Monday, December 21, 2009

After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night - Part 1

A few months ago I received Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 and Angel: After the Fall: First Night Volume 2 as gifts. I had a little difficulty getting started with these two volumes, primarily because the only comic books I'd picked up in the past 15 years were Archie comics. As I wrote in a post from last July
I'm of an age where I still tend to think of comic books as being strictly for kids. To me, those are things that you buy at the drug store along with your candy bars. I'm a lot better about my prejudices against comic books since several people have educated me about how the best of them can be considered [to be] high art forms in their own right. They can even come in hard-covered books!
After the Fall Volume 1
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'll spill it all out in the off-chance that there's at least one other bewildered kindred soul out there who stumbles upon this post. I have these 40-something-year old eyes that seem to defy the effectiveness of corrective lenses. I had a hard time reading Volume 1 due to the combination of the small (read: average-sized) print and the dark, murky colors. The images were too busy on the pages for my eyes, and my vision seemed to oscillate back in forth in rapid succession trying to adjust to too many things at once. I just flat out had a hard time focusing. I was forced to put my book down on one of my "bad" days and pick it up and read it again on one of my "good" days.

Also, I had a hard time figuring out the rhythms and the correct reading order of the dialogue balloons and boxes. When I first started reading it, I had to constantly re-read panels and pages in order to get the dialogue sequences in the correct order, which obviously killed the enjoyment of the narration. I felt like a little kid who can't figure out what the story's about since it takes him too long to read the individual sentences. It's also like reading lines of Shakespearean sonnets in random sequences and having to shuffle them back together in the correct order. Luckily, the second time I read Volume 1, this particular problem seemed to disappear.

Someone like me almost needs to read synopses of comic books ahead of time in order to figure out what's going on. Obviously, a lot of the action is visual, and there were several times that I couldn't figure out what was going on in the pictures. For example, there was one scene where some bad-ass demon was destroyed, and I couldn't tell if I was looking at a pulverized demon or a pile of rubble. I found out a page or two later that the demon was dead, so I had to flip back and go, "Oh, that's when it happened."

I realize I'm not the target audience for these types of books. so I hesitate to call these factors drawbacks to Volume 1. I am an inexperienced comic book reader, so it's hard for me to come out and say certain aspects are "good" while others are "bad". I can only report based on my past experiences. (Hah! Though I will admit that I wasn't fond of all of the scantily-clad women in both volumes. It looked like the artists drew bikinis on their subjects by using a straightened end of a paperclip!)

Brian Lynch's introduction to Volume 1 also set off some warning bells. He talked about how he was a major Angel fan when the series was first being aired, and how he would always watch episodes with friends. However, the episode that really blew his mind and convinced him of the greatness of the series was Season 3's "Sleep Tight", when Wesley kidnapped Connor, which ultimately led to Wesley getting his throat slit while baby Connor ended up in a hell dimension. Of course, this was the episode that broke my heart and almost completely destroyed my enjoyment of the series. Despite that, Brian Lynch is an excellent storyteller, and we're fortunate that a true fan of the series was associated with the continuation. After I worked through a few of my personal issues, I enjoyed Volume 1 immensely. In a nutshell, Angel pissed off some "lords" of Los Angeles, and at the very end of the volume, most of his old friends joined him at the last minute and helped him fight his epic battle against the hand-chosen champions of the "lords".

As you can tell from my last sentence above, I'm always more character-driven than plot-driven when I read a book or watch a movie. Even though I consider Volume 1 to be rather plot-driven, there was still a lot of excellent character development, which I'll explore in my next posts. My only real criticism of Volume 1, and this is such a minor point I almost don't want to bring it up, is that I was a little disappointed with how the characters turned out in the drawings. However, I could quickly figure out who was who, so it didn't impede my enjoyment of the book at all.

After the Fall: First Night Volume 2
Brian Lynch stated in First Night that there was obvious discussion on whether the plot for the continuation comic books should have picked up immediately where the TV series left off. Lynch said that Joss Whedon was insistent that Volume 1 start a few months past the ending of the TV series so that fans would immediately be drawn into the thick of things in the Los Angeles hell dimension. I personally found it easier to understand Volume 1 after I read First Night Volume 2. However, I also found that, thematically speaking, Whedon's instinct was as correct as usual. Volume 1 told a real story, whereas Volume 2 tied up some loose ends and caught us up on all of the action. It's better to start off a new series with a bang rather than with a series of housekeeping chores.

On first reading, I enjoyed Volume 2 a lot more than Volume 1. I obviously wanted to find out everything that happened on the night of the big showdown between Angel, Gunn, Spike and Illyria and those 40,000 demons, and the book didn't disappoint in that regard. The colors were brighter, the images seemed more direct, the characters looked more like their TV images, and the dialogue and story boxes seemed to be much more logically arranged. I could read the text straight through without having to unscramble the order and re-read everything. I can imagine that the fact that the narrative in Volume 2 was not as strong as in Volume 1 could turn off some readers, but it didn't bother me at all. I'm always kind of a sucker for these "behind the scenes" features anyways.

What really won me over to Volume 2 was the fact that it featured more pure text than in Volume 1. While I appreciated Brian Lynch's intro in Volume 1, I loved the Groosalugg's witty introduction in First Night, where, among other tidbits of information, he gave an explanation as to why he didn't appear in that particular volume. I also highly appreciated the text at the end of the book, which was really annotations on what we had just seen and read in the comics portion. The notes gave a lot of good information and helped me understand the two volumes much more clearly.

With the help of the "extra" information in Volume 2, I could go back and re-read Volume 1 with a lot more enthusiasm. It was only then that I could recognize the strengths of Volume 1 and the "weaknesses" of Volume 2. Volume 1 was a rousing adventure with an appropriately exciting cliff-hangerish ending that left you asking for more. Volume 2 was a diversion from the narrative, albeit an extremely necessary one that finally answered a lot of burning questions.

In my next posts I'll focus on the characters of the two volumes, which will hopefully give you a lot more information about the plots.

Closing Thoughts. I was quite thrilled a couple of months ago when one of my children informed me that an Erudite Somebody-or-Other told an audience on C-SPAN that the last book he had read was Angel: After the Fall. It's too bad I have no idea who that guy was.

I'm almost a little disappointed that I'm enjoying the Angel continuation series. I don't want anyone to think I'm destitute, but I have to admit that spending just shy of $20.00 for each volume in a series of comic books is a bit hard to swallow. I not only have to worry about After the Fall, but all of the other canonical (?) publications (e.g., Spike's series). I'm hoping that when my oldest son graduates from college, he'll get a good job right away and a nice house with a finished basement. My husband and I could move into his basement, and I could use my new-found time and increased cash flow to buy and read comic books all day long.


Lauren Johnson said...

That would be kinda cool. You're son tells his company, "Oh that's just my mom, she's going downstairs to finish reading her comics." lol

Miriam said...

Hi Lauren!

It might not come to that. Just this past weekend I saw my youngest son tentatively look through one of my After the Fall volumes. If I can just get him to spend his mad money on comic books....