Tuesday, June 9, 2009

BKV Style Backstory of Colonel Geoffrey Wyndam-Pryce

What Is It?: Angel: Blood & Trenches # (written and illustrated by John Byrne).

Timing: Non-linear. Set before, during, and directly after Blood & Trenches #1 and #2. Clues us in on stuff we need to understand to appreciate what happens after #2.

REVIEW: The art is as great as ever here. It's shadowy, sketchy when it needs to be, so so detailed when the story calls for it, and just incredibly good. Angel's likeness is spot-on, and the fact that it isn't inked gives the story an almost washed-out look that works well with this historical story. In a way, it's out of date, and meant to be. I'm no historian, but I buy the language, I buy the setting, and I buy how this story fits into Angel's life.

This comic is definitely a risk. Well, the whole series was in a way. Angel's current, happening-right-now story continues to be told in the on-going series, and all of the characters (particularly Gunn and Illyria) are at really interesting places in a post-After the Fall Buffyverse, so it was definitely a gutsy move to tell a four issue ANGEL tale that takes place before any of the supporting characters were alive, before Angel became the champion we now know him as, and before he really came into his own as a character. What makes this issue even more risky is that Angel's role is minimalized, and the story instead chooses to focus on Colonel Geoffrey Wyndam-Pryce, the "villain" of the piece, who we have seen little of up until this point. It's pretty cool that Byrne is confident enough in his story to take such a non-linear break from the narrative in the penultimate chapter, that's not in question. It's the results that... well, let's just say they vary.

The first half of the issue is a Brian K. Vaughan style back story on the Colonel. Much like BKV did with the supporting characters of Y: The Last Man, we're given a reason why the Colonel is doing what he's doing, and we're also introduced to the emotional bond between him a fellow officer. It doesn't go as deep as BKV's flashback issue do, and that's one of the problems here. We're left with a bit more understanding for the character, but I'm also wondering why Byrne didn't take it a bit further so we really feel for the character. We end up feeling some pain for him later, but the lack of true emotion in the opening (plus the lack of Angel and anything compelling except the "ohhh, okay"ness of connecting it with the main narrative) makes the first half a kind of dry read. There was a cool vampire fight, but we've seen those a million times, so that only goes so far.

One thing I also wish had been spruced up was a certain page of dialogue. When Wyndam-Pryce finds the vampire feeding on a young woman, he talks out loud to himself like a cheesy detective from a children's cartoon show. The same information could have been conveyed in captions, much like how Tipton did for Smile Time and Brian Lynch does in all of his ANGEL and SPIKE works. Perhaps Byrne didn't want us to get too close to the Colonel, and I definitely understand that. I would have preferred just letting the art speak for itself in that case, because the whole "talking aloud, alone" thing feels like the reader is being walked through the story, and I'm not sure that's necessary.

Things get better when we're caught up to the current story. Angel has somehow evaded Kakistos, and he comes back to Lady Margaret just in time for the somewhat emotional stuff with the Colonel to come to head in a tragic (and really violent) moment, and for a pretty crazy twist at the end of the issue. What John Byrne excels at is surprising the reader, even though we already know what happens... and that takes a damn good writer. We know Angel lives on years and years later, we know that Kakistos has to make it out alive... but Byrne's twist endings still pack that punch that leaves us eager to wonder what is going to happen to these characters now. This may not be the strongest issue of the series, but it was still a good comic.

Covers: Really cool one. I love the colors that have been used for this, from the dark purples of the first one, the bright blues and pinks of the second, and now the oranges and blacks of this one. We get a great close-up of Angel as a gloved enemy attempts to drive a stake into his heart. Did I mention Byrne is great with the details? Because oh is he ever. Second best cover of the series, after the fantastic #1.

Characters We Know: Angel, Kakistos.

Rating: 7/10

No comments: