Wednesday, January 13, 2010

After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night - Part 6 - And the Rest

(This is an ongoing series of posts where I discuss Angel: After the Fall Volume 1 and First Night Volume 2. My other posts are Part 1, which acted as an introductory post, Part 2: Working for the Senior Partners, Part 3: Angel, Part 4: Wesley's First Night, and Part 5: Wesley's Job Description.)

In my previous posts about Volumes 1 & 2 of After the Fall, I've written at great length about Angel and Wesley. Now it's time to talk about the other characters.

Betta George. With my luck, the first character that crops up in my alphabetical listing is a huge telepathic fish. This character, who had been happily swimming around in an amusement park aquarium up until the First Night, seemed to be able to theoretically float around at will (when he wasn't being held in captivity) within the L.A. hell dimension, probably due to the profound changes in atmospheric conditions.

I don't like to dwell on this character too much, since I didn't like how he spent most of his time being mistreated by various baddies. Plus, I honestly couldn't figure out the timelines for when he was a captive of Charles Gunn and when he was a captive of Kr'ph, the Lord of Westwood. Although Betta George was kept in miserable surroundings, he seemed like quite a free-spirited and feisty character who was psychologically capable of handling quite a bit of abuse. I understand Betta George first appeared in some of the Spike comics, so the fish is obviously being set up to play a larger part in later volumes of After the Fall.

Charles Gunn. In many ways, Gunn is the most fascinating character in After the Fall, and perhaps I'll do a longer blog post about him after I finish reading Volumes 3 & 4. Since Gunn seemed to have the most personal hatred against vampires, it's poetic justice, in an exceedingly perverse sort of way, that he was the character who was turned. His fate also ties in with another blog post I've wanted to do for a long time about the nature of souls in the world of vampires, based on Scott McLaren's excellent essay at Slayage, "The Evolution of Joss Whedon's Vampire Mythology and the Ontology of the Soul."

As viewers of the TV show know, Gunn was moments away from death at the end of the series finale. Angel, Spike and Illyria naturally had their hands full while fighting the giant battle, and Angel was unable to keep an eye on Charles the entire time. While Angel was working on making the flying dragon an ally, Charles was set upon by a group of vampires led by an unusually charismatic leader (who looked an awful lot like a cross between Angel and the Groosalugg), and was turned before Angel had a chance to notice what was happening. Somewhere during this time frame, Angel was teleported by the Senior Partners back to the ruined offices of Wolfram & Hart, so readers aren't sure if Angel could have saved Charles even if he wanted to do so.

Charles the Vamp naturally blamed Angel for his fate, which remained a running theme throughout Volumes 1 and 2. Gunn was nursed back to something resembling good health by the charismatic vamp, whom we knew had some sort of grand plan for Charles. However, a grief-stricken Charles dusted the vamp before we had a chance to really find out what the vamp was up to.

I've noticed that the Whedonverse never seems to provide us with a thorough explanation of what happens to human souls after they get turned into vampires. Presumably, as Charles understood what happened to his sister, the vampire retains the appearance and the memories of the deceased person, but the human body is actually taken over by a demon spirit at the moment it's turned. With Charles, we don't get any sort of explanation that the soul of Human Charles has left (or where it might have ended up), and that a different soul is now inhabiting his body. Regardless, whatever entity was inhabiting his body had the cruel fate of being wracked by the guilt and memories of Human Charles, his hatred of vampires, and the excruciating self-loathing that went along with all of a sudden turning into the very thing he'd fought against all of his life. Angel not only left Charles to die, he left him to his worst fate imaginable.

Interestingly enough, Vampire Charles set out to try to take back the city of Los Angeles from the rulers of the hell dimension. His heart, so to speak, was in the right place, as he went after evil lords and destroyed the ruins of Wolfram & Hart. However, we know how truly conflicted this character was when he would bring his gang in to supposedly rescue humans from their terrible fates, only to turn on the humans and embark on blood-sucking orgies after winning the battles. Vampire Charles felt no remorse, nor did he recognize the contradictions in his actions, leaving us to believe that the real Charles Gunn was no longer in the picture. Add the fact that Vampire Charles was using Slayers (presumably kidnapped and held against their will) for training purpose, and that can only equal one huge Not Good.

At the end of Volume 1, Charles and his gang were playing close attention to the battle between between Angel and his allies on one side, and the lords' champions on the other, which obviously foreshadowed an upcoming meeting between the two.

Connor and Kate Lockley. I was quite pleased that the Connor who appeared in After the Fall was the same likable Connor who showed up in Angel's Season 5. He tried to make it out of the city in First Night, but was captured by a band of demons who were late to the party. As Connor noted, it seemed as though all of the demons knew who he was. He tried to bravely fight off the demons, but Connor, who still seemed to have less than the full strength he enjoyed during his feral Season 4 days, was no match for them. Luckily for him, Kate Lockley came along and drove off the demons with an impressive arsenal of firepower.

Kate's appearance was a welcome surprise for fans, since the creators had allowed her to get over her hangups about the supernatural world and concentrate on helping "people who fall through the cracks". I also appreciated the creators allowing Kate to explain how "someone" turned her life around by explaining to her (which she paraphrased) "In the greater scheme, or the bigger picture, nothing we do matters. There's no grand plan. No big win. If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do, because that's all there is." What a nice homage to what could possibly be my favorite scene in the Angel series.

Connor, of course, had no idea who spoke those words, but did humorously mention that it was surprising she never ran into one of his "three dads".

Later on, it was revealed that Connor was going around rescuing people and bringing them to the Hyperion Hotel, which had been turned into a safehouse by Nina Ash, Gwen Raiden and himself. Connor, of course, eventually met up with Angel, duly noted that since Angel had killed the son of one of the lords it put a "big target" on his head, helped Angel out in various brawls, got warned off by Angel about joining him in the big battle against the lords' champions, and, happily, was one of the people who joined his dad in the rumble at the end of Volume 1.

(the) Groosalugg. I absolutely adored the Groosalugg in Angel. Of all of the minor characters who showed up in After the Fall, I was probably happiest to see him. I thought he fit in quite nicely with the Angel Investigations group, and I also thought they could have used his fighting abilities in their subsequent battles throughout the rest of the series. Here's a post that I did about him last June where I talked about his wonderful qualities and how heartbroken I was when he left the series.

I always thought that Groo fit perfectly into the L.A. lifestyle, in that sort of "no one fits in L.A." sort of way, and was glad that he didn't leave for any other dimensions. After First Night hit, Groo eventually become Lorne's champion, which is appropriate since the characters' actors, Mark Lutz and Andy Hallett, were reportedly very good friends in real life. Groo certainly seemed pleased to hit the battlefields again in After the Fall, and was a sight for sore eyes when he made his grand entrance to the comic book series astride a black winged steed.

Gwen Raiden. Gwen was always a giant puzzle for me. The Angel creators introduced her to audience members with great fanfare in Season 4, only to have her fizzle out after three (albeit substantial) appearances. Not only did her personal story arc fizzle out, each individual appearance in each episode left me feeling that there was some sort of giant buildup for her that led absolutely nowhere.

I liked Gwen, and I thought Alexa Davalos put in wonderful acting performances. Unfortunately, her character was just a little too disconnected and amoral to be truly interesting. Her "I always lie because I'm a thief" shtick got old pretty quickly. I always felt Gwen was meant to have a greater role in the Angelverse, and the comic continuation series seemed to offer the perfect opportunity for her. Obviously, an electrical freak of nature is tailor-made for comic books, right?

Unfortunately, Gwen's characterization in After the Fall seemed to follow the same script as in the TV series. In Volume 2: First Night (which occurred chronologically before Volume 1), an entire chapter was devoted to her, as it described a romantic encounter she was experiencing on the beach at the Santa Monica Pier (I think) courtesy of the "L.I.S.A." device she and Charles Gunn had lifted in Season 4's "Players". Gwen was actually having a pretty disastrous evening, but was wistfully happy she had the ability to have a disastrous evening without electrocuting her date. As Los Angeles went to hell, unfortunately the anti-electrical properties imparted to her from the L.I.S.A. device seemed to disappear and she ended up frying her date to a crisp. Again, she had a good beginning, but after that, she was basically making "extra muscle" appearances for the duration of Volumes 1 and 2. I understand she played a much larger role in Volumes 3 and 4.

Lorne. Of course it was wonderful to see Lorne pop up again in After the Fall, particularly since he made it clear to Angel in the series finale (in reaction to being given the assignment to knock off Lindsey McDonald), "Hey, Angel, uh, I'll do this last thing for you, for us... but then I'm out, and you won't find me in the alley afterwards. Hell, you won't find me at all. Do me a favor. Don't try."

It's always hard to say goodbye to a character. But in this case, part of me says it might have been a good idea to keep Lorne out of After the Fall, particularly since his appearance tended to water down the dramatic impact of his departure from the series ("Good night, folks".) In spite of that, I'm still quite happy that Lorne showed up in After the Fall, since he's such a larger than life figure.

Lorne's chapter in Volume 2: First Night cleverly captured his spirit. His story was told completely in rhyme, with the illustrations utilizing bright colors, all drawn with an almost childlike simplicity. Even his "down" times at the beginning of his First Night narrative had a rather peculiar upbeat quality. A very depressed Lorne was trying to make his way out of Los Angeles. He was disgusted with the act of killing Lindsey and with violence in general. Fortunately for him, he seemed to manage to get through the Los Angeles hell dimension pretty much unscathed, probably because he was a demon and not a human.

The next part was what I found to be quite astonishing, in that it seemed to upset the Angelverse stereotype of human victims. When Lorne made it to the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles, humans actually seemed to be banding together and fighting back against the demon oppressors. Lorne was so impressed with their courage, he let loose with his famous brain-shattering vocal cords and drove the demons away from that little corner of hell. From that point on, the locals made Lorne the Lord of Silver Lake, and he was one of the few "lords" who acted on the side of Good.

Another revelation for me was Lorne's attitude towards Angel. I really thought that in the series finale, Lorne was not only upset with the constant violence, but was also becoming rapidly disillusioned with Angel. I felt he was starting to equate Angel with violence a la Kate Lockley in Seasons 1 and 2. I was pleasantly surprised to find in After the Fall that Lorne still admired Angel for being a champion and still considered him to be a friend. Lorne had walked away from Angel in the series finale for exactly the reason he stated - Lorne and violence just didn't mix.

A final note about Lorne, which I know I've stated before in the past. I think it was somewhat of a mistake for the creators to allow Lorne to give up on his Caritas karaoke bar in Season 3 and join forces with Angel Investigations. Although I never considered Lorne to be a part of the core team (Angel, Cordelia, Wesley, Gunn and Fred), he certainly was close enough to function like an auxiliary cadet. By joining the team, Lorne seemed to give up all appearances of impartiality, lost some of his sharpness, and became somewhat of a cheerleader for the cause. When Lorne was still at Caritas, whenever he gave his approval to the actions of the Angel Investigations team, we knew that whatever they were doing was meeting Lorne's extraordinarily high standards. By becoming Lord of Silver Lake, Lorne seemed to be taking steps to becoming his old strong, independent, neutral self again. As such, he did some fancy side-stepping to break ranks with the other "lords" and gather up Groo, Spike, Illyria, Connor, Nina, and Gwen to all join Angel in his big brawl at the end of Volume 1.

Nina Ash. I'm always under the impression that Nina the Werewolf wasn't a particular fan favorite in Season 5, but I always liked her. Admittedly, she probably arrived too late in the series to make much of an impact. It also doesn't seem fair that someone introduced fairly late in the series would become a regular in the comic continuation, while others who had a lot more face time in the series either didn't appear at all or just made brief appearances in the continuation series.

Regardless, the romance between Angel and Nina represented a lot more than two people bound together by their supernatural freak statuses. What Nina really represented to me was the possibilities for new beginnings in life where you attempt to leave your past behind and take a few baby steps forward. Angel was forever encumbered by "the curse" where he would revert back to the evil Angelus if he should ever experience 100% total happiness. He was almost completely destroyed when he experienced that moment of perfect bliss with Buffy. Buffy was the first love of his life, and Cordelia was the second. With Nina, maybe she wouldn't have ever been "the one", but it was certainly nice for two people to do something incredibly ordinary like bat their eyelashes at each other, get to know each other, and see how things worked out from there.

Unfortunately, Nina was introduced as Angel's "ex-girlfriend" in After the Fall. We're not sure of the circumstances of the breakup, but having one party deliver a major metropolitan area to a hell dimension would potentially be a real relationship killer. For Nina, one of the physical properties of the hell dimension, where both the sun and the moon were continually in the sky at the same time, left her on the continuous verge of turning into a werewolf. Although she wasn't hideously hairy, she was left in a permanent undignified state of exhibiting a lot of animal behaviors, in which she sniffed and licked the humans left in her care at the Hyperion Hotel, and otherwise crassly violated people's personal spaces.

About the only positive thing about Nina's state in After the Fall was the fact that she was able to channel her animal instincts to help turn her into an effective fighter.

Spike and Illyria and Fred Burkle. After the Fall brought us a familiar storyline with Spike, where he started out as a completely uncaring asshole and ended up every bit the champion, with his journey from Point A to Point B naturally being quite entertaining.

In First Night, just like Angel, Spike was teleported away from the battle and was surprised, but happy, to see a badly frightened Fred huddled on the floor in front of him. After the obligatory "I'm retiring from all of this", which lasted all of about ten minutes until he and Fred come across a group of humans being terrorized by demons, we saw Fred transforming into Illyria, who used her still considerable powers to dispatch the demons quite handily.

From that point on, Spike and Illyria were somewhat of a team, as they stumbled onto a group of bikini-clad women led by a woman named "Spider". Spike was made Lord of Beverly Hills, and he claimed to have trained these buxom beauties into an elite Amazon fighting force. In reality, the women seemed to have put Spike under their control.

When Gunn and his gang of vampires massacred the group of humans they were supposedly rescuing, all signs pointed to Spike and Illyria. Angel went to confront the two, with the predictable result of Angel duking it out with Spike. As usual, they had their scuffle and were on the verge of making up when Illyria decided it was her turn to fight Angel. Illyria was incredibly enraged at Angel for........who knows why. However, he was pretty close to death before his dragon buddy swooped in to save the day.

Although I had hopes that Illyria would progress under Spike's guidance after the TV series finale, I was saddened to see that things were not going well for her. First, I was disappointed with her comic book appearances. Whereas the TV version of Illyria had a certain softness and vulnerability (thanks to Amy Acker's excellent acting performances), the comic book Illyria was all hard lines and grim determination. Spike, for all of his good intentions, could not work with Illyria and she was deteriorating quickly. It appeared that, whereas the TV Illyria could turn herself into Fred at will, the comic book Illyria was finding it very difficult to control her inner Fredness.

Although I don't think it was ever brought out into the open in the first two volumes of After the Fall, Illyria seemed to have been suffering from the double whammy of losing Wesley and not being able to control Fred. Spike might not have been the ideal person to act as Illyria's guide and tutor, but he should have been able to do a passable job under the right circumstances. However, trying to humanize a demon in the middle of a hell dimension was an almost impossible task. When Spike brought Illyria to Angel's big battle against the lord's champions, Spike pretended that the only reason he came was so Angel would reciprocate the favor and take Illyria off of his hands. Spike couldn't make any headway with Illyria, and it was doubtful Angel would have been able to do much better since their biggest and most impossible fault was that neither of them was Wesley.

During the last pages of the book, ghost Wesley appeared in the battle, and a big mystery was solved for me. I had read in other reviews that Spike said he never would have shown up if he knew that Wesley was going to be there. I interpreted that statement to mean that the two of them had never been particularly close friends, and that Spike was disgusted that Wesley was now an envoi for Wolfram & Hart. I now know that an already unstable Illyria was going to have to learn to deal with the world without Wesley's guidance, and any hopes for progress in her rehabilitation would probably disappear with any reunion she had with ghost Wesley.

I'll repeat for the benefit of any new visitors to this site that I never cared for Fred in Angel: the Series. The best I could do was tolerate her presence, which I could only do after giving myself a pep talk that I shouldn't despise someone just because she comes across as being naively sweet, good-hearted, innocent and otherwise perfect in every way. As such, I have an obvious ulterior motive in trying to believe that any appearances by Fred after Illyria had taken over her body occurred only as a result of biochemical discharges that brought her embedded memories up to the forefront. (I wrote about this at length back in July with my post, "The Soul of the Matter".)

You could also compare the Fred takeover by Illyria to Gunn being taken over by a demon spirit.

I say the "real" soulful Fred has left the building unless I'm given positive signs that prove otherwise. As such, one of my biggest motivations for reading the After the Fall series, and for continuing on with Volumes 3 and 4, is to see if I'll read any proof that the "real" Fred still resided within Illyria's body. I have a feeling I'll find that out soon enough after I use up my Amazon gift card that I received as a Christmas present.

Victims. I noted in a post I did last August called "Faceless Victims and First Responders" that the producers of Angel seemed to go out of their way to avoid assigning any identifying characteristics or features to their victims, which resulted in the audience being hard-pressed to feel any empathy for these people. After the Fall carried on the tradition by showing humans mostly as feral sheeple, particularly lacking in any intelligence that would allow them to recognize the peculiar dangers they faced and take the necessary actions to protect themselves. If I knew the city of Los Angeles better, I'd be better qualified to address the special signficance as to why the residents of Silver Lake were the only ones who seemed to have the gumption to fight against the demons who threatened to take over their neighborhood.

There's a definite difference between portraying humans in such a way that we can sympathize with their suffering, and showing them in various stages of degradation where we can only turn our heads in disgust.One particularly pathetic bunch were the slaves of the skeletal Kr'ph, Lord of Westwood. As the Buffy Wikia site in the above link so succintly noted, "Like many of his fellow Lords, Kr'ph held in his power a number of human slaves, which he employed as a harem, in the case of the women, and gladiators, in the case of the males." These slaves were also humiliatingly (and scantily) dressed as dictated by their roles. Particularly with how the women were "dressed" (and they all seemed to be Hollywood starlets), I was given yet one more message loud and clear that "Miriam, you are not part of our target audience."

Closing Thoughts. I was happily surprised to see so many minor characters from the series show up in After the Fall. By including so many of these people, the creators gave validity to our feelings that these characters made important contributions to the TV series, and were not simply forgotten when their names stopped showing up in the scripts.

I keep reading that Los Angeles was sent to a hell dimension. To me, that implies the city was physically transported from one place to another. I think a more accurate description would be that a hell dimension was unleashed on the city of Los Angeles. I also wonder what an outsider would see if he stood on the outside of the city limits and peered into Los Angeles. I guess it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I just find the choice of terminology of being "sent" to hell quite interesting.

I wonder how the actors feel about having their characters live on in comic books? Do they buy and read the comics, or just ignore them and try to get on with their lives? I'm under the impression that some of the actors are more attached to their former characters than other actors, and I wonder if they feel any disappointments about how things have turned out in After the Fall.

Via Whedonesque, and Chris Ryall's blog, IDW is releasing a 48-page tribute comic to Lorne/Andy Hallett. Apparently Hallett's real life good friend Mark Lutz (the Groosalugg) will also be making some contributions. I think it's wonderful that Lorne will be getting a well-deserved send-off, since having Lorne without Andy Hallett around just doesn't seem right. I'm looking forward to reading the tribute.

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