Monday, March 30, 2009

R.I.P Andy Hallett

R.I.P. Andy Hallett

"Goodnight, folks."

The world feels a bit darker today. Andy Hallett, your portrayal of Lorne, your beautiful voice, and your overwhelming kindness has touched so many people, including myself. I wish I could say something profound, but the words just aren't here. We love you, and will miss you dearly. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Doctor Horrible Has a New Nemesis

Well, not really.

I wrote a little short film last month called Ultimate Couples Therapy. It all came together rather fast. There were only about two weeks of shooting, and two or three of editing. I'm really proud of the film, so happy with the cast, and can't get over how awesome the Uber Chick costume was.

If you liked Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog, Everybody's Dead, The Guild, orrrrr other enjoyable things, you might find something to tickle your fancy and/or pickle in the film. I'm pretty proud of it, and feel really blessed to have such an awesome cast. Filming this was one of the best times ever, and I think the fun we had really translates in the final product.

Hope you enjoy!

Oh, and please be sure to click on the HIGH QUALITY option. The cameras were uber nice, so allow them to strut their stuff.

I'll be back next Wednesday for a review of Buffy #24 and Angel: Blood and Trenches #2.

Until then, be safe, watch my film, and don't get caught by the Blond Bomber!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Angel: After the Fall Hardcover Volume Three

What is It?: A hardcover that collects the issues nine through twelve of Angel: After the Fall.

The Content: The content of this book is somewhat a mixed bag. Well, the art, more than the story. In general, it has some of the best and worst stuff of Angel: After the Fall, but the good definitely out weighs the bad by a lot. I'll get into the problems I had with it first so I can talk about the good/great (and more fun to write about) parts.

Nick Runge's art is really hit and miss in the first two issues. As I said in my review for Issue #9, the majority of his art is very sketchy here. After seeing his wonderful covers for After the Fall and Aftermath, as well as his art for the Wesley section of First Night, I figure that it has to be a time issue. Given the time, Runge is among the best in the business, and is able to make his art look just like the characters. But here, a lot of the characters--females especially--look very distorted. Backgrounds are almost completely neglected, which is really jolting after seeing Franco's detailed backgrounds for the same scenery in #5. Runge definitely gets better as he goes along, and while his art is slightly less hit and miss in #10, it actually gets rather good by #11. #11 does have the unfortunate rushed last two pages, where Gwen, Gunn, and Spike look like rough sketches with no detail whatsoever, which led to some confusion over just what Gwen was going on the final page. On the other hand, the vast majority of the pages from #11 are nearly perfect. Runge comes to excel at Gunn's likeness, and grows very comfortable with Angel. He's definitely a very good artist, but I feel that his style might need slightly more time than a monthly book allows. The only other thing that really bothers me about the collection is Art Lyon's coloring. He has a penchant for coloring entire panels grey, brown, or red for an effect, but his style constantly tries to overpower the story and the writing. Instead of blending in, like Jason Jensen's wonderful coloring does in #11, I feel like it stands out way too much.
Okay, quibbles have been quibbed. Onto the good.

Mooney hops on art duties for #12, the final chapter of the book, and really knocks it out of the park. His style is very distinct, but also very close to the way the show looks. He evokes the darkness of Angel with heavy shadows (sometimes slightly too heavy), creating a nice mood. He's got all of the likenesses down wonderfully. His art is great in this, but it gets even better in the later issues. As fantastic as he is at drawing Angel (and especially Cordelia), he is a force of nature when he draws Spike, who he spends a lot of time with in the next issue (to be included in the next Angel hardcover). Wonderful work on that front.

Have I really gone on this much without even talking about the writing? Here we go.

Reading this book is sort of like walking on a minefield. Every page you turn, there's an explosive climax. The first chapter resolves the plot that the first arc set up: Angel's battle with the lords. Cleverly playing off what was set up in the fourth issue, the lords are taken down by a secret plan that Angel concocted, which reveals both that Angel is still a force to be reckoned with and, despite what Connor believes, he's not trying to get himself killed. What follows is Illyria and Wesley's emotional reunion, the gang's reaction to Angel being human, Angel's confrontation with Gunn (oh, man), the reveal of how Gunn is getting inside info, a betrayal, information on what the Eye of Ramras really is, the reveal of the dragon's name, a "return" of a really truly dead character, and... if you can believe it... the true meaning of the Shanshu Prophecy, finally revealed. And it's game changing.

With this arc, Brian Lynch has not only paid off all of the plot threads he set up in the first five issues (and First Night), he's completely changed the status quo of Angel. The meaning of everything that happened up until this point, and certainly everything that follows, is changed forever. My favorite arcs of After the Fall are still the first five and final five issues, but these four are also very much a worthy addition into the Angel canon. It's essential comic book reading, and some of the best stuff you'll find out there. Angel: After the Fall is by far the best Buffyverse comic ever published, and these middle issues contain some of the most explosive, most emotional, and funniest moments.

The Presentation: If you loved the way the first two books looked, you won't be let down by this one. Alex Garner's cover from Issue #10 is used, and wow does it look great on this. The texture of the cover is very smooth, but Illyria and Angel are made glossy so that they really pop out. The title is a sparkly blue that vibes wonderfully with Illyria hair and the blue tint of the snow that falls around the two warriors. I'm usually not a fan of re-using covers, which is one of the reasons I was so happy with the new cover for the second volume, but this just works. One complaint about the cover, though... readers, and Brian Lynch himself, were surprised to find out that Nick Runge and Stephen Mooney don't get credit on the cover. I suspected the cover to read WHEDON LYNCH RUNGE MOONEY, or maybe even WHEDON LYNCH, for space. But instead, Franco Urru is credited, though his art isn't in the book at all. An unfortunate error, but at least Runge, Mooney, and Messina (who contributes a two page dream sequence in #10) are credited on the back cover and on the inside. For the most part, the same design that was used on the earlier Angel hardcover is used here, though the spine and back-cover are strangely the gold that the Spike hardcover was, as opposed to retaining the maroon that the first two Angel hardcovers were. No matter, though, it still looks great. Love the design of the book on the inside, especially the chapter headings. And... drum roll please... the cloth bookmark is back! With a vengeance! And helpfulness!

Special Features: I missed the commentary that the first two volumes had, but in its place was an awesome in-character extra... from Betta George. We get the fan-favorite fish's on-set diary from Issue #10, which gives us "behind the scenes" information. It's written as if Angel: After the Fall were a film, so we get to hear how George interacts with Brian Lynch, Joss Whedon, and the other actors. It's really out there stuff, and I wouldn't have it any other way. My favorite extra, though, is the Q&A section, where Brian Lynch answers questions posed to him over at the Angel forum. I got a shoutout in the beginning, and this site got a plug, which is really just wonderful. That, and the entire Q&A which really does give a lot of insight, just made the experience of reading this book all the more great. There is also an art gallery, which unfortunately (and mistakenly, I assume) is missing Stephen Mooney's SlayAlive/BCC cover to #11. Otherwise, very cool gallery. Also, there is a introduction/previously-on at the front of the book just to get readers up to speed. Sidebar, I actually submitted a "previously on" to IDW in Spike's voice for this volume, which I'll post another time. Overall, great extras. I do hope we get a loooot of extras next time, seeing as it's the last volume, but I was definitely happy with this.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Groom Lake #1

Non-Buffyverse Related

What is It?: Groom Lake #1. (Written by Chris Ryall, art by Ben Templesmith.)

Timing: First of the series.

Review: Okay, impressed.

Along with Locke and Key and Everybody's Dead, Chris Ryall's Groom Lake is going to be one of those titles that prove that IDW Publishing isn't just the best at media tie-ins... they're also among the best at original titles. For a first issue that seems, for the most part, to be setting up the greatness to come, there were so many stand-out moments and great bits of dialogue that it felt more like the twentieth issue of the book. Ryall knows exactly what he wants to happen, where he wants to happen, and goddammit, he's going to have fun doing it. The issue is great to read because you can tell that Ryall is having a blast while writing it. I mean, with lines like this: "Your dad? Yeah, I see, um... you've got his eyes. [...] They're, uh, stuck on your shoulder, let me get those off you"; how could you not love it?

He's been an editor of comics for a long time, and the way he tinkers with the format really shows how deeply he knows the medium. His wacky story is made even wackier by little captions that introduce each character, not showing us their internal thoughts but giving a brief description of them for the reader alone. My favorite bit was the dog's ("Scruffs. 4, in dog years. Good boy.") It's so weird, sick in all the right ways, and puts so much originality into the old story of alien conspiracies that you would think Ryall invented the idea himself.

If you're going to add one new title to your Must Buy List for 2009, this is it. Buffy and Angel fans will absolutely love it and, judging by how great this first issue was, anyone who subscribes is in for a strange, twisted, great ride.

Art: Ben Templesmith at his very very best. I was skeptical during 30 Days of Night, he totally won me over with Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse Volume One, I joined the Temple of Ben Templesmith Followers for the second volume, and bowed to my knees--for worship, you sickos, get your mind out of the gutter--for Welcome to Hoxford. Well, his art in Groom Lake is by far the best he's ever done. It's just the right balance of his trademark creepiness, slightly lightened by the humor of the story. With skill and control that only men as prolific as Templesmith have, he manages to add layers to Ryall's characters by slightly distorting them, showing what characters are hardened, which are gross, and which are inappropriately overjoyed by the world around them. Wonderful. Just wonderful.

Rating: 8/10

Non-Buffyverse Related

This Hurts Like a Stake in the Heart

What is It?: Angel #19- Aftermath part II (written by Kelley Armstrong).

Timing: Directly following 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 issue is still a lot of set-up... but all the flaws from Armstrong's first issue are still here, and now even more apparent. The story is interesting, but even with its strong ties to what happened in After the Fall, it feels less and less like Angel with every turn of the page. It's breaking my heart that I'm not enjoying this, because Angel is my favorite series, both the television show and the comic. I was hopefully that, though the first part of Aftermath was a bit awkward, it would build on the exciting plot threads and that the character's voices would improve, but that just didn't happen at all.

My main beef with the issue is that the conversation just doesn't flow. It's not written in a way that people speak. A lot of the characters' responses don't logically follow from what the character they're responding to said. The exchange that has the most prominent example of this is between Kate and Gwen on page eight. Kate says to Gwen, "You betrayed him in hell. Maybe you regret that, but he's not going to forget it overnight. It's going to take time." Gwen replies, "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" It's clear what the intention of the line was, but it doesn't logically follow what Kate said. She'd like what She'd like if it's going to take time? She'd like that he's not going to forget overnight? Also, when Connor says this: "Follow me again and, as far as I'm concerned, you're a psycho stalker. And I'll treat you like one"; I was sort of left scratching my head. It just doesn't feel like natural dialogue, and it doesn't have the conversational flow that IDW comics have been so good at grasping throughout their entire Angel run.

There has been some talk about Dez, the were-cat character, being naked... but I don't think it's much of a problem. I was surprised by how naked she was, with her blur-worthy parts only obscured by shadows. There was more butt than I ever thought would be possible in an Angel comic, but at least it makes sense, her being a were-cat and whatnot. I thought she was probably the most interesting character in the book, because Armstrong does have a handle on her. Through thought captions, she sets up the fact that something is going on with Dez's transformations, that she's a bit more unstable than she lets people see. She's not a totally original character, and her dialogue could have easily been that of early Gwen, but Armstrong writes her with more confidence than she does the established characters, so her scenes--and her exchanges with Angel--were a breath of fresh air.

The issue wasn't all bad. Gwen's situation, other than her dialogue with Connor and Kate, is set up in an interesting way. She's squeezed into a job that she's never been able to do (research). She sucks at it, she knows it, and it's sad and a bit touching to see her trying and failing. That, along with the appearance of the Lord of Sherman Oaks, helps build on the strongest part of Aftermath... its connection to After the Fall. Seeing an arc building in the book is one of the things that is keeping my hope alive. With Angel not getting as much screen time in the issue, it's hard to see if Armstrong is getting better at his dialogue. She doesn't really have an understanding of Kate, who would never worry about being looked at as "jealous of the hot new girl" just for voicing her concerns, and Connor seems to be moving back towards his pre-After the Fall whiny self, though this time, given the circumstances, it's rather understandable.

It hurts so much to write reviews like theses, because, as I said before, this is my favorite title put out by my favorite company. I'm definitely following the title, and any Angel related thing they do to the end, but I'm starting to get a bit worried that this book isn't going to get any better.

Art: There was quite a reaction over the preview, which depicted Angel as a hulking mass of muscles once his shirt is removed. It's nothing we haven't seen before in the comics, especially in the earlier Angel titles, so while it does bug me, it's not a major problem. I'm more concerned with what the characters are wearing and what their faces look like. Kate still looks more like Harmony and Nina than herself, though her likeness does indeed improve in the last few pages. Check her out on page 20; it's a good likeness. Gwen, too. If all the comic were drawn as wonderfully as that page, I think the book would definitely be enjoyable. But it's getting harder to swallow Angel's new look, with his squinty eyes and archetypal superhero looks. Connor isn't bad, nor is Gwen, but they're not really good either. I don't really get why Sherman Oaks is orange now, either.

Covers: Gabriel Rodriguez draws a mean Angel. If he could draw the interior art, I would be the happiest guy in happy land, because check out his vampire lemon face. Quite honestly, perfect. It's a dynamic cover, and really a great look at how Angel's situation has changed. Huge step up from his cover to #18, which was already very good. Nick Runge's cover isn't as iconic as his first cover for Aftermath, but it's still pretty good. It's my least favorite of his covers for the arc, but that's more of a statement about how badass his other covers are than how weak this one is. It's not very good, but it's still decent.

Characters We Know: Angel, Connor, Kate, Gwen.

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let's Put a Smile on that Face

What is It?: Angel- Smile Time adaptation #2. Original story by Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund, original script by Ben Edlund. Adapted to comic script by Scott Tipton.

Timing: Directly after Angel- Smile Time #1. One third into the episode.

REVIEW: Gotta make something clear. I rate adaptations on an entirely different scale than original material. While I gave both Angel- Smile Time #1 and Angel- Aftermath #18 both 7/10s, the experiences were totally different. I think that, from now on, my rating system should reflect that. From now on, original material will be the only stuff rated x/10. Adaptations will be rated as either EPIC FAIL, FAIL, BAD, OKAY, GOOD, GREAT, OUTSTANDING. Three levels of negative, one in the exact middle of the road, and then three levels of positive to even it out. I think separating the systems will definitely give a more accurate rating to the books.

One more note before I get into this. Sorry for the delay. I read Angel- Smile Time #2 the day it came out, as I do with all Angel titles, but I just haven't had the time to review. My plate has been more full than Balthazar's of late, and I'm just glad to be getting the opportunity to squeeze this in before Angel- Aftermath #19 comes out in... wow, ten and a half hours. So here we go.

I liked this. I don't think it worked quite as well as the first issue did, but it was a fun read. To tackle the negative stuff first, let's get to the big conversation scene. There's a three page conversation between Angel, Lorne, Wesley, Gunn, Lorne, and Fred that just doesn't work for me. I'll talk about the bad choreography of character movement in the art section, but even the things that Tipton chose to keep and add didn't really work. It must be so hard to script such a big conversation when things like this don't really vibe well with the medium, but I think he tried to fit too much into too few pages. Had he cut a few more lines of dialogue, as he has done liberally throughout the first issue and this, I think the scene might have worked. Instead, it is totally dependent on the actual episode to be understood. Added lines such as "Thought so, still don't have a reflection" interrupt the already stilted conversation. Dialogue that worked in the show, such as Wes/Gunn's "Proportionate excitability of a puppet your size--" bit don't really work here because a) the bubbles are placed so it looks like Fred is saying "What?!" when Angel is supposed to.

The four scenes that follow, however, generally work much better. Three of the four are the best I've seen in the Smile Time series thus far, because they work both as good homages to the source material and as comic scenes that can be read on their own. The comic, which I thought might shy away from the subplots in favor of big puppety action, gives the spotlight to Angel and Nina's relationship. A great example of a scene that works as well in the comic as it did in the episode is the scene in which Angel, afraid of being seen as a puppet by the hot blond werewolf, hides under his desk. The back and forth between Nina and Angel was great, and it's all paid off by the scene that ends the comic. Werewolf costumes were always pretty cheesy in the show, so this episode really shied away from showing Nina in here werewolfy glory, but the adaptation gives us the chance to see her as a truly badass werewolf. The scene that starts out touching, with Angel opening up to Nina, whose heart is firmly planted on her sleeve, quickly turns hilariously horrific when she wolfs out and starts to tear Angel Puppet apart. Gold. Very well done.

What fans might find most interesting is that there is another brand new scene featuring Spike. After the famous "Wee little puppet man" fight that Angel and Spike had in the actual episode, they tumbled into an elevator, the doors closing on them. When the doors opened, Spike had been beaten. In the comic, we get to see the actual fight, which was hilarious. I was skeptical at first, as I loved that we never really got to see what went down, but then I realized it worked because this is what the adaptation is supposed to do. It goes places that the episode didn't really need to go, elaborating for the sake of elaborating... because it's fun.

Though this issue definitely had the worst scene of the series so far, it also had three of the best. I love that it's making me rewatch, dissect, and give another look at an episode that I never really enjoyed. After reading the first two issues, and after giving Smile Time another try both in the comics and on DVD, I've grown to love the story. For that, I am grateful. Looking forward to the finale, as well as Tipton's next adaptation: Not Fade Away, the best piece of film ever broadcast on the small screen.

Art: Some good, some bad. As with the writing, most of the bad stuff can be found in the big conversation scene early in the issue. All of the character's faces other than Angel's lack detail. When Lorne takes the remote from Angel, you can't even see what he's doing. It's so badly blocked that sometimes characters are directly obscuring someone who is talking, so that the speech bubble points to the wrong person. On the other hand, Messina gives the best Nina likeness we've ever seen. He's illustrating Angel and the various characters with more finesse than he used to, setting aside protruding muscles and button-popping bosoms for realistic depictions of what these characters looked like. He still very much has his own style, and it's not too reverent to the actor's likenesses, but just reverent enough. His detail on all the characters improves after the scene I spoke of before, even in the other large conversation Gunn and Lorne have with David Fury (can't call him anything else, sorry) later in the issue. The art is credited to both David Messina and Elena Casagrande, but I suppose their art is similar, for the most part, so I can't really separate them. If anything, there are a lot of refined pages here, and just a few not great ones, so that might mean something. Don't know. Overall, I thought the art was very good. Only wish a bit more time had been put into the choreography of the big conversation.

Covers: One of the best Angel covers from IDW, ever... is David Messina's Fight Club cover. In the brilliant homage to the famous poster, you see Puppet Angel on one side and normal Angel on the other, with--you guessed it--a pink bar of soap above them. Messina is probably one of the best cover artists I've seen, and the covers he's provided for this series are absolutely no exception. The B cover is a photo of Puppet Angel torn apart after the Nina attack. Not nearly as nice as the photo cover from the last issue, but still pretty enough that I had to grab it even though I promised my poor wallet that I would only get the Messina cover when I went in the store.

Characters We Know: Angel, Fred, Wesley, Gunn, Lorne, Nina, Spike, Harmony, whole Smile Time gang

Rating: Good.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Best. History Lesson. Ever.

What Is It?: Angel: Blood and Trenches #1 (written and illustrated by John Byrne).

Timing: World War I (1914-1918, unspecified). In terms of the Buffyverse, it's after Angel arrived in New York following the events of the Boxer Rebellion, and before he was spotted in Chicago in the 1920s.

REVIEW: I remember when this title was first announced. After SDCC in July 2008, it was reported that Brian Lynch would be writing an Angel book titled Blood and Trenches. Along with the announcement of Aftermath, a buzz began to surround the book. The lack of details made it mysterious. Turns out, the mystery wasn't intended; the reporting just sucked. I mean, I guess "Byrne" kinda looks like "Brian" on paper if you suffer from cataracts, but yeah. Either way, the buzz became even buzzier when the future of IDW's Angel was made clear. Yup, novelist Kelley Armstrong would be taking over the main title for a five issue arc titled "Aftermath." Yes, Brian Lynch would be back on the title sooner rather than later. And the creative team behind Blood and Trenches would be none other than the one man show, the legendary... John Byrne.

So the fandom hype and the talent was there. IDW took it the next step to ensure that this wouldn't just be another mini-series side adventure by really going all out with the design of the book. As you can see if you scroll, there is no "art" section in this review because it's impossible to separate the art from the story from the product. Byrne "shoots from the pencils" here, which is basically what it sounds like. Instead of having the panels inked, they are printed as is from Byrne's pencils. The only color in the book is some blue/greens for a few sound effects and a great use of deep red for blood, which--as you might have guessed from the title--is a huge part of the book. The pages and cover are very different from anything IDW has printed before, using thick, non-glossy paper, giving a really appropriate old school feeling to the thing. And, this may seem strange, but when you buy the book... take a whiff of the pages. Really, just go for it. Just make sure no one's looking, because that's weird.

When reading Blood and Trenches, you can really tell the writer and artist are the same person. Byrne knows his art in and out, so he knows when to let the visuals carry the storyline and when to add some narration. And oh, the narration. It's first person, present tense Angel, written as if it were a novel. The writing shows a sophistication, with lines like "I carry the soldiers as far from the fire as I can in my weakened state. Then... I lay my burdens in the snow." Perfectly worded, especially when you see it placed over Byrne's wonderful art. I'm no historian, so I won't really be able to pull out any historical inaccuracies, but the confidence with which Byrne writes about the war is as impressive as the confidence with which he writes Angel.

The book starts in medias res, beginning with a catastrophic event that happened to Angel as he drove a truck full of injured soldiers across an expanse of snow. Just as the unthinkable happens, the narrative jumps back six weeks and shows how Angel got to that point. It's a wonderful starting point for the series, showing where Angel is at at that point in his life, revealing how he views feeding on evil humans, and introducing the Big Bad of the series who is an ancestor of a man that will later become Angel's best friend. The art is atmospheric, so different, and honestly just great. As I read the book, I just keep thinking "This is so good."

If you're looking for a great Angel story or a great war story, look no further. This book is friendly to new comers but will also please any true fan of Angel... or really anyone who likes great stories.

Covers: Byrne also crafts the cover for the issue. It's Angel and a woman he's protecting, Lady Margaret D'Ascoyne, surrounded by vampires that (deliberately) bear a striking resemblance to Angel. It's very old school, and evokes the same classic feel that the interior art and the feel of the pages does. I've seen three of the four covers for the series, and this is by far my favorite. The way the greys and the purples play off each other is wonderful, and the likeness--as with the interior art--is amazing.

Characters We Know: Angel. Very, very interesting. I hope they do a lot more of these solo adventures, with either Angel or any supporting character. It's wonderful.

Rating: 9/10

PS: Apologies for the delayed Angel: Smile Time #2 review. No worries on that front, it's definitely coming. I read and enjoyed the book, and will probably be able to review by tomorrow. It's been an incredibly busy and rewarding past three weeks for me as a writer, but things are calming down (for now) so I'll be able to make with the postage.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Glad to Have Buffy Back

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #23: Predators and Prey (written by Drew Z. Greenberg).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Short while after "Swell."

REVIEW: With #20, #21, and #22 really getting far away from the central cast of Season Eight, I was glad to have at least Buffy back in play for this issue. I was even more excited about the prospect of pairing her up with Andrew. When the spotlight shifts to that character, you can always expect to be entertained. I mean, just look at "Storyteller." In the face of darkness, he brings the much needed funny. On writing duties is Drew Z. Greenberg, who joined the writing staff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the last two seasons. This is by far his best work other than 6x18, "Entropy," but he still hasn't managed to elevate the season back to where it should be and was. The Andrew dialogue is very chuckle-inducing, but Drew Goddard wrote Andrew dialogue that made me crack up. The sheer length of Andrew's raves and rants about pop culture in this book is probably the funniest moment, but I do wish a bit more work had gone into refining each line of dialogue.

What was great here, though, was the relationship between Buffy and Andrew. It's a simple story, showing how Andrew is trying to make up for letting Simone slip through his fingers by catching her, but it's very well told. The comic made me feel like I was watching an episode of the series, and that hasn't happened with Season Eight in quite a while. Buffy's dialogue is on point, and the little we see of Xander was also very well done. I love what Greenberg did with Simone, having her attitude, headquarters, and especially her larger setting as a whole (an island that she basically stole; don't tell Ben Linus) speak for both the crazy place her head is at and how deep the hatred for slayers currently is. For what seems to be a minor part of the issue, it was a great piece of character and plot development.

The one major problem I had with this issue was the climax. This is going to be pretty spoilery for the end of the issue, so highlight to read. (SPOILERS:) After the Italian Branch of Slayers comes to rescue Andrew (and Buffy, as an after-thought, which was a great touch), Buffy frees a Ragna Demon (sort of like the spider demon from Spike's "First Night" story, but much nastier and less human-facey) and leaves the room, shutting the demon in with Simone's slayers. Very odd. Would Buffy really let a demon loose among slayers, no matter how misguided they were? A demon that previously managed to capture a slayer, no less? And wasn't this already done with Angel when he shut the W&H lawyers in with Darla and Drusilla? Repetition of story lines aside, this could have been a great, truly telling moment that showcases how grey Buffy's morality has become. It's hundreds of times worse than her robbing banks, and could have been the character's turning point for the entire season. But it's not played that way. It's played with her taking Andrew home, telling him that he's part of the family and they all mess up sometimes. When Angel did this, it launched an entire beige Angel arc that showed how much he had forgotten what it meant to be a hero. But, in this issue, Buffy just lets the demon loose and then move on. What is going on?

If the ending had been different, this would have been very, very enjoyable. I still like the issue, and still thought the majority of it was good, but I can't get over the carelessness with which the ending was written. The rest was good enough to still give the issue a very high score, though, so there's that.

Art: Jeanty is Jeanty. His likenesses are spot on. The art here does seem rather rushed, and he is definitely giving less detail to characters in long distance shots, which was once his biggest strength. Simone's reaction panel when the Ragna is let loose seems to have been done by a different artist, especially because the colorist makes her blond. On the other hand, there are totally exceptional scenes like the Ragna's "web" of iron and steel. Overall, another good job from Mr. Jeanty.

Covers: As usual, Jo Chen impresses. She gives us the first realistic, painted look at Simone. It's a wonderfully done piece. Her Buffy likeness just keeps getting better and better. When you compare this cover to Chen's first cover of the season, it's phenomenal how much she's improved as an artist. Fantastic work. Jeanty's cover is definitely funny, showing Andrew as a Bond-esque figure with Buffy as his Bond girl. I don't get the logic behind putting it as a photo on a wooden table, which is way too similar to Jeanty's #8 variant. It would have been a better cover had it just been the Buffy/Andrew image as the full sized cover.

Rating: 8/10