Pop Culture Gadabout
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
      ( 4/02/2008 01:38:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"IT ALL BEGINS WITH A STAKE TO THE EYE!" After four graphic novels playing with individual elements of their source, IDW's newest Angel mini-series, After the Fall, is a straight-up follow-up to the full Joss Whedon/David Greenwalt-created teleseries. Set not long after Angel's series finale (which climaxed with Los Angeles begin sent to Hell and our soulful vampire getting ready to do battle with a dragon), the new comic book series purports to answer all those plot points that many series fans had hoped would be resolved in a teevee movie one day had not David Boreanaz thrown his lot in with the nerdy squints of Bones.

Co-plotted by Whedon - with the actual comics scriptwork tackled by Brian (Spike: Asylum) Lynch - the new mini-series opens on a besieged City of Fallen Angels. Filled with demons fighting turf wars and running roughshod on the city's beleaguered human survivors, L.A. has become a rough place, indeed. Having somehow brought the dragon onto his side, our hero is still trying to fight the good fight, operating out of the law offices of the firm responsible for the city's displacement. Aided by the ghost of onetime ally Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, whose ultimate allegiances remain unclear throughout the series' first three issues, Angel gets things rolling by pissing off one of the city's nastier demons. Said demon, Burge, gets particularly peevish after our hero kills his thuggish demon son. Concerned about what Burge might do for revenge, the vampire tracks down his own son Connor to warn him of the possible repercussions.

Connor is one of several Angel regulars scattered throughout the city, doing their bit to help the harried human population. Fellow vampire Spike has been playing Hugh Hefner to a host of rescued Hollywood babes, while the onetime urban vampire killer Charles Gunn has undergone some major unlife changes of his own. Each of Fall's first three issues is structured to end with a surprise reveal about one of the characters, and, though the Whedon-centered message boards have been chattering about each one, I'm not gonna give 'em away here. Suffice it to say that most fans of the show will find their interest piqued by the conclusions to issues #1 and 3, while others coming to this comic series may wonder what the big to-do is.

Scripter Lynch does a strong job maintaining the wisecracking vibe of the original teleseries (my favorite line involves Spike calling the demon warrior Illyria, "Fred Sonja," a joke that'll only make sense to those who know that character's back story), while the Whedon/Lynch plot remains true to its hero's character. As a white hat, Angel has rarely been the most proactive of figures. His most consistent strategy is to walk out in front of the bad guys, set himself up as a target and then start swinging. ("We're the kings of last-minute saves," he tells the ghost Wesley near the end of issue #3.) If our hero's basic methods prove uncomplicated, Angel's story elegance has long rested in the convoluted schemes of those surrounding our straightforward hero: hence the ironic use of the wicked law firm Wolfram & Hart in so many of the series' stories.

Italian artist Franco Urru's renderings are atmospheric, if occasionally overly fresh-faced. (You'd expect folks who've been living in Hell to look a little more haggard, after all, though on this we could perhaps give ghost Wesley and the vamps a pass.) There's also a moment in issue #3 featuring the dragon which manages to visually convey both comic book opulence and the budgetarily-constrained cheesiness of the old teleseries (all we see on the first three pages are the dragon's head) which got me chuckling, while a brief sequence where our hero temporarily gets unstuck in time in the midst of a fight with Illyria is also a kick. Unlike some of the earlier IDW graphic novels, I have no issue with the artist's recreations of the established characters, though his figures' eyes can look prety darn white.

If After the Fall does a strong job recreating its source's pulpish wit, after three issues, it remains to be seen whether Whedon and company can also be true to the original series' more emotionally somber moments (cf., the death of Cordelia Chase, the eviction of Winifred Burkle's soul). Though Angel's milieu has never seemed as resonant as the one Whedon created for his Buffy, the Vampire Slayer - adolescent hell is more experientially recognizable than urban Hell, after all - it has had its strong dramatic moments. Of all the graphic novel offshoots to shoot off from this entertaining teleseries, After the Fall is truest to its world, but we've still got an ish or two to go, I suspect, before we'll know whether this comic book series can fully capture its vampire hero's wounded heart.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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