Tuesday, November 27, 2012

IDW's Angel and Spike Collected editions - a quick review of all of them

By my count there were 17 collected editions of IDW stories featuring the crew from Angel. I decided to reread them then I decided I should review them because I never did the first time around.

Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, and Franco Urro

Beginning months after the final episode of Angel, we find that Wolfram & Hart sent Los Angeles to Hell. That isn’t the only huge change masterfully handled by Brian Lynch. This volume is packed with twists and turns: Angel is human, Wes is an intangible emissary for Wolfram & Hart, Gunn is a vampire, Spike has taken up Angel’s role as champion, and Illyria and Lorne are both ‘lords’ of their respective territories.

Angel is doing his best to protect humans and find a way to pull Los Angeles out of Hell. He kills the son of a Lord and decides that instead of waiting for the father to take his revenge, Angel challenges all the Lords for control of Los Angeles. Angel doesn’t ask his friends for help but it turns out he doesn’t need to as the gang (sans Gunn) reunite to help Angel beat back the forces of evil once again. Meanwhile Gunn is plotting something big.

Good: We get to see Angel, Wes, Gunn, Lorne, Illyria, Spike, Connor, Nina, Gwen, and even Groo. The story is great, and the way the characters act feels like the show.

Bad: The artwork. I know Urro was handpicked, but it’s not great to look at. In one panel, where Gunn is looking at a photo, you can’t tell which character is Fred and which one is Cordelia.

Angel: After the Fall Volume 2: First Night by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, David Messina, Stephen Mooney, John Byrne, Nick Runge, Fabio Mantorani, Kevin Schmidt, Scott Tipton, and Mirco Pierfedericic

Brian Lynch shows us what happens to Angel, Wes, Gunn, Lorne, Illyria, Spike, Connor, Gwen, and Kate on their first night in Hell. For all the twists and turns in the first volume, we learn how Angel discovered he was human, Lorne helped make Silverlake a utopia, and what Connor and Gwen were doing the moment everything went to Hell.

Good: The best story was Lorne’s, done all in rhyming verses but Gwen’s was great too. I appreciated Gwen getting a little attention since she was a character I wished we’d seen more on the show. I loved Wes ‘going to Heaven’ to be reunited with Fred and seeing it for a Wolfram & Hart trick. Wes was always the smart one (except for that one time with kidnapping Connor and stuff).

Bad: Some stuff is just extraneous and didn’t need a back story. Concerning the “Civilians” chapter, Kevin Schmidt’s art is horrible and the story’s not that great.

Angel: After the Fall Volume 3 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, and David Messina, Stephen Mooney, and Nick Runge

Team Angel defeats the Lords of Los Angeles. Now that they’ve been reunited they need a place to go since Gunn blew up the offices of Wolfram & Hart (in volume 1) so they set up shop at the Hyperion. Angel is back on the trail of a vampire sitting on a lot of power. Unfortunately, that path leads directly to Gunn who is convinced he has visions from the Powers-That-Be and wants revenge on Angel for not saving him from being turned. While Spike and Connor try to get past Gwen who has cut a deal, Gunn gets his revenge. Close to death, Angel has an out-of-body experience and is reunited with Cordelia who wants to make his passing easier.

Good: Gwen a traitor? Nice twist. It’s always great to see Cordelia and there’s a lot of great stuff with Wes and Illyria.

Bad: Nothing. This volume perfectly capitalizes on the storylines introduced in the first volume.

Angel: After the Fall Volume 4 by Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, Stephen Mooney, and Franco Urro

Wolfram & Hart believe that Angel is prophesied to be evil’s MVP. Sending Los Angeles to Hell was more about Angel watching Connor, his friends, and his city suffer than it was about killing Angel. In fact, the Lords of Hell were under strict orders not to kill Angel. They even made him human so he’d be a less effective hero. What they didn’t count on was Gunn taking him to the precipice of death so Wolfram & Hart throws everything they’ve got at Team Angel to rescue their future MVP.

A mostly restored Angel has to then take on the most powerful being in Hell: Illyria. With Connor, his friends, and innocents dying all around him, Angel comes up with a solution that gets Los Angeles out of Hell. While the remnants of Team Angel keep Wolfram & Hart’s demons away, Angel uses Gunn’s hatred of him to get Gunn to kill him.

Wolfram & Hart cannot let Angel die so they pull Angel from the time stream during that epic battle at the end of season five and before they went to Hell. Not only does Team Angel remember everything in Hell but so do the citizens of Los Angeles. Angel saves Gunn from being turned and is reunited with a Connor who now remembers everything about his life. In the midst of Angel’s newfound notoriety (most people in Los Angeles know who he is because they saw him in Hell) he restarts Angel Investigations and gets back to the business of helping the helpless.

Good: So many moments in this volume. There’s a panel where Team Angel is walking toward the reader and Angel says “Cue the music.” There are two great scenes with Connor: one while he’s dying and one when he’s reunited with Angel. One of the extras the original outline for issue #1 and overview of the series that Brian Lynch gave Joss. The difference between that first proposal and what you see are a lot different but make for an interesting read.

Bad: Angel gives Groo his dragon. Exactly where does Groo take a dragon and a Pegasus where they won’t stand out? And Angel’s “Cue the music” moment would have been cooler if the artwork was better.

Angel Volume 5: Aftermath by Joss Whedon, Kelly Armstrong, Dave Ross, and Stefano Martino

While Spike, Gunn, Illyria, and Lorne go their own way, Angel assembles a new team to fight the forces of evil. Angel, Connor, and Kate are joined by redemption-seeking Gwen, the mysterious Dez, and the real-life angel, James. Angels are on earth doing a little demon clean-up but step over the line with they kill helpless humans. (IS THAT TRUE? CHECK AGAIN)

Good: I like meeting new and interesting characters and seeing them interact and bond with established characters. Dez and James both have unique origins that I haven’t seen in the Whedonverse. Plenty of laughs as Angel and Kate (the founding members of this incarnation of Angel Investigations) try to figure out how to screen jobs as they keep falling into ambushes and plots to get Angel’s autograph.

Bad: Nothing. Great characterizations, great stories, and interesting new characters made reading this volume a lot of fun.

Angel Volume 6: Last Angel in Hell by Brian Lynch, Franco Urru, Juliet Landau, and Stephen Mooney

In this volume, Non, a former Lord of Hell, restores Gunn to full health and has to face Illyria over what happened between them in Hell. Fortunately for Gunn, they’re both seeking a better understanding of who they are post-Hell. This single-issue story leads directly into the “Angel: Still Human” mini series. Drusilla is in a psyche hospital where some of the employees know she’s a vampire. The flaming sword that killed Angel in Hell is being auctioned at a sci-fi convention in San Diego. Suspecting that a winner will be someone who wants to kill him, he travels to San Diego with Groo and runs into Spike. Together they have to not only kill demons but keep the convention goers safe when they become the characters that they’re dressed as. And we get to read the adaptation of “Last Angel in Hell,” Hollywood’s film about what happened in Hell.

Good: I like the standalone issue that leads into the “Angel: Still Human” mini-series. The stuff with Angel and Spike at the sci-fi convention is funny but when Spike becomes Angel (thanks to a spell) the funny gets cranked up to, “I’m crying, please stop, it hurts.” Groo is consistently hilarious here. It could be that the two issues with Angel and Spike at the convention are the two best issues of the series.

Bad: Juliet Landau helps pen a tale that made me flip back and forth between pages as I tried to understand what was going on. The flashbacks were confusing and when the demon army comes for her at the end, I don’t understand why they attacked her or if she died (is she supposed to be in heaven at the end?).

Angel Volume 1: Immortality For Dummies by Bill Willingham, Brian Denham, Bill Williams, and David Messina

When Angel is captured by an evil corporation bent on using his blood to create vampires, Connor takes control of Angel Investigations. With his father missing, a mysterious army of women who claim they are his army, the return of Gunn, Illyria, and Spike to Team Angel’s ranks, Connor may have bitten off more than he can handle which will result in Gunn quitting the team. And Eddie Hope is a blue devil hunting down people who he has a score to settle with from his days in Hell.

Good: Finally Gunn says all the things to Connor that Connor-hating Angel fans have been wanting to say for a long time. Angel has a very uncomfortable conversation with Illyria Laura Kay Weathermill is an interesting addition to the Angel team and has a Watcher background. Great art throughout from Brian Denham & David Messina.

Bad: Dez and James get very little to do and are virtually ignored by the established characters.

Angel Volume 2: The Crown Prince Syndrome by Bill Willingham, David Tischman, Mariah Huchner, and Elena Casagrande

It turns out that James isn’t an angel and he wants Team Angel dead. A soul eating demon goes after the team and reveals that Spike has no soul and kills Dez before being killed. And Eddie Hope goes after Gunn for his crimes in Hell and Angel Investigations comes to the rescue.

Good: Great final fight at the end with all of Team Angel including Gunn.

Bad: After a great introduction in volume 5 and being almost virtually ignored through 2 more volumes, James is a villain and Dez is dead. These last few volumes have suffered through different writers who seem to focus strictly on the characters who appeared on TV instead of embracing all of the characters on the team. And Anne, a character who appeared on Buffy a few times (she was the vampire worshipper who got stuck in a demon dimension with Buffy and appeared over on Angel where she runs a teen shelter) dies. James pops in and has minions kill everyone in her teen center. The killing happens ‘off screen’ so she’s either dead or playing host to a demon that will have to be killed later. And no Groo? What’s up with that?

Angel Volume 3: The Wolf, The Ram, and The Heart by Mariah Huehner, David Tischman, Elena Casagrande, Stephen Mooney, and Jason Armstrong

Angel leaves Connor in charge of Angel Investigations and heads off into the sunset only to be ripped out of the timeline by Wolfram & Hart. Angel finds the future Los Angeles has become a collection a demon breeding farms and humans are the bottom of the food chain. Angel locates Illyria, the one person who can send him back to the past and help him stop James once and for all.

Good: The IDW series is over.

Bad: Darrow (a lawyer for Wolfram & Heart) starts as a powerful, jerk of a character who becomes a nice guy as he’s dying. After Rowant kills James, she tells Angel he’ll be in charge of Los Angeles. With a ‘god’ more powerful than James standing five feet from Angel, he asks Illyria to send him back through time and leaves without conflict. Connor’s new power allows him to take Anne’s pregnancy and transfer it to James to kill him. How about Connor’s new power in general? What does it do? What is it? This is a lousy story with too simple (or convenient) a solution to a promising premise.

Angel: Only Human by Scott Lobdell & David Messina

Illyria and Gunn are trying to sort themselves out post-‘After the Fall’ when Fred’s parents call to say her Uncle has passed away. Illyria and Gunn travel to Fred’s birthplace and Gunn finds himself between the Scourge and the Stygian demons they’re trying to kill while Illyria battles an old enemy who has a portion of her power thanks to the same mutari generator that took that power from her.

Good: The story was great from start to finish. The beginning reminds you of the things that happened between Gunn and Fred and his involvement in making Illyria possible. Gunn has always been one of the most badass members of the Angel team (he’s the guy who TWICE willingly put on a charm that caused him to get the heart ripped out of his chest every day) and this series reminds you why. Illyria is a compelling character made more interesting because the Team Angel can’t help but see Fred in her. The mini series is pitch perfect and Scott Lobdell should be doing more stuff in the Buffy/Angel universe.

Bad: Scott Lobdell should be writing more stories in the Whedonverse – he obviously loves the source material.

Spike: After the Fall by Brian Lynch & Franco Urru

Spike survived Wolfram & Hart’s siege only to find himself and Los Angeles in hell. The events of this mini series occur before the first issue of Angel: After the Fall.

Spike has been reunited with Illyria and together they’re rescuing and rounding up human survivors. Illyria keeps slipping back into the more vulnerable Fred so Spike tries to keep her Illyria. But when Non and her demon army show up, Spike is captured and tortured for over a month while Non sucks the life-force from his human followers. By the end, Spike has killed Non, freed her demon army, reunited with Connor, and lost every one of his human followers.

Good: Brian Lynch has a great grip on the characters, their personalities, and it seems like he wrote this before the first issue of Angel: After the Fall. This TPB isn’t just a companion to the main series, it’s the beginning of it and you should read it. Jeremy proves to be a fun character and his death is a true Whedon-inspired tragedy.

Bad: Spike kills vampire Hugh Heffner – RIP.

Spike Vol 1: Alone Together Now by Brian Lynch, Franco Urru, and Nicola Zanni

To tackle Las Vegas’ many demons and the local branch of Wolfram & Hart, Spike assembles a team: Betta George, Beck, Groosalugg, Cordelia the Dragon, a possessed Jeremy Johns, and…Drusilla??

Along the way, they save Twi-hards, battle a demon made of Elvis impersonators, and burn the Wolfram & Hart building to the ground. During Spike’s battle at Wolfram & Hart, he runs into John, a ruthless killer whose soul was taken to give to Spike. When the group makes their escape they discover there’s an invisible barrier keeping them in. So while the team lays low and regroups, Spike decides to add another member to the team: Willow.

Good: Brian Lynch takes full advantage of the character’s histories and many in-jokes. For example, Spike tries to call Angel at one point and the caller ID identifies him as Captain Forehead. And Brian Lynch perfectly sums the character’s complex history up in two pages and shows a “Twilight”-like movie that was made where the main vampire character was modeled after Spike. Franco Urru and Nicola Zanni’s art was fantastic. Urru’s artwork has either grown on me or the inker is really good at making his pencils work.

It’s good to see Jeremy again even if he’s being possessed by one of Wolfram & Hart’s demons. I don’t know who Beck is but I’m liking her. Groo is always a welcome sight because almost everything out of his mouth is hilarious. And Spike’s reunion with Dru was passionate and unexpected. But with their complicated history, I guess Spike wouldn’t just kill her as soon as he saw her.

Bad: Nothing. Brian Lynch makes great use of the characters and the mythology to craft a story that’s fun and further adds to the mythology.

Spike Vol 2: Stranger Things by Brian Lynch, Stephen Mooney, and Franco Urru

The Las Vegas branch of Wolfram & Hart rallies under Lilah Morgan’s leadership and change tack. Instead of continuing their efforts on Earth, the senior partners would like an spacecraft capable of interdimensional transport – and they get it. Meanwhile, Spike’s team is joined by Willow in time to take on John. But John has created a seal that when stepped on, removes a person’s soul. Willow tells Spike that the owner of the soul gets to decide who gets the soul and he chooses Drusilla. With Drusilla in incredible mental anguish, she gets back on the seal and gives Spike the soul back. Then Spike meets the bugs.

Good: Willow and Spikes reunion and their goodbyes were great. It’s a nice reminder that, with everything else going on in these character’s lives, there was always time for quality, meaningful interaction. There’s some nice stuff with Willow and Dru when she first gets the soul and is freaking out and Willow holds her. Spike is a certified bad ass who should have his own series.

Bad: It’s over. While I was happy that Dark Horse was uniting all the Buffy-verse characters under one roof, Brian Lynch is a genius with the Angel characters and great at introducing new characters. When Spike is standing on the seal carrying Dru, the seal is all pixilated like it was blown up to a size that was too large. It should have been drawn or at least cleaned up.

Spike: The Devil You Know by Bill Williams, Chris Cross, and Marc Deering

When a night on the town for Spike turns into an assassination attempt, he goes looking for answers. Tansy Fry, a vampire Spike is acquainted with from his days running with Angel, Darla, and Drusilla has resurfaced with a plan to open Hellmouths large enough to allow demons to come through but not big enough to attract Slayers and she plans to keep moving and opening Hellmouths from city to city. Tansy has an army but it’s not enough to keep Spike, joined by Eddie Hope, from closing her franchise before it beings.

Good: Eddie Hope and Spike have a lot of great dialogue as they go through the adventure together and watch each other’s backs. While they might not be best friends, they have a lot in common. The writing and the art were on point here.

Bad: When Eddie becomes a demon the tail rips out the back of his pants so when he changes back from human he changes pants. At one point he says he’s staying in demon form because he’s out of pants. Then a demon attacks and for no reason he changes back to a human. He tries to attack the demon but he’s swatted. Flying through the air you can clearly see his pants are intact in the back – what happened to the hole the tail left? Then he changes back to demon to help Spike out. It was just a weird moment where I thought, “Did the artist make the mistake changing him back to human and the writer had to go with it?”

Angel: Blood & Trenches by John Byrne

Angel reads a newspaper article about bodies being drained of blood in Europe and sees a drawing of the symbols found. Angel pokes around and discovers the symbol belongs to Kakistos. Kakistos is taking advantage of World War 1 by cutting a deal with the Kaiser and using the war as cover to recruit and feed. In order to stop him, Angel has to deal with soldiers who have had to defend themselves against vampires and know how to kill them, dodge a team of Watchers led by Geoffrey Wyndam-Price, and kill scores of vampires.

Good: The artwork in this book is all pencils with the only color being red blood. For John Byrne fans this is a unique book because of that. Usually all artwork is inked. And it’s cool to see Angel in action without the mention of atonement. Of course for people who aren’t fans, Angel kills vampires for no apparent reason. While the vampires talk about his history, there’s no clear accounting of his history. But since I’m a fan, I didn’t need the reminder.

Bad: The story jumps around a little bit and while it tells you things like “a week ago” you lose track of the time period as it either shows you a few weeks ago or a few hours ago. You can do jump back to periods before Angel got to Europe, but once there jumping around during his adventure in Europe gets confusing.

Illyria: Haunted by Scott Tipton, Mariah Huehner, and Elena Casagrande

Illyria is confused. She was once a god worshipped by thousands and able to slaughter anything that got in her way. Now she’s trapped in a shell with only a fraction of her power and all of Spike and Wesley’s memories of Fred in her head. She has no clear purpose in the world and no way to get back her former glory. Spike suggests she visit the Deeper Well which was her prison for so long. She gains some clarity of purpose in time to take on an ‘old one’ who she inadvertently helps escape from the Deeper Well.

Good: A lot of great stuff with Illyria trying to come to terms with her place in the world. There’s a really nice dream sequence with her and Spike where they are drawn in but all of the backgrounds are drawn in crayon. The artwork is some of the best in the Angel series and so is the vibrant color throughout. It’s good to see Illyria treated as a character and not something that delivers threats or literal statements because she doesn’t have anything to do in a story.

Bad: Her narration square is pink until she touches a gem in her old cell. Suddenly the narration square is blue and she’s thinking that she suddenly understands. What was the gem and what did it show her that made her whole?

Fallen Angel: Reborn by Peter David and J.K. Woodward

Illyria is trapped by a weak shell in a dimension in which she isn’t the all-powerful entity she used to be. When a stranger offers a way to get that power back, Illyria goes on a journey to find her two scythes and helmet. With those three items reunited, Illyria will be restored. When Illyria travels to Bete Noire she meets/fights with Fallen Angel and her son. Fallen Angel is forced into an uneasy alliance with Illyria while trying to convince her that being restored to her former glory will mean destruction for the Earth. But with all the pieces assembled, Illyria decides if she becomes what she was, everything will be the way it was when what she really wants is change. She destroys the helmet.

Good: The painted art was a nice change – I don’t see painted art very often. A nice addition to Illyria’s story, by crushing the helmet she eliminates any possibility of being the all-powerful god she used to be. I liked the dynamic between Illyria and Fallen Angel as they tried to get along on the way to uniting the three items.

Bad: I didn’t know anything about Fallen Angel going in but this story didn’t really endear me to any of them. I didn’t get a sense of who that character was and I didn’t get a clear indication of what her mission was in Bete Noir.

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