Timing: Directly after Angel #21.
REVIEW: Reading Angel: Aftermath has been an... experience. Interesting, frustrating, at times even infuriating. The main beef I've had with the entire series is the structure. And by that, I don't mean just the way the plot points are hit, I mean the structure of the plot, the dialogue, the character arcs, and the actual panels. None of the conversation flows like actual conversation, important moments (Kate running into Angel for the first time in years in #18, Angel barely addressing the fact that Cordelia is standing in front of him in #21) are sped through and never resonate, and internal monologue meant to flesh out characters (Gwen throughout, Kate in #21) is shoehorned awkwardly into the story in an unsuccessful attempt to flesh out the characters that the story has turned into one-dimensional cut-outs. It all stood in harsh contrast to what Brian Lynch had done with After the Fall. In that epic seventeen issue arc, Lynch took the momentum that the stellar finale (and the best episode) of Angel had built and ran with it, creating a funny and tragic story that changed the 'verse forever and resonated with fans. Going from this story to Aftermath was an awkward change of pace to say the least. So all in all, what I was hoping for was that Armstrong would pull a rabbit out of her hat and deliver an issue that, at the very least, gave a decent end to a wildly uneven arc. I wouldn't say that this is a good issue, because there are still no transitions from panel to panel and the art is bad... but it's markedly better than the bulk of Aftermath, which I generously gave a 4/10 to.
I didn't hate this issue. I wasn't confused by this issue. I didn't feel that "how could you do this?" shock only a true fan could feel, as I felt after reading the terrible exchange between Angel and Cordelia in #21. The plot takes a turn for the better, steering away from all the "animals are being turned into humans" stuff (that boiled down to be nothing but a means to give back story for Dez and a way to beef up a five issue arc that should have been a four issue arc) and tackling the Angel vs. angels story. The dialogue is actually a lot better, and gives the characters opportunities to be funny and even throws in a rather nicely crafted Angel speech. Connor says and does some stuff that sheds some light on his character and pokes fun at his inability to work with hot chicks without falling in love with them. Some father/son drama between Angel and Connor is needlessly thrown in, but it's quick, and doesn't really matter in the long run.
The issue deals a lot with destiny, which is what I thought Armstrong was setting up in #18 with all the prophecy talk. Unluckily for the middle issues, she decided to pay all of that off in the last issue only, but it does make this conclusion a lot better. Definitely not good enough to save the arc from being a major letdown, but enough to give it a somewhat decent ending. It sets up a surprising amount of plot for the issues to come, and I have to wonder if the new on-going writer (who comes in at #28 after Brian Lynch's #23-27 run) will go with this plot or ignore it. I hope it's a mix of the two; that the potentate plot isn't forgotten, but that it doesn't become the main story. Whoever takes over the title next (it will be announced at Comic-Con, and I'm betting his name rhymes with Schmeter Save-it) has the unique chance to make something fun out of what Aftermath was and make it, in retrospect, a worthwhile chapter of the Angel saga. Hint: It might involve retconning the Angel/Cordelia conversation, which is definitely possible judging on the dark plans of the "Powers" that are giving the potentates their orders.
One more thing about transitions. On the final page, Angel is fighting a potentate... and then without showing said potentate disappear, it cuts to Angel talking to the Elohim. You can't explain how the climatic battle ends, you have to show it! I really don't get that choice, nor do I get a lot of the transitional choices, but it is what it is. The actual end of the issue isn't bad. It makes it seem like Dez and James are on as full-on main characters, which is an... interesting choice. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I want to see how the upcoming writers handle it before I make any judgments. Overall, Armstrong gave it a somewhat decent end, and I'm happier with it than I thought I would be. Still massively let down by the majority of the story, though.
Bring on the Lynch, Urru, and (a bit later) Landau, and (a bit later) Mooney.
Art: Dave Ross is back, for some reason, and none of the characters look like themselves, all of them (especially Angel) are wearing strange clothes again, and the fights and interactions between the characters are awkward. Ross knows not subtlety; when Connor is being snarky, he draws Connor as an enraged beast that Dez has to hold back. Can't wait to see some awesome Angel art from the IDW team of Urru, Mooney, and Messina. I'm not sure why they weren't used on this arc, as they might have been able to make something readable out of even the worst of Aftermath issues, but Ross's style just 100% does not work for Angel.
Covers: I love Gabriel Rodriguez, and I love Nick Runge. Both of the drew up awesome covers for this issue. Rodriguez's cover shows a badass design for the potentates that I wish Ross had used, but alas. It features a ready-to-fight Angel in a somewhat homoerotic position in front of a potentate, but it still manages to be badass. Runge's is even cooler, as he shows Angel, Kate, and Gwen ready to face off by potentates, who have surrounded them... and they're actually wearing clothes that these characters would wear. It's sort of bittersweet, because the cover is fantastic and by far Runge's best cover work on the arc, but it also just makes me think of how different from this the characters actually look on the inside.
Characters We Know: Angel, Kate, Gwen, Connor. (From now on, both Dez and James will count as Characters We Know).