Angel. Buffy. Faith. Spike. I inhale the Buffyverse like air. Despite that, I admit, I don’t like the character of Angel. I know, right? Angel and Spike are to the Buffyverse what Boston and New York are to northern east coast cities. You love one and hate the other or, at the very least, feel extremely tepid towards it. Despite that, under the team of Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs, Angel & Faith overtook the concurrent Buffy the Vampire Slayer book a few years back. Gage gets the characters and knows how to write their voices. Ms. Isaacs has mastered the visual details that make the characters reminiscent of the show. During their run, I looked more forward to A&F than to BtVS. Keep in mind that we’re talking about The Dark Time of BtVS. The Twilight times. (Even typing that made me shudder with comic lover horror.) When the team moved from A&F to the flagship BtVS, they revitalized an otherwise lackluster book and continue to do so.
This left A&F with a new team for the last few seasons. Admittedly, as I said earlier, Angel is not my favorite character ever. He has a tortured, emo, whiny personality rife with martyr complex. This kind of character is popular to others. That’s totally fine. Even in the television show, I preferred other characters. Cordelia was much more amazing over the course of Angel the television show than Angel was. In fact, what fascinates me is that for a dude who’s over 250 years old, he continues to remain the same Man Baby with relatively little character development. Gage managed to strike the perfect balance of pathos leading to action as opposed to simply, well, whining.
The post-Gage/Isaacs Angel & Faith never captured me in the same way. The writing was done well enough. However, somewhere in the middle of the third or fourth issue, I drifted away. The issues collected, unread, in my house. Given that I don’t like Angel or Faith particularly as characters, this surprises no one. However, I love the Whedonverse and keep coming back to these as sort of comfort food for the brain. I took A&F off my pull list because the books languished, gathering dust, on a variety of tables in my home. However, with the new season starting last week, and access to the Dark Horse previews, I decided to give the new team and new book a chance.
While I understand that no team will live up to my high Gage expectations, the new book Angel falls even flatter than last season of Angel & Faith. I wanted to like it. Really. No lie. I always want to like Angel. However, I think my comment above about general lack of character development ultimately nails my issue with him. Gage did a good job with friendship between Angel and Faith, giving both of them dimensions of friendship and awkward romantic tension coupled with shifting emotional power hierarchies.
Sadly, Angel misses this mark. Having Angel and Fred-Illyria together starts out awkwardly. First, for new readers or those who left at some point during A&F, the story starts with no transition. The “where we are” synopsis notes that Fred and Illyria share a body and that duo (trio?) is helping get rid of poltergeists for Angel’s friend in Ireland. I started reading without looking at the synopsis and found myself wholeheartedly confused. Although I assumed I was at fault for not reading last season, the rest of the book seems to have similar clarity flaws.
The dialogue is stilted. One of the reasons that Gage’s runs on the books work is that the characters sound like the Buffyverse. Say what you will about Joss Whedon, he cultivated a linguistic tone, enough that there are books focused on the impact of his syntactic choices. Gage and other authors manage to get that tone right. While Slayer slang often comes from Buffy herself, all of the Scoobies including Angel have their own voices within the world. Angel, however, misses the mark on this entirely. None of the language reflects the snappy dialogue known as a hallmark of the Whedonverse. Angel and Fred’s voices are more or less interchangeable. For example, linguistic markers for Fred should include math and science. Nowhere in the story does she revert to her mathematical and scientific ways. The sentence structures are simplistic and short. Many of the sentences read more like fragments or interrupted ideas than full thoughts. Illyria is given an antiquated voice that comes from longer sentences and larger words as opposed to anything else.
In that same vein, comic books are also a visual media. This means that the pictures should supplement the story meaningfully. However, part of the dialogue problem comes from the dialogue telling the reader what happens in the pictures. For example,
In the series of images above, the facial expressions and body language speak for themselves. The concerned looks and physical weaknesses obviously indicate something is wrong with Angel. To have the “Wait… I… Uh” followed by the “Is it a vision?” (about which the two had been talking earlier) removes the purpose of the images and falls flat. This sort of “telling” what’s being “shown” is part of what makes the dialogue feel stilted.
Plotwise, the story reads disjointedly. Three pages of battle scene lead to traveling through space and discussions of time travel. Flipping between Fred and Illyria feels more like a plot device than a character device. In fact, Fred comments on this directly, “I don’t know why she showed up! We were ok. She wasn’t in any danger.” Even though Angel responds that “Apparently she was eavesdropping. She actually seemed concerned by what was in the vision.” Fred’s confusion highlights the incohesive plot point. Meanwhile, Angel’s response acts as another moment of “telling” the reader as opposed to “showing” the reader.
As someone who wants to see the Buffyverse continue in an expanded manner, I’d really love to see the writing mature. Bechko is new this season so likely is getting her brain exercised and warmed up. Having read her Lara Croft series, I do think that she has the chops for the stories. Whether the mapped out stories are the issue or the writing remains to be seen. Since I can read the preview copies free of charge, I’ll continue to follow the season through at least one more issue, probably even two or three. I’m hoping that in a few months I can come back and be able to say, “Well, let’s just look at how wrong I was in January.” Because really? Being wrong would be pretty all right.