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November 18 2008

Whedon Speak: 'Angel: After The Fall'. iFanboy evaluates the "season 6" comic book adventures of Angel.

Very nice review.
Indeed. I'm enjoying the Whedon Speak series so far.
ATF reads more like a "meeting of old friends" more so than Season 8, IMO. Buffy staggers the appearance of such old friends as Willow, Kennedy, Wood, Fray, Vi, Rhona, Fray--and we still haven't seen Harmony, Oz or any of the other characters that may return. Furthermore, the reappearances have poignancy and don't come across as "oh, for no apparent reason here's some characters you obviously like." The characters are true-to-form and only return if there's a reason for them.

I don't feel like the same is true for ATF. Why did Cordelia return? "Oh, hey, Angel, welcome to hell! Let's lounge in this room for a bit and then I'll take off again." A far cry from her last appearance, in which both the stakes and the drama were high. And as happy as I was to see Groo again, what was the purpose for his return? Did it really serve the story or his character? I feel like his character arc was left wide open with a great deal of possibility, but now he's back and it's like... has he grown at all in the past, what, 8 years? I much prefer the treatment of the characters in Season 8, and have been thoroughly disappointed with the characters in ATF--with the GREAT exception of Illyria/Fred, Gunn, and Gwen (love them).
Nah. There's nothing terribly sophisticated about the features the reviewer points out. The 'violent visual gag under superhero monologue' formula was standard when the lamentable Stan Lee was writing comics. ('Lamentable': he was an idea man who couldn't write a line of dialogue, near as I can tell, to save his life - and a thief to boot.) And 'compelling and controlled' devices like establishing a quiet setting before destroying it aren't new in comics or Lynch's other field (screenwriting). It's nice to see reviewers excited about formal features, but there's nothing formally innovative about After the Fall.

As to the book's overall quality, I've held forth on that topic before. Suffice it to say that the early part of the book was middling setup and continuity business with fights, and the latter has been middling follow-through with fights. There's no emotional core - it's a lot more like Lost than anything Joss himself has done. (And a comparison to Lost is definitely not a compliment coming from me: that show is a soulless disaster written for teenagers. After the Fall isn't that - it just isn't very good.)

Lynch writes some characters well but doesn't seem to know how to balance them - Spike, for instance, sounds right, but there's way way way too much nattering from him. Lynch just likes writing dialogue for him, but there's no weight to it, and he doesn't seem to know when to shut up. (It's a really, really talky book.)

Ultimately, it doesn't feel like a great comic book; it feels like a decent TV tie-in product. That's fine as far as it goes. But if we didn't already love this world, these characters, their story, there's no way in hell we'd be terribly impressed by AtF.

My wife and I read each issue the day it comes out, largely out of a sense of obligation, though I confess to a secret hope that Something Extraordinary will happen to make it all worthwhile. (If you think the resolution of the Shanshu business is 'something extraordinary' then you misunderstand the nature and function of 'mythology' in Joss Whedon's work. This plot crap isn't the reason we read.) It's been six months since either of us had a strong reaction to anything in the book, and I don't expect that to change.

If it does, I'll email the guy and apologise for doubting him (I know he reads these threads - which makes honest criticism a little more painful, irritatingly).
Buffy the Slayer Layer - What do you like about Gwen's character in AtF? Just curious.
Cordy's role in the series was to, and I do believe Angel says it, help guide him towards "going towards the light". As in, someone, for whatever reason, wanted to make sure he did choose death, to prevent him from becoming what they fear he will be. Whether or not they're right to do so is up in the air, but what they were incorrect about was the friendly face they sent to help guide him towards the light actually helped him figure out that he didn't want to go just yet.

I'd say sorry you didn't get that from the book but it's literally in the book. Angel says it in issue 13. Maybe you didn't read those panels?

Groo's purpose was because Lorne needed muscle, Angel needed arming, and the book needed Groo.
In my head, in this thread, I keep seeing Sergio Aragones' Groo.
Wasn't there a discussion about After the Fall not being called "season 6"? Or am I imagining that?
I like Gwen because I think the characterization--some of the time anyway--is spot on. The fact that she betrays Connor makes perfect sense to me.

waxbanks, I have to agree with everything you've said. I've said a lot of it before, not out of bitchy I-hate-this-because-I'm-a-purist-fanboy sentiment, but because of the very reasons you point out. I also continue to read out of obligation--and because of that hope that Something Extraordinary will happen... It feels like it could. But I'm just waiting for the series to go to the next level. I know that's kind of vague, but when you think about some of the great moments of the TV series--Cordelia becoming a higher power, Fred/Gunn killing the professor, Jasmine's utopian peace offer, and Fred becoming Illyria, to name a few--I think it's clear what I'm talking about. The show knew how to raise the stakes by getting at and tearing up the emotional core of the characters--and, therefore, the very thematic essence of the show.

The characters are back in ATF, but I don't think they have a real purpose other than for casual fans of the series to say "hey, it's that one from season 2," like there's some kind of character-return quota to fill.

I'll make another comparison to Buffy Season 8. Amy and Warren came back for a purpose--Joss even broke the rule of continuity to get Warren back--but it still feels right because there's a thematic purpose for the return. Amy and Warren's return is Willow's dark past coming back to haunt her, but it also represents the corrupted remains of Sunnydale lingering in the lives of the Scoobies. In this sense, Amy and Warren seem to be harbingers of something greater. So they serve to establish an apparent kink in Willow's pure "goddess" facade of "Chosen" (which is also emphasized by the sexy snake lady thing) as well as the overall moral repositioning of Buffy and her army of Slayers--they're robbing banks, they have secret and questionable financiers, and they're falling out of favour with the human race. So instead of reading like a tacky, throw-away "OMG surprising character return!!" cash cow, there's actual resonance behind the character returns of Season 8 which enhance the thematic unity of the entire season (thus far, at least).

So while my thoughts are racing when I pick up the latest issue of Season 8--"Where's the metaphor here? What is the overall significance of this? How have the characters changed, how are they different, and why are they here?"--when I pick up ATF, I'm thinking "who's going to come back this issue?" Therefore, the plot points that are meant to be exciting and surprising just tend to fall flat.

Like this post.
I agree with the positive nature of this review, and especially that Brian's cinematic background and style really work well for the comics. For instance, the last page of issue #12, where the panels fall down the page, was beautiful and fit the mood of what was going on perfectly. I know that was Brian's idea, because I asked Stephen Mooney (who is doing great on art, btw) about it in an IDW board Q&A.
I like the Angel comics better than the Buffy comics.

There. I said it.
You're not the only one, redeem147. ATF and the Spike comics are far superior to Buffy Season 8. I guess I find thinking "who's coming back in this issue" is better than "who's going to be written wildly out of character this time."
Buffy the Slayer Layer: I think you make a very good point about the differences between the two stories. I think a lot of the disappointment in some quarters with Buffy season eight is that, like a typical season structure in the series proper, the arc isn't actually all that apparent right now; character introductions and revelations are staggered. Angel is much more linear, after the first few issues, in great part because it has a more specific setup to work with ("what happens after 'Not Fade Away'?"). There's nothing wrong with either structure theoretically, but I do feel that Angel isn't allowed enough breathing room for the characters proper, or for a lot of the revelations to sink in. It is a good book but it's not a great one (yet).

Wax: I think you're right about Stan Lee. Out of historical curiosity I picked up a collection of reprints of the first year or so of Spider-Man (without colour, which makes it less expensive but probably reduces a lot of the appeal). Mostly all the characters introduced here were iconic--there were forgettable guys like the Enforcers, but he also created Doc Ock, the Lizard, the Vulture, and so on within the first couple of issues. And the superhero-as-angsty-teenager was somewhat pioneered by him (and I think that Spider-Man is one of the closest templates for the early seasons of Buffy). But besides an inventive rogue's gallery (and inventive heroes) and empathy for his characters, there isn't anything actually worthwhile about his writing--it's campy as all hell, with every single line of dialogue ends in at least one exclamation mark! And usually more!!! Is that really a good idea!?!?

EDIT: To extrapolate on Buffy: I've never really felt that the Buffy characters were written "out of" their usual in season eight. I do wish Joss and BKV had illuminated Giles' motivations a little more in "No Future For You" (he clearly wasn't setting Faith up to be killed, but how much did he know about Gigi when he sent Faith in, and how much of this was about Buffy?)--but that's about the only character moment that I found sketchy. Some character behaviours are far from what they would have been during the show, but Buffy's "us vs. them" attitude (including robbery!) feels continuous with her newfound sense of quasi-motherhood, which did start somewhat in season seven; there she distanced herself because she cared too much, and now she is caring so much she's letting go of her morals. I was disappointed with the death of Renée, which was too cliché for my liking, and I definitely do not like the long waits between issues, but I've enjoyed season eight tremendously.

EDIT: Oh, right, there was also the Dracula thing, which I have very mixed feelings about. There are a lot of elements of Drew Goddard's "Wolves at the Gate" that I have problems with, even though it was certainly a well told story and funny and moving and all that; the rest of the season I've liked a great deal.

[ edited by WilliamTheB on 2008-11-19 02:54 ]

[ edited by WilliamTheB on 2008-11-19 06:03 ]
Buffy: Season Eight is fantastic. I look forward to each issue with an almost dangerous level of excitement. I've even dedicated an entire website to it.

That being said, "Angel: After the Fall" is far better. Not only is each issue consistently strong (except for #9, which I felt was a bit off in certain places), but the story gets better with each issue. The themes are at once classic Angel and specific to this story. The characters are very much themselves, though the story is bringing them to new and exciting places. The scripts are just more well-thought out than the most recent Buffy issues (#17 and #18).

The biggest gripe people see to have is that everyone has come together. Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but if you were in a town that was sent to hell... and you had *super powers*... do you think you'd go about your business as usual? Nope. You'd meet with the other people who have super powers, who you've hung with many times before, and do what has to be done to save your city. And this coming together, despite what people seem to be forgetting, is very gradual. It doesn't really even happen in full effect until #9.

The only big criticism I have of AtF is the inconsistent art. I do wish Franco would have stuck around for the long run. But with him coming back in just a month, who can complain?

Well, obviously, a lot of people. Only thing is, most of those complaints are refuted by the actual facts of the story.

[ edited by patxshand on 2008-11-19 05:46 ]
I love both BTVS season 8 and ATS, after the fall. This was a great review... and what Pat said without the dislike of art.

I'm really surprised to hear anyone say that the Angel comic isn't making someone excited. I am so excited that it's coming out tomorrow that I can barely stand it.
Patxshand: I don't think that the Angel reunion hour is the only complaint people have--waxbanks' post is a pretty good summary of my problems with AtF. And my problem with AtF is that is largely is business as usual. Fundamentally, Angel's humanity has essentially led to no changes in his characterization and serves mostly as a plot point, one to be explained away and discarded; same with Gunn's visions, for that matter, and even the Connor/Gwen relationship has felt very formal--important to introduce a sense of betrayal into the story, but lacking in real emotional resonance or truth. But to extrapolate on the Angel-reunion-hour feeling: while I understand BL's reasons for bringing back Cordelia, the Hyperion, Groo, the visions, and Angel's "Epiphany" speech, on both a plot and story level, most of these have just underwhelmed me, repeating and echoing Angel's and Angel's history without really developing it. Which is not to say I don't like AtF, but it just has never struck me as a real step forward in Angel's story.

(But then, not all of that is the fault of AtF. As a quick example, I never quite had a handle on post-memory wipe Connor, which wasn't a problem so much in season five of Angel since he had such a minor role, but is a bigger problem here. Who is this kid? I know that Brian has been trying to answer it, but the pieces--a full memory of a traumatic past AND a healthy past, a betrayal by a loved one, a father in constant danger--haven't formed anything coherent to me, although I'm not honestly sure how that could be achieved. I guess that's the thing: I don't know what's missing for me in AtF. But, for me at least, it is.)

As far as the art: Franco Urru's art is a bit murky, but that actually works with the hell setting; Runge is a bit more straight-up, which works well. I don't really have a problem with either. Although I really don't like how Franco draws eyes sometimes.
I'm with patxshand about the art in ATF ... sometimes spectacular and sometimes well ... not ... and that's pretty much my only gripe as well. It's funny I guess, but while I look forward to ATF and read it immediately, I have completely lost interest in Buffy8 and just buy it out of a sense of obligation ... I haven't read an issue in ages. Oh I will - but it's just not 'must read' anymore the way ATF is.
Cheryl: I don't dislike the art. It's the inconsistency of it--the artists, rather than the art, I suppose--that's been getting me. Franco Urru is the perfect comic artist for me, and I think his art complimented Brian's writing fantastically. Mooney has also done a good job recently. Runge did okay, but the inconsistency I'm talking about stemmed from his issues. He could, on one page, give a stunning likeness, and the next, give the opposite. Each artist had their strengths, but it was the actual changing of "series artist" that's the only valid complaint, I've found. So in short, saying that I dislike the art is kinda missing the point of what I said. I like Runge sometimes, like Mooney a lot, and love Franco Urru with burning manpassion. I just wish that Franco had also done the majority of AtF so that it felt a bit more cohesive.
There is something wrong with Cordelia returning for me too.
In one of the first issues, Wesley said he tried to summon her but he said a high being couldn't reach the hell were they where now... so how it comes she could reach Angel later?
Thank you.
I'm not sure whether I dislike Angel comics because I didn't really like Angel the series, or just because of the Comic itself. The first volume (which the article is about) at least was just a rushed introduction of characters.(Disclaimer, by 'dislike', I mean 'only slightly better than vast majority of other comics/tv-series'. Just the expectations in the buffyverse are that much higher..). Angel After the Fall did pick later on enough to continue reading. Not as intensively as Buffy though, those I download pretty much the day they come out, Angels I'm currently probably 2-3 issues behind, just havent bothered to grab them.

Another thing, the hard covers. I never liked the cashing of fans by bringing out the HC versions first, and I don't like it here. I for one will wait for the cheaper and easier-to-read soft cover versions, thank you. And, if they delay them long enough, I wouldn't be surprised if I just waited for the discounts as well, after waiting for a year or more, what's another 6 months...
Tney didn't bring out the hard-covers first, they brought out the issues first. If there's going to be a hard-cover, it will certainly come before the soft-cover compilation, like any other book.
Sorry about that Pat. What I was trying to communicate but obviously did a poor job of...I don't have any complaints about the art.
Wow, Eerikki. Your loss and it's a big one.
I like both Buffy Season 8 and ATF equally.I like how they are different in the type of story they are telling and the structure of said stories.I haven't had a problem with the art in either but I'm very easy to please when it comes to art.As long as I can follow the story and know who everyone is than I have no problems.

Both comics have little things I had problems with but that's true of all the seasons of both shows.I have a major problem with dead characters being brought back in some way at this point and so I didn't care for Warren's return in Season 8 and Cordelia's return in issue 12 and 13 of ATF.That type of thing just feels gratuatious to me now.Although I get why they were done.

Warren's return I thought was sloppy and sort of represented all the worst aspects of my problems with bringing more dead Buffyverse characters back.In Cordelia's case,I thought Brian handled it well for what it was and I get the purpose of it in the story.And he had the character down but it still felt gratuatious to me given her great exit in YW.
It seems a couple complaints have been that nothing, "extraordinary" has occurred. Huh? Angel => Human, not a big enough deal? The twisted reasoning of Gunn not much? What about Gunn sucker punching Illyria/Fred? The series has already covered enough events to equal up to a season of the tv show.

Granted, I don't look at the comic books I read with a very analytical eye, I look at them as whether I enjoy them or not. I've been enjoying them both as a comic book reader and as an Angel fan. As a result, I give Lynch and the folks at IDW a big high five...with cheesy 70's tv music, too!
"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."
Okay that was just a great line!
It's hard to believe that I am reading the same series as waxbanks. I completely disagree. The happenings in Angel after the Fall are profound and exhilarating. The characters are written spot on, and every return has actually increased my appreciation for them.
I am grateful for this series, even though I loved Buffy the show many times more than Angel the show, this Angel comic is satisfying my Buffyverse love in a way the Buffy comic didn't.

To each their own I guess.
Okay that was just a great line!


Shame it isn't true. At the time, there was heavy criticism due to:

1) The story being considered to be over.
2) Some fans didn't like comic books.
3) Some fans didn't trust Joss.
4) Some fans resented the fact that the season 8 comic books would be considered official canon.
But that was the Gremlins Simon. He was talking about the Ewoks specifically! ;)
To each their own indeed.

So to that end, I still question these supposedly "extraordinary" events: while they may be huge events in terms of grandeur and titillation, there is very little substance behind them in way of character or thematic development. So if you're looking for a cool action/horror comic, great! Enjoy. But if you like substance with your action/horror--as both the Angel and Buffy TV shows provided--then ATF is not the best comic book for you to read. There is some substance, but it's mainly just "action! adventure! some obscure characters you might remember!"

(Again, I should add that I really enjoy the character arc of Illyria/Fred, to which my arguments do not fully apply)
I have to disagree, Buffy the Slayer Layer. "After the Fall" has touched me and even caused some tear wellage quite a few times. The emotional undercurrent is closer to that of the show than a lot of people are saying, I think, because it's really subtle. There is way more character stuff than there is action, in my opinion. I mean, take... I don't know... every scene with Gunn for example. Gunn's arc has more substance than anything the character got during the show.
I enjoy AtF, but I guess personally, I'm waiting for the point of the story. With Buffy, the show's ending left you with, "She changed the world, what's the ramifications of that?" With Angel, until the comic, I figured they all died in the alley and then W&H went back to business as usual.

I still don't know what the point of telling this HELL-A story is. Making Angel human, vamping Gunn, splitting everybody apart only to put them together again...it's not adding to my knowledge of the characters, it's not really (with the exception of Gunn) showing us anything really new about them.

I'm hoping by the last issue it all clicks for me, still.
I liked Angel first for the actors, then the writing. So I never did get into the comic books (plus the fact that they are not printed on alternative paper, but on dead tree).
"I still don't know what the point of telling this HELL-A story is. Making Angel human, vamping Gunn, splitting everybody apart only to put them together again...it's not adding to my knowledge of the characters, it's not really (with the exception of Gunn) showing us anything really new about them."

Isn't the point of all story telling simply enjoyment? Which I personally am getting in spades. I mean it's not like we have to take a test when we're done in order to keep our fandom badges or anything.
Someone said:

It seems a couple complaints have been that nothing, "extraordinary" has occurred. Huh? Angel => Human, not a big enough deal?


No, you've got it backward. In theory it's a big damn deal. Think back to Serenity (the feature film) for a second. When everyone finds out the secret that's inside River, what's the thing that stays with you - the secret itself? Or River's haunting reaction to it? What's more emotionally affecting about the runup to that revelation - 'They all just stopped'? Or 'Please God, make me a stone'? (Note so you know where I'm coming from: I think the latter is one of the five best lines Joss Whedon's ever written.)

The point being that Angel's transformation into a human being is a 'big deal' in terms of plot mechanics. But emotionally, it should be absolutely earth-shattering. And it just isn't. Angel's newfound humanity is weightless; Lynch returns to it as a plot function, as logistics, rather than the complex emotional/metaphorical field it would have been on the show.

That's what's wrong with the series. The other stuff - the voices, the art, the pacing, the lamentable 'First Night' - you can leave aside. We follow Joss's stories because they're emotionally true. And with the exception of this month's issue - which came out today and which is maybe the best yet, though far from perfect (the opening pages are awful) - with that exception, this series has been emotionally pretty empty.

At day's end, the difference between Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch isn't just mastery of craft (which Brian will keep learning!). It isn't just inborn storytelling talent. It isn't just verbal facility (which Brian does possess, though as I've said before, not quite on the level of Drew Goddard, BKV, Minear, Noxon, Joss - which is to be expected, those fuckers are at the end of the spectrum).

The difference is that Joss's writing resonates emotionally in ways Brian's doesn't, because Joss feels things in ways other people don't. He's animated by extraordinary empathy: listen to how he talks about writing 'Innocence,' or read the fifth issue of the BtvS comic, or watch his moving, gorgeous Equality Now acceptance speech. The man is Something Extraordinary. Which is why his episodes of Buffy are miles beyond almost every other episode of the show, ever, in terms of emotional nuance, the dignity and complexity of the characters, and the integration of theme, event, and characterization. And it's why the comics he hasn't had a direct hand in have been...

...Just Not Quite Enough.

Does that make sense?

Cheers to Brian Lynch for busting his ass on this series. He's done better work (in the Angelverse!), but he's working hard here and I salute him for that.

But hard work isn't necessarily great work. That's the problem with Jossverse stories. When they're not great, you notice right away.

Missing the shadow of the sheltering hand,
W.

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