Tuesday, March 16, 2010

After the Fall Volumes 3 & 4 - Overview

Patrick Shand from Buffyverse Comic Reviews said it best when he described issues 9-12 (which were eventually printed as Volume 3 of Angel: After the Fall, pictured to the right) as "...the bombs planted in earlier issues are going off one after the other". ****

The bombs continued to go off into Volume 4, with roughly the last half of Volume 4 being as emotionally satisfying (perhaps even more so) as anything I ever saw on the original TV series. Based on what I've read in the first four volumes alone, I'd encourage any Angel fan who has been hesitant about reading the continuation series (or perhaps got stuck after reading Volumes 1 or 2) to go ahead and take the plunge by reading all four volumes.

Even Wesley Wyndam-Pryce fans will be rewarded if they stick with After the Fall long enough. (Wesley, of course, was forced to work for Wolfram & Hart after his death since the employment contract he signed contained the dreaded "perpetuity" clause). His calm and understated courage in the face of the most horrendous odds was quite inspirational. Even though there's no overt happy ending for Wesley, there's still more than enough room for us to be able to conclude that perhaps he finally did find his peace after all.

I'm even more convinced than ever now that Brian Lynch was the perfect writer for After the Fall. It was important for the continuation series to get off to a strong start, and Lynch performed quite admirably in what could have been a disastrous situation. Also kudos to both Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch for bringing a lot of humanity and character development to the series, along with the expected excitement and pyrotechnics. I particularly appreciated how they brought Angel and Wesley's friendship to the forefront. Although their friendship wasn't neglected by any means in the TV series, I always wanted a more thorough investigation of that aspect of their lives. After the Fall 1-4 continued that exploration, with Angel's poignant "Thank you, rogue demon hunter" bringing their relationship to a wonderful conclusion.

Volume 4 had something that looked an awful lot like a happy ending, with Los Angeles getting back to normal and Wolfram & Hart being mysteriously missing in action. However, we all know that nothing is ever as it appears in the Buffyverse, and that the adventures will always continue. Since I'm reasonably sure Wesley is completely out of the picture now after Volume 4, I'm wondering if I'll call it quits on the Angel continuation series, or if I'll read some other volumes in the near future. Regardless, Volume 4 is as good as place as any for me to call it The End if necessary so I can go on to something else in my life.

Artwork. In my reviews of Volumes 1 and 2, I was reluctant to spend much time discussing the artwork. For one thing, there are so many great people working on these volumes I'd hate to slight anyone, e.g., by complimenting the pencillers while ignoring the ink and color artists. I'm also still pretty new to the world of adult comic books, so I don't exactly have a discerning eye for detail. However, I still have definite likes and dislikes, and I've noticed that I'm starting to recognize a few artists based on a few basic characteristics. For example, I notice Franco Urru's work tends to be dark, bold and dramatic, though sometimes the colors tend to be murky, which I should probably blame more on the colorist(s) than anyone else. Also I'm a little disappointed that Urru's characters aren't as true to life as I would like them to be, though I can hardly criticize an artist's interpretations of his subject matters.

Alex Garner's artwork has a pleasing fairy magic/fantasy element, with some particularly lovely colors that seem to shimmer at times. Stephen Mooney has what I consider to be a more classic comic book style of artwork, where the primary colors seem more brightly lit. Finally, Nick Runge's artwork can be surprisingly realistic looking, with an almost archaic quality to it. Since I notice certain color characteristics with certain artists, I sometimes wonder how much control they have over the colorists.

I have not spent a lot of time analyzing the artwork, so what I've noticed so far might not hold up to much scrutiny. However, I'm somewhat pleased that I'm starting to get over my "comics are for kids" bias and am also starting to more fully appreciate the entire comic book package rather than just the story lines.

I will go ahead and give special praise to Nick Runge's work in Chapter 1 of Volume 3, particularly where the evil Lords of Los Angeles were lining up to unwittingly get themselves killed. That was the first moment where I really started paying attention to the artwork beyond simply looking at the pictures to see what was going on. I loved how the Lords were first portrayed in color, showing themselves as powerful beings in front of their slaves, then were showed as being silhouetted against the glowing background. I also loved how the traitorous Loan Shark was depicted. He actually looked kind of cute!

To continue on with the story of how the Lords of Los Angeles were defeated, in one of their finest buddy-buddy moments, Angel and Wesley found items called Hagun Shafts deep within the bowels of the Wolfram & Hart building. With the help of The Loan Shark, these wands were distributed to the Lords, who were then told that the Hagun Shafts would blow up Angel when they detonated them. As it turned out, they were actually demon suicide wands that blew up the Lords after Angel gave the hilariously incongruous command of "Bippity, boppity, and boo". The end result was, although it was great that Spike, Illyria, Connor et al came to help out Angel in his big brawl at the end of Volume 1, Angel and Wesley already somewhat had things under control.

Familiar Characters. There's been a lot of discussion as to whether it was a good idea to include so many familiar characters from the Angel TV series into After the Fall. I say Whedon and Lynch made the right decision to bring back a lot of our old favorites, at least for the first complete story arc. Quite frankly, many of us wanted to see these characters simply because we missed seeing them in the old series.

I was particularly pleased to see that Cordelia played such an important part in Volumes 3 & 4, which surprised me at first since I thought her character had become persona non grata. As Brian Lynch explained in the "Questions and Answers" section of Volume 3, Cordelia wasn't originally slated to come back. However, it became instantly obvious that she would be needed while Angel was hovering between life and death in his out-of-body state after he was stabbed by Vampire Charles. Otherwise, Angel would have simply been talking to himself. Cordelia also gave Brian Lynch a way to bring The Powers That Be into the story.

It also became obvious to me, particularly with Cordelia and Wesley, that there comes a certain time when you have to say goodbye to old characters and let the new ones take over. As much as I adore Wesley, I found that he was such an overwhelming presence, it was necessary for him to leave at the end of Volume 4 simply so Angel would have the freedom to go off and do his own thing. As long as Wesley was on the scene, he had to be used extensively because he was such a strong character. You can't introduce him into a volume and then not use him. A lot of the same arguments could be made against bringing Cordelia back in later volumes. She was good for standing around and reminding Angel of his moral commitments, but there came a time when Angel had to stand on his own two feet and get on with his lessons learned.

Minor criticisms. It's probably more my fault than anyone else's, but I still had some problems following a few of the story lines, even though I was having an easier time than when I first read Volume 1. Since I'm still a comic book novice, I had a hard time getting into a proper rhythm where I could seamlessly read and retain what I had already learned. As a result, I still need to heavily rely on Brian Lynch's introductions and special features to give me the necessary background information that I need in order to continue on.

Vampire Charles gave me the most headaches, since he was constantly going back and forth between "yes, everything's going to plan" and "no, nothing's going to plan". I couldn't tell half of the time if I should have already figured out most of the "plan", or if the creators were leaving clues for me so I'd have something to work on until I got to the Big Reveal. Specifically, there was one part in either Volume 3 or 4 where I was under the impression that I should have already known that Charles was building an altar made out of demon body parts, per the Senior Partners' instructions. However, I wasn't sufficiently motivated to go back into earlier volumes to find out for sure.

And I still can't quite figure out what the Shanshu prophecy is all about.

Closing Thoughts. I'm grateful that After the Fall not only gave me a continuation of the Angel series, it opened me up to all of the possibilities that comic books and graphic novels have to offer. I'm starting to appreciate the "art for art's sake" aspect of these volumes, which my husband bemusedly found out the hard way when I told him "Isn't this great?" as I showed him the picture of Angel's horrifying Apocalyptic battlefield vision courtesy of Wolfram & Hart. (In my defense, I thought he would be reminded of the very end of one of his old Doom PC games.)

Since I knew Wesley would come back to the continuation series in ghost form, I was under the impression he would simply pop in and out once in a while to deliver messages to Angel from Wolfram & Hart. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he was not only a major character throughout Volumes 1 -4, he was also a heroic one as well. It was an effective plot device that Wolfram & Hart needed Wesley to keep Angel alive, which allowed the two of them to be able to spend most of their time together. Although After the Fall continued the tradition that Angel and Wesley always seemed to arrive at the same solutions to their problems simultaneously, (particularly when they both figured out a way to force Wolfram & Hart into bringing Angel back to his timeline before The Fall), one can't help but feel that Angel would not have been able to do so without Wesley's inspiration. The two of them had a wonderfully complicated symbiotic relationship that I hope someone will explore in great detail at some time, if it hasn't been done already.

I'm glad that there is a definite ending to Wesley's story. I'm amazed that I'm not in the least bit upset that he's gone for good. I'd rather have Wesley's story come to a close than have him stick around indefinitely in limbo.

I'm looking forward to reading more posts at the Buffyverse Comic Reviews site, since I understand Patrick Shand has reviews of just about every Buffyverse comic ever released. People like Shand provide a valuable service by generating interest in the new issues. I'm more likely to go off and actually buy a comic after reading an in-depth review, just because I don't want to buy something if I have no idea what it's all about.

In my next post(s) in this series, I'll focus on one of my favorite topics, which is the nature of our souls. Wesley and his dealings with Illyria/Fred, along with Vampire Charles' struggles to accept his true demon nature, will provide the backdrops.

****Patrick Shand quote from Question #1 in the "Questions and Answers" section of Brian Lynch's Angel: After the Fall, Volume 3.


PatShand said...

I know this is years later, but I just came across this and wanted to thank you. I really appreciate all your kindness.

Miriam said...

Hi, Pat! It's overwhelming for someone like me to try to catch up on Buffyverse comics because there's so much out there. I'd like to start buying some more comics soon, and I'll definitely use your site as a resource to help me decide what to get.

PatShand said...


I'm not using my site much anymore, but I'll be posting a lot of stuff on my new blog patrickshand.blogspot.com

If you want a list of how to read IDW's ANGEL comics, I can for sure write that up. The last comic from that company comes out Wednesday, and I wrote part of the story. All of the stories are one off an easy to follow. If you go to the comic shop or any online comic store, just look for ANGEL YEARBOOK!


Miriam said...

I'd be VERY much interested in a writeup on how to read the Angel comics. And that's wonderful that you contributed to the YEARBOOK! What a great closing for the IDW series. I'll check out your new site later today. (Unfortunately it's a beautiful day here in Michigan and yardwork calls.)