I sometimes feel like I’m stuck in the comic book criticism equivalent of Groundhog Day, doomed to repeat the same circumstances over and over. It is, as Yogi Berra said, déjà vu all over again.
I’d have made a Sisyphus reference here, but I was afraid of seeming pretentious. Besides, I made one in my review of Angel: After the Fall #11, so it might have been repetitive to do so here. Oh, wait, that might have proven my point, huh?
OK, let me start the review proper in my usual, meandering way.
The secret of the success, and I’m speaking in terms of artistic success, of the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel lies in the emotional resonance of their characters. Although their surroundings were fantastic, their fears and foibles and joys and heartaches and dreams were not. Sure, we can’t relate to Buffy’s mission to defend the world against the forces of darkness, but when she loses her mom? Or gets dumped? Or fights with her friends? Yeah, we get that. It’s what fantasy and science-fiction are supposed to do -- tell us spectacular stories that are really about our world and ourselves.
Therein lies the secret of the success, and I’m speaking in terms of artistic success, of Dark Horse’s Buffy: Season Eight. Not only are the scripts top-notch, but they are about the characters first and foremost. As for the art, Georges Jeanty captures the likenesses of the characters, but he also makes them seem dynamic and animated; they are not just two-dimensional representations of characters we love, they are the characters we love.
And therein lies the failing of IDW’s Angel: After the Fall and Spike: After the Fall (although of the two Spike is marginally better): The writing is at some notch below the top, the art is lacking, and neither puts the characters first.
These comics have spent far too much time focusing on the plot (who controls what part of L.A., who is hatching what clever plan with a device that can kill immortals, who is living in what abandoned buildings) and not the characters. There is far too little attention paid to the characters’ reactions to the plot, their emotional arcs, and far too much paid to the plot itself.
One can add to that flaw the flawed artwork, which compounds the aforementioned problem. When we do get a moment of emotional resonance, it is frequently impaired because the characters do not seem to breathe, to truly be alive, and their environment is so vaguely defined and does not seem to be a real. How can we relate to characters emotionally when their faces reveal no emotion and their world seems so fake?
OK, let’s extend these general complaints to specific ones regarding Spike #3. A recap: Spike has failed to protect the humans he was safeguarding, and now he finds himself the prisoner of some generic big bad, surrounded by the supernaturally semi-re-animated bodies of those humans.
Hey, yeah, decent premise. Like Angel -- no, even moreso than Angel, who never sought the return of his soul but had it thrust upon him -- Spike is defined by his guilt, by his drive to be someone better than he is. It’s a struggle we can all relate to, and one that makes him instantly likeable.
Well, with this premise, we should get to see a good bit of that guilt. After all, he’s surrounded by the talking corpses of the innocents he failed to save. Talk about guilt!
Unfortunately, this element of his imprisonment is downplayed, the corpses only in eight panels, and only address him in two of those. Furthermore, they are barely depicted in six of those eight panels, appearing as only a hand reaching in from off-panel that is meant to represent the entire pile of corpses, or as shadow-covered, vague shapes, heavily inked and shaded over in a case of what appears to be laziness. Hey, yeah, I get it, drawing all those bodies would be hard, and finding room in the story for them to interact more often, and in more depth, with Spike would have been tough. But it also could have been a great comic book.
It’s not that Urru is a bad artist, it’s just that he’s not a great artist, and these are great characters who deserve to be handled greatly, not like they’ve been handled in this book (or in the last couple of seasons of their television show). He is perfectly competent, and does a decent job of capturing the characters’ likenesses. Unfortunately, he also takes any number of shortcuts that lessen the feeling that the characters inhabit a real world. For example, in the first six pages of this issue there are 29 panels, and 22 of them have no backgrounds or very little background. I stopped counting after that.
So their world doesn’t seem real, but neither do the character themselves. Urru’s drawings of Spike look pretty much like drawings of James Marsters. He does a decent job. But if he were doing a great job, his drawings of Spike would look like Spike, would appear to experience real emotions, to actually live and breathe and…OK, Spike doesn’t live or breathe, but you get my gist.
So all told we have a perfectly OK comic book, with perfectly OK writing and perfectly OK art. It’s a meh-fest, only marginally better than its sister title. Pick it up if you’re a fan of the show, but be prepared to resist the urge to drive a stake right through it.
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