Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Top Ten After the Fall Moments

Over a year and a half ago, I did a "Top Ten Angel Moments" countdown, all leading up to the release of the first issue of Angel: After the Fall. Back then, all we had was a promise of good things to come. We had awesome names attached to it (Brian Lynch, Joss Whedon, and Franco Urru). We thought the series would be twelve issues long. We thought a lot of things, but all of our expectations were blown out of the water by the actual product. Reading Angel: After the Fall has changed how I read comics as much as the show itself changed how I watched television. It was smart, hilarious, dark, emotional, and challenging, right up until the final installment. All of the characters, particularly Gunn, were in such interesting places. Illyria was finally dealing with the fact that she took the life of a person that her team (would it be wrong, at this point, to say "friends"?) cherished above anyone else. Spike was left wondering his place as a champion in this world. Betta George was free. Connor was still pretty chill, coping well with the fact that he had been killed by the vampire version of someone who stood in as a father figure to him during Angel's stint in the deep blue sea. Angel was left to come to terms with the death of his best friend Wesley, and also the fact that, though his son is alive, he witnessed his other best friend shove a flaming sword through his chest.

And Gunn. Oh, Gunn.

Either way, all the characters had such interesting roads ahead of them. Unfortunately, Angel: Aftermath didn't explore any of the things that After the Fall had set up, focusing more on a new plot instead of character development. But now, after five issues without Brian Lynch, we have been wondering what is truly going on with these characters, especially Gunn, and when we're gonna find out.

Well, tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow, the issue of many names (Angel #23, Become What You Are, Angel: After the Fall-Epilogue) comes out, and gives us the skinny on what Gunn and Illyria have been doing. Betta George, Lorne, and Non make appearances as well. We've all read the preview, and that writing that drew us in in the first place is just as good as ever. Click here to read.

To celebrate the fact that we're getting more of the story we've been waiting for, here are the top ten moments of Angel: After the Fall.

10. Cordelia's Reveal (Issue #12)

"I imagined you. I talked to you the entire time."

In the previous issue, all of the magic that Angel had used to heal himself was taken away by Gunn, so our hero was left to die. Between life and death, a spectre Angel walks through the halls of Gunn's lair, approaching... Cordelia. His transitional state allowed her to appear to only him, and the way she was revealed was just so beautiful. We'd been anticipating learning the dragon's name, thinking it would be funny, but as Angel approaches his unseen friend, talking about how he would talk to Cordelia while he was in pain and the dragon thought he was talking to it... well, it was beautiful. Brian Lynch slowly let the reader catch on to who Angel was talking to, allowing the emotions to blossom just in time for the big reveal page of Cordelia.

9. Angel and Spike Talk It Out (Issue #17)

"You guys just thanked each other in your heads! Simultaneously!"

Angel and Spike had very different adventures in hell. Spike fought a deadly pixie, lost a bunch of new friends, and became the object of a lot of warrior chicks' affection before he met up with Angel, and the two didn't spend much time together once they did cross paths. However, much like their chat in "Damaged," their heart to heart conversation at the end of this big epic is what brings the entire series home. These two help each other make sense of their own situations. Through dialogue that couldn't have read better if Whedon himself wrote it, Angel tells Spike why he thinks that Spike doesn't appear in the history books, while Spike gives Angel hope that he won't be the downfall of man, as predicted. Plus, Betta George gives some pretty hilarious commentary from the backseat of the car the two are riding in. If that doesn't make for an amazing moment, friggin' Kr'ph is in the trunk.

8. Angel and Wesley Say Goodbye (Issue #16)

"Thank you, Rogue Demon Hunter."

Always similarly minded, Angel figures out how to win at the same moment Wesley does. Wesley knows that once Angel is killed, they will all be sent back to the last moment that he was in one piece... and that was in the alley, when Wesley was dead. Angel knows that either way this goes down, he's never going to see Wesley again. Though the look they gave each other in "Not Fade Away" spoke for everything that had happened between the two characters, the time they've spent together in Hell during After the Fall brought them to the place where they can finally talk to each other in a way they hadn't been able to since Wesley stole Angel's child years before. Wesley tells Angel that being his friend and fighting by his side has been an honor, and Angel says the quote listed above. In any other situation, it would have been a hokey line, but evoking where Wesley had been at when Angel met him, he underlines Wesley's beautiful sacrifice by showing just how far he had come. It's a quick moment in the middle of a battle, but it's tragic, heroic, and probably the last time we'll ever see Wesley, my favorite character.

7. Wesley and Fred's Library (Issue 17)

"Warm breeze. Each and every time."

After the climax of After the Fall, we picked back up with Angel, the dynamic of his team rocked, researching with Nina in a seemingly random library. But when he leaves, he puts his hand on a sign that reads "Burkle Wyndam-Price Wing," bidding goodbye to his lost friends. The next page is one that has surely misted many an eye, as Angel reminisces on Fred and Wes, contemplating where they are right now. Though he'd like to think they're together somewhere, it's hard for him to stay positive... But Cordelia sends a warm breeze past him every time he thinks that way, letting him know not to worry about Fred, Wes, and--the way I read it--her. That a series as epic and action packed also has moments as tender as this is really special.

6. Angel Saves Gunn (Issue #16)

"Sorry, Charles. It's Not That Easy."

Yeah, I know that most of the moments so far have been from the same two issues. The fact is, they're the pay off from everything that had been set up before. After this, we'll really start to get into the other issues, but this is a big one and sort of spans two issues. In #8, it's revealed that Angel left Gunn vulnerable to gain control of the dragon during the alley fight, and this is what lead to Gunn being turned into a vampire. This time, as soon as Angel finds Gunn's scent, he knows what to do. Despite just seeing a sired Gunn murder Connor, Angel knows that he has to save his friend the way he should have in the first place. It's a poignant moment of redemption for Angel, and the most tragic moment of Gunn's life, as he lies in his own blood, remembering everything he did, begging Angel to let him die. Of course, Angel doesn't. Also, there is just something so badass about Angel dealing so quickly with the DesmondFromLost-esque vampire that sired Gunn.

5. The Prophecy (Issue #12)

"It is written. It has been witnessed. It is inevitable."

This is a big one. It shocked me that the series had balls this gigantic, because in one moment, the entire Shanshu mythos, one of the biggest parts of the Angel mythology, had been flipped on its head. Since Angel first read it in the season finale of the first season in the 2000, it had been an object of hope for him, the white light at the end of the tunnel. So the Senior Partner's using Wesley to deliver the vision to Angel that the Prophecy means he'll fight for the side of evil (and win) in the Apocalypse, the entire way Angel views his redemptive fight is rocked. In this issue, it's a moment of complete despair, but it's worth mentioning that as incredibly sad as this reveal is, Angel takes his destiny by the balls three issues later, saying, "All this time, I did what I did because of the Shanshu Prophecy. Time to start doing what I do despite it."

4. Angel is revealed as a human. (Issue #3)
"Which, of course, would mean so much more... if I were still a vampire."

That sentence, much like the previous moment, changed the entire mythos of Angel. The story was always about an ensouled vampire fighting for his redemption. But when Angel is so causally revealed to be human, you know this is going to be a big story. I mean, I definitely knew it was going to be epic from the start. I mean, Angel has a freakin' dragon, Gunn was a vampire, and Wesley was back. But knowing that Angel had his greatest burden and, furthermore, greatest weapon stripped away from him at the one time he really needs it most, it's... well, brilliant.

3. The Alley Fight. (Issue #16)

"Hey, another one of your girlfriends is resurrected."

So Angel and Wesley had a plan, but we had no idea what it was. Just that something pretty damn big had to happen. Gwen, the Dragon, Groosalugg, Connor, maybe Illyria, and now Angel himself were dead. How could the series continue from here? Well, the moment that Angel was decapitated by Gunn, his and Wesley's plan went into effect. They knew Wolfram & Hart would have to send them back to the alley fight (see Moment #8), and they do. But here's the catch. Everyone remembers everything, and everything is changed because of it (as evidenced by the BestMontageSceneEver in #17). And what happens next definitely ties into not only Moment #8 but also #6... but it very much deserves its own spot. We see the alley fight from start to finish, which, after many brief flashbacks, we thought we would never see. It was a wonderful climax and eucatastophe to After the Fall, and definitely the most clever way to make everything that happened matter, but still make all of the characters we love usable for future series.

2. Connor Dies, Illyria Falls (Issue #15)

"Vampire or not... you're a good man."

When I first read this issue, I called it the most emotional thing I had ever read. As an English major, I would have thought that my English teachers would want to kill me for that statement, if they weren't avid Angel fans themselves. There is just no deny the beauty and tragedy of the last few pages of Issue #15. In a moment of incredible violence, Gunn stabs Connor through the chest with a sword. Always the hero, Angel puts his emotion and terror aside long enough to give Spike, Wesley, and Betta George a way to take Illyria down, which is sad enough in itself, for Angel. As George floods Illyria with Spike and Wesley's memories of Fred in one of the most beautiful pages of comic art I've seen (Franco and Fabio are really an incredible team, bringing such emotion to such a monstrous figure), Angel rushes to his son's side, just in time for Connor to die in his arms. It was unexpected, tragic, and poignant, because with his last breath, Connor tells Angel something he'd been waiting to hear forever. That he was a good man in the eyes of his son.

1. Angel's speech to Gunn. (Issue #17)
"...A man isn't measured by the mistakes he's made. He's measured by what he does about them."

This moment never fails to choke me up a little bit. A lotta bit. It's like Marley and Me, only without dogs and with vampires. And ex-vampires, and a green demon. Also, way better. But yeah, it's a beautiful moment, and just works so well as the final big moment of Angel: After the Fall. At its core, Angel has always been a story about redemption, so when Angel sees Gunn, beated and brusied in a hospital bed, he gives him the speech that would have helped him out so much years before. He tells Gunn that it wasn't him. That he will have to make amends, but that he knows that Gunn isn't the monster that murdered his son. It's a packed moment, because Angel is a) making amends with Gunn, b) in a way realizing that he isn't responsible for what he did as Angelus, and c) setting out on a new quest to right his own wrongs. Another awesome thing about this moment is the dichotomy of this and the last time Angel visited Wesley in the hospital. In that moment, Angel tried to smother his friend for stealing Connor as a child. This moment, without specifically referencing it, shows that Angel has risen above that. The silent Lorne, the Angel Investigations card, and the "voice-over" as Angel walks off into the light all make this a perfect moment and a perfect way to end ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL.

Now... you guys ready to see what happens to Gunn next? I know I am.


hitnrun017 said...

That was amazing Pat! Well written and full of emotion. It made me remember just how great After the Fall is, such an amazing story. And even though it had some flaws, as a whole it's just epic.

I think it's safe to say you picked the best moments, but I think I'd include:

- Gwen's sacrifice.
- Kate giving Connor the same advice Angel gave her.
- Lorne getting everyone together in the final battle against the Lords of LA.
- ...Kozlow.

Thanks for that, Pat! Can't wait until tomorrow.

Jellymoff said...

That was really great Pat. It helped me to revisit ATF without rereading the whole thing again (which I will soon). These were some great moments.

ryan said...

clap clap clap! 100% interesting post.

can't wait for the Gunn Issue... while we do wait everyone have a look at this colouring i did of one page in it:


Vincetastic said...

Hey Pat, this top ten list is fantastic. You really know your ATF inside and out. I thought your commentary was really insightful and enjoyable to read. You can post this to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/ and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

Skytteflickan88 said...

A great, well written list.

Not I-want-to-have-your-babies-awesome, but great.

ryan said...

I loved #15 but I can't say I enjoyed Illyria's Fall. The way it was executed, it was understandable up to the point where George used memories of Fred to incapacitate her but the transformer dragon's delivering the final shots.. It may have been her "true form" appearance but she didn't really have her full power...

That said I think Illyria had alot of my favourite moments during After the Fall up to her becoming more human influenced. Especially her scenes with Wesley at the end of #9 and in #14. Also loved her dialogue alot "i saw the ashen remains of the fallen fluttering outside, i wanted to taste" and during the alley battle in #16 "she was his reason for being, she was his light and I ended it".

Parabola said...

Fantastic list, especially all the thought put into describing each moment! I think you really hit the nail on the head about how with so many significant developments, there really should have been plenty for Aftermath to pick up on instead of disrupting the flow as it did. "After the Fall" was great on its own, but it has left many after-"After the Fall" threads worth exploring.

Classic Maiden said...

Great write-up Pat!

Mike said...

That was comprehensive and gorgeous. I didn't need any more convincing that After the Fall was perfect, but you just sealed it.

Just read the Gunn one-shot. Heartbreaking. Can't wait to hear your thoughts.