Timing: Angel, on-going series: Shortly after #29.
REVIEW: The comic starts off very fun. Spike and Gunn are on a mission to take down some gragot demons, which leads to some pretty entertaining hijinks. It's narrated by clips from both Spike and Gunn's after-action reports (which Connor is making them do), which are funny as well... sometimes. Spike isn't showing much depth, but he never really did around the characters we've seen him interact with (other than Connor), so I'm not that worried. Gunn, however is another story.
Willingham is using Gunn as a jokester. He's cracking jokes left and right. His report is as jokey as Spike's. There is no hint at all of the tortured character that we should be seeing. Willingham has turned Gunn into the Hurley of Angel, which is pretty bad, considering that was played as a joke in Last Angel in Hell. Gunn should be ripped apart. He should be worse than Wesley in Season Four. He should be that way, not only to respect the story arc and ramifications of After the Fall, but for some damn consistency. He was tortured in Become What You Are. He was healing, along with Illyria, but still quite ripped up about his days as a vampire in Only Human. Willingham is writing it as if it never happened. A fellow fan told me that he reads Gunn's depiction as a man who is overcompensating, which would be fine if it was at all hinted at. Besides a strange look that Connor gave Gunn in #28, which now that I'm thinking about it might not have even been a conscious artistic choice, there is no indication that Gunn went through anything except perhaps a stand-up comedian class.
Connor's characterization continues to impress and Spike's dialogue is decent. The first scene at the Hyperion, aside from the little bit where Spike oddly finishes his report by requesting Gunn be kicked out (would a man as fond of redemption as him really say that?), is pretty good. And that can sort of sum up the whole issue. It's pretty good. In fact, were this not Angel, I'd even say it's good. 'Cause the plot is interesting. It's a good beginning to what might be a good story. A slow beginning, yeah, but good. Thing is, though, this isn't just any comic. This is Angel. Joss Whedon's Angel. A series driven by multi-layered characters with exceptional dialogue and a consistent tone. When I read After the Fall, it felt like Angel. John Byrne's work and some of Only Human felt like Angel. This doesn't. It feels like Bill Willingham is starting a brand new series, and that worries me.
It never gets really bad. Reaches for and sometimes grazes good, but it mostly waffles about in decent. The worst scene has got to be the banter between James, Gunn, Spike, Kate, and Betta George as they're getting ready to go hunt vampires with Connor. The scene starts with them arguing whether the fight is a "stake 'em and bake 'em," a "bust 'em and dust 'em" or a "stab 'em and slab 'em." There are a few funny lines, but it's striving way too hard to reach the hilarious pettiness of the "Cavemen vs. Astronauts" argument. It would come off as an average scene, had Willingham not attempted Betta George. Now... as a writer and just a person who enjoys laughing, Betta George seems like he would be easy to write. He's the voice of the normal guy. The average Joe. He cracks jokes sometimes. He's funny. He's light. He's a down-to-earth dude. Willingham has him formal, explainy, and overall just... annoying. And the one joke he tells seems to be about a benign cyst in a region of Kate's that embarrasses her, and that's just crass and what-the-fuck inducing. I was initially excited when Willingham wanted to work George into this. Now I just wish he'd opted to have the telepathic fish float away.
Aside from some strange lines that attempt to capture character (Spike's "Sweet mother Mary in a shite halftrack, that smarts!" is particularly painful), there are also some lines that are just awkwardly written. Now, there were some typos in After the Fall. For sure. Typos that should have been caught. But I never read a line of dialogue and thought, "How did no one catch that?" Take this line of dialogue for example. Illyria says to Angel, "Perhaps I'll free you, but not before we have a conversation first." Huh. "Not before we have a conversation first." Just... yeah.
Back to some good stuff... Willingham has improved on the Illyria front. What he has planned for her in the overall arc seems strange at best, Cordelia/Jasmine-esque at worst, but I'm going to wait before I comment much on Illyria's sudden desire to make Connory babies. But Illyria's dialogue is better. There are still some screw-ups (Illyria asks Angel if "courting" is the proper term for seduction, but when was Illyria ever unsure of her word choice? She's not a foreign language speaker, she's a demon.), but considering that a good fifth of this issue is Illyria talking, it's a big improvement. She's less Vulcan and more Illyria, which is how it should have been from the jump, but I'm glad the transition went from terrible to decent this quickly. Her voice was the one Willingham had captured the worst, and now she's arguably third best, after Connor and Angel.
Overall, I'm pretty sad that the on-going series isn't impressing me. Willingham is a good writer and he's done great things. I just wish he'd done more research, more rewatching, and more re(?)reading of After the Fall before he started writing this book. It's painfully clear that he's giving his own take on the characters without bothering to match the tone of the show the way that Brian Lynch did. I expect a good story, because he specializes in longterm plots, but... I want a good Angel story, not just a random comic featuring bizarro versions of characters I've been in love with for years.
Back-up: The Eddie Hope back-up is pretty fun. I am getting impatient with the pace and the way the stories line up, and I can't help but wonder if the book wouldn't be better if Bill Williams co-wrote the whole thing and the Eddie Hope scenes were woven into the actual comic (which would make the inevitable Gunn/Eddie Hope confrontation a lot more tense), but I'm still enjoying it for what it is. It continues on last month's story, and it leaves us on a cliffhanger, so... still fun. Bit less intriguing, but still fun. William's writing in this is far stronger than Willingham's, so I'm very excited for William's upcoming Spike book.
Art: Denham's art is as good as it was last issue. The likenesses are excellent, the action scenes work well, but most of the conversation scenes are a bit too static. He definitely has what it takes to make this book better, and as he grows comfortable enough with the likenesses to have the characters move around a bit more, I'm sure he'll do just that. Messina's art in the Eddie Hope backups... great as always. This man is a wonder.
Covers: Both are the weakest of the run. Jenny Frison's cover is high concept, and it's mostly kick-ass, but Connor just looks awkward. His shirt, his body, his face... he just doesn't look right. And it's unfortunate, seeing as he's the centerpiece of this otherwise really cool cover. Messina's cover is essentially another variation of the same cover he did with #28 and #29. It's Angel and Eddie Hope, same hellish/LA background, and just... it's boring. It's well done, but it's boring. Bring us your fire, Messina! We know you have it.
Characters We Know: Spike, Gunn, Illyria, Angel, Kate, Connor, James, Dez, Eddie Hope, and Jacob Crane.