Sunday, May 8, 2011

Brian Lynch's Spike

Brian Lynch's Spike - A Retrospect on the Series that Made Me Love Comics

by Patrick Shand

Listen up, boys and girls. Time for quick math lesson.

Five issue mini. Plus this Brian guy. Plus a vampire with a soul… no, not that one—

Equals this:

I guess it all started with SPIKE: ASYLUM.

When it was announced that Joss Whedon was going to continue Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a comic, I wanted to bone up on my funny books before the first issue hit the stands. I’d read some comics as a kid (I remember digging this oversized Stephen King Creepshow book), but it had been years since I’d picked one up. I took a trip down to the comic shop, picked up some of the very early IDW Angel books, and enjoyed them. It was until a few weeks later when I returned, wanting more of IDW’s Angel, that I saw they had a spin-off. Spike. I picked up Asylum #1 and everything changed.

I’d later discover Scott Tipton’s Angel: Auld Lang Syne and the three Spike one-shots (one by Peter David and two by Tipton) were up there with Brian’s work in quality and feels-like-the-showness, but Brian’s work on Asylum #1 was the first comic book that showed me what the medium can do when a phenomenal writer and a brilliant artist join forces on a story that they’re both dying to tell. And I guess that’s really saying a lot, because writing comic books is kind of what I want to do with my life.

Brian followed Spike: Asylum with Spike: Shadow Puppets (a sequel of sorts to Smile Time) and a prequel to his and Joss Whedon’s Angel: After the Fall called… well, Spike: After the Fall, that shows what Spike and Illyria did in Hell while Angel was healing from his unfortunate every-bone-in-his-body-breakage. Each of these Spike minis went above and beyond; not only did they feel authentic in both dialogue and characterization, they introduced new characters that readers actually cared about, developed both these newbies and the already existing characters so that they would be changed after the book, and centered around themes. Actual English major approved themes. Not “death is a theme” or “betrayal is the theme.” Single words aren’t themes; they’re motifs, and that will always bug the shit out of me. But Asylum, Shadow Puppets, and Spike: After the Fall had solid themes; statements about these characters, and he let those statements function as the backbone of his series without beating us over the head with a message.

Brian and Franco Urru (who is essentially the comic book version of Fonzie; that man is so suave) did great work on the Spike trilogy and Angel: After the Fall, so you can imagine my excitement when it was announced that they’d be doing an on-going Spike series together. I was at NYCC at the IDW Panel when it was revealed and Brian said he’d keep writing it until they made him stop. After the panel, I talked with Brian about some of the possible plots (we’ll cover that in an upcoming interview) and man did it all sound good.

But then, time passed. Other stuff came up, things were delayed, and then… it was announced that Dark Horse would be taking the Angel license from IDW. At first, it wasn’t clear if Brian would be able to continue Spike with IDW, because there were some quotes taken out of context that said Spike would remain on-going… but, as it unfortunately turned out, the Spike title would pass to Dark Horse as well.

So it goes.

It was at the next NYCC, a year and a half later, that I finally got my hands on Spike #1. It was everything that I wanted it to be; funny, epic, beautiful, smart, and (like all of Brian’s Spike stories) balls out insane. The issue sees Spike team up with Beck and Betta George to go to Las Vegas to stop whatever bad is brewing there; and that bad happens to be Wolfram & Hart. Erm, and a giant monster made up of Elvis impersonators.

The Spike on-going that became an eight issue Spike miniseries was about Spike leading a group of friends. In Buffy, Spike was fine at leading a group of lackies… because he didn’t give a shit if they lived or died. Then, he operated alone. Then, when he fell in love with Buffy and got a soul, he fought Buffy’s side with the Scooby Gang. Then he fought on Angel’s side. During After the Fall, he was the leader of a group of warriors, but he didn’t lead; he withdrew from the fight and set up a sanctuary, electing to protect his “flock” rather than lead them into battle. So Spike treads new ground, setting up our bleach-blond hero as leading a group of people that he cares about for the first time. He has to calculate decisions, he has to make tough calls, and he has to deal with everything Angel and Buffy have been dealing with for years. Spike grows, as he grew in all of Brian’s stories.

Spike is also about a serial killer named John who believes Spike has his soul. It’s about Drusilla, and how the (as Kr’ph so uneloquently put it) “hell moment” made her sane. It’s about how Spike gave her her sould back and unknowingly broke that sanity. It’s about hard choices. It’s about realizing when it’s time to walk away for your friends for their own safety. It also functions as a bit of narrative bridge to Season Eight, as the last issue has the infamous bug ship land in the middle of Las Vegas.

For me, Spike does a bunch of things. I could see the story growing as I read more than any story I’d read before. Like the eponymous character, Spike as a series was trying to find its footing. By issue #5, when Stephen Mooney took over as artist and Willow Rosenberg guest starred, Spike and Brian were knocking it out of the park. After that, every issue was better than the last until the epic conclusion.

For me, Spike makes certain hard-to-swallow elements of Season Eight a bit easier to take.

For me, Spike isn’t just a “this is how Spike gets the bug ship” story, which—and I don’t know why—was the reason why some people bought the series. For me, Spike was an ending. It ends with Spike leaving Beck and Jeremy and Betta George behind, because he realizes what being a leader means… and he doesn’t want the people he loves to deal with the fallout. He says, “No one is in control of anything. Innocents become dangerous. Heroes can turn on a dime. Sometimes, evil can do an about-face and want to help. People come into your life. People leave. Everything’s changing. Everything’s always changing. Bottom line, the only thing any one of us is in charge of… is ourselves.”

And so, Spike leaves on the bug ship in pursuit of the Senior Partners of Wolfram & Hart. Spike leaves Beck, Jeremy, George, Drusilla, Biv, Marv, Anna, and the rest of the Mosaic staff. He leaves IDW and he leaves us.

Spike was only on-going for eight issues. But Brian wrote three Spike minis before this that all seem integral to the narrative and character development of Spike and his stellar supporting cast… so, I guess, in a way, Spike sort of was this sprawling, on-going tale of a vampire with a soul trying to find his place in the world. Since Brian wrote twenty-one issues of Spike as a whole—and that’s not counting his twenty-two issues of Angel, his Last Angel in Hell special, and his upcoming short story in Yearbook—I can say that this was a good run. A beautiful, weird, hilarious, and goddamn I’m so sad it’s over run.

I wish Brian got to write the series how he intended it. I wish it didn’t have to get rushed due to some license crap. I wish Brian could write Spike forever, because no one gets Blondie Bear like that man. I wish a whole bunch of stuff, but you know what? This is what’s really special about Brian Lynch’s SPIKE series. Even all those wishes won’t come true, Brian managed to deliver a fantastic story… and that’s what I’ll remember when I think about, re-read, and talk about SPIKE for years to come.


Michael said...

I didn’t know where to post this, so I’ll just say it here...

It's sad that IDW will no longer be making such wonderful comics for us. Unlike Dark Horse (in my opinion), I've always felt they really knew what the Angel-verse was about and the proper direction to take their characters in. It's been an exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding couple of years as a fan.

As sad as it is to know they will not be continuing, I'm also sad that you can't review these comics anymore. You're a terrific writer and fan, and reading your reviews always make me happy. There's no one better suited to have written for the IDW Yearbook before it ends, so congratulations on being able to do that. I'm looking forward to the final stories, and whatever future endeavours you do as well! Keep up your stellar writings!

Patrick Shand said...

Michael: I'm so beyond flattered. Thanks so much for your kind words. I really hope that you follow me over to the new site ( because I'm gonna keep up the comic book discussion and will for sure target a lot of my posts towards Whedon fans.

Is there anything specific you'd like to see at the new site?

Stephen said...

I have been a long time reader of your reviews. Ever since the early days of Angel After the Fall. When Whedonesque directed me to your fine site.

I have often found myself in agreement with your critique of the comics. Especially our mutual love of Brian Lynch (whose involvement in Hop was the sole reason I went to see it.)

I have to say I missed reading your thoughts on the later Buffy Season 8 comics. I understand your reasons for stopping and they are a credit to your integrity as a reviewer.

I cannot wait to see the Brian Lynch interview you have coming up and I would love to know what his thoughts were for futher adventures of Spike and his merry band.

Ultimately I wish the Angel rights could have stayed with IDW. As you posted during the whole rights debacle reveal. I believe in IDW. They were always doing interesting things. Exploring the characters. Pushing them to develop and changing things in ways that seemed natural.

I will read Dark Horse's Buffy Season 9 and Angel & Faith series. I am intrigued by the writer they have got for Angel & Faith. He has done some excellent work for Marvel. Though I don't know yet if I will love it as much as IDW's work.

We shall see.

Thanks so much for keeping this site going throughout everything. Life can get in the way of keeping such things ticking over. I am really enjoying the send off though and will continue to follow your blog for more musings from you.

Patrick Shand said...

Thanks so much Stephen. Readers like you are why I kept this blog up for so long. Thank you a million times over.

And Brian is for sure gonna touch on what would've happened in Spike. It's gonna be a great interview, I thinl.

Stephen said...

My pleasure. I eagerly await the interview and the beginning of your countdown.

cil_domney said...

Thank you for all your work through the years with Spike and the other Angelverse comic books - they added so much to the reading experience of the Buffyverse and Angelverse.

Thanks also for your wonderful tribute to Spike and Brian Lynch -they were great together. Brian Lynch just had that special something that made me love and connect with his vision of Spike.

Look forward to reading your blog -

Patrick Shand said...

Thanks :)

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