Friday, March 14, 2014

Retcon Spike: The One-Shot Old Wounds Fills Out Spike’s Backstory Adequately.

The Good: Artwork, Plot, Pacing, Fits in surprisingly well in the continuity of Angel
The Bad: Light on character development, Very simple plot
The Basics: The one-shot “graphic novella” Spike: Old Wounds is an interesting vignette set in the fifth season of Angel.

There are very few television shows that have ended with enough mystery and potential left in their primary characters to make me want to revisit them in graphic novel form. Too often, recon stories seem like paltry fanfiction and well-conceived characters get undermined by second-rate writers trying to flesh out the story of a beloved character just a little bit more. Fortunately, that is not the case with Spike: Old Wounds.

The one-shot short story comic book (way too short to be considered a “graphic novel”) Spike: Old Wounds is actually an engaging story that fleshes out the popular character of Spike. In fact, the real issue with Spike: Old Wounds is that the retconned story is more simplistic than it is deep; writer Scott Tipton plays it safe in telling a story that bridges Spike from “Why We Fight” and when he reunites with Drusilla prior to Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!). Set in the fifth season of Angel (reviewed here!), Spike: Old Wounds is a very limited vignette that has Spike going off on his own (with Fred) to clear his name while raising the emotional stakes seen in the television show at that time. Alluding significantly to “The Cautionary Tale Of Numero Cinco” and “Why We Fight” Old Wounds manages to tell a story that stands alone on its own without screwing up either Spike’s backstory or where the character was supposed to be in the fifth season of Angel!

Fred gets her morning coffee and is held at gunpoint by an old man, who is quickly revealed to be former detective McNeal. McNeal wants nothing more than for Fred to help him get into Wolfram & Hart so he can ask Angel some questions. Successfully getting an audience with Angel, McNeal reveals that he has worked for decades to try to solve the Black Dahlia murder and that he has a suspect that Angel might know: Spike. When Spike wanders in, he finds Angel and his team mildly hostile, so he jumps out a window and evades them. Spike meets up with Fred at her apartment as she is the only one in Los Angeles he feels he can trust.

Fred, still grateful that Spike saved her life recently, agrees to hear Spike out. Spike tells Fred the story of where he was in the 1940s. As it turns out, he was in Los Angeles, working for a famous movie producer, enforcing his will as he procured young women and tossed them to the curb. Spike worked in concert with a police detective, Emigh, to keep the police and thugs both off Lawrence’s back. Spike’s alibi to Fred is a good one: as things heated up with the movie executive, the Hermanos De Los Numeros were called in and they gave Spike enough of a thrashing to send him packing. Deciding to investigate McNeal puts Spike and Fred on the path of the Black Dahlia murderer, who framed Spike, and puts Spike on his own for another dangerous demon encounter.

Spike: Old Wounds is good, but in no way great, making it a tougher sell outside the Spike: Omnibus than in it. The set up for Old Wounds is a bit preposterous; there is no reason that McNeal could not simply walk into Wolfram & Hart and make an appointment with Angel. Capturing Fred kills a few pages and adds a tension that is unnecessary to the story being told. More than that, Spike: Old Wounds rushes the sense of conflict between Spike and Angel’s team. Within a few panels, Spike goes from being asked about where he was in 1947 to throwing himself out a window. More than an organic sense of distrust between Spike and Angel (which did exist in the television show at the point at which this story occurs), this seems like a dramatic overreaction to being asked a question. In that way, Scott Tipton misses his mark.

On the flip side, Tipton gets Spike’s attitude just right. When Fred asks the reasonable question of why Spike didn’t mention he knew the Hermanos, Spike rightfully points out that he has no reason to disclose information to Angel or his team. Spike also plays well when confronting Eve at the climax of the book and being snide to Angel and his team at Wolfram & Hart. Spike: Old Wounds captures Spike’s voice and character well.

The artwork in Spike: Old Wounds is decent. The coloring is good, with decent depth and shading to the characters. All of the characters are recognizable and outside McNeal looking more like he’s surfer blonde than old, the characters unique to the book fit in with the established ones nicely. While there is no exceptional artwork in Spike: Old Wounds, it manages to use the visual medium well for the script it delivers.

But the story in Spike: Old Wounds is more average than audacious; those who are not already fans of the bad boy character Spike will not be driven to buy more of his books by this one-shot. Instead, it’s like a good fanfic; it reminds those of us already in-the-know why we love the character and the Buffyverse.

For other Spike graphic novels, please visit my reviews of:
Old Times
Lost And Found
Shadow Puppets
Spike: After The Fall


For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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