Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Angel's New Beginning

What Is It?: Angel #18- Aftermath part I (written by Kelley Armstrong).

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.

Rating: 7/10


Tom said...

Bad, bad, bad. In fact, bad enough to make me quit reading this comic at least until a different writer takes over. Pat, you're being way too nice here.

The main thing that happens in this issue has to be the return of Kate and her new team-up with Angel. But it was written in a way that made no emotional sense. No tension between them, no getting to know each other again after both having changed a lot over the last few years. Kate's dialogue sounding not very much like the Kate of Seasons 1-2, nor even the Kate of First Night. Not looking like her either.

Meanwhile, the two mysterious suits sound boring and stilted: "Simply bring them to St. Luke hospital, where they may be treated."

I'd be interested in knowing what happens between Gwen and Connor, but I don't really trust this writer to do it well, given the false notes she strikes with the Angel/Kate stuff.

The art is, um, fine I guess, but compared to Urru it's nowhere near as interesting. Lots of blank, boring backgrounds. The faces are inconsistent -- Angel sometimes looks like Angel and sometimes doesn't. The orange-haired suit-wearing guy looks like he has no nose in one panel.

In summation, if I were Willow, I would say "bored now" and immolate this issue with a snap of my fingers.

PatShand said...

Wow, harsh. Needless to say, I disagree. One thing I will hive five you on is the lack of emotional depth in Kate's reintroduction. That scene was just bad bad bad.

But the rest really isn't as awful as you're making it seem. Is it anywhere as good as "After the Fall"? Nope. But it's not even close to the lowest points of Season Eight. At worst, it's as enjoyable as #21 of Buffy and #6 of Angel. At best, it's as enjoyable as #22 of Buffy and #9-10 of Angel, to give you a bit of an idea on where I rank it. It's far, far better than Buffy #5 or #20, and better than any of the non-Lynch pre-After the Fall IDW stuff. Still a worthy addition into the Buffyverse canon, and I'm intrigued to see if Armstrong can make it better enough to be considered more than just "acceptably good."

What's wrong with "Simply bring them to St. Luke hospital, where they may be treated"? Try to hear, say, Lilah saying that. T'would sound fine.

Tom said...

No, Lilah would talk like a normal human being, e.g., "Just take them to St. Luke's hospital for treatment." (Or she'd say something clever or witty.) The only Joss character I can think of who'd say something like that is Olivia on Dollhouse, who tends to speak in a rather affected way. Or perhaps the fake Watcher in the Buffy season 3 episode "Revelations," who had a similar problem.

I haven't read any of the IDW comics that weren't written by Lynch, and I doubt I ever will. Buffy Season 8 numbers 5 and 20 were certainly flawed, but I thought they at least generally got the characters' voices and relationships right. I also found the art in those issues interesting and reasonably well done.

To be fair, I think Kelley Armstrong's Angel and Connor basically talk the way they should. And the writing of Kate would bother me less if she weren't such a central part of this issue. But it is central, and Armstrong does screw it up in a way that a good writer who's familiar with the source material should not do.

Tom said...

(D'oh. Olivia Williams is the actress; the Dollhouse character to whom I was trying to refer is Adele.)

PatShand said...

Still really, really disagree. Especially with your statement that the character's voices were even close to in character. I thought the story was forced and pulled a "this is why it matters" clause out of thin air to hide how pointless it was. But all that, I didn't mind so much. It was that the vast majority of bad fan-fic writers write better Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Xander dialogue than Loeb did in that issue. Armstrong's issue is definitely, definitely flawed, but I really don't see what about it has gotten to you so much. It's not a bad issue from where I'm standing. Weird choice with the church, but that was obviously miscommunication because this was written before #17. The only scene I thought was bad was Kate running into Angel.

Loki said...

Agreeing that the reintroduction of Kate was rather bad. I also strongly dislike the offhand reference to Gunn being up and about - seeing him in one panel driving around in a car cheapens the entire point of his still being in the woods at the end of After the Fall. Additionally, while a lot of the dialogue is acceptable, it is nowhere near as close to the TV-show as Lynch got. With the possible exception of the two new characters, who ironically felt more like whedonesque characters than anyone else in this issue.

The artwork, I'm completely on a different page than you guys, because I thought it was really good - with the sole exception of Kate, who looked nothing like Kate in mannerisms, face or body. In fact, she looked like a thinner Nina, which makes little to no sense. Oh, and she didn't sound or feel like Kate, either - where the bleep is all the cheerful energy coming from? This is not the Kate we met in First Night, nor the Kate we knew in seasons 1 and 2. This is Kate if she was sixteen and part of a cheerleader squad. Which is just ridiculous. I love the idea of using her as Angel's partner, but I absolutely hate the execution of it.

And finally, the continuity-issues with After the Fall is a staggering mess that completely turns me off the book.

The only two reasons I'm going to check out the next one is that I actually quite liked the artwork a lot better than the bad issues of After the Fall, and that the plot, seen independently of the execution, is actually rather interesting. Well, and that this is IDW's official title, and with Lynch relaunching some Spike-stuff down the line there is no way I'm going to stop following their main continuity for context.

By the way, Pat - nice catch on the W&H-yness of the two new guys. I didn't think of that, but the similie is spot on.

Tom said...

Loki, that's a nice point about Gunn.

The art is better than the mess Nick Runge made out of his issues of Angel, yes, but that's still a long way from being good.

The W&H vibe of the mysterious suits is, to me, yet another reason to dislike this issue. Armstrong has said she's not using W&H in this arc, I believe. So after five years' worth of mysterious people in suits serving as the recurring villains of Angel, what does she give us but... more suits. Why oh why? I mean, don't get me wrong, I think W&H is probably the best villain Whedon has ever written -- but if the story's going to take a break from them (which seems like a good idea), then why bring in a couple more characters who exude the same vibe?

Loki said...

I see where you're coming from on that, but I disagree - I quite like the W&H-vibe here. There is no reason W&H should have monopoly on morally ambigious well-educated people with fancy clothing and murky motives. (The comic is taking place in LA after all) If anything, I enjoy the sheer logic of this kind of people jumping at the opportunity to get involved the second W&H are temporarily out of the picture.

Of course, if these two turns out to have MORE in common with W&H than simply the vibe, I'll agree with you. But minding the vibe, I do not. In fact, the Slayerverse has re-used similar vibes from villains before to good effect. I love the Mayor in Buffy's third season no less because he a year later was followed by my favourite Angel-villain Holland Manners sporting a similarly kind, paternal and protective Mr. Evil-vibe. Nor do I take issue with Holtz and Robin Wood entering their respective shows having virtually identical motivations and agendas, nor both Faith and Dana being takes on the "Slayer gone bad"-concept. Mere similarity on the surface like this is no reason to dislike something, in my opinon - if something worked well the first time around, there is no reason to think a different take on it won't be worth a look too. The best example from the shows would probably be Spike and Angel - their similarities is what makes their differences as interesting and rich a subject matter as it became in season 5.

But of course, if these two turn out to be demons trying to somehow control Angel by subtle manipulation, the similarities will be too many and the interest I'm currently feeling will disappear. I just don't think that having a similar vibe qualifies as rehashing anything.

ryan said...

actually its about 2 weeks after #17 :-) i especially liked how time passed alot between.