Timing: Directly following Angel #18
Warning: The bigger spoilers will be written in black text. Simply highlight to read. As this is a review, there will be some minor "spoilers" sprinkled throughout the text that don't warrant being hidden. If you have not read the issue and don't want to know anything about the plot, don't read this. Spoilers for previous issues will obviously not be covered.
REVIEW: The issue is still a lot of set-up... but all the flaws from Armstrong's first issue are still here, and now even more apparent. The story is interesting, but even with its strong ties to what happened in After the Fall, it feels less and less like Angel with every turn of the page. It's breaking my heart that I'm not enjoying this, because Angel is my favorite series, both the television show and the comic. I was hopefully that, though the first part of Aftermath was a bit awkward, it would build on the exciting plot threads and that the character's voices would improve, but that just didn't happen at all.
My main beef with the issue is that the conversation just doesn't flow. It's not written in a way that people speak. A lot of the characters' responses don't logically follow from what the character they're responding to said. The exchange that has the most prominent example of this is between Kate and Gwen on page eight. Kate says to Gwen, "You betrayed him in hell. Maybe you regret that, but he's not going to forget it overnight. It's going to take time." Gwen replies, "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" It's clear what the intention of the line was, but it doesn't logically follow what Kate said. She'd like what She'd like if it's going to take time? She'd like that he's not going to forget overnight? Also, when Connor says this: "Follow me again and, as far as I'm concerned, you're a psycho stalker. And I'll treat you like one"; I was sort of left scratching my head. It just doesn't feel like natural dialogue, and it doesn't have the conversational flow that IDW comics have been so good at grasping throughout their entire Angel run.
There has been some talk about Dez, the were-cat character, being naked... but I don't think it's much of a problem. I was surprised by how naked she was, with her blur-worthy parts only obscured by shadows. There was more butt than I ever thought would be possible in an Angel comic, but at least it makes sense, her being a were-cat and whatnot. I thought she was probably the most interesting character in the book, because Armstrong does have a handle on her. Through thought captions, she sets up the fact that something is going on with Dez's transformations, that she's a bit more unstable than she lets people see. She's not a totally original character, and her dialogue could have easily been that of early Gwen, but Armstrong writes her with more confidence than she does the established characters, so her scenes--and her exchanges with Angel--were a breath of fresh air.
The issue wasn't all bad. Gwen's situation, other than her dialogue with Connor and Kate, is set up in an interesting way. She's squeezed into a job that she's never been able to do (research). She sucks at it, she knows it, and it's sad and a bit touching to see her trying and failing. That, along with the appearance of the Lord of Sherman Oaks, helps build on the strongest part of Aftermath... its connection to After the Fall. Seeing an arc building in the book is one of the things that is keeping my hope alive. With Angel not getting as much screen time in the issue, it's hard to see if Armstrong is getting better at his dialogue. She doesn't really have an understanding of Kate, who would never worry about being looked at as "jealous of the hot new girl" just for voicing her concerns, and Connor seems to be moving back towards his pre-After the Fall whiny self, though this time, given the circumstances, it's rather understandable.
It hurts so much to write reviews like theses, because, as I said before, this is my favorite title put out by my favorite company. I'm definitely following the title, and any Angel related thing they do to the end, but I'm starting to get a bit worried that this book isn't going to get any better.
Art: There was quite a reaction over the preview, which depicted Angel as a hulking mass of muscles once his shirt is removed. It's nothing we haven't seen before in the comics, especially in the earlier Angel titles, so while it does bug me, it's not a major problem. I'm more concerned with what the characters are wearing and what their faces look like. Kate still looks more like Harmony and Nina than herself, though her likeness does indeed improve in the last few pages. Check her out on page 20; it's a good likeness. Gwen, too. If all the comic were drawn as wonderfully as that page, I think the book would definitely be enjoyable. But it's getting harder to swallow Angel's new look, with his squinty eyes and archetypal superhero looks. Connor isn't bad, nor is Gwen, but they're not really good either. I don't really get why Sherman Oaks is orange now, either.
Covers: Gabriel Rodriguez draws a mean Angel. If he could draw the interior art, I would be the happiest guy in happy land, because check out his vampire lemon face. Quite honestly, perfect. It's a dynamic cover, and really a great look at how Angel's situation has changed. Huge step up from his cover to #18, which was already very good. Nick Runge's cover isn't as iconic as his first cover for Aftermath, but it's still pretty good. It's my least favorite of his covers for the arc, but that's more of a statement about how badass his other covers are than how weak this one is. It's not very good, but it's still decent.
Characters We Know: Angel, Connor, Kate, Gwen.