Friday, May 09, 2008

His and Hers

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #14
Drew Goddard & Georges Jeanty
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Angel: After the Fall #7
Joss Whedon, Brian Lynch, Tim Kane, Nick Runge & Stephen Mooney
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I enjoyed the fourteenth issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, although I’m not sure I’ve got too much to say about it. As the penultimate chapter of Drew Goddard’s “Wolves at the Gate” story arc, it pretty well resists critical analysis as a standalone story. The book opens with Buffy’s discovery of the murder of one of her people and ends with another horrible, violent event which I probably should have seen coming but didn’t. In between, the villains’ plot is revealed, Giant Dawn attacks Tokyo, and the relationships between Buffy and Satsu, and Xander and Renee are developed with the requisite mix of angst and jokes. Everything that makes the series work continues to work here, particularly the snappy dialogue and well-realized characters, both those carried over from the television show and those created for the comic book. My only reservation here is with the character of Dracula, who has been brought back from a single appearance on the television show to be used primarily for comedic effect. Frankly, I didn’t find the character to be that funny, and the scenes of his that should pop as light comic relief from the more heavy goings-on just sort of sat there on the page. There is one gag involving the character near the beginning of the book that I felt was in particularly bad taste, too. Still, since everything but Dracula worked I’m calling this another successful entry in my current favorite monthly comic book series, and am anxiously awaiting the next chapter.
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Another Joss Whedon show turned comic book, Angel: After the Fall #7, was also out this week. It wasn’t as good. Not nearly, sad to say. Angel, a spin-off of Buffy starring her vampire ex, has had a rougher time making the transition from screen to page, and the current “First Night” storyline, of which this is the second chapter, has been particularly disappointing. In both series, an unspecified amount of time (“comic book time,” Whedon has called it), has elapsed between the final episodes of each show and the first issues of the comic books. In Buffy, this “lost” period of time (perhaps a couple of years or so in the case of that book), has become a source for deeper examination of the principal characters in service of the current storyline. See, for example, the revelations about Buffy’s and Willow’s recent pasts shown in issue ten. This is an effective and compelling approach to storytelling, utilizing continuity to tell a compelling story which has resonance for the characters and the audience, without being obligated to fill in all of the gaps.
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In the case of Angel, the whole point of the “First Night” storyline is to fill in the gaps. The story arc is to be three issues long, consisting of short vignettes, each featuring the experiences of a different character beginning immediately after the events of the final episode of the television series, each drawn by a different artist. This issue, in which the title character does not make an appearance, we get a Wesley story, the second part of a Connor story begun in the previous issue, and more of the framing sequence featuring the telepathic fish demon Beta George. None of these sequences, all written by regular series writer Brian Lynch from a plot by Lynch and Whedon, are particularly interesting or noteworthy, although I did enjoy the surprise return of a long-departed character from the television series in the Connor story. While the Wesley tale was competently written, I did not at all care for the heavily photo referenced artwork by Nick Runge, which is too bad because, apparently, Runge is to be the new regular artist on the series. I have no problem with photo reference or photo realism in comic book art per se, but here Runge commits the worst offenses of that type of illustration, as characters’ facial expressions do not match up with the emotion one assumes is supposed to be conveyed. The body language is stiff and awkward, and the quality and level of detail in the drawings varies wildly from panel to panel. When it works, it works as a pretty drawing rather than as effective cartooning.
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I suppose there’s a type of fan for whom this sort of thing is no big deal compared to the thrill of learning exactly how the characters got from point A to point B, but for my money, I’d prefer a compelling, well crafted story with some level of emotional impact. If the events depicted here are to have such an impact on the characters’ lives, let these events be referenced at the appropriate time, rather than bringing the main story to a screeching halt for three issues to connect all of the dots. The ideas are cool, but I don’t know that they would be any less cool were they simply related to an audience by Joss Whedon at a convention or something. The stories work only if you’re heavily invested in the lives of these characters, and don’t have much at all to offer to fans of comics. I fit into both categories, which is why, along with some other minor gripes (why do characters who do not appear in the issue adorn the cover? Why is Franco Urru’s name on the cover when he did not contribute to this issue and will apparently no longer be the regular series artist?) Angel: After the Fall #7 is such a frustrating disappointment.

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