I don’t know that anyone lit their torches and scurried down to the garden shed for a pitchfork when they heard that Buffy was going to continue on in comic book form. As I recall, the Ewoks in my neighborhood danced and the hydrants burst forth with root beer. No complaints. But the idea of an Angel season six was met with scrunched foreheads. Should the story continue? While Buffy ended with the definitive closing of a chapter, Angel ended on a question mark surrounded by exclamation points. The remaining players rushed headlong into a daunting final battle, and depending on who you ask, their off-camera fate was either “complete and utter defeat” or “doesn’t matter.” Whedon concluded on a grim and bombastic note that students of the Sherry Lewis School of Puppetry and Philosophy will define as “The Song That Doesn’t End.” In the battle of good and evil, the fight rages forever onward. It was a bittersweet ambiguity, which, in and of itself, was extremely controversial. And this was years before Tony Soprano sat down at the diner and slid quarters in the jukebox. For some, the promise of Angel: After the Fall was closure. Finality. For others, that’s exactly its downfall. Like it or not, the answers are here.
Let’s get something out of the way though. Whedon’s name is on the cover and spine, sure. But he’s more or less the executive producer on this project. Because the scripting duties go to Brian Lynch, many have questioned the pedigree of this series. Fair enough. But according to reports, Lynch impressed Whedon with his earlier work on Spike comics such that he was given the reins to After the Fall. Evidence of Whedon’s editorial guidance can be found in the annotated script I mentioned earlier. To compare it to another Dark Horse series, Whedon is guiding the trajectory of After the Fall just as Mike Mignola conducts B.P.R.D., the Hellboy offshoot scripted by John Arcudi. So, yes, it counts.
I’ll try not to reveal too much beyond the first issue.
Wesley Wyndam-Pryce was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. So was Los Angeles. Angel’s choice to stand up to Wolfram & Hart resulted in a veritable Hell on earth, with sections on the city governed by warring demon lords. Thus it is Angel’s job to protect the human refugees and reclaim the city from the clutches of damnation. Or, at the very least, to put out the fires and stamp out the hordes. Throughout this first collection, Lynch reintroduces the series’ ensemble. Many relationships remain as we remember them, while others, due in part to Angel’s decision and the events immediately following the Fall, have changed drastically. The first five issues gradually reveal the new status quo and the second collection fills in the gap to explain just how these changes came about. Many of these revelations are apparently in line with Whedon’s original plan, were the series to continue into a sixth televised season. For one, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce is dead. Still no doubt whatever. But that doesn’t mean he’s gone. Bound by his contract with Wolfram & Hart, Wesley is unable to move on and now serves a morally ambiguous purpose as the new liaison between the senior partners and Angel. It’s cruel and unusual, and it’s only one of the many Whedon character torture devices grinding and stretching throughout. It’s wholly appropriate, as Angel was always rich with gallows humor and merciless irony. More than any other Whedon series, Angel is about harsh reality. The light at the end of the tunnel is the lure of an angler fish. Lynch is a capable torture artist, offering the proper balance of hope and conflict. It’s both funny and thrilling.
I was pleasantly surprised by some of Lynch’s truly sophisticated storytelling techniques as illustrated by series artist Franco Urru. In one transitional sequence which involves Angel getting from Point A to point B, all the while engaged in an inner monologue, they keep it visually interesting by putting Angel in a car and letting him casually mow down a barricade of demons. The reader’s point of view through this entire sequence is in the back seat of the car, looking over Angel’s shoulder to the windshield. In the course of a page and five widescreen panels, Angel drives out of the garage, up a ramp, towards the demons, and finally into the demons. It’s a bit of eye candy to disguise the fact that we’re reading a lot of inner dialogue, even if the words and pictures are not directly related. The comic violence, while funny, isn’t the point, of course. It’s all in the steady point of view. The visuals are consistent enough to keep our attention on the caption boxes, but enough of a distraction to keep it entertaining. It’s a great way to convey the exposition needed to set up the story. This is, in fact, page two of the second issue. Another example of Lynch’s cinematic choices can be found on the first page of the following issue. We last left Angel in the midst of an outdoor brawl. A cliffhanger. To re-establish the story for readers picking up the book after a month-long hiatus, Lynch opens with quiet panels showcasing the interior of a house. After three such “establishing shots” Angel bursts through a window and lands on a table, having been thrown from outside. These are compelling and dynamic storytelling choices which serve to control the tempo of the story. In a comic, timing is everything. Moments like this work for comedy as well as a crafty means of relaying information to the reader without losing their attention. Lynch isn’t just a fan of the series and capable mimic of Whedon’s signature dialogue; he’s also a really gifted storyteller in his own right. If the initial concepts for plot points were Whedon’s design, Lynch executes them with a flair.
I’m genuinely excited to see what happens next. Where Buffy season 8 is a welcome and deftly composed reunion of favorite characters, Angel: After the Fall is an exciting continuation of an adventure still in progress. The drama is heightened because the choices are risky. Lynch continually raises the stakes, but never at the expense of control. Choices feel measured and calculated, but the movement is huge. There’s something undeniably thrilling about controlled chaos.
For me, Angel: After the Fall was ultimately worth the hardcover treatment. There are sequences and extras mentioned above which you’ll want to mark with that ribbon for later reference. But don’t expect to use it on the first read. It’s a roller-coaster and you’re going to want to ride it out.
Paul Montgomery is the new lord of Westwood. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find him on Twitter.
Now online: Listen to his first scripted episode of the award winning audio drama Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery, co-written with Wormwood creator David Accampo.