Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let's Put a Smile on that Face

What is It?: Angel- Smile Time adaptation #2. Original story by Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund, original script by Ben Edlund. Adapted to comic script by Scott Tipton.

Timing: Directly after Angel- Smile Time #1. One third into the episode.

REVIEW: Gotta make something clear. I rate adaptations on an entirely different scale than original material. While I gave both Angel- Smile Time #1 and Angel- Aftermath #18 both 7/10s, the experiences were totally different. I think that, from now on, my rating system should reflect that. From now on, original material will be the only stuff rated x/10. Adaptations will be rated as either EPIC FAIL, FAIL, BAD, OKAY, GOOD, GREAT, OUTSTANDING. Three levels of negative, one in the exact middle of the road, and then three levels of positive to even it out. I think separating the systems will definitely give a more accurate rating to the books.

One more note before I get into this. Sorry for the delay. I read Angel- Smile Time #2 the day it came out, as I do with all Angel titles, but I just haven't had the time to review. My plate has been more full than Balthazar's of late, and I'm just glad to be getting the opportunity to squeeze this in before Angel- Aftermath #19 comes out in... wow, ten and a half hours. So here we go.

I liked this. I don't think it worked quite as well as the first issue did, but it was a fun read. To tackle the negative stuff first, let's get to the big conversation scene. There's a three page conversation between Angel, Lorne, Wesley, Gunn, Lorne, and Fred that just doesn't work for me. I'll talk about the bad choreography of character movement in the art section, but even the things that Tipton chose to keep and add didn't really work. It must be so hard to script such a big conversation when things like this don't really vibe well with the medium, but I think he tried to fit too much into too few pages. Had he cut a few more lines of dialogue, as he has done liberally throughout the first issue and this, I think the scene might have worked. Instead, it is totally dependent on the actual episode to be understood. Added lines such as "Thought so, still don't have a reflection" interrupt the already stilted conversation. Dialogue that worked in the show, such as Wes/Gunn's "Proportionate excitability of a puppet your size--" bit don't really work here because a) the bubbles are placed so it looks like Fred is saying "What?!" when Angel is supposed to.

The four scenes that follow, however, generally work much better. Three of the four are the best I've seen in the Smile Time series thus far, because they work both as good homages to the source material and as comic scenes that can be read on their own. The comic, which I thought might shy away from the subplots in favor of big puppety action, gives the spotlight to Angel and Nina's relationship. A great example of a scene that works as well in the comic as it did in the episode is the scene in which Angel, afraid of being seen as a puppet by the hot blond werewolf, hides under his desk. The back and forth between Nina and Angel was great, and it's all paid off by the scene that ends the comic. Werewolf costumes were always pretty cheesy in the show, so this episode really shied away from showing Nina in here werewolfy glory, but the adaptation gives us the chance to see her as a truly badass werewolf. The scene that starts out touching, with Angel opening up to Nina, whose heart is firmly planted on her sleeve, quickly turns hilariously horrific when she wolfs out and starts to tear Angel Puppet apart. Gold. Very well done.

What fans might find most interesting is that there is another brand new scene featuring Spike. After the famous "Wee little puppet man" fight that Angel and Spike had in the actual episode, they tumbled into an elevator, the doors closing on them. When the doors opened, Spike had been beaten. In the comic, we get to see the actual fight, which was hilarious. I was skeptical at first, as I loved that we never really got to see what went down, but then I realized it worked because this is what the adaptation is supposed to do. It goes places that the episode didn't really need to go, elaborating for the sake of elaborating... because it's fun.

Though this issue definitely had the worst scene of the series so far, it also had three of the best. I love that it's making me rewatch, dissect, and give another look at an episode that I never really enjoyed. After reading the first two issues, and after giving Smile Time another try both in the comics and on DVD, I've grown to love the story. For that, I am grateful. Looking forward to the finale, as well as Tipton's next adaptation: Not Fade Away, the best piece of film ever broadcast on the small screen.

Art: Some good, some bad. As with the writing, most of the bad stuff can be found in the big conversation scene early in the issue. All of the character's faces other than Angel's lack detail. When Lorne takes the remote from Angel, you can't even see what he's doing. It's so badly blocked that sometimes characters are directly obscuring someone who is talking, so that the speech bubble points to the wrong person. On the other hand, Messina gives the best Nina likeness we've ever seen. He's illustrating Angel and the various characters with more finesse than he used to, setting aside protruding muscles and button-popping bosoms for realistic depictions of what these characters looked like. He still very much has his own style, and it's not too reverent to the actor's likenesses, but just reverent enough. His detail on all the characters improves after the scene I spoke of before, even in the other large conversation Gunn and Lorne have with David Fury (can't call him anything else, sorry) later in the issue. The art is credited to both David Messina and Elena Casagrande, but I suppose their art is similar, for the most part, so I can't really separate them. If anything, there are a lot of refined pages here, and just a few not great ones, so that might mean something. Don't know. Overall, I thought the art was very good. Only wish a bit more time had been put into the choreography of the big conversation.

Covers: One of the best Angel covers from IDW, ever... is David Messina's Fight Club cover. In the brilliant homage to the famous poster, you see Puppet Angel on one side and normal Angel on the other, with--you guessed it--a pink bar of soap above them. Messina is probably one of the best cover artists I've seen, and the covers he's provided for this series are absolutely no exception. The B cover is a photo of Puppet Angel torn apart after the Nina attack. Not nearly as nice as the photo cover from the last issue, but still pretty enough that I had to grab it even though I promised my poor wallet that I would only get the Messina cover when I went in the store.

Characters We Know: Angel, Fred, Wesley, Gunn, Lorne, Nina, Spike, Harmony, whole Smile Time gang

Rating: Good.

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