Timing: Angel, Season Five. Between "Time Bomb" and "The Girl in Question."
REVIEW: I wanted to read Peter David's entire IDW run of "Fallen Angel" before I read this issue. I read and completely loved the omnibus, which contains the first twenty-one issues (AKA, the first four volumes), and then picked up the fifth volume, which I was lucky enough to get signed by Mr. David himself. Unfortunately, having just finished the fifth volume a week or so ago, it was too late for me to get my hands on that sixth trade paperback. So I'm not really sure how the Fallen Angel, a witty chick named Liandra, got from where she was in the fifth book to here, but the fun part is that we're seeing this through Illyria's eyes, so we don't have to know. It's entirely friendly to new fans (read as: Angel fans who have never checked out the FA series before this). In fact, the book is so Illyria centric that we don't see the eponymous Liandra until the final page, making this feel more like an Illyria spin-off than anything. But the mood, pacing, and darkness that give Fallen Angel its trademark umph is present in every page, so I wouldn't be surprised if the folks unfamiliar with Liandra will want to go back and see what happened to her in the six volumes prior to this.
The book starts with a flashback, showing Illyria in her full on, Old One demon state. Like Brian Lynch did in #16, Peter David is able to make Illyria seem utterly monstrous without losing audience sympathy. It's a cool scene for sure, but the thing that takes it to the next level is when Illyria sees a vision of a single blade of grass in the battlefield. The grass speaks to her and reaffirms her hope that she will one day be reborn... and while this works on a surface level, as a cool segue into the next scene with modern-Illyria sprawled out on some grass, it's really pretty amazing what Peter David did. In the fifth season of Angel, there were random moments played for comedy that featured Illyria showing odd interest in some house plants. In a single moment, Peter David turns those throw-away moments into a poignant, brilliant revelation that makes so much sense for the character, and adds a new level of emotion to those old scenes. That is good writing. You can always tell when the writer is a fan and understands the mechanics of the Buffyverse characters, and it's obvious that Mr. David does.
Like all the Fallen Angel comics, the storytelling method is ultra decompressed. The panels are big, the art tells the majority of the story, and a scene never feels too quick. The pacing definitely makes the issue feel shorter, but it also makes it feel like a fuller read. Within these twenty-two pages, the following happens: Illyria's flashback, Illyria ponders her sucky situation, Illyria gets in an elevator (yup, the same one from Angel: Season Two; another brilliant reference), Illyria enters Bete Noire and runs into someone from her past, and on the final page, the Fallen Angel confronts her. Where Buffy #26, for example, was a good issue but felt rushed in parts, this book takes the time to let each scene breathe, and it's a cool change in pace. There is action, but this issue is more about the psychological state of Illyria.
Oh, and the person she runs into? He's a character from Fallen Angel named Benny, who was actually the serpent from the Garden of Eden. Again, new readers don't need to know that, but the prior knowledge just makes that moment all the more awesome. Because Illyria would know Benny, wouldn't she?
I pretty much loved the issue. Peter David has proven that he can tell the hell out of an Angel tale, and his Fallen Angel comic is one of my favorite alongside the Buffyverse titles and Y: The Last Man. Seeing these two worlds crossover is fantastic, and I can't wait to see where Peter takes it.
Art: J. K. Woodward is a man of many styles. That's both of art and hair. But on the art tip, take a look at his work on Fallen Angel. He's been the main artist since the book moved to IDW and started off the series with a really cool, trippy painted style. For the second arc, all the way to the end of the series, he used a more traditional pencil style. I definitely preferred his first style, but about halfway through the series, the pencil style did start to grow on me a bit more (some of the stuff from the fifth volume is fantastic). But with this new series, his style is reborn once again, this time a mix of the paints and pencils. The detail is at an all time high, allowing him to craft horrific worlds like Illyria's kingdom and nail the important likeness details (in this case, Amy Acker's face). It's some of the most different, original art you've ever seen, which is pretty appropriate for this book.
Covers: Not really that fond of Woodward's cover for this issue. It's definitely not bad, but it just pales in comparison to his interior work as well as the rest of the covers he provides for the series. The image is Liandra being squeezed by Illyria's demon-form tentacles (yeah, she's the second Angel for this to happen to on an IDW cover within a year's time!), while Illyria's face can be seen in the background. The concept is definitely cool, but the two images just don't seem to gel properly. The best cover of the bunch comes from Franco Urru, who crafted a simple but dramatic cover by just having Liandra stand next to Illyria. The power seems to radiate off these women on Franco's cover, and, in my opinion, it's one of his best covers. And take a look at Franco's covers from After the Fall, because that is really saying a lot. The dude can make a badass cover. Finally, Nick Runge made a pretty awesome retailer incentive. I'm pretty bitter, because I was unable to get the comic, but from the online images I've seen, it's definitely cool. Liandra looks awesome on the cover, spreading her arms out as her cloak billows out behind her. Illyria is looking... well, annoyed in front of her.
NOTE: Again, the covers came back from the printer too dark. What's up with that?
Characters We Know: Illyria.