Timing: Directly after Angel #20.
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: There's not a lot of good stuff on the writing front this time around. Unfortunately, while the last issue definitely showed improvement, this is a terribly written book that doesn't take into account the way these characters speak, the way people speak, the history these characters have with each other, the weight of what has happened before, or the emotional investment that we have in these characters, their relationships, and this story. I'd originally chalked up the bad writing here to Kelley Armstrong being new to the Buffyverse and new to the medium, and the not-so-terribleness of #20 made it seem as if I was right. But this was really just a bad read.
The dialogue is just bad. It's expositiony, and awkwardly so. Few of the lines sound like Angel or Kate or whoever would ever utter them, and precious little of it sounds like something a person would say it an actual coversation. There are a few cool bits of dialogue, such as Kate's "I'm so outclassed" when they're about to jump down and kill some vamps and Angel's "He's kidding about killing me, right?" when he's about to box with an angel. But with things like Kate repeatedly calling the events of After the Fall the same thing that Kr'ph did ("the Hell moment") in her tedious and unnecessary internal monologue, this is just a hard book to read. When Brian Lynch, John Byrne, Scott Tipton, and Peter David write Angel books, I fangasm over each page and get sad when I get to page twenty-two. But with this, I just wanted the pain to end.
I've harped on the strange conversations that Armstrong writes enough. There has been out of character dialogue with non-sensical responses in order to squeeze out contrived exposition since #18, and that definitely isn't going to change. That has never been more apparent than in this issue. But what really bugs me about this is how Armstrong treats what should be a moment with huge emotional weight as if it were a casual conversation. This is gonna be a big paragraph o' spoilers, so highlight if you dare.
(SPOILERS:) Cordelia makes an appearance in this issue. To answer your first questions, are we sure it's her? No. If it's not, it's been done too many times already (see Old Friends and Auld Lang Syne). If it is her... does it take away from the emotional weight of You're Welcome? Absolutely. After the Fall didn't, because she was there for a specific reason, the conversation was emotional the true to the characters, and took place during one of the most devastating moments of Angel's life. This, she pretty much comes to tell Angel something that James the angel already did. Basically, if this really is her, she's shoehorned into the story because Armstrong thought it would be fun to write her dialogue. Angel's response to her isn't at all emotional, and she is cracking jokes, asking the PTB to give her some "us-time" between her and Angel. I don't blame Armstrong for wanting to write Cordy, she's a fun character. I definitely feel disrespected, though, that she thinks she can use that character for such a small thing, that there is no emotional resonance, and that this just happened in After the Fall. Only, of course, it was actually done well there.
There is a plot twist that reveals Dez's true intentions and, while the way Kate finds out is beyond contrived, I think it's an interesting look into Dez's motivations. But with the dialogue, the big no no moment, the really really strange "Sherman Oaks wanted me to kill these vampires for practice, let's kill the rest of them to show the other angels that we're good even though they know we already kill demons" bit, the few good things about this issue are far too little, and far too late. At this point, all we can hope for is that Aftermath ends on a better note, and that June goes by very quickly. Brian Lynch is back in July with #23, and Juliet Landau joins the fold for #24 and #25. Scott Lobdell, a fantastic writer, will also be writing the Angel: Only Human miniseries that spins out of #23. I have no idea who will be writing the main Angel title next, but take a look at those writers and who IDW has used in the past. They know their writers; Aftermath is just an unfortunate misstep. I have full faith that things will be a-okay again in the near future.
Art: The art, on the other hand, is much better. Dave Ross is no longer on art duties; he's been replaced by Stefano Martino. While Martino isn't nearly as good an artist as any of the After the Fall pencillers, he actually captures the likenesses of the characters as opposed to making them hulking, sexualized versions of themselves. He's also changed Angel, Connor, and Gwen out of the weird outfits that they've been in, and into something these characters would actually wear. Angel is back in his dark button-ups and leather jacket at last. One thing I expected, though, was Kate's slutty-combat-cop outfit to be changed into something more appropriate for her. But in the grand scheme of things, I'm just thrilled that IDW jumped into action on this one and made sure that Angel was looking like Angel again. I was definitely pleased with the art this time around, and most of the points this book has is definitely thanks to Stefano Martino's art.
Covers: Fantastic covers. Runge's second best in the Aftermath run, and Gabriel Rodriguez's second best. Runge's is a painted cover featuring sort of washed out renditions of Angel, Gwen, Kate, and Cordelia, with a heavenly blue glow bursting out behind them. NOTE TO IDW: Use this as the cover of the hardcover. Rodriguez's cover features Gwen and Connor, and damn these likenesses rock. Like Franco Urru, Rodriguez balances his own very distinctive style with the way the actors look, allowing us to appreciate his art while also seeing the characters the way they're meant to be seen.
Characters We Know: Angel, Gwen, Kate, Connor, (SPOILERS:) Cordelia.