Whedon Speak: Angel: After the Fall

The first hardcover volume of Angel: After the Fall features one of those built-in bookmarks, a crimson length of ribbon tethered from the top and dangling like a gecko’s tongue below.  I scowled at first.  Pretty luxurious and self-important, I thought.  This was IDW, the company I knew only as the demonic trust keeping Angel from crossing over with Buffy and pals over at Dark Horse.  Petty cock-blockery if you ask me.  And to add insult to injury, they were releasing After the Fall in 25 dollar hardcovers. With crimson page-minding gecko tongues. It’s a premium which isn’t always deserved. But truthfully, that ribbon may well come in handy.  Though I did plow through the five issues contained within at one sitting, there’s still a trove of content in the back.  Not that I’m going to pause amidst the cover gallery, but there is also a full script for the first issue annotated by Brian Lynch.  Which, to me, is quite valuable and worth savoring, as I am a massive, unrelenting nerd.

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 paul@ifanboy.com.  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

Paul joins the writing staff with season 2, episode 14 “Jack Nicholson’s Nose.”  All previous episodes from seasons 1 and 2 can be found for free at wormwoodshow.com or on iTunes.  

 


Comments

  1. GungaDin GungaDin says:

    I agree with these sentiments, sir. I’m personally trade waiting for my double dip. Enticing as the hardcovers are, I can’t not wait for the trade. Maybe I’ll ask for the hardcover as a gift.

    Without being too spoilery, I do like where the series goes. I think it’s a welcome direction and for a show that has such a perfect ending, it’s really, really fun to see where everything is and comes from the was. There’s a lot of good surprising. My only really huge complaint, as you said, is that IDW has the rights to Angel and I would LOVE for him and his crew to join Buffy Season Eight. My mind would gasm if they got that (which they won’t. IDW’s making a ton ton of money on this right now.)

  2. daccampo daccampo says:

    I have to admit: I bought the Angel hardcover on sale while at the San Diego con. To date, I still have not finished reading it. I gave it a shot. It was alright, but I got a little bored with it, and gave up. I need to see it through. Frankly, I came back to Angel at the end of his series, so I’m not as familiar with the characters as I am with Buffy’s characters. I know roughly who everyone is, but… I don’t know all the little details. I felt like this was a bit of a rough read for anyone not familiar with the series. It drops you right into a situation with little or no reintroduction to the characters. The book is definitely aimed at folks who want to read the continuing adventures of Angel.

  3. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @daccampo – That’s a really good point.  Even though I’ve seen every episode of the series, either on TV or on DVD, I still had to stop and think about some of the characters and relationships.  Urru’s style is a little muddy, which makes it difficult to connect a character’s face with a recognizable actor.  Case in point, there’s a panel which features a photograph of the original Angel crew, and I can’t for the life of me tell Cordelia and Fred apart.  It’s just two girls with brown hair.  But having read the collection in full, I feel pretty up to speed.  

    I’d suggest giving it another shot, because some of the reveals are really interesting decisions.  I think it’s worth revisiting the TV series first though.  There are dips in quality, but that last season was an exciting revamp (pun intended, obviously), and so, too, is this comic series.   

  4. ohcaroline ohcaroline says:

    The damn trade isn’t coming out until January.  I’ve been intrigued by what I’ve heard about this series, and I definitely know the ins-and-outs of ‘Angel’.  But I skipped single issues because I wanted to give the series time to start building (even Buffy season 8 took a while to hook me in single issues), and I’m just not convinced it’s worth it for me in hardcover.  (See, if I want to see this gang, there’s all these DVD’s I bought and paid for where everybody is alive and looking like their pretty, human selves).

    But this is a great, interesting, review and I’ll have it bookmarked for when I get the volume in my hands.  Thanks!

  5. HerrStarr HerrStarr says:

    i think this is by far my favorite Whedon series, the hardcovers are beautiful, even if i thought it ended perfectly in season 5.  What they are currently doing with Gunn is really interesting, and i can’t wait for the third HC to come out. Also isn’t there a time issue if they were to do a crossover as Season 5 of Angel occurred after Buffy was canceled, or is season 8 far enough in the future that season 5 already happened?

  6. Diabhol Diabhol says:

    Glad to know I’m not the only one to have a minor issue or two with Urru’s art. :) Overall, I really like the series, but in the beginning, I had to work a bit to figure out what was going on and who was who.

     

  7. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I think season 8 is far enough in the future that it wouldn’t matter.  I’m sure there’s a timeline out there, but there has to be a jump because they set up a castle headquarters.  And if I recall correctly, the issue with the stand-in Buffy touches on the season 5 episode of Angel where Spike and Angel stalk Buffy in Europe.  

  8. HerrStarr HerrStarr says:

    Yeah i forgot about the immortal episode i guess they would be around the same time. Well now i’m upset, i need me some cossovers.

  9. ohcaroline ohcaroline says:

    "The issue with the stand-in Buffy touches on the season 5 episode of Angel where Spike and Angel stalk Buffy in Europe."

    I love that episode so much, I don’t care what anyone says.  (Is pre-emptively defensive).  I’m kind of sad they retconned the Buffy/Immortal relationship away, though I understand why it was done.

  10. Paul Montgomery PaulMontgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    It’s a fun episode.  Andrew is in it!

  11. GungaDin GungaDin says:

    Fun Fact: In that episode, Andrew was originally supposed to be Dawn.

  12. does anyone know how long this series is going to run for. While it’s good, its wavering on my cancelation list (only really due to finance). but wont bother if it’s not going to go the 50 odd issues Whedon recones Buffy will run.

  13. lantern4life lantern4life says:

    @corishcomicfan- IDW lists Jan. issue #16 as the penultimate issue.

    I’ve purshased all of IDW’s run of Angel.  Curse, Old Friends, and this have been the only top notch stuff.  Oh and Angel Spotlight:  Doyle.  Even though this dragged in the middle the last 3 issues were superb #12 and 13 have been my POW.  But seriously, unless they go onto Season 7 after this I’m going to drop this book.  I never did like the in between stuff that doesn’t deal directly with the main season story. 

  14. @lantern4life-cool, thanks, if it’s only a few more issues i wont bother canceling it.

  15. lantern4life lantern4life says:

    @corishcomicfan- Ya IDW just listed the last After the Fall issue as 17 in Feb. but it will continue with aftermath type stories in 18 also listed for Feb.