Timing: Directly following Angel #19
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: Okay. That's better. The book still isn't nearly at the level it should be, but certain aspects of the story have improved a lot between the last issue and this. The two most interesting things about Aftermath so far--the fallout of After the Fall and Dez--are expanded upon greatly in this book. The dialogue is still totally dragging the story down, and the characters aren't really acting like themselves. There were also two lettering errors, but I've sorted out what was meant to be on the page and will post it here for anyone who was confused.
So first a bit of goodness. The plot is definitely coming together. You can definitely tell that Kelley Armstrong is a novelist by trade from the way she hits her plot points, and from a story perspective, that's a good thing. Angel has never been plot driven, and the monsters and even long term arcs often take a backseat to character development, but the plot in the arc has become good enough to sit back and enjoy. I've read a lot of people talking about how they didn't like Armstrong's choice to squeeze the angels (Potentates) into the After the Fall storyline, but I think it was well done. To me, it makes sense that the Powers that Be would eventually (SPOILERS:) figure out how to help Angel in a real way... and I find it incredibly interesting that Angel didn't need their help in the end. This works as a plot point for Aftermath as well as a cool character moment for Angel, because the realization that the Powers that Be are still invested in him must mean that they aren't convinced that the Shanshu means what Wolfram & Hart said it did.
Now, something not so good. Angel has always been a character driven show that thrived on witty and realistic dialogue. While a great and well thought-out plot is always nice, it comes at a distant third for me... but the thing with Aftermath is that it doesn't really have much going for it other than the plot. The dialogue is just bad; the responses of the characters don't logically flow or make sense in the context of the situation. Take this scene for example. Kate (SPOILERS:) points a gun at Dez when she tackles Gwen, giving Gwen the opportunity to shock her. Together, they throw Dez into the basement. And then this happens:
GWEN- You think I'm being too harsh.
KATE- I just think we didn't need to--
But wait a second. Kate helped her. Kate did everything alongside of her, at the same time as her. Where was there any indication that Kate wasn't 100% in this until that exchange?
Then, Gwen goes on to say this: "We did. Every cop knows it's easier to get a confession when you don't have to follow the rules. You're not a cop anymore, Kate. Time to stop acting like one." Interesting character stuff Armstrong is trying to play with, but the sentence doesn't make sense. Gwen establishes that cops know things are easier with no rules; then she goes onto say that Kate's cop-like behavior is preventing her from acting on this knowledge. Had the sentence been written better, it would have conveyed the message I assume Armstrong meant to convey--that Kate's adherence to the rules of the law is what prevents her from doing what needs to be done DESPITE her knowledge that things are easier with no rules. But that's not the way the sentence is structured. Also, Gwen's bad cat puns during the fight with Dez are just... yeah.
On the other hand, Angel has a pretty cool exchange with the Potentate he encountered at the end of the last issue. Armstrong takes a jab at Angel's wit for one of the first times in her run, and succeeds with the line "Kidnapping angels? That's ballsy." The entire scene went over really well for me, as did the scene that ran parallel to it; Dez's flashback. After (SPOILER:) Gwen and Kate throw her into the basement upon discovering a strange experiment she seems to be doing, we get to see Dez at various stages in her life. We discover that Dez wasn't originally human, and... I won't go much into it, because it's really interesting stuff. As I said, the plot here is A-Okay. Spruce the character stuff up, improve the dialogue, and this series could run consistent 7/10s. There isn't much more it could get due to the terrible art, but the story does seem to have a sense of purpose that it lacked in #19.
A big issue I had was the omniscience of the book. We get to hear the internal thoughts... of everyone. If there's going to be captions, we should hear the thoughts of one character, two at the most. However, we are privy to Angel's thoughts, Dez's thoughts, Gwen's thoughts, and Kate's thoughts... sometimes all on the same page. It bogs down the story. There might as well be thought bubbles, because that is the way that the captions are functioning at this point.
Lastly, there were a few lettering issues that confused me a bit until I figured out how the book was supposed to read. Here are the corrections:
PAGE 12: The bubbles are out of order. Angel's "We don't have time for this" should come before James's "In quite a rush for an immortal, aren't you? All right, I'll take it with me."
PAGE 15: James hands the sword to Angel, which burns him. The "Yoww!" dialogue bubble points to James, when it should point at Angel.
PAGE 17: There is a caption with quotes that reads "But it's a theory I'm willing to take." If it was spoken by Dex, as it seems like it was supposed to be, it should be a speech bubble. The caption with quotes is used for voice over, when dialogue that someone else is saying is supposed to be said over images from another scene. Like Angel's monologue in #13 over the deaths of Spike and the Dragon. If Armstrong meant to use the caption with quotes, it should have been placed at the top of the next page. As is, it should be a speech bubble.
Art: I hate to say it, but Ross's Angel art has been certified with a PhD in horribleness. I've seen his work in other comics, and he's definitely not a bad artist; his other pencils have pretty cool details and originality. This, however, is just awful. Though the layout of the panels is certainly a collaboration between Armstrong and Ross, the artist usually tries to make each page look a bit more cinematic. Not so here. When a character looks at something important, there should be a "cutaway shot" to what they're looking at. But there often isn't, leaving the reader to guess what happens. It's not hard to do so, but the simple jolt of having to do that shows how little control Ross has over the artistic, panel to panel flow of the story. I won't speak much about likenesses, because that was covered last time; nothing improves except Kate's hair, and the depiction of Angel seems to be getting more bulky and more Asian by the panel. Another thing about Ross's art; it lacks a sense of place. In all of the Angel comics thus far, even the pre-After the Fall installments, there was no problem with setting. Each location was laid out so that the reader felt like they knew the rooms. Not so much here. After three issues, I have no idea what the inside of the church Angel is staying in looks like, other than bare wood walls and floors. Think how much of a jolt it is when Angel looks up and, out of nowhere, he's staring at a stained glass window. Had the previous panels put him in a room that physically could have had stained glass windows, all would be fine. But the way this is laid out, we're to assume that Angel traveled to an entirely different room in the church in order to look up at this window. Why not just put the entire scene in the sanctuary or chapel of the church?
Artist George Freeman filled in during the flashback scenes, but it was hard to tell the difference between the art. They did a good job at keeping it consistent... though I wonder if that was the intention. Why hire an entirely different artist for a flashback sequence if you didn't want it to look different? It was written in a way that, after a read-through, you can definitely tell that you're reading a flashback, but I think perhaps the coloring should have been altered a bit to give it a sort of grainy feel. Definitely no points deducted for that, but I thought it was a point of interest.
Covers: Nick Runge's cover is cool. We see Dez, locked away in a shadowy prison, her eyes glowing with malice. It's a dark and really moody cover, and I've seen some fans say that it's their favorite of his "painted style" collection. I'd pick both #18 and #21 over this, but it is certainly a haunting image. Gabriel Rodriguez's cover for this issue, however, is my favorite of all the Aftermath covers. I've always been a Rodriguez fan because his work is just so dynamic and sharp. The cover is a simple image of Kate kicking a demon in the face, and to tell the truth it has no bearing at all on the story... but it's just so kickass. Fantastic cover, and great likeness as well. He manages to maintain the feel of Kate's character while putting her in battle-ready clothes; this is how the Kate of Aftermath should always look.
Characters We Know: Angel, Gwen, Kate, Connor.