Saturday, 1 December 2007

Review: Angel – After the Fall

Angel: After the Fall Issue 1, “After the Fall” Chapter 1, plotted by Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch, scripted by Brian Lynch, illustrated by Franco Urru, coloured by Ilaria Traversi, lettered by Robbie Robbins, edited by Chris Ryall, cover by Tony Harris, 27 pages of comics, IDW Publishing, November 2007, US$3.99

It’s probably unfair to reach judgements after just one issue, but it’s still harder to resist the temptation to compare IDW’s new Angel series, After the Fall, the first to show us what Joss Whedon thinks happened after the end of his TV series, with Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8: The Long Way Home, which did the same for its big sister (and which I rather liked).

And the similarities are striking.

First, there is a shift of scale and setting to something that could not be managed on a TV budget. Buffy is now leading an army of slayers based in a Scottish castle; Angel is riding a dragon over a Los Angeles that has been sucked into Hell.

Second, there is an excess of recurring characters and a reluctance to move on from those already left behind. So, in the last TV episode, Wesley Wyndham-Price was killed as decisively as any character could be. He’s back here, admittedly as a ghost, but with more dialogue than pretty much anyone else. Gunn is back too. And we get Connor. And Electro-Gwen. And Angel’s werewolf girlfriend. And Wolfram & Hart. True, Spike is being held back for next issue, and Illyria and Harmony haven’t turned up yet, but that may just mirror the structure of The Long Way Home, in which Giles and Willow only appeared in later issues. It’s odd that a professional writer should seem to be writing fan fiction about his own creations, but then Joss Whedon often comes across as his own biggest fan (if we discount the outright certifiable).

Third, like Buffy, Angel seems now to have discarded the idea of an overarching metaphor. This is a particular shame in Angel’s case, as it was only in its last season on TV that it settled upon a satisfactory approach, using supernatural stories to address the compromises of adult working life.

But alongside these similarities are major differences in the level of craft on display.

The big change from Buffy is that the Angel comic only has Whedon as a co-plotter. He shares the plot with Brian Lynch, who also writes the script. Lynch gives us page after page of macho posturing and dull threats, with only a smattering of wit. Odd touches of quirky originality – a telepathic fish, apparently carried over from Lynch’s earlier Spike comic – are counterbalanced by such tired clichés as a harem of women in chains and a group of men forced to fight as gladiators. Lynch is a television writer by trade, but, unlike his colleague, he does not seem yet to have mastered writing in his new medium. It’s often unclear who is providing the first-person narrative caption boxes, for example, and their relationship to the pictures is unsteady, neither juxtaposed nor properly supportive. The shock ending is undermined as much by bathetic final words as by the difficulty of recognising the character in the last panel (it took me two reads, and I am not the most casual and inattentive of readers. Perhaps it would have helped if artist and colourist had followed the script’s hints about co-ordinated clothes).

Franco Urro’s artwork is often sketchy, but mostly serves the narrative, apart from a curious addiction to panels showing characters standing in straight lines left-to-right, looking out at the reader. Perhaps this is some sort of parodic reference to the “power shots” that always ended the TV show’s title sequences, but it is so artificial as to pull you right out of the story.

The big problem with the art – as has been the case on most IDW comics that I have seen, apart from those with colour art produced by Ben Templesmith – is the crude and muddy Photoshop colour and effects that quite overwhelm Urro’s already non-too-robust drawing. This seems to be a house style, so I am not inclined to blame Ilaria Traversi too much for it.

Altogether, not an inspiring start. I’ll give it another issue, but I remember watching the dismal, incoherent and leaden fourth television season of Angel (the one with Cordelia giving birth to an evil goddess) as the biggest act of misplaced loyalty to a TV show that I’ve committed since mid-1980s Doctor Who, so I am reluctant to repeat the mistake in comics.

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