Monday, July 27, 2009

David Messina Interview (With New Previews, Covers, and Major Major Stuff)

Just call this Buffyverse Comics-Con, because damn we've got some crazy stuff here. The main attraction is an interview with David Messina, who has been doing the art for ANGEL as long as IDW has had it. We were really lucky to get insight into the process of the most prolific man in comics, and get ready for some crazy images in the interview.

Buffyverse Comic Reviews: How did you originally get involved with IDW? With the ANGEL title?

David Messina: I was introduced to Chris Ryall by a common friend (Alexandra DeCampi) who told me that Chris was looking for someone to draw an upcoming miniseries based on a tv show: Angel.

The funniest part was that I'm a longtime fan of Angel (I've learned English watching the TV show DVDs) and when Chris contacted me, I had just finished some sketches of Angel that I wanted to show to the Dark Horse's people (I was ignoring that Angel's licensing passes to IDW) so I sent those sketches to Chris.

Preview pages from Angel: Only Human #1

BCR: The first comic I ever bought was ANGEL: Old Friend #2 (I know, I'm a noob). After getting and enjoying that, I collected the entire IDW Angel line, from "The Curse" all the way up to the current stuff. Watching your style evolve from your already amazing work in "The Curse" to your recent stuff has been a joy. Can you talk a bit about the progression of your style?

Messina: It's like I started a long journey, and it's still unfinished! When I started, I was really concerned about the likeness. So with "The Curse" I was really concerned to be realistic, to nail the likeness with the actors, and I was afraid to become stiff... Then I started to work on "Old Friends" where I tried a different way. My favorite artist in those days was Chris Sprouse and all the old Disney animation school, so I try to make my style more cartoonish and grotesque. I exasperated Angel's body (really bulk) and every characters likeness in order to make them more recognizable. But I was still unsatisfied... Each series was an experiment. An attempt to make the characters recognizable and find the best way to tell a story, which is the most important thing in this work. I had try different tools, for example Auld Lang Syne was almost entirely inked with common pen instead ink pen!

I start to feel in the right path (but even now, I don't know where it will bring me) during the work in progress of Star Trek: Mirror Images...

Preview pages for Only Human

BCR: Aside from your work on ANGEL comics, I heard that you were a teacher and mentor to the "A Hole in the World/Shells" artist, Elena Casagrande. How does it feel now that your student is on a title as big as ANGEL?

Messina: I'm really proud of her! I teach in the most important Italian school of comics, and I meet a lots of young people that loves this work. Several of my best pupils have become great artists. Aside from Elena, I'd like to remember Mirco Pierfederici (Doctor Who, Angel: First Night and now at Marvel) Sara Pichelli (with me on Mirror Images and now on her arc on Runaways) and Andrea Fattori my inker on Angel The Curse and now one of the greatest artist in the most important Italian Publisher.

I was often at work on several projects at the same time and I work with my best ex pupils as backgrounds finishers or as inkers. All those collaborations also become the start of a beautiful friendship.

With some of them I share a lot of passions, especially with Elena, we are great fans of Angel, so it was really fun working together on Smile Time, where we enjoy filling the pages with Easter eggs and details.

Smile Time B&W page

BCR: What is the process like when you collaborate with artists like you did with Elena on "Smile Time"?

Messina: It depends of what I need;I usually have a straight idea of how the book should appear, and I know very well the weakness and the strength of my assistants, so I choose them to help me according to their skills, without losing my mark on the book. Usually they work with me as inkers or background finishers.Smile Time was different: I had start with a rough pencil of the pages that Elena finished, then I supervise each page, and she starts with the inks that I finish. But sometimes you can find pages done completely by me because they are particularly exciting to do.

Eddie Hope (see the final question)

BCR: You've worked on many Angel books, as well as countless others for IDW. Out of all your work, what miniseries or one-shot are you most proud of?

Messina: Mmmm....usually I'm really hard with my own works. I'm really picky, but if I have to tell you which book I prefer I can say the Illyria short story and Spike’s First Night 'cause they had great stories with some of my favorite characters; and then my last work Nero where I'm not only penciler and inker but I paint most of background by myself...

BCR: I noticed that the September solicits have at least one thousand comics with your name on them. How do you find the time to work on all these books? Does your hand hurt? Are you magic?

Messina: Ahahhah!

I'm not magic...but honestly sometimes my hand hurts! I was working on Spock: reflections with my longtime friend Scott Tipton, when Scott Dunbier (my Star Trek editor) told me about Nero's series. The Nero's series was a project which Mike Jhonson (one of the two writers of Countdown) spoke me about when we meet at NYCC and I was so excited to draw it! So I shared my work on Spock with Federica Manfredi (in the same way I do with Elena Casagrande on Smile Time) and I started to work on Nero (where the secrecy of most of the references didn't allow me to work with any assistant.

After a couple of pages of Nero (and an issue of Spock:reflections) Chris Ryall (who maybe knows me better than everyone else!) told me if I was interested to work on a Illyria/Gunn's book...

I'm a really great fan of the character of Gunn and I'm really in love with Amy Acker and the Illyria characters, I thought to say no, for almost 2 seconds, then I put together a team with Ilaria Traversi at the colors and one of my pupils (Gaetano Carlucci) at the inks and I started to work on this other book too!

So, after I've done all the layouts of each issue of Spock: Reflections, Nero and Angel: Only Human, everyday I do the pencil of a page and ink one page of Nero, and I do another pencil of a page of Angel Only Human, and the late night I supervise the work of the colorists, and the pencils and inks of Spock's series...

...and I'm not mentioning Wide Awake and another secret project for another publisher...

Angel: Only Human #3 cover

BCR: Who is your favorite character from ANGEL to draw?

Messina: Illyria most of all! She's beautifull, creepy, and sad at the same time. She's an old one demon with the memories of the most sweetest girl you could is it possible to not love her?

My other favorite character is Wesley. He's a great character grown episode after episode, season after season. The playing of Alexis Denisof is awesome, he carried Wes from a comic support character to one of most dark and sad characters of all, I really love his work.

Angel: Only Human #2 cover (B&W)

BCR: What can we expect from ANGEL: Only Human?

Messina: A lot of crazy action and some interesting revelations about Illyria and Gunn's past.

It's a story about the memories of who they were, and about who they'll become...

...and there's a lot of COOL demons!

Have I already said about the crazy action?

Eddie Hope pin-up (read on)

BCR: After that miniseries, is there any more ANGEL stuff we can expect from you?

Messina: Yep! It's something related to the new arc of Angel and a new really exciting challenge for me! He's called Eddie Hope, and he's the main character of the Angel's backstory in Willingham next run. It is a strong story of revenge and redemption in perfect Whedon's style and I think that Angel's fans will love him, and I'm pretty sure that they will ask for more.

Thanks so much David Messina! You've done so much for us fans and we really appreciate it. As long as you keep doing it, we'll keep reading!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

WILLOW one-shot

Want something to tide you over until Saturday's major Comic Con announcements? Well, he's an admittedly small version of Karl Moline's cover to this November's WILLOW one-shot. It takes place in BTVS Season Eight. A high quality version will probably surface next week.

A lot of cool things a-comin'...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Illyria Crosses Over Into Peter David's Fallen Angel!

What Is It?: Fallen Angel: Reborn #1. This relaunch of Peter David's popular series, Fallen Angel (no relation to our ensouled vamp), features Illyria in a four part adventure. Approved by Joss Whedon, this is the first time a Buffyverse character is officially crossing over into a different comic. Well, unless you've read Monkey Man, of course.

Timing: Angel, Season Five. Between "Time Bomb" and "The Girl in Question."

REVIEW: I wanted to read Peter David's entire IDW run of "Fallen Angel" before I read this issue. I read and completely loved the omnibus, which contains the first twenty-one issues (AKA, the first four volumes), and then picked up the fifth volume, which I was lucky enough to get signed by Mr. David himself. Unfortunately, having just finished the fifth volume a week or so ago, it was too late for me to get my hands on that sixth trade paperback. So I'm not really sure how the Fallen Angel, a witty chick named Liandra, got from where she was in the fifth book to here, but the fun part is that we're seeing this through Illyria's eyes, so we don't have to know. It's entirely friendly to new fans (read as: Angel fans who have never checked out the FA series before this). In fact, the book is so Illyria centric that we don't see the eponymous Liandra until the final page, making this feel more like an Illyria spin-off than anything. But the mood, pacing, and darkness that give Fallen Angel its trademark umph is present in every page, so I wouldn't be surprised if the folks unfamiliar with Liandra will want to go back and see what happened to her in the six volumes prior to this.

The book starts with a flashback, showing Illyria in her full on, Old One demon state. Like Brian Lynch did in #16, Peter David is able to make Illyria seem utterly monstrous without losing audience sympathy. It's a cool scene for sure, but the thing that takes it to the next level is when Illyria sees a vision of a single blade of grass in the battlefield. The grass speaks to her and reaffirms her hope that she will one day be reborn... and while this works on a surface level, as a cool segue into the next scene with modern-Illyria sprawled out on some grass, it's really pretty amazing what Peter David did. In the fifth season of Angel, there were random moments played for comedy that featured Illyria showing odd interest in some house plants. In a single moment, Peter David turns those throw-away moments into a poignant, brilliant revelation that makes so much sense for the character, and adds a new level of emotion to those old scenes. That is good writing. You can always tell when the writer is a fan and understands the mechanics of the Buffyverse characters, and it's obvious that Mr. David does.

Like all the Fallen Angel comics, the storytelling method is ultra decompressed. The panels are big, the art tells the majority of the story, and a scene never feels too quick. The pacing definitely makes the issue feel shorter, but it also makes it feel like a fuller read. Within these twenty-two pages, the following happens: Illyria's flashback, Illyria ponders her sucky situation, Illyria gets in an elevator (yup, the same one from Angel: Season Two; another brilliant reference), Illyria enters Bete Noire and runs into someone from her past, and on the final page, the Fallen Angel confronts her. Where Buffy #26, for example, was a good issue but felt rushed in parts, this book takes the time to let each scene breathe, and it's a cool change in pace. There is action, but this issue is more about the psychological state of Illyria.

Oh, and the person she runs into? He's a character from Fallen Angel named Benny, who was actually the serpent from the Garden of Eden. Again, new readers don't need to know that, but the prior knowledge just makes that moment all the more awesome. Because Illyria would know Benny, wouldn't she?

I pretty much loved the issue. Peter David has proven that he can tell the hell out of an Angel tale, and his Fallen Angel comic is one of my favorite alongside the Buffyverse titles and Y: The Last Man. Seeing these two worlds crossover is fantastic, and I can't wait to see where Peter takes it.

Art: J. K. Woodward is a man of many styles. That's both of art and hair. But on the art tip, take a look at his work on Fallen Angel. He's been the main artist since the book moved to IDW and started off the series with a really cool, trippy painted style. For the second arc, all the way to the end of the series, he used a more traditional pencil style. I definitely preferred his first style, but about halfway through the series, the pencil style did start to grow on me a bit more (some of the stuff from the fifth volume is fantastic). But with this new series, his style is reborn once again, this time a mix of the paints and pencils. The detail is at an all time high, allowing him to craft horrific worlds like Illyria's kingdom and nail the important likeness details (in this case, Amy Acker's face). It's some of the most different, original art you've ever seen, which is pretty appropriate for this book.

Covers: Not really that fond of Woodward's cover for this issue. It's definitely not bad, but it just pales in comparison to his interior work as well as the rest of the covers he provides for the series. The image is Liandra being squeezed by Illyria's demon-form tentacles (yeah, she's the second Angel for this to happen to on an IDW cover within a year's time!), while Illyria's face can be seen in the background. The concept is definitely cool, but the two images just don't seem to gel properly. The best cover of the bunch comes from Franco Urru, who crafted a simple but dramatic cover by just having Liandra stand next to Illyria. The power seems to radiate off these women on Franco's cover, and, in my opinion, it's one of his best covers. And take a look at Franco's covers from After the Fall, because that is really saying a lot. The dude can make a badass cover. Finally, Nick Runge made a pretty awesome retailer incentive. I'm pretty bitter, because I was unable to get the comic, but from the online images I've seen, it's definitely cool. Liandra looks awesome on the cover, spreading her arms out as her cloak billows out behind her. Illyria is looking... well, annoyed in front of her.
NOTE: Again, the covers came back from the printer too dark. What's up with that?

Characters We Know: Illyria.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mooney Draws a Pretty Eve

What Is It?: Angel- Not Fade Away adaptation #3. Original teleplay by Joss Whedon & Jeffrey Bell. Adapted to comic script by Scott Tipton with art by Stephen Mooney.

Timing: Final third of the Angel: Season Five episode, "Not Fade Away."

Note: Adaptations are now ranked on this scale: EPIC FAIL, FAIL, BAD, OKAY, GOOD, VERY GOOD, GREAT, OUTSTANDING.

REVIEW: First off, I feel like a douche. This book came out for most last week, and the least I could do for the gracious Scott Tipton was to have a review for his book the day it came out, especially after he gave me that awesome interview. However, my shop didn't get the comic in until today for some reason, so the review was destined to be late. It might be a New York thing, though, the same thing happened with an issue of Smile Time. Either way, here it is.

Scott Tipton has done the impossible. "Not Fade Away" is, to me, the best hour of television ever produced, bar none. It's a perfect episode, a perfect finale, and a perfect set-up for what (no one really knew at the time) was to come. Tipton managed to make a comic version of the episode that I was able to fully enjoy as a comic. It pays homage to the episode, shows us some different angles (via artist Stephen Mooney), and lets us re-watch this classic episode in a different medium... without comparing it to the original the entire time. No, certain lines don't have the same resonance (particularly the exchange of "I love yous" between Wesley and "Fred," which definitely needed the actors to perform it, but the majority of the major moments capture the essence of the episode. Far better than the already very good "Smile Time" adaptation, this is something I will be coming back to time and time again.

There's not much to say, story-wise, as we all know what happens. Tipton cuts a few lines here and there, allowing the softer moments the room to breathe and the bigger moments the room to bang. He's a master at pacing and maintaining the heart-racing tension as well as the tragedy of the episode within these twenty-two pages. I don't think the book read as smoothly as the second installment, because some of the transitions between scenes feel a bit awkward (Angel's last words to Connor going into Angel's conversation with Eve, for example), but there are only a few of these slightly off notes in this otherwise terrific adaptation. I have all three issues, but I will certainly be purchasing the TPB as well. Great job, Mr. Tipton. Bring on the tragedy with A HOLE IN THE WORLD/SHELLS!

Art: Mooney's art here is better than ever. His likenesses are so sharp and he no longer seems to rely on promotional images to attain the perfect likenesses. His evolution as an artist has been documented on the pages of the ANGEL books, and it's been fantastic to see. I love his work, and truly hope that when the new on-going ANGEL writer is announced, that Mooney is announced as the on-going artist. One thing I do have to saw about the art, though... there were two instances of exclamation and question marks drawn into the panel to very Manga-like effect. In the first instance, an exclamation point appears in front of Spike when he realizes that the Fell is upon him. I sort of get this, because there wasn't really another quick way to show his realization, and it is a very, very busy book... but I still didn't like it. The second was completely odd, though. Connor says "Huh?" but a question mark and an exclamation point appear over his head, as if the "Huh?" wasn't trustworthy enough to get the point across. I don't know if this was in the script, an idea of the letterer, or something that Mooney was experimenting with, but I found these moments, however little, to be intrusive.

Oh, and... Mooney's vampface Angel should be a poster. Best vampface art in any Buffyverse comic, for sure. ALSO I wish that the formerly deceased vamp named after me in ATF #11 would date Eve in this comic, because as Borat would say, VEHHY NICE!

Covers: For some reason, this cover seems to have come back from the printer considerably darker than the version that was released online. It's still a gorgeous cover, probably one of my favorites, but the darkness really obscures the phenomenal detail that Mooney gave to the faces of these characters in this iconic moment. Illyria's face is blackened beyond recognition here, but in the actual original file, her most prominent details stand out, illuminated by the dull blue glow of the alley. I hope that, for the collection, this gets lighted so Mooney's art can shine the way it deserves to.

Characters We Know: Spike, the surviving members (not for long, of course) members of the Circle of the Black Thorn, Wesley, Angel, Hamilton, Connor, Gunn, Illyria, Eve, Lindsey, Lorne.

Rating: GREAT.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Exclusive SCOTT TIPTON Interview

This man needs no introduction. If you're a fan of Angel comics, you know who Scott Tipton is. He did a lot of work on the pre-After the Fall series, including a handful of one-shots and the well recieved miniseries, Auld Lang Syne. Recently, he's been working on adaptations of some of the most popular episodes from the fifth season of Angel. Scott was kind enough to do an interview with me about his past work, as well as his new A Hole in the World miniseries.

BUFFYVERSE COMIC REVIEWS: To start things off, how did you first become involved with IDW?

SCOTT TIPTON: Back when it was still around, I was Associate Editor and Newswriter for Kevin Smith's pop-culture Web site, Movie Poop, which was run by one Chris Ryall. When Chris got the top job at IDW, I told him that if there was anything he thought I'd be a good fit for, I'd love to talk about it. Not long after, he offered me a writing assignment, adapting a Richard Matheson short story for their late, lamented horror anthology DOOMED. He must have liked it, as he assigned me a second one not long after.

Months go by, and in the intervening time, IDW acquired the license to produce comics based on the television series ANGEL, of which I had long been a fan. Throwing caution to the winds, I mentioned to Ryall that, if anything should ever open up on an ANGEL project, I had plenty of ideas for stories. Not long after that, I get a call from him, informing me that they’re doing a second SPIKE one-shot book, and the plan was to submit three or four pitches from different writers to FOX, and let them choose, and did I have any ideas?

Absolutely, I said. Give me a day or two and I’ll send you a pitch.

About a half an hour later, my pitch for SPIKE: OLD WOUNDS was in Ryall’s e-mailbox, and I was on pins and needles. Not long after came Ryall’s response. “Hey, this is pretty strong. Do you know how it ends?”

And in my head, my inner Mister Burns rubbed his leathery hands together and went “Eeeeeeexcellent.” You see, I had remembered what Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald had told me years ago about pitching a comics proposal. According to the Gru, the key to a proposal with a chance of selling is to come up with a story that doesn’t alter the status quo of the series you’re pitching for, but makes the reader look at the character in a slightly different light from that point forward. And, he said, make sure to leave your proposal unresolved, with a strong hook. If the editor asks for more, you’re on the right track.

So off went the proposal to FOX along with the other writers’ pitches, and after what seemed like an interminable wait (but was really quite swift in the scheme of things), the news came down: my proposal had gotten the nod, and the 48-page Spike one-shot was mine!

Spike: Old Wounds

BCR: Can you talk a little about your experiences with the SPIKE one-shot and the ANGEL ones that followed?

SCOTT: It was a great experience, but at first, it was sheer panic. After all, my previous assignments had been short stories. I had just talked myself into 48 pages. Now what am I supposed to do?

After the panic subsided, I sat down and sussed out just exactly how I was going to do this thing. Through a series of crude stick-men page breakdowns (which will never see the light of day, incidentally), I plotted out the story panel by panel and began scripting, and the work went fairly smoothly, much to my pleasant surprise.

I look back at the books now with a lot more experience under my belt, and I see all the places where I could have made it stronger, but overall, I'm pretty happy with them. I think they hold up pretty well. Fernando Goni's style was a perfect fit for this kind of book, combining a slightly exaggerated approach to the action and storytelling with really strong likeness work. In fact, as the pages came in and I saw how well he was able to draw David Boreanaz, I decided to make my next one-shot, LOST AND FOUND, a Spike/Angel “buddy” adventure.

LOST AND FOUND was a lot of fun, since I got to play with the Spike/Angel antagonistic relationship all the way through. I also enjoyed taking advantage of the Los Angeles setting in that one, and mapping their chase sequence all through the city – That was the first time I really went out of my way to provide the artist with tons of photo reference, which I've done on every book ever since.

Spike: Lost and Found

BCR: What was the pitching experience for your "Auld Lang Syne" miniseries like? Was there anything you wanted to do, but couldn't?

SCOTT: Not remotely, no. Working on AULD LANG SYNE was a dream from start to finish. David Messina and I had only worked together once before, on a short story for the Angel Halloween special MASKS, and so this was where we really got to know each other, and I've been lucky enough to have been working with David practically nonstop ever since, both on STAR TREK series like KLINGONS: BLOOD WILL TELL, INTELLIGENCE GATHERING and MIRROR IMAGES, and more recent ANGEL projects like SMILE TIME.

AULD LANG SYNE was such a smooth-running machine that even David's taking ill in the middle of it didn't slow things down, as his then-assistant Elena Casagrande filled in so ably that I didn't even realize the change until much later!

BCR: Where would you place "Auld Lang Syne" in the Angelverse continuity?

SCOTT: I intentionally tried to keep it vague. It could be taking place during Season 5, or at some point after the series ended. Come to think of it, it could even take place after the events of AFTER THE FALL. I think. I'll have to go back and look at it again…

Angel: Auld Lang Syne #3

BCR: How did you and Brian Lynch collaborate with the Gunn story in "First Night"? Did you break the story together?

SCOTT: That story was Brian's baby, make no mistake about it. When he asked me to come in and co-write one of the "First Night" stories, I was delighted (primarily because Gunn was the only Angel character I hadn't really had the chance to tackle yet), but I had no idea it would turn out to be one of the most integral chapters. As I recall, Brian and I talked over the story, what would be happening and what he wanted to get across. I put together the first (very) rough script based on Brian's direction and story points and then we would swap drafts back and forth until we got it to where Brian wanted it. Brian deserves the lion's share of the credit, but there is a moment or two in that story that I brought to the table, and the fact that it appears in Brian's masterful story arc pleases me to no end.

BCR: Now, onto the new stuff. You've been doing a lot of adaptations of Angel episodes recently. Do you pick the episodes to adapt and pitch them to Chris Ryall, or are you assigned an episode?

SCOTT: More often than not, they come from Chris. He came to me last year and asked if I would be interested in adapting SMILE TIME with David Messina, and naturally, that didn't take much convincing. Nor did the offer to adapt NOT FADE AWAY with Stephen Mooney. The only one that I came to him with was the one I'm currently writing, A HOLE IN THE WORLD.

About the adaptations, I see some of the feedback from some fans who say they don't like the straight adaptations of episodes, and I can understand that position, if I don't agree with it. I can only speak for myself, but I like the adaptations for the same reasons I buy DVD sets of television series I've already seen: I love these stories, and there's satisfaction to be found in seeing them again, and especially in seeing them re-interpreted in another form. Plus, there's a long tradition of comic-book adaptations of TV and movies, and I've always enjoyed them. I remember as a kid knowing STAR WARS backwards and forwards, but that didn't mean I loved the Marvel adaptation by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin any less. Just the opposite: I read those comics till the staples fell out.

A page from Scott Tipton's adaptation of "Not Fade Away."

BCR: Is there any information you can give us about the "A Hole in the World" adaptation? Artist/number of issues?

SCOTT: A HOLE IN THE WORLD will be a five-issue miniseries, adapting both parts of the Illyria origin story, "A Hole in the World" and "Shells." The artist will be the amazing Elena Casagrande, who's done series like GHOST WHISPERER for IDW, as well as providing finishes for our recent SMILE TIME miniseries.

BCR: "A Hole in the World" is a very emotional episode, but it doesn't have much action. Was the lack of action a factor in adding the more action-packed "Shells" as the second half of the miniseries?

SCOTT: Actually, the action consideration didn't really enter into it; the drama in these is so compelling I wasn't worried about that at all. Rather, it's just that only doing the first episode would really feel like just half the story. So when the word came down that we'd get to adapt both, we were absolutely delighted.

BCR: How has it been like working with Elena?

SCOTT: It's been great. Elena is a huge fan of the series and this episode in particular, and has been very involved in breaking down the story into issues and determining the pacing. We just finished another project, a single-issue "Q" story for the STA R TREK: ALIEN SPOTLIGHT series (which will be out in August), so now we're both feeling warmed up and ready to tackle such a larger and more ambitious project. As the pages on Q came in with panel after panel of dead-on likenesses of Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes and John deLancie, I couldn't help but think how great her renditions of Wesley and Fred were going to look. And having seen some of the beginnings of the work already, I'm not disappointed.

A sample of Elena Casagrande's art, from Ghost Whisperer #1

BCR: What about ANGEL, the character and the series, draws you in as a fan and as a writer?

SCOTT: For me, it's the opportunity to contribute to this marvelous world Whedon created. It's a fantastic mix of gothic horror, comic-book style continuity and wry humor that really appeals to me. And thanks to Whedon and his team of writers on the series, the characters are so well established and firmly delineated that writing them is an absolute joy. It’s like Spike's voice is in my head just waiting to get out.

BCR: Just for kicks: Favorite character, favorite episode, favorite season?

SCOTT: Favorite season is Season 5, no question. Not only did the Wolfram & Hart angle really spark up the series, but adding Spike to the cast added both a much-needed regular dose of humor and an equally welcome steady antagonist for Angel. When I got the chance to do my Wesley issue in ANGEL SPOTLIGHT, I made sure to set it during Season 5. I could do nothing but write stories in between Season 5 episodes, and I'd be a happy man.

Favorite episode? That's a little tougher. I've been very lucky in that so far, my four favorite episodes have been the ones I've gotten the opportunity to adapt: "Smile Time," "Not Fade Away," "A Hole in the World" and "Shells." But I'm also really fond of "The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco."

As for my favorite character, it depends what day you get me – some days it's Spike, some days it's Wes, some days it's Illyria. But in terms of my favorite character to write, it’s Spike, no question. Angel is the most challenging, but Spike is the most fun.

BCR: Some more kicks: What was your favorite issue to write?

SCOTT: I think the issue I'm proudest of as a writer is still the WESLEY SPOTLIGHT. I love that one because I managed to pull off an ending that's entirely different depending on how well you know the series. I've had fans approach me who are only just getting into the ANGEL universe tell me how much the ending affected them, and yet the ending is entirely different if you know what's to come in "A Hole in the World." Plus, I got to do a Wesley/Spike adventure, and they never had all that much interplay in the series, so it was a great opportunity from a character standpoint.

Scott Tipton's WESLEY Spotlight: No Sacrifice

BCR: Are there any other projects, Angel or otherwise, that you have in the works?

SCOTT: Well, let's see… ANGEL: NOT FADE AWAY #3 will be out very soon, as will the third issue of ASTRO BOY: UNDERGROUND, the prequel series for the upcoming animated film. Also starting this month is SPOCK: REFLECTIONS, my new STAR TREK series with David Messina, a prequel of sorts to Messina's outstanding series COUNTDOWN.

August will see the premiere of the official ASTRO BOY MOVIE ADAPTATION, co-written by my brother David (collaborator on all my TREK projects as well) and drawn by the astounding E.J. Su. Also coming out in August is the aforementioned Q SPOTLIGHT with Elena Casagrande, and the hardcover collected edition of SMILE TIME, which I'm very excited about. And finally, A HOLE IN THE WORLD is currently scheduled to begin in November.

For anyone interested in my prose work, my book COMIC BOOKS 101, a history of the art form, the creators and the characters, (co-written by me and one Mr. Chris Ryall) is currently available at Amazon. ( And my weekly columns on comic-book history can be found every Wednesday like clockwork at my Web site,

BCR: And lastly, what would a fan have to do to get word to the big cheese that we want an original Tipton ANGEL story?

SCOTT: Well, the best way to show your support would probably be to keep buying the adaptations, I'd imagine. Me, I'm just happy to be on the team.

Thanks a lot to Mr. Tipton for doing this! That's a lot of information for us to chew on as we anticipate the November release of A Hole in the World/Shells #1! Check back next week for an interview from ANGEL artist David Messina! Also, don't forget to pick up Scott Tipton's ANGEL: NOT FADE AWAY #3, which comes out this month!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lily From "How I Met Your Mother" Reunited With The Sarcastic Amish Dude From "Sex Drive"

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #26: Retreat part I (written by Jane Espenson).

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

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 first time I read this issue, I was let down. It had a lot to live up to. Joss Whedon announced Oz's return almost two years ago at SDCC 07, and the anticipation has been gaining momentum ever since. Also, after a disjointed arc of one-shots, this was said to be the issue that would launch Season Eight toward the big shiny climax of Meltzer and Whedon's respective arcs. Stakes would be raised, everyone would be united, and the plot would go into hyperdrive. Also, from #1, to #6, to #12, to #16, all the first issues of each arc have been consistently fantastic. The arcs don't always live up to what the first chapters start, but it was almost a given that this would be a fantastic issue.

But, upon first read, I just thought it was okay. There weren't any jarring moments or awkward paneling like in Espenson's "Harmonic Divergence," which is something that I feared, but what didn't sit well with me was how over-the-top the issue was. I've never been a fan of God-Mod Willow, and having her a) immediately know that demons and friends alike were making their way towards Scotland, b) find out how the demons found them by teleporting a demon away and then apparently talking to Warren (I'm sure more will be revealed about that later), and C) having the power to glamour (or transmogrify, it's debatable) herself and Buffy to look like a seagull carrying a floppy fish. Take that, throw in the ever controversial submarine, add demons with tanks and a catapult that uses impact bombs, and sprinkle it with gigantic goatmen, and you've got the most bizarre issue of Season Eight so far. The magic stuff is slightly grounded by the fact that a Wiccan slayer gets her braid fried from magical strain and that Giles is questioning Willow's use of Magicks, but it is all still a bit too much for me. It really overwhelmed me, and made me even more worried about the fate of Season Eight than I have been for the last few months.

And then, I decided to take a deep breath and re-read. I mean, it's Jane Espenson. She wrote the best episode of Dollhouse so far, as well as some great Buffy episodes... she knows what she's doing. I had to give the issue another chance, now that I knew what to expect. The second read definitely didn't make those problems disappear, but I was able to look past the outer exterior of wonky stuff and really see what was going on with the characters. I think there had to be this outburst of crazy magic stuff, because the issue ends with Buffy saying that she's going to stop Willow's overuse of magic. It probably won't go over well, but all that is to be determined. What I'm getting at is that I enjoyed reading the issue a lot more the second time around. It still bugs me to no end that the writers are putting more stock in seeing how much they can play around with a budgetless Buffy than they are in keeping the story grounded and believable, but there are definitely some great character moments here. A lot of funny stuff, too, which is to be expected from Espenson.

One of the best moments of the issue is the surprise reunion of (SPOILERS:) Andrew and Warren. It's way to quick, but it's both funny and tense. Of course, Andrew is quick to fall into Warren's, "I want to be your friend" again trap, but I think it was smart not to let it go too far. Andrew's redemption was flimsy until recently, and throwing it all away would be a waste, but it would also be a waste not to explore his connection to Warren, which is still fresh. What I didn't like about the moment was how it ended. Warren's manipulation of Andrew is cut short by a rush of goatmen that the slayers are fighting, and Warren must have escaped... but shouldn't that have been shown? It just cuts from the fight to Andrew and his slayers, bruised and battered, heading towards Buffy. We've been waiting a long time for this moment, and we don't even get to see Andrew watch Warren escape? Don't even get to see Andrew's reaction? Sloppy choice.

Something cool about the moment, though, was Andrew hitting one of the goatmen with a bone and saying, "I bet you won't find this too humerus." Only he could get away with a line like that, and I love it. Another hilarious bit was Willow, Xander, Dawn, and Kennedy standing outside Buffy's room, now knowing that they have to knock every time they want to go in her room. It's little moments like this that really connect the different arcs and make it feel like a cohesive season. A lot of stuff like the fate of General Voll, the fact that no one (except Giles, now) knows what happened to Buffy in the "Time of Your Life" arc, and the entire "Predators vs. Prey" arc make this season feel very random. References to events like the Buffy/Satsu thing and Buffy's confession to Giles that she killed future Willow help to bring the season together.

What follows is the big magical battle, the Buffy/Giles conversation (not as volatile as I imagined... pretty much just sweet, but it works), and the submarine stuff. Some cool character moments and good dialogue (not Whedon, Goddard, or Vaughan good, but good) make the battle scene easier to swallow, and the Buffy/Giles stuff is great. There is one moment during the battle that really jumps out at me as strange. When Willow whisks one of the demons away, Faith freaks out. "No, no, no," she says, "I'm done with this kind of crap." But... huh? Why is she so angry? When does she care about using magick in a battle? I really don't think Faith would mind what Willow was doing with a demon enough to complain about it, mid-battle. Any thoughts as to why she freaked out, commenters?

The issue ends strong with, no surprise here, the Oz appearance. It leaves the big stuff for next issue, but leaves us on the edge of our seat with one big Oz reveally panel. Good ending to a good issue that had both moments of greatness and moments of blah.

Art: Really hit and miss. A lot more hit than Jeanty's been doing recently, and it wouldn't be that bad at all if we didn't know for a fact Jeanty could do better. Compare an average panel from this to an average panel from any of the first fifteen issues, and you'll see what I mean. There are utterly fantastic panels, like the first Warren panel, the Oz reveal, and a two panel sequence of Buffy's face (the "Which everyone?" one). Then, there are pages as sketchy as the one where Buffy and Willow enter the new headquarters. Wide-shots used to be Jeanty's thing, but now they're utterly lacking. Overall, way better than Jeanty's worst, but no where near his huge potential.

Covers: Jo Chen's cover is easily her best, Georges Jeanty's cover is easily his worst. Jo Chen creates perfect likenesses in this iconic image of good and evil characters. It's as good as her TPB covers, and actually sort of looks like one. Oz, Willow, Buffy, Andrew, and Twilight are perfect, and Warren is simply terrifying. What's astonishing is that he actually has the bone structure of Warren Meyers, so even when the character would look passable as a random skinless dude, Jo Chen goes all out with her likenesses. Jeanty's cover is just weak. The colors are oddly cheery, none of the likenesses really stand out, Faith and Kennedy look like each other, Dawn... take a look for yourself, and it just seems like a really awkward attempt at an iconic image of way too many people. It's like trying to mix the concept of Jo Chen's TPB #1 cover with Urru's #17 spread. Just doesn't work.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Kennedy, Dawn, Satsu, Faith, Giles, Andrew, Warren, Amy (? Was that her?), Jonathan (Andrew's mind), Oz.

Rating: 7/10

It's a mystery how I seem to be something less than myself.

What Is It?: Angel #23- Become What You Are (Written by Brian Lynch)

Timing: After Angel #17, before 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 dream team of Brian Lynch, Franco Urru, and colorist Fabio Mantovani are back to deliver the story we've been waiting for. Check out how anticipatey I was, I even made a list. But now the wait is over. The issue has been released, I've read it, and I loved it. It was a unique mix of somber reflection, wonky humor, and good old fashioned scrappin' that made After the Fall so special.

Gunn takes center stage for this issue, as we get a look at what he's been up to. Before "Aftermath," Gunn was in a coma... but then we saw a quick flash of the dude in a car, driving with Illyria to an unknown destination. It was a weird thing, but Brian Lynch took advantage of the inconsistency and spun a really cleverly written story that examines the repercussions of Gunn's actions in Hell. As Angel said in #17, "a man isn't measured by the mistakes he's made. He's measured by what he does about them." This issue focuses on just that: What Gunn is doing (and preparing to do) about his mistakes.

The issue starts with a classic "How Did They Get To This Point." Joss did it with naked Mal in Firefly, and Brian does it with naked Gunn about to be killed by Illyria in this. The issue flashes back to Gunn in the hospital, and fills in the blanks, first with Gunn's recollection of all the people who came to visit him, from Gwen to Groo, from Angel to Betta George. This is all really sweet and sad stuff, especially George's olive branch and Gunn coming to terms with the fact that less and less people are going to be visiting. It's very real, very human. But it's not all tears and singin' the blues, because Groosalugg's reading of Green Eggs and Ham might replace his greeting in #4 as the funniest Groo line ever: "Ha! This scrawny one's sophisticated palate is proving most frustrating for his companion, but proving most entertaining to me!"

Then, the meat of the issue kicks off. Gunn has to deal with two ladies he wronged in Hell, and the first is the evil pixie Non, who was the Big Bad in Spike: After the Fall. Non's dialogue isn't as punchy or quirky before, but I did like the role she played. She was still pretty funny, but she was also really sad and pathetic. Maybe her new found lack of confidence (she's definitely feigning it when she boasts here, as she's been ripped down from a position of power) is the reason she's not speaking as cocky or slick as she used to. Either way, she could have been a simple plot device to wake Gunn up from his coma and get him to a brand new state, but instead, she played a vital role in the issue. More on her later.

Gunn and Illyria are a really interesting pairing, that's for sure. The whole opener of "Is Illyria Going to Kill Gunn" is settled with one of the funniest scenes in the book, which shows Illyria (SPOILER:) writing all the different ways she could have killed Gunn on a wall. The ways are hilarious, especially "drown in mud," but it's also just a smart way to handle things. As she gains more humanity, she's starting to behave like Fred, who, as we all know, was a notorious wall-writer when she was at her weakest. The two of them then have a conversation that shows how far they are removed from the norm at this point, how they can't be what they were, but have to find something new to move onto. Gunn has this darkness, Illyria is, in her own words, "infected with humanity." That they can help balance each other and, together, move towards something new is pretty beautiful.

And we also get a trip to Mosaic, which... let's just say it's a pretty damn well done mislead. I won't even spoiler box this, you guys will just have to read to see it. It's a pretty quick moment, but it's hilarious.

The issue ends how most of us expected. Gunn and Illyria in a car, driving off into the distance. But in true Buffyverse fashion, Brian Lynch crafts a metaphor out of Illyria driving. After Gunn says that she shouldn't drive, because she doesn't know how, she says, "We're surrounded by nothing but vast emptiness. That is an ideal situation to learn." I never thought we'd get such a tender, brilliantly written moment out of Gunn playing driving instructor to Illyria of all people, but I guess the Angel title just continues to surprise.

Hilarious, tragic, pensive, brilliant, and just what we needed to give this series a push in the right direction.

Art: Really, really good. I'm big on Franco, and I just love what he does with these characters. They're strong when they're supposed to look strong, graceful when they're supposed to look graceful, pathetic when they're supposed to look pathetic, and so on. He is the perfect compliment to Brian Lynch's writing, with his uncanny ability to pack the same emotion and humor into his art as Brian does with his writing. Urru has been impressing me since I first picked up a copy of Spike: Asylum #1, when I immediately said, "This is the guy."

Covers: This time, we've got covers from Franco Urru and Nick Runge. Runge is back to his old, and in my opinion, better style. He was doing a painted look for most of his Aftermath covers, but here he's back to his realistic looking pencils. He shows Gunn enveloped in a misty blue nothingness. It's simple, but effective. Overall, one of my favorite Runge covers. The Urru cover definitely isn't Franco's strongest. It's a cool image, of Non's shadow looming over a helpless, comatose Gunn... but some of it is just off. Gunn's face looks strange and his right hand is ginormous. Definitely not a bad cover, but not among the best of Franco's work.

Characters We Know: Gunn, Illyria, Groosalugg, Lorne, Gwen, Connor (flashback), Wesley (flashback), Angel (flashback), Betta George, Talking "Are You High?" T-Rex, Non, Anna (from Asylum).

Rating: 9/10