Saturday, November 19, 2011

Effectively The Third Volume Of Angel: After The Fall, Spike: After The Fall Has Its Charms.

The Good: Fills in a story gap well enough.
The Bad: Terrible artwork in too many places, Illyria's character is a bit off.
The Basics: A mildly interesting bridging story, Spike: After The Fall is hampered by a predictable plot and poor artwork.

More is not always better, I do believe. After all, as the follow-ups to the fifth season finale of Angel (reviewed here!) pile up, they largely fail to resonate or entertain with little more than a passing interest for the fans. As a result, some of the attempts have fallen a little flat. Spike: After The Fall is one of those attempts. The thing is, the fundamental problem with this book, for those who have been checking out the new Angel series as if it were Angel Season Six, is that this continues to distract from the rising action that began in Angel: After The Fall (reviewed here!).

Spike: After The Fall continues to fill in the blanks between the final episode of Angel and Angel: After The Fall, which begins months later. The Spike vignette in Angel: After The Fall - First Night (reviewed here!) was a very simple tale; when Los Angeles is teleported to Hell during the final battle, Spike is elated to have survived another apocalypse scenario. Given that, he decides to hang up his spurs . . . until he hears weak humans shouting for help and he leaps back into action. Unfortunately, he is overwhelmed and Spike is about to be killed by demons when he is rescued by Illyria. In the first After The Fall volume, Spike is one of the lords of Los Angeles (Beverly Hills) and Spike: After The Fall is the bridge between the two points in Spike's character arc.

Having been rescued by Illyria, Spike has begun to rescue humans from the hell-ravaged streets of Los Angeles. Staying alive by leaving places when the crowd gets too large and unwieldy, Spike and Illyria take up residence with their refugees in an abandoned amusement park. Soon after, though, Spike is set upon by Non, the Lord Of Beverly Hills. Non is a demon goddess, like Illyria, who feeds upon humans, making them into zombies.

Having captured Spike and begun to torture him for her amusement, Non and her army of women begin to feed on Spike's flock as Illyria reverts to Fred and freaks out. As Spike is seduced by Maria (a spiderwoman) while in captivity, Gunn takes on Non and shows off his captive Slayers. As Non and her Sadecki demon - which has the ability to influence others - make zombies of all the men and protect the borders of Non's territory, Spike's situation begins to look more dire . . . especially as Connor enters the fray!

Brian Lynch continues his exploration of the post-"Not Fade Away" world with this story which is illustrated by his partner in many of these ventures, Franco Urru. This is not Urru's best work as an artist. Urru opens the hardcover anthology with terrible artwork that resembles thumbnail sketches or animatics from an animated feature. The sloppy artwork sets up a poor perception of the overall story and the art gallery in the back - essentially the episode's "bonus feature" - is unimpressive as well. Throughout the book, Spike is underdetailed and in things like the dream sequence while Spike it being tormented, some of the "long shot" artwork is just disappointing for its lack of detail, both in the penciling and coloring.

Lynch's work in Spike: After The Fall is another tough sell for fans of the Spike character, for a few reasons. First, Lynch seems to overemphasize the relationship between Fred and Spike as it was developed (or not) in the fifth season of Angel. Spike pines for Fred and works to protect Fred by keeping Illyria in control of Fred's body throughout this volume. But even that is irksome as Illyria's control over her body was pretty absolute in the television series and no reason for her slippage is given in this book. It's a tough sell, then, for detail-oriented fans.

Beyond that, all Spike: After The Fall does it bridge the gap between the two volumes in After The Fall so far and tease readers. So, for example, Gunn's scene with Non has absolutely nothing to do with Spike and it feels a lot more like filler than anything else. After all, by that point, Spike is a captive but he hasn't figured out what is actually going on yet. Similarly, Spike trying to take refuge at Wolfram & Hart pretty much just sets up the question of "Where is Angel?" that is played out in the first and third volumes of Angel: After The Fall. Spike's story is rather limited here and the teaming of Spike and Connor is a weird one that is not played out in the other volumes either.

Outside that, Lynch does a decent job of keeping Spike's voice sounding real and Spike-like. Spike is cynical and survives by avoiding when necessary, insulting everyone along the way. Spike: After The Fall also has the requisite humor that fans of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel expect from him. In this case, the humor takes the form of Spike insulting the remaining man in his party and others trying to mimic Spike's voice at times. That is funny and it works, even in print.

There is, as well, one real good surprise in the final moments of Spike: After The Fall, which works perfectly for the Illyria character. Unfortunately, there is little tension for readers here as we know: 1. Spike can't die (we've seen him in subsequent volumes) and 2. Spike will depose Non, so it's just a waiting game on "how." That is only mildly interesting and - poor Spike - the idea of Spike getting tormented by virtually anyone who comes along is sad and continues to gut the idea that Spike is truly one of the best big bads. For sure, he has evolved, but in the case of Spike this seems to mean everyone and their brother can come along and kick his butt.

As a result, this is one of the less compelling Spike stories and it is easy enough to pass by. There is nothing essential here that fans cannot live without, especially at the hardcover price.

For other graphic novels that feature Spike, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Spike: Shadow Puppets
Spike: Lost & Found
Angel Not Fade Away


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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