Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Angel - The Main Title

Angel – The Main Title: A Retrospect on IDW’s Vampire with a Soul

by Patrick Shand

It’s no secret that this site has been more of an IDW’s Angel site than anything else. I’ve be accused of being biased, and here’s the thing—I guess I am. I’m biased because on November 21st 2007 I fell in love. That’s the day that the first issue of Angel: After the Fall, the series that would eventually becoming known as the Angel on-going (or, as folks on the message boards call it, the main title), hit shelves. Brian Lynch’s tale of a vampire with a soul turned human, a city sent to hell, and a group of people learning what being champions means was so true to the TV series that I couldn’t help but obsess about the series. That book is essentially the reason that I’ve stuck with this blog as long as I have. Reading Brian’s seventeen issue arc planted the seed that would grow into a full blown love of comic books. But that’s just me. What Brian (and many other writers) have done with this series is larger than just me. So here’s my attempt at looking back.

After the Fall was an epic in its own right, but it also set the stage for things to come in what would become the on-going Angel series. Gunn was in a bad state (both physically and mentally), Illyria was trying and failing to find herself, Spike was dealing with leadership issues, Connor was growing comfortable with his new role as a champion, and Angel… well, Angel was working hard at getting back to doing what he did best—fighting the good fight. The first arc in the new post-After the Fall world, novelist Kelley Armstrong took Angel in a radically different direction. With Illyria, Spike, and Gunn off trying to work their issues out, Angel spent the arc assembling a new team in a new location. The new cast consisted of Angel (kinda the obvious one), Connor, Gwen, Kate (who had about the quickest and strangest return of all time), a werejaguar named Dez, and an angel named James. The arc wasn’t very well received, but it did serve in setting up what would be a major arc in the later issues.

And like a true prodigal son, Brian Lynch returned. I remember sitting at the New York Comic-Con panel when it was announced that Brian would be coming back for a few issues on Angel AND writing an on-going Spike miniseries. It was pretty damn awesome, and he definitely delivered. His first issue back on the series centered on Gunn and Illyria—the two characters most damaged by the events of After the Fall—and bashed them together so they could work their intense issues out. The issue showed a return to both the quality and tone of AtF, as did the subsequent issues. Brian Lynch teamed up with Juliet Landau to pen a Drusilla two-parter (set during the events of AtF) that set up some stuff that would pay off later down the road in the Spike on-going. But all good things have to end, and Brian’s run on the main title ended with a two-parter that took Angel and Spike to Comic-Con with a story that was a brilliant callback to the “Halloween” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And then, Willingham. The superstar writer of the multiple Eisner Award winning Fables took over Angel for what was supposed to be the long-run; Bill Williams wrote back-up issues starring newcomer Eddie Hope for the entirety of Willingham's run. While it took Willingham a while to get some of the voices down, the plot was clearly going somewhere epic. The fallout of Wolfram & Hart sending LA to hell was starting to show, some demon ladies dedicated themselves to Connor for mysterious reasons, Spike had a bit of a soul issue, and the “angel” James was revealed to be a demon God who was planning on using Earth as his own personal demon farm. Willingham’s sights were set on the long-term plot, and things were coming to a nice boil when writers Mariah Huehner (also the editor) and David Tischman came in to pen a touching end to the arc Willingham had set up. Angel, realizing that Connor was becoming a champion in his own right, decided to leave his son to run Angel Investigations. It was an end of sorts, with Illyria spinning off into her own miniseries and Spike leaving to head his own title. This left the main series to focus on the elephants in the room: things were rough between Connor and Gunn, James was still a giant threat, and Angel was in major need of some more screen time in his own title.

Mariah and David stuck around to finish off the on-going series. I did an interview with them at NYCC 2010 right before their The Wolf, the Ram, and the Heart arc kicked off, and man were they pumped. They were telling an story that, to me, sounded as epic in scope as After the Fall was, and they only had six issues to do it. And they had to live up to both the endings of Angel the Series and After the Fall. Big shoes to fill. Hell, big shoes to even look at from a distance. I was both excited and sad for the end, but the confidence and I-can’t-wait-for-you-to-read-this factor that Mariah and Tisch were giving off gave me faith.

Fast-forward half a year later (man, time flies) and here we are. The on-going Angel title is done. Some things are left unresolved, such as Gunn and Connor’s beef (at one point, Gunn believes it is his duty to kill Connor before he becomes the next James… though, while it’s not spelled out, one can assume that Connor’s defeating James and saving Anne might make the guy okay in Gunn’s book) but the majority of the series has been tied up in a big, bloody, epic, and at times inappropriately sexual package. Angel was pulled into a possible future to help Wolfram & Hart deal with what James has done to the planet, while Connor, Gunn, Laura Weathermill, Mr. P, and Anne are readying themselves for a similar battle in the present. Like all good time-travel stories, it’s a bit of a mindfuck when you think about how certain events transpired, but all in all it’s a fitting conclusion to Angel. Angel and Connor beat the bad guy together, Angel takes a stand against Wolfram & Hart, and—with a page that echoes the end of AtF while paying tribute to the friends Angel has lost over the years—our hero walks off into the proverbial (and, luckily for Angel, metaphorical) sunset.

So. Angel the on-going series. The main title. IDW’s Angel. Angel #1-44. It was a great, uneven, beautiful, epic, memorable, intense, and goddamn awesome run. I wish it could’ve gone to issue #100 and beyond… because I already miss it.

(In just a few days… “Spike Rests in Peace: A Retrospect.” This blog loves Brian Lynch. Similar to the Angel and Illyria articles, this blog will take a look at Brian Lynch's epic Spike on-going series, as well as everything he's done with Spike in the past.)

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