Timing: After Angel #17, before 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 dream team of Brian Lynch, Franco Urru, and colorist Fabio Mantovani are back to deliver the story we've been waiting for. Check out how anticipatey I was, I even made a list. But now the wait is over. The issue has been released, I've read it, and I loved it. It was a unique mix of somber reflection, wonky humor, and good old fashioned scrappin' that made After the Fall so special.
Gunn takes center stage for this issue, as we get a look at what he's been up to. Before "Aftermath," Gunn was in a coma... but then we saw a quick flash of the dude in a car, driving with Illyria to an unknown destination. It was a weird thing, but Brian Lynch took advantage of the inconsistency and spun a really cleverly written story that examines the repercussions of Gunn's actions in Hell. As Angel said in #17, "a man isn't measured by the mistakes he's made. He's measured by what he does about them." This issue focuses on just that: What Gunn is doing (and preparing to do) about his mistakes.
The issue starts with a classic "How Did They Get To This Point." Joss did it with naked Mal in Firefly, and Brian does it with naked Gunn about to be killed by Illyria in this. The issue flashes back to Gunn in the hospital, and fills in the blanks, first with Gunn's recollection of all the people who came to visit him, from Gwen to Groo, from Angel to Betta George. This is all really sweet and sad stuff, especially George's olive branch and Gunn coming to terms with the fact that less and less people are going to be visiting. It's very real, very human. But it's not all tears and singin' the blues, because Groosalugg's reading of Green Eggs and Ham might replace his greeting in #4 as the funniest Groo line ever: "Ha! This scrawny one's sophisticated palate is proving most frustrating for his companion, but proving most entertaining to me!"
Then, the meat of the issue kicks off. Gunn has to deal with two ladies he wronged in Hell, and the first is the evil pixie Non, who was the Big Bad in Spike: After the Fall. Non's dialogue isn't as punchy or quirky before, but I did like the role she played. She was still pretty funny, but she was also really sad and pathetic. Maybe her new found lack of confidence (she's definitely feigning it when she boasts here, as she's been ripped down from a position of power) is the reason she's not speaking as cocky or slick as she used to. Either way, she could have been a simple plot device to wake Gunn up from his coma and get him to a brand new state, but instead, she played a vital role in the issue. More on her later.
Gunn and Illyria are a really interesting pairing, that's for sure. The whole opener of "Is Illyria Going to Kill Gunn" is settled with one of the funniest scenes in the book, which shows Illyria (SPOILER:) writing all the different ways she could have killed Gunn on a wall. The ways are hilarious, especially "drown in mud," but it's also just a smart way to handle things. As she gains more humanity, she's starting to behave like Fred, who, as we all know, was a notorious wall-writer when she was at her weakest. The two of them then have a conversation that shows how far they are removed from the norm at this point, how they can't be what they were, but have to find something new to move onto. Gunn has this darkness, Illyria is, in her own words, "infected with humanity." That they can help balance each other and, together, move towards something new is pretty beautiful.
And we also get a trip to Mosaic, which... let's just say it's a pretty damn well done mislead. I won't even spoiler box this, you guys will just have to read to see it. It's a pretty quick moment, but it's hilarious.
The issue ends how most of us expected. Gunn and Illyria in a car, driving off into the distance. But in true Buffyverse fashion, Brian Lynch crafts a metaphor out of Illyria driving. After Gunn says that she shouldn't drive, because she doesn't know how, she says, "We're surrounded by nothing but vast emptiness. That is an ideal situation to learn." I never thought we'd get such a tender, brilliantly written moment out of Gunn playing driving instructor to Illyria of all people, but I guess the Angel title just continues to surprise.
Hilarious, tragic, pensive, brilliant, and just what we needed to give this series a push in the right direction.
Art: Really, really good. I'm big on Franco, and I just love what he does with these characters. They're strong when they're supposed to look strong, graceful when they're supposed to look graceful, pathetic when they're supposed to look pathetic, and so on. He is the perfect compliment to Brian Lynch's writing, with his uncanny ability to pack the same emotion and humor into his art as Brian does with his writing. Urru has been impressing me since I first picked up a copy of Spike: Asylum #1, when I immediately said, "This is the guy."
Covers: This time, we've got covers from Franco Urru and Nick Runge. Runge is back to his old, and in my opinion, better style. He was doing a painted look for most of his Aftermath covers, but here he's back to his realistic looking pencils. He shows Gunn enveloped in a misty blue nothingness. It's simple, but effective. Overall, one of my favorite Runge covers. The Urru cover definitely isn't Franco's strongest. It's a cool image, of Non's shadow looming over a helpless, comatose Gunn... but some of it is just off. Gunn's face looks strange and his right hand is ginormous. Definitely not a bad cover, but not among the best of Franco's work.
Characters We Know: Gunn, Illyria, Groosalugg, Lorne, Gwen, Connor (flashback), Wesley (flashback), Angel (flashback), Betta George, Talking "Are You High?" T-Rex, Non, Anna (from Asylum).