angel/Connor conversation at the end. Seeing Angel so openly emotional, and his dialogue is so moving. Especially the last bit of-
CONNOR: It's okay, dad. It's okay. In fact, it's kind of a happy ending, isn't it?
ANGEL: I'm not sure... ...I've never had one before

+ Chris Ryall cameo. Now he AND Brian have been in Buffyverse books.

+ (SPOILERS:) Dragon in normal LA. Hilarious gothic juxtaposition.

+ Nicely sets the stage for things to come.

I know there's one issue left. I know I plan to write a huge "letter" to the series when it is, the same way I did with my "A Year With Buffy" post at the end of 2007. (Was gonna do it at the end of 2008, but I figured it would be better if I waited.) But this concluded the story arc of "After the Fall," and the next issue will be the epilogue and tie any loose ends (are there any?). So it's such a pleasure to know that Brian Lynch, Joss Whedon, Franco Urru, and everyone else involved were able to bring this series to an end that was even better than the way it started. I couldn't be happier with the book, and I couldn't be happier that it's going to continue.

Beautiful job guys. Loved it.

Art: My one and only qualm with Franco's art, since I first saw it in Spike: Asylum to his run on Angel: After the Fall, was that when he did wide shots, the characters' faces became somewhat distorted. The panel in Angel #4 where Spike first takes Angel down to his safe house to see all the people he and Connor were saving together comes to mind. Everything else was spectacular. His fight scenes are unrivaled in Buffyverse art, and the way he conveys emotion on characters faces is truly remarkable. His stylized art rubbed some the wrong way, but for me, he's the best at interior art we've seen, despite the aforementioned weakness. But here? Heh. There is so much going on in the panels that almost every shot features characters from a distance... and Franco completely nails it. Throughout this series, he's gone from a great artist to simple one of the best. To see how much the dude has improved, take that aforementioned panel from #4 and compare it to the panel where Spike runs to a (SPOILER:) decapitated Angel, grief stricken, throwing his sword behind him(and it smacks into a peeved Betta George). Spike is as far from the "camera" here as he was in the #4 panel, but the detail here is incredible. From the considerably numerous battle scene, to the two epic splash pages, to the callback to the (SPOILER:) Dragon's flight over Hell-A, to the callback to the Dragon's "snurt" reveal in #1, to a certain crazy emotional page, to his depiction of the instantly recognizable Westerberg, Franco Urru has done more than justice to the continuation of my favorite story, which--thanks to Brian, Franco, Chris, Stephen, Nick, Alex, Fabio, and more--is now my favorite comic. And speaking of Mr. Fabio Mantovani, he does an even better job here than he did last issue. There was a lot of nice, textured panels in the last issue, especially on the panel where Illyria falls. But, aside from those hauntingly beautiful panels, I can't say that I didn't miss Ilaria's coloring from the earlier issues. Well, much as I love her stuff, the coloring here couldn't be better. (SPOILER:) The way the atmosphere from Hell-A to normal LA changes is all thanks to the coloring, and Mantovani excells at both the Hell panels and the cityscapes. The coloring perfectly compliments the art here. The coloring never intrudes on the story the way that Art Lyon's did in his issues, but instead only compliments it, building on the emotion and highlighting all of the big moments, but never letting the smaller moments slip by. All in all, the art is shiny.

Covers: Pleasant surprise here. From the back of #15, we were lead to believe that the big "double cover" from Urru that featured the AtF villians on one side and the heroes on the other would be split between Issues #16 and #17. But nope. We get a new Urru cover here, one of Angel shattering a glass structure with a sword. In each shard of glass, we see some images that happened in "After the Fall," such as all the major characters, the death of Connor, Angel after he jumped from the building from #4's flashback, and some other cool bits. The other cover? Best of the series, easy. Another Alex Garner masterpiece, this one features a perfect likeness of Angel blowing away in a cloud of flame and dust. It's a great image, and something that will likely be frozen on many a desktop for many a month.

Characters We Know: Angel, Spike, Wesley, Gunn, Betta George, Nina, Illyria, (SPOILERS:) the Dragon, Connor, Westerberg (from Everybody's Dead).

Rating: Are you kidding me? 10/10 Classic.


Joe said...

Best. Review. Ever.

Brian Lynch said...

Thank you, sir. Thank you thank you.

Loki said...

Agreed, on the entire thing. While I'm still pretty annoyed at Lorne's presence and function in "After the Fall", it is becoming more and more the one big issue I'm still having with it, every other minor complaint (including the very variable artwork) becoming, well, minor. This issue was fantastic. 15 was excellent. The entire story has been really well rounded off, and I'm satisfied with the outcome. Again, I'm loathe to how Lorne's gut-wrenching end on the show proper has been cheapened and half-ignored to put him in this story for little-to-no reason except making a few funny remarks, it pains and bothers me to no end. But other than that, I'm officially loving this series almost as much as I thought I would after reading the stellar first issue all those months back. Thank you, Mr. Lynch. And thanks, Pat, for the review. Looking forward to the final one.

Tom said...

I can't disagree with Loki about the Lorne storyline, but I did find the depiction of Silverlake-in-Hell so charming and funny that I'm partially inclined to accept Lorne's quick return to lightheartedness.

I reread the whole series over the last couple of days. I'm still scratching my head a bit around the questions of death, fate, time, prophecy, and deception, but I at least think there are no gaping plot holes.

Ultimately my favorite thing about ATF (out of many good things) was Urru's artwork. And my biggest disappointment was with the depredations of Nick Runge, Stephen Mooney, and Art Lyon. I hope to see more of Urru's work in some other well-written comic book soon.