Timing: World War I (1914-1918, unspecified). In terms of the Buffyverse, it's after Angel arrived in New York following the events of the Boxer Rebellion, and before he was spotted in Chicago in the 1920s.
REVIEW: I remember when this title was first announced. After SDCC in July 2008, it was reported that Brian Lynch would be writing an Angel book titled Blood and Trenches. Along with the announcement of Aftermath, a buzz began to surround the book. The lack of details made it mysterious. Turns out, the mystery wasn't intended; the reporting just sucked. I mean, I guess "Byrne" kinda looks like "Brian" on paper if you suffer from cataracts, but yeah. Either way, the buzz became even buzzier when the future of IDW's Angel was made clear. Yup, novelist Kelley Armstrong would be taking over the main title for a five issue arc titled "Aftermath." Yes, Brian Lynch would be back on the title sooner rather than later. And the creative team behind Blood and Trenches would be none other than the one man show, the legendary... John Byrne.
So the fandom hype and the talent was there. IDW took it the next step to ensure that this wouldn't just be another mini-series side adventure by really going all out with the design of the book. As you can see if you scroll, there is no "art" section in this review because it's impossible to separate the art from the story from the product. Byrne "shoots from the pencils" here, which is basically what it sounds like. Instead of having the panels inked, they are printed as is from Byrne's pencils. The only color in the book is some blue/greens for a few sound effects and a great use of deep red for blood, which--as you might have guessed from the title--is a huge part of the book. The pages and cover are very different from anything IDW has printed before, using thick, non-glossy paper, giving a really appropriate old school feeling to the thing. And, this may seem strange, but when you buy the book... take a whiff of the pages. Really, just go for it. Just make sure no one's looking, because that's weird.
When reading Blood and Trenches, you can really tell the writer and artist are the same person. Byrne knows his art in and out, so he knows when to let the visuals carry the storyline and when to add some narration. And oh, the narration. It's first person, present tense Angel, written as if it were a novel. The writing shows a sophistication, with lines like "I carry the soldiers as far from the fire as I can in my weakened state. Then... I lay my burdens in the snow." Perfectly worded, especially when you see it placed over Byrne's wonderful art. I'm no historian, so I won't really be able to pull out any historical inaccuracies, but the confidence with which Byrne writes about the war is as impressive as the confidence with which he writes Angel.
The book starts in medias res, beginning with a catastrophic event that happened to Angel as he drove a truck full of injured soldiers across an expanse of snow. Just as the unthinkable happens, the narrative jumps back six weeks and shows how Angel got to that point. It's a wonderful starting point for the series, showing where Angel is at at that point in his life, revealing how he views feeding on evil humans, and introducing the Big Bad of the series who is an ancestor of a man that will later become Angel's best friend. The art is atmospheric, so different, and honestly just great. As I read the book, I just keep thinking "This is so good."
If you're looking for a great Angel story or a great war story, look no further. This book is friendly to new comers but will also please any true fan of Angel... or really anyone who likes great stories.
Covers: Byrne also crafts the cover for the issue. It's Angel and a woman he's protecting, Lady Margaret D'Ascoyne, surrounded by vampires that (deliberately) bear a striking resemblance to Angel. It's very old school, and evokes the same classic feel that the interior art and the feel of the pages does. I've seen three of the four covers for the series, and this is by far my favorite. The way the greys and the purples play off each other is wonderful, and the likeness--as with the interior art--is amazing.
Characters We Know: Angel. Very, very interesting. I hope they do a lot more of these solo adventures, with either Angel or any supporting character. It's wonderful.
PS: Apologies for the delayed Angel: Smile Time #2 review. No worries on that front, it's definitely coming. I read and enjoyed the book, and will probably be able to review by tomorrow. It's been an incredibly busy and rewarding past three weeks for me as a writer, but things are calming down (for now) so I'll be able to make with the postage.