Thursday, September 10, 2009

Illyria Chats With the Exs

What Is It?: Angel: Only Human #2 (written by Scott Lobdell; art by David Messina)

Timing: Directly after Angel: Only Human #2.

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: Not only is Only Human the best non-Lynch, post-After the Fall tale IDW has told so far, it's also the funnest. Which is weird, considering the dark place both Gunn and Illyria are at, mentally. But while this issue does explore the ramifications of their actions in Hell, it keeps the emotions as an undercurrent instead of letting them take over the plot. And the plot is damn interesting, as it involved The Scourge using (SPOILER:) a device from Illyria's recent past to revive another Old One. Yup, The Scourge is back, and these demon baddies are up to their old ways of killing the "impure" breeds of demons. To tell the truth, the set-up that re-introduces The Scourge is way too similar to "Hero" (the last episode they appeared in). I mean, they had the sympathetic demon kid, they had the big but friendly group of demons, and they even had the flashback with them being hunted. I know, The Scourge doesn't do much else but hunt these kind of folk... but a different way of introducing them would have been nice.

That said, the motif of purity that runs through this issue is pretty amazing. The Scourge claim to be pure, going so far as to dedicate their lives to cleansing the world of the impure. But... in the face of Illyria, an Old One, a true pure demon... what are The Scourge? How can they be pure if only the Old Ones are pure? And now that Illyria is inhabiting Fred's body, is she pure anymore? She's exploring her humanity, which she admits is there, but she's still the closest thing the Earth has to a pure demon (SPOILER:) Well, until page 20. And going with the motifs of purity and humanity, Gunn was a vampire. A moment later, he's a human. But doesn't what you were in the past always inform what you are today? If Gunn was a vampire, how can he be purely human--only human--now? I'm stoked that Lobdell's series is posing these questions only two issues in, especially in the midst of such a fun and action packed story.

Sometimes, though, Scott Lobdell has trouble finishing a thought. During Fred's uncle's funeral, Gunn's thought caption reads, "It doesn't last long... but honestly, every word is agony." We know he means that being at a Burkle is painfully ironic, as the Burkle's don't know Fred is dead and her demon-possessed corpse is walking around, passing for Fred-gone-goth. But make that connection. If the thought is good enough to be started, it's good enough to be finished. Also, there is some syntax confusion that rubbed the English major in me the wrong way. After Illyria has a conversation with Fred's old prom date (which makes a great connection to her behavior in Spike: After the Fall #3, elaborating on how she's beginning to use Fred's romantic/sexual side to her advantage; great continuity!), Gunn's thought captions say, "I let her digest whatever it is she's feeling. Just grateful it isn't Jason Polt." Again, we know he means to say that he's grateful she isn't digesting Jason Polt. But the way the sentences are written, it is saying that Gunn is grateful Illyria isn't feeling Jason Polt. The "digesting" needs to be repeated, or the sentences need to be rephrased.

Grammatical issues aside, the issue was crazy good. Better than the first one, which was already a really cool read. It's not a full number grade better, but it's damn close. I saw a TPB solicited, but really... IDW should give Only Human the hardcover treatment. This is a badass series, and is definitely going between my Volume Six and Volume Seven hardcovers when they come out.

I know, I'm a geek.

Art: You may as well copy and paste my praise for David Messina's art from #1 in here. One thing you can leave out, though, is my gripes about Gunn's inconsistent beard. The art in this issue is 100% consistent, and Messina added that he would be fixing Gunn's beard for the collection.

Covers: Both of these covers are considerably better than the ones from the first issue. The Messina cover is at once brutal and beautiful, featuring an image of Gunn in creepy blue lighting that makes his eyes all shadowy, with an image of Gunn as a vampire slicing through the middle of the issue. The same format is used for the rest of Messina's covers in this arc, and I love it. And this time, Dave Dorman's cover is just as great as Messina's. Over a beautiful blue and purple backdrop, Gunn and Illyria, all promed-out, are dancing. Gunn dips Illyria, and to his horror, demonic tentacles whip up in front of them. That could be collection cover status.

Extras: If you have a question for Mr. Lobdell, ask it here! I'll be conducting an interview soon.

Characters We Know: Gunn, Illyria, The Scourge, Wesley (flashback), Fred (flashback)

Rating: 8/10

I Love Knowledge

I'm back in college, so updates won't be as immediate as usual. They'll just be a few hours later at most, but still... I love you guys enough to give you a bit of a heads up.

Here's when stuff will be posted:
REVIEW FOR Angel: Only Human #2- Tonight
REVIEW FOR Fallen Angel: Reborn #3- Tomorrow night
REVIEW FOR Angel: Blood and Trenches TPB- Before October
REVIEW FOR Angel: Smile Time HC- Before October
REVIEW FOR Angel Volume Five: Aftermath HC- Before October

Also, I was lucky enough to be chosen by SLAY ALIVE to be a member of their blogging staff. Check my stuff out over there!
Wondering what the title is a reference to? Check out this song, I Love Knowledge, a parody of Asher Roth's hit. It's by the lead MC in one of my best friend's bands, and I must say... it's better than the original.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Storyteller Reclaims His Comfy Chair

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #28: Retreat part III (written by Jane Espenson; art by Georges Jeanty).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Right after "Retreat part II."

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: If you liked "Storyteller," you'll like this. To discover who is Twilight's mole, Andrew picks up his trusty video camera and follows his friends around, accidentally catching some of the most tender and revealing moments we've seen all season.

As far as the Funny goes, this issue always walks up to the cusp of hilarious, peeks over, then turns back. It's not as wildly funny as storyteller, and maybe that's appropriate given the fact that this is the middle issue of a very dire arc. There are standout lines like "The next time I catch up with Xander, he's taking the time to just sit with his friend Buffy and yak" as Xander and Buffy yack next to a gigantic yak. He has two conversations with Giles in the issue that I thought would be crazy funny because the two have such chemistry, but it just stayed pretty funny. What might have been the issue is the needless exposition where Bay, Oz's new wife, explains what has been going on with the slayers. They're getting rid of their magic by pushing it back into the Earth via hard work, and that is so interesting, but it's explained by Bay as soon as the story gets rolling, then showed to us directly after it's explained, and then once again explained when Willow and Oz get to chatting. No big, because the pages that follow contain some huge pay-offs, but how much better would the issue be if the story got rolling right away?

Oh. But one moment that was truly hilarious was Andrew illustrating his past with Dark Willow. And a super tiny Jonathan.

I try not to do spoilers here, but with an issue that pretty much thrives on paying off what came before, it's kind of hard not to. I won't get into specifics, but Buffy/Faith have a conversation that easily shows where they're at, how they're different, and sort of what they can do for each other. Xander and Buffy have a talk that touches on the disconnected feeling Buffy has been suffering from since her resurrection in Season Six. It's a sweet moment, and really (SPOILER:) sets Buffy/Xander shippers up for heartbreak at the end of the issue. And as big as these conversations might seem, the one-two-three punch that follows is even better.

Punch #1- Willow and Oz talk. This is the emotional core of the issue, and it gets to a more sophisticated place than the series has been at for quite a long time. Oz gets Willow to confess her very adult fears to Oz, who responds in a way that only Oz can. Willow gets a bit teary, and since we're all so invested in these characters, I suspect she won't be the only one.

Punch #2- As soon as Oz leaves the room, enter Buffy. She's ready to talk to Willow about something that's been eating at her for a while. Those left puzzled by the resolution (or lack thereof) of the Time of Your Life arc might rejoice in this conversation. Espenson is starting to piece together the puzzle pieces that Whedon, Vaughan, Goddard, and more have set up. It's been a long time coming.

Finally, punch #3- Remember in #12 when everyone walked in on Buffy doing something? Well, this time Buffy does the walking in, and she walks in on something I've been wanting/expecting for a long time. May I just say.... YES! Great, great character choice to have (SPOILER:) Xander and Dawn hook-up. It's been going that way for a long time, longer than Buffy: Season Eight has been around, and I'm damn glad.

So you've been hit with the 1-2-3 punch. What would you do if I tell you that Jane Espenson follows it up with a pretty big cliffhanger? Well, don't get too excited, because in this crazy emotional issue, the cliffhanger didn't feel exactly organic, and if THE DOG had been used instead of the cat (read the issue, you'll get it), Andrew's previous joke would have been paid off. A missed opportunity, yeah, but it's still a pretty exciting ending.

Battle is on the horizon...

Art: Georges Jeanty. Loved his earlier stuff, hated his recent stuff. The art in this issue is a definite improvement, and Jeanty is re-learning to spend the appropriate amount of time on facial expressions and likenesses. For the first time ever, Oz and Andrew don't look alike. Buffy looks like Buffy, Willow looks like Willow, Giles looks like Giles. It's sort of annoying that this is happening during the 28th issue of the series, but the art is back on track.

Covers: Beautiful cover by Jo Chen. Buffy and Willow are meditating (some folks over at Whedonesque are saying that Jo got the pose wrong, but that is a complete non-issue for me) while Giles watches in the background, scratching his chin. I'm sad that this is going to be the last Jo Chen cover we see this year, but at least she went out nicely. Willow's chest looks like she's more Christina Hendricks than Alyson Hannigan, but that's the only flaw I can find. Jeanty's cover is once again way worse than his interior art. Buffy looks like she's sleeping with her eyes open while standing while raking while wearing crazy Tibetan clothes. Willow's head looks like it has a huge indent in it. It looks like a crescent moon. Is that Faith or Kennedy behind Buffy? Awful cover, and it's a shame seeing as how his interior art improved so much.

Characters We Know: Andrew, Giles, Leah, Willow, Oz, Rowena, Kennedy, Satsu, Buffy, Faith, Dawn, and Xander.

Rating: I haven't been able to give this high a grade to Season Eight since last November, but here it is.... 9/10