Friday, March 20, 2009

Angel: After the Fall Hardcover Volume Three

What is It?: A hardcover that collects the issues nine through twelve of Angel: After the Fall.

The Content: The content of this book is somewhat a mixed bag. Well, the art, more than the story. In general, it has some of the best and worst stuff of Angel: After the Fall, but the good definitely out weighs the bad by a lot. I'll get into the problems I had with it first so I can talk about the good/great (and more fun to write about) parts.

Nick Runge's art is really hit and miss in the first two issues. As I said in my review for Issue #9, the majority of his art is very sketchy here. After seeing his wonderful covers for After the Fall and Aftermath, as well as his art for the Wesley section of First Night, I figure that it has to be a time issue. Given the time, Runge is among the best in the business, and is able to make his art look just like the characters. But here, a lot of the characters--females especially--look very distorted. Backgrounds are almost completely neglected, which is really jolting after seeing Franco's detailed backgrounds for the same scenery in #5. Runge definitely gets better as he goes along, and while his art is slightly less hit and miss in #10, it actually gets rather good by #11. #11 does have the unfortunate rushed last two pages, where Gwen, Gunn, and Spike look like rough sketches with no detail whatsoever, which led to some confusion over just what Gwen was going on the final page. On the other hand, the vast majority of the pages from #11 are nearly perfect. Runge comes to excel at Gunn's likeness, and grows very comfortable with Angel. He's definitely a very good artist, but I feel that his style might need slightly more time than a monthly book allows. The only other thing that really bothers me about the collection is Art Lyon's coloring. He has a penchant for coloring entire panels grey, brown, or red for an effect, but his style constantly tries to overpower the story and the writing. Instead of blending in, like Jason Jensen's wonderful coloring does in #11, I feel like it stands out way too much.
Okay, quibbles have been quibbed. Onto the good.

Mooney hops on art duties for #12, the final chapter of the book, and really knocks it out of the park. His style is very distinct, but also very close to the way the show looks. He evokes the darkness of Angel with heavy shadows (sometimes slightly too heavy), creating a nice mood. He's got all of the likenesses down wonderfully. His art is great in this, but it gets even better in the later issues. As fantastic as he is at drawing Angel (and especially Cordelia), he is a force of nature when he draws Spike, who he spends a lot of time with in the next issue (to be included in the next Angel hardcover). Wonderful work on that front.

Have I really gone on this much without even talking about the writing? Here we go.

Reading this book is sort of like walking on a minefield. Every page you turn, there's an explosive climax. The first chapter resolves the plot that the first arc set up: Angel's battle with the lords. Cleverly playing off what was set up in the fourth issue, the lords are taken down by a secret plan that Angel concocted, which reveals both that Angel is still a force to be reckoned with and, despite what Connor believes, he's not trying to get himself killed. What follows is Illyria and Wesley's emotional reunion, the gang's reaction to Angel being human, Angel's confrontation with Gunn (oh, man), the reveal of how Gunn is getting inside info, a betrayal, information on what the Eye of Ramras really is, the reveal of the dragon's name, a "return" of a really truly dead character, and... if you can believe it... the true meaning of the Shanshu Prophecy, finally revealed. And it's game changing.

With this arc, Brian Lynch has not only paid off all of the plot threads he set up in the first five issues (and First Night), he's completely changed the status quo of Angel. The meaning of everything that happened up until this point, and certainly everything that follows, is changed forever. My favorite arcs of After the Fall are still the first five and final five issues, but these four are also very much a worthy addition into the Angel canon. It's essential comic book reading, and some of the best stuff you'll find out there. Angel: After the Fall is by far the best Buffyverse comic ever published, and these middle issues contain some of the most explosive, most emotional, and funniest moments.

The Presentation: If you loved the way the first two books looked, you won't be let down by this one. Alex Garner's cover from Issue #10 is used, and wow does it look great on this. The texture of the cover is very smooth, but Illyria and Angel are made glossy so that they really pop out. The title is a sparkly blue that vibes wonderfully with Illyria hair and the blue tint of the snow that falls around the two warriors. I'm usually not a fan of re-using covers, which is one of the reasons I was so happy with the new cover for the second volume, but this just works. One complaint about the cover, though... readers, and Brian Lynch himself, were surprised to find out that Nick Runge and Stephen Mooney don't get credit on the cover. I suspected the cover to read WHEDON LYNCH RUNGE MOONEY, or maybe even WHEDON LYNCH, for space. But instead, Franco Urru is credited, though his art isn't in the book at all. An unfortunate error, but at least Runge, Mooney, and Messina (who contributes a two page dream sequence in #10) are credited on the back cover and on the inside. For the most part, the same design that was used on the earlier Angel hardcover is used here, though the spine and back-cover are strangely the gold that the Spike hardcover was, as opposed to retaining the maroon that the first two Angel hardcovers were. No matter, though, it still looks great. Love the design of the book on the inside, especially the chapter headings. And... drum roll please... the cloth bookmark is back! With a vengeance! And helpfulness!

Special Features: I missed the commentary that the first two volumes had, but in its place was an awesome in-character extra... from Betta George. We get the fan-favorite fish's on-set diary from Issue #10, which gives us "behind the scenes" information. It's written as if Angel: After the Fall were a film, so we get to hear how George interacts with Brian Lynch, Joss Whedon, and the other actors. It's really out there stuff, and I wouldn't have it any other way. My favorite extra, though, is the Q&A section, where Brian Lynch answers questions posed to him over at the Angel forum. I got a shoutout in the beginning, and this site got a plug, which is really just wonderful. That, and the entire Q&A which really does give a lot of insight, just made the experience of reading this book all the more great. There is also an art gallery, which unfortunately (and mistakenly, I assume) is missing Stephen Mooney's SlayAlive/BCC cover to #11. Otherwise, very cool gallery. Also, there is a introduction/previously-on at the front of the book just to get readers up to speed. Sidebar, I actually submitted a "previously on" to IDW in Spike's voice for this volume, which I'll post another time. Overall, great extras. I do hope we get a loooot of extras next time, seeing as it's the last volume, but I was definitely happy with this.

Rating: 9/10

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