Thursday, November 26, 2009

Awful? Nah. Good? No way.

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #30: Retreat part V (written by Jane Espenson; art by Georges Jeanty).

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

Warning: Since this review is super late, no spoilers are going to be blocked. If you took as long to read it as I did to review it, go get the comic instead of reading this!


Well, it's not as bad as #29. Not nearly. It doesn't fix any of the stuff that is fundamentally wrong with the story, but it pushes the characters forward in a slightly more interesting way than I expected after the utter travesty that was the last issue. I had to sit on this book for a long time to really get a sense of my reaction, because I didn't want to go in with my #29 anger fresh in my head, and I also didn't want to keep you guys waiting too long. So here we go...

+ The threat of the goddesses was actually handled rather nicely. As random and odd as their appearance was, the scene when the Scoobs realize that the goddesses aren't on their side was pretty chilling. I didn't really get why the goddesses didn't just stomp their temple for maximum killage, but that I can suspend my disbelief for.
+ Riley. We find out that he's been on Buffy's side all along and that Twilight might have known it. I hope his time spent undercover is elaborated on a lot in future issues, because all he gave Buffy was "You need a miracle." This, I'm excited to see. And in Buffy: Season Eight, anything that excites me is a rarity and a blessing.
+ Another thing that excites me... Buffy flying. Yup. It happens at the end of this issue. It seems to be the one thing that Scott Allie said they were building toward this season that actually seems as if they were building toward it. It's a great moment, and I'm thrilled to see where that is going. It has the potential to continue the terrible, shark jumping trend of making everything so damn large scale, but it also has the potential to inject new life into a story that, at this point, seems kind of tired.
+ Fun stuff between Twilight, Warren, and Amy.

+ Still with the guns and the not caring. It was sort of touched on when Buffy asks everyone to give even their wounded enemies shelter, but how how how can you have Xander, Dawn, Buffy, and these characters shooting humans and not show any sort of emotional reaction? What is going on?
+ While it might be necessary, the mass murder of the slayers here--as well as their loss of power and Buffy's gain of super power--seems like a really obvious way of putting things back to the status quo of Buffy strong, everyone else weak. Is it important for the story? Probably. Does it cheapen Chosen? Unfortunately.

Art: Jeanty's busy panels continue to suffer. It's impossible to tell any of the males, aside from Xander for obvious, eye-patchy reasons, apart. You have to skim through the book to see who is wearing what color shirt in order to see who is who. The first time we see Andrew and Giles, it looks as if two new characters with mushy heads have been introduced into the fold. The close-ups of the faces for the non-war moments, however, are the best they've been in a while. Jeanty's really handling the Buffy/Xander/Dawn love triangle well through his art, even though I have no idea how the whole new found Buffy/Xander connection makes sense, story-wise. An improvement over what Jeanty's been doing, but I wish he were as consistent as he used to be.

Covers: Jeanty's cover is... eh. I have no real opinion about it. It's the same way most of his covers have been recently. Terrible compared to what he's done before, but, on it's own, just boring. Adam Hughes is on A cover duties, and his coer is the better of the two, but also really weird. Buffy has "realistic face, cartoony body" syndrome, and the rest of the cover is blocked by snow. It's not bad, but not particularly good either. Seems to be going around a lot in this issue.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Xander, Dawn, Willow, Giles, Andrew, Oz, Kennedy, Amy, Warren, Twilight, Riley, Faith, Satsu, Leah, Rowena.

Rating: 5/10


What Is It?: Angel: Only Human #3 (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 blocked.

REVIEW: I'm way less jazzed about Angel: Only Human after reading this issue. The first issues were solid 8/10s, and while the story is still continued effectively here, some of the dialogue is just sloppy. And an in continuity book set in the Buffyverse should have anything but bad dialogue. Lobdell didn't show an amazing skill for Whedonesque dialogue with the first two issues of the book, but at least both Gunn and Illyria seemed in character. If you can't amaze me with the dialogue, at least don't jarr me. A few turns of phrase here jarred me, especially in Illyria's narration. However, nothing came close to when Gunn, in reaction to seeing Illyria get engulfed in an explosion of flames, said, "Meep."




Charles Gunn.


I... don't know. I can't hear J. August saying this. I can't picture Gunn ever saying this. I can't really even picture a grown man saying this at all. I don't know.

Moving on, the rest of the issue is fairly good. While it's definitely brought down a few notches due to some seemingly rushed writing and Gunn's odd utterance, there are some really cool bits here. We get some cool insight into Gunn and Illyria's past, Illyria through explicative flashback and Gunn through a plot device called "soulfire." But I don't mind plot devices, and it worked well. We got a pretty emotional look at Gunn as a child on two separate occasions: When he saw his first vampire and when his grandma died. The latter is a really emotional and effectively done scene, especially considering how it's cut up with bits of Illyria's flashback. Also, a great little touch was seeing Gunn walking with his sister at the hospital. The connection between Gunn's memory of his sister hasn't really been explored yet in his post-vampire life, but at least showing her is good attention to continuity.

The majority of the issue is flashback and action. The action is handled rather well, without too much narration, and the flashback is solid. While my review might seem negative, this is still a pretty decent book. Lobdell just needs a better sense of Gunn and Illyria as characters in order to understand how they would speak in a given situation (as in, never ever "Meep.") Also, the pacing in the issue was a bit wonky, especially how it ends on such an odd note. We've got an epic fight going on between Illyria and Baticus. So many great places to end. Then, Baticus, towering over Illyria, says "Why won't you fall, Illyria!? At long last... fall!" And Illyria replies with a simple "No."

The end.

Er... what?

It literally seems as if Lobdell was writing this, realized he was on page twenty-two, and said, "Eh, good enough."

Art: Messina's art is as amazing as always. He's gotten to the point, like Franco and Mooney, that there isn't much I can say about him that I haven't already been said. His art is beautiful, violent, vibrant, and graceful. I dig it.

Covers: Only one cover this time around, and it's the best so far. The green and pinks are amazing here, and Illyria's likeness is fantastic. Though, I have to say, maybe the whole "Illyria's true form looks like a vagina" could have been a taaaaad bit more subtle here. The watering lips (I feel like I'm writing a porn here... COME BACK NEXT WEEK FOR ILLYRIAPORN) are a bit too much.

Characters We Know: Illyria, Gunn.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"And Men Shall Call Him... SPANGEL!"

What Is It?: Angel #27- Boys and Their Toys, Part Two (Written by Brian Lynch; art by Stephen Mooney)

Timing: Directly after Angel #26.

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 hidden.

REVIEW: This was a bittersweet reading experience... kinda. It's hard to define, really. In a way, this is the last Angel story that Brian Lynch and Stephen Mooney are going to tell. And nope, I don't mean as a team. They're both spent a lot of time with Angel, and both of them have said that after this, they're moving on. So this is sort of an end. But they do have the Last Angel in Hell annual next month, which is kinda Angel, so that made this a bit less sad. Also, Brian is signing on as the writer for the Spike on-going next year, so again, less sad. It didn't have that "Is this really the end?" feeling that the final issue of After the Fall was laced with, but that might just be because it's a funny issue.

It continues the story from where the last installment left off. Everyone at the Sci-Fi Convention has become the characters that they were dressed as... and Spike was dressed as Angel. I was thrilled to see that Spike wasn't just behaving as his grandsire would... he was behaving as he thinks Angel would. Saying things and thinking things and doing things that he thinks Angel would. It gives a funny, critical, and at times sweet look at how Spike really thinks of Angel, which is something we rarely got on the show, as it's pretty hard to chip through Spike's sarcastic exterior. This issue has way more action than anything else, though, so it's not as if it's a full out character study. It's a glimpse into Spike's head, and as I mentioned in my review for #26, a really cool launching point for his solo series.

So, the action. There's a lot of it. It doesn't feel like too much, because the characters never really get lost in the action, but I do wish we had been able to spend a little more time with Spike, while he was (as he called himself) "Angel #1." Spike's emotional reaction to realizing that he wasn't Angel felt pretty quick, and though it was earned not only through this issue, but since the first time we saw how much Spike looked up to the guy (Buffy, Season Two), I do wish there was a bit more back-and-forth dialogue to play with there. And the thing is, there certainly could have been. There is an entire page where Angel essentially recaps what happened in the previous issue. But why? This is a direct follow-up of the issue, so we shouldn't really have to hear Angel talk about it in page space that could otherwise be used for more character development and action. In the grand scheme of things, it's just a page, but I do think it could have been better utilized.

There also aren't as many laugh-out-loud moments as the previous issue, but I don't fault that much. Most of this is battle dialogue and quick interactions between Spike/Groo and Angel/Jeremy (no, not in a shippery way, you slashers), so there isn't room for any full comedy scenes like the Last Angel in Hell bit and all the funny Groosalugg stuff from the previous issue. What we have here is still funny stuff, though; especially the scene where Spike as "Angel #1" and Groosalugg face off against a group of squishy-headed "aliens" that believe they're from the planet Skrum. One of the lines that I did lose it on was when an alien holds a laser to Groo's chest, saying "You! Carbon based, Fabio-esque lifeform! Take me to your leader!"

All in all, it's a fun comic with a little bit of character insight. It's not as much of a riot as the previous installment, but I don't feel like it's trying to be. It's nothing earth-shattering or shocking, but it is a highly enjoyable reading experience that, as with all Brian Lynch's writing, feels 100% like Angel. If this is indeed the last Angel comic that Brian Lynch ever writes (though, I have a dream that one day he'll come back, years later, when the series is past #100, to finish off the series with one last, epic, final arc), then it was a solid end to my favorite run of my favorite comic.

Art: Stephen Mooney's likenesses are stellar, as always. He's less fluid with the action in some parts than I would like, but the vast majority of the panels here are really good. I've written paragraphs and paragraphs about Mooney's art, and I feel like I've watched it grow so much. This is good stuff; not his best (his best certainly seems to be Last Angel in Hell, because from what I've seen damn), but still solid stuff. The panels are just super busy, what with all the fighting fans-turned-warriors in the background, so sometimes the details of a character's expression loses some of the time that could have been spent on it in a quieter panel. The story called for it though, so I'm certainly not faulting the art at all. It was definitely something different from Mooney, whose last two Angel projects were the epic and tragic After the Fall and Not Fade Away adaptation, so the jump to comedy here must have been tough... but it was well done. I wish the man would stay on Angel, because it's clear that the title is better for having him play a part in it, but if we can't have him now, all we can do is wish him luck in his next projects and cross our fingers that he'll want to play in Angel's world again someday.

Covers: Both of the covers are better than last time's, which were already fantastic. Mooney's Spike/Angel split might be his best likeness of both Spike and Angel ever, as well as his best use of shadows. The faces are just perfect, and wow I hope this cover is used for the Volume Six hardcover. It's simply a perfect piece of Angel art. Nick Runge's is also very cool, featuring Angel and Spike standing in front of a poster of Angel that Spike's face has been taped over. Similar idea to Mooney's, but completely different execution. And I dig both.

Characters We Know: Angel, Spike, Groosalugg, Jeremy.

Extras: In the back of the book, there is an interview between IDW Publishing and Angel himself (likely written by Bill Willingham) that talks a little bit about what to expect in Willingham's first arc, Immortality for Dummies, which kicks off with #28 (which has it's own title: The Crown Prince Syndrome). Angel's voice is funny, and slightly mocking, which is perfect for a piece like this. I love this kind of meta stuff, and it's just getting me more excited for this arc that I've been looking forward to since the announcement at Comic-Con. Also, we get a quick interview with Bill Williams, who is going to be writing four page back-up stories in each of Willingham's issues. Angel is going in a whole new direction, and I can't wait to see how the two Bills handle it!

Also, my Angel: After the Fall fan film came out today! Check it out and please leave feedback here or on the YouTube page!

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Halloweenie Treat

What Is It?: Angel vs. Frankenstein- The Heir (by John Byrne)

Timing: Early 1800s, after the action of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

REVIEW: Much like John Byrne's Blood and Trenches, this was a treat. It was told in a different style than the Angel stories we've been getting that have been set in modern times, offering a dark, gothic, and truly creepy tale just in time for Halloween. Unfortunately, I'm not in time to review it for Halloween, but... yeah. I really enjoyed it, and I think it's just what the doctor ordered.

These kinds of tales should be what IDW looks for to spice up the Angel title. Brian Lynch's one-shots and the current Boys and Their Toys two-parter (Part Two still hasn't come out in NY! No matter how busy I am, I do tend to drop everything to get my Lynchcomic reviews out, because, to be honest, they're at a higher level than any Buffyverse comic being published now) have been fantastic, but it's clear that the series is in a transitional period before Willingham takes over with the Immortality for Dummies arc in December. Stories like this one, though, help remind us where Angel comes from. As much fun as we can have with the comedy issues, and as heroic as Angel is now in the more dramatic issues, this served as a harsh reminder to me where he comes from. And that, at this point in the series, is essential. Each season was loaded with flashbacks, but the on-going series really hasn't seen much of that until now, other than Blood and Trenches, which showed a troubled but essentially good Angel. This... not so much.

It's a battle of the villains as Angelus and Frankenstein go head to head for an inheritance that neither of them really deserves or, considering what the inheritance has dwindled to, really want. It's more of a war of ego and honor between two monsters, one whose heart turned cold because of the way people treated him, the other who likes to snap necks and ravage virgins. So yeah, it's clear that Frankenstein is the better of the two here, but his nonchalance about taking human life to get what he wants throws this story into a dark, dark place. There really are no heroes, no one to root for or get behind. It's just two dark forces clashing, and it's damn chilling.

The language Byrne uses to tell the story is great. It genuinely feels like it takes place in that era, and besides a few awkward turns of phrase ("...He has been called Angelus. A name given to him as an ironic joke." Eeek.), Byrne uses dialogue and Frankenstein's expository monologue to set the tone here. Despite the idea having comic book fight written all over it (I mean, what hero hasn't fought Frankenstein?), Byrne takes the realistic route and totally succeeds. It's nothing earth shattering, but it's an enjoyable and well-written comic that works as an Angel tale, a Frankenstein tale, a standalone horror tale, or a start to a longer Angel vs. Frankenstein saga. And man, I hope for that last bit.

Art: So, so different than Blood and Trenches. I loved the washed out, newspapery look of that book, and I thought we might get something similar here, but nope. Byrne's likenesses are as strong as always, but the darkness of the story seeps through into the art. It's shadowy without being too dark, bright in places without breaking the mood... actually, it's almost as if it's a comic being told by candlelight. Colorist Ronda Pattinson should just color all the Angel comics, because her work here isn't just attractive, it also works perfectly with the story. Great, great art.

Covers: Not my favorite by Byrne. There are a lot of arms, and it is sort of messy. All I can think of when I see it is, "Is that Frankenstein's leg? How is it there. He's so tall that his knee caps are at Angelus's shoulder. Heh. Why? They're in a forest? Why is Angelus holding her that way? Looks uncomfortable for him. Why is her hand bent that way? Looks uncomfortable or her. Is Frankenstein stroking Angelus's hair. Sexy. But no." So not the best. Byrne showed in Blood and Trenches that he's way better at interiors than covers, but this is definitely below his usual standards. There are some very cool things about it, but they're all trumped by the sheer awkwardness.

Characters We Know: Angelus. Oh, and he hasn't appeared in the Buffyverse until now, but... Frankenstein, who you should know. If you don't, leave this blog now. Go. Shoo.

Extras: So I'm a geek. Know this before you read what follows. I love TPBs and hardcovers, and I love seeing what goes into them and what doesn't make it. As of now, it seems that this book doesn't really have a place in any collection. So, geek that I am, here are a couple of suggestions.

Angel- Volume __ - Short stories- Make it a part of the on-going series. Throw it in a hardcover. And no, not randomly. Wait until there are a bunch of one-shots. Fables, Sandman, Y: The Last Man, and so many other series do it. Have it start with Masks, then this, then Last Angel in Hell, and and the next few one shots that come out. Whatever volume hardcover has been published by then (I'm thinking Angel- Volume Seven- Immortality for Dummies) make it the next one!


Angel vs. Frankenstein TPB- I know what you're saying. "But Pat! It's only a one-shot! It would just be the very same comic in an ill fitting larger cover!" But "wait," I say! Make it a friggin' series. It works. The ending calls for it. It should happen.

Rating: 8/10