Sunday, November 20, 2011

Plot-Heavy, Angel: After The Fall Volume 3 Is Too Tough A Sell.

The Good: Begins to answer significant plot questions, Artwork is generally good, Clearly leading to something
The Bad: Plot-heavy, Obvious bridge, Light on character development
The Basics: Even as a fan of Angel, Angel: After The Fall Volume 3 is too plot heavy and while it seems to be leading somewhere, it's not getting there fast enough.

As I continue to follow the continuing adventures of Angel, the Buffyverse vampire with a soul whose missions have continued in comic - and graphic novel anthology - form, I find myself eager for the point. Joss Whedon has turned Angel over to Brian Lynch and the series Angel: After The Fall has been an awkward collection in graphic novel form. Usually, I would correct the concept of "graphic novel" with "trade paperback anthology," but in the case of Angel: After The Fall, the hardcover comic book anthologies are not trade paperbacks. Still, the purpose of Angel: After The Fall, the de facto sixth season of Angel is to continue the story of Angel unlimited by television budgets and with the third volume (fourth story), readers finally get back to where the first volume ended.

The story, so far, is convoluted and has been explained through the other After The Fall stories (I've linked them below in chronological order). But the basic concept (and it's impossible to not mention a few events that happened in order for this review to make sense, so those looking to maintain surprise for the whole arc, turn back now!) is that after the final moments of the series finale of Angel, Los Angeles was sucked into Hell. The outside world has no idea Los Angeles is gone, but for six months, Los Angeles has been in Hell. Spike has rescued humans with Illyria's help and raised an army, Gunn was vamped and has since disappeared and Wolfram & Hart has sent Wesley back as a ghost to thwart or assist Angel. Angel, though, has his own secret and in Angel: After The Fall, Volume 3 that secret is out . . . rather quickly.

Fighting against the various Lords Of Los Angeles, Angel quickly finds himself outmatched and his allies come to his aid, soon realizing that he is only protected by flimsy magic. Illyria, shocked at seeing Wesley, reverts to Fred. Forced to protect Fred, Angel and his allies regroup after the bloody battle as Gunn watches. Gunn tortures Betta George for information shortly before Angel turns up and the two meet. As Lorne, Spike, Connor and the others regroup at the Hyperion hotel, Gunn and Angel meet.

Here, Gunn lays out his tortured existence as a vampire to Angel and it soon becomes obvious that Angel is mortal. Gunn explains the visions from the Powers That Be and how he found the demon who continued having them after Cordelia ascended. Alluding to a near-future, Gunn lays down his cards and angrily berates Angel for everything going to Hell. At that point, Gwen turns on Connor and electrocutes Angel's dragon, which puts Angel and his allies in a very risky position with little hope of survival!

"Volume 3" is an obvious bridge piece in Angel: After The Fall and it is packed with obvious exposition and little else. After the initial gambit to survive in the ring against the Lords Of Los Angeles is paid off - magical artifacts come into play - much of the book is stagnant. The group of heroes moves back to the Hyperion (which they abandoned at the end of season four) and Angel and Gunn have long scenes where they are simply talking. Gunn lays out the recent past for Angel and heavily alludes to his future plans, which seem to involve more bloodshed and the idea that he is the chosen one who will save the world. These scenes use the medium poorly as they are largely just two people talking back and forth.

The book becomes interesting again in the final chapter as the plans of Angel's friends begin to unravel and Gwen makes her move against Connor. The big battle is very comic booky, though it is a decent use of the medium as the special effects for such a battle would have been cost-prohibitive for Angel. The artwork, taken over largely by Nick Runge, is decent. The characters are recognizable and there is a good flow of movement - when there is movement - panel to panel.

But largely, this is a collection of four comic books at a rather high price for a hardcover collection. One of the primary aspects of Angel that was most interesting to fans of the television series was the mix of humor and serious darkness. In Volume 3, the balance is heavily tipped toward the dark emotions, which makes sense given that the gang is stuck in Hell. Unfortunately, though, this means that much of the dialogue is not written in the voices of the characters. Gunn, angry constantly, makes fewer asides that actually sound like his character and Angel is almost entirely without rejoinders for the volume. In fact, it is only Spike who has good lines throughout, but his part is rather small in this book.

Similarly, probably because of the characters being written with imprecise voices, there is little character development in this volume of Angel: After The Fall. Instead, it is plot-heavy and none of the characters truly grow or change. Even Gwen, whose plot-needed reversal might be surprising to some, is still working well within the bounds of her established character. She always liked Gunn and so his ability to manipulate her makes sense. Angel is mostly monolithic in the book and any chance to evolve his character is sacrificed for long passages of exposition wherein he explains how he survived during the six months after Los Angeles was dragged into hell and how he tried his best to save the humans trapped there. This is, obviously, nothing new for Angel; it's what he does.

The third volume of Angel: After The Fall comes with the usual bonus features for these hardcover editions. There is an art gallery, Betta George is given a column to talk about what has happened in the series so far and there are answers to fan questions wherein the writers of the book do their best to share the creative process with their readers. It is not enough to push the book up into "recommend" territory.

Instead, this is a strongly average graphic novel anthology that is only going to be enjoyed by the die-hard fans and those same fans will likely want the next volume to arrive already to see how it pays off. But then again, fans of Joss Whedon's works are used to having faith in the ends justifying the means, so most fans will still like this enough. It's just too tough a sell for me, though.

For other Angel graphic novels leading up to and including the After The Fall series, please visit my reviews of:
Smile Time
Not Fade Away
After The Fall Volume 1
After The Fall Volume 2 First Night
Spike: After The Fall


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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