Timing: Probably a week after Angel #17. Angel #17 was set a month after LA was saved, and Angel's narration reveals that this also takes place a month after the "return to normalcy." The Gunn issue, which fills in what happened to him between Angel #17 and #18, will likely show exactly how much time passed between these.
REVIEW: The issue was a decent start to what looks like it'll be a good book. Angel: After the Fall really set a standard of greatness, so it'll definitely be tough for this book to live up to it. While Kelley Armstrong doesn't seem to have the strongest sense of the characters, she dives right into the plot and it seems as if she knows exactly where its going. The story is pretty tight around the edges, plot wise, and seems both interesting and thematically strong.
Some of the best stuff and worst stuff of the issue concerns how it connects to After the Fall. I'll tackle the plus side first. I love how the Lords are still sending assassins after Angel, and how one is even addressed by name. It feels like it's building on the stuff After the Fall started, developing continuing plot threads. It makes the series have that cohesive feel that I was really hoping it would. However, not everything in the book really helped add to that feeling. The fact that Angel gave Lorne a card that a) said Angel Investigations and b) had the Hyperion's address on it made it pretty clear where the series would be going. But at the open of Aftermath, Angel is still very confused. It's only after he gets advice from various demons he's fighting/killing--a scene that is both funny and awkward--that he decides to re-open Angel Investigations. That made my eyebrow archy. Then, later on, when he runs into Kate (I'll get into that later), she suggests he open up shop in an abandoned church. More archy. Then, I remembered. This issue was written before the script from #17 was even finished, as evidenced by Kelley Armstrong's message board and Brian Lynch's blog. Armstrong had obviously gotten the characters she could and could not use, but it seems she wasn't briefed on where Angel's head is at at the end of #17.
There are a bunch of very good scenes. The "screening process" montage, where Angel and Kate (again, I'll get to her later) deal with shady clients was great. Very funny stuff. The effects of Angel's celebrity status and the other negative effects of the Fall are handled very nicely, making for some funny scenes as well as some heavier stuff. The scene in the issue that's obviously supposed to rub you wrong--Angel not being able to realize that a client is in actual trouble--does rub you wrong, so again, Armstrong is really good hitting all the plot points she wanted to. The smaller cast makes it easier for her to concentrate on getting Angel's voice right, and she, for the most part, doesn't write a lot of dialogue that jumps out as out-of-character. It's hard to hear the actors voices than it was in After the Fall, and lines like "As much fun as it is, chasing down scumbags like you," don't really help, but I suspect her understanding of Angel's speech patterns will develop as the series goes on. She has a very good handle on Connor, both the way he thinks and the way he speaks, and she doesn't write a bad Kate either. There were definitely times in reading this that I thought she was writing Kate too much like early-Cordy, specifically when she said "Why not? Client wants us to stop a sacrificial ritual and we fail? Not like they'll return to get their money back."
Now, to Kate. Kate's return. She had a nice reintroduction to the Angel title in #7, but she hasn't crossed paths with Angel until now. And within a minute of meeting back up, Kate is linking arms with him and planning the future of his business. The former irks me more than the latter, but their meeting should have at least warranted an entire page. I don't like that three entire seasons of not seeing each other is solved in three extra tiny panels. The angst or awkwardness didn't really need to be played up, but I just found it strange that she, after not seeing him for so long, latched onto him so quickly. It works as a plot point, definitely, but I want it to also make sense for the characters.
Notice all of the issues I have tend to be in the early section of the book. From the re-opening of Angel Investigations and on, everything is gravy. A lot happens, a few new characters are introduced, and some new mythology is explored. As if Angel didn't have enough corporate adversaries to worry about in the past, two new suits show up and claim that they're part of a city sanctioned committee to "handle the apocalyptic fall-out." And it seems to be pretty major. I'm excited by the immediate ambiguity of these characters, who seem to have good intentions but wouldn't be out of place in a Wolfram & Hart office.
And the issue ends on, you guessed it, a cliffhanger. No spoilers on that front, but it will definitely leave you excited for more.
Overall, I enjoyed the issue despite its problems. I'm looking forward to this book getting better, and I trust IDW so I know it'll wind up being very, very good.
Art: So I liked the story, liked the covers... but the art. But the art. For a superhero comic, it would be very good. Maybe even for a horror comic, as Dave Ross draws one of the most badass monsters I've seen. What he's not very good at is drawing women or capturing character likeness. I totally understand that Franco Urru needed a break after all his work on After the Fall, but I think Messina or Mooney might have been a better choice. Angel doesn't really look much like himself, but the real issue here is Kate. Her hair... her mannerisms... I don't know. It just really doesn't work. Take the scene where Kate runs into Angel again. Really, the hair is just badly done. Angel's likeness isn't that bad, and if it were just that, the art wouldn't really be an issue because it would for for most other comics. But Kate. Most of the issues I had with the actual writing are kinks that could and will likely be worked out as the story goes along, but the art is the only big point lost for this issue.
Covers: Gabriel Rodriguez has been one of my favorite artists since I first saw his work on Chris Ryall's adaptation of Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show, which I enjoy more every time I read it. He's also the artist of Locke and Key, which is my favorite IDW title after Angel and Spike. His cover here is good, and his trademark style is definitely here. It's just that it's hard not to compare this to his later Angel covers, which get better each and every time. He's the artist to watch, and I would love if we could one day get some interior work from him. Nick Runge, one of the artists who contributed to After the Fall, switches up his style for this issue and gave us a painted cover. While it does look somewhat washed out for some reason, the composition of it all is great, It's a really iconic image, and actually might be the better of the two. One thing, though. Both covers show Angel with a leopard, though the werecat on the inside turns out to be more panther-esque. Not sure what's up with that. Maybe Dez can change into all different kinds of cats, or maybe it was just a miscommunication. That's neither here nor there, though, it happens. I mean, take Angel #5. Both covers featured things that didn't happen (Groo with his hair cut, Spike in a white get-up), but it didn't make the issue or the covers any less awesome. Same case here.
Characters We Know: Angel, Connor, Kate. Gunn, Illyria, Spike, and Lorne also appear briefly.