The Hellmouth Crossover has finished and Angel is free to return to L.A. to be reunited with his crew. Unfortunately, while he’s been gone another vampire has moved in on his patch, making like the hero but with a much better sense of humour.
In the latest issue of Angel from BOOM! Studios, Angel is joined by Spike, in title and practise. The last few issues have seen the infamous chaos bringer working with Fred and Gunn and now Spike has got his feet under the table. There is the obvious tension between the two vampires when Angel returns from his crossover trip but can they put their differences aside to fight the good fight? For the sake of a good story, let’s hope not.
Laying out the characters
Issue 9 of Angel (and now Spike) introduces a TV favourite character into BOOM!s Buffyverse: Kate Lockley. The detective is trying to help a reluctant youth when they are attacked by a supernatural creature. With no-where else to turn, and with a little nudging, Kate turns to Angel Investigations for help.
As with previous issues of Angel, artist Gleb Melnikov creates an intense atmosphere that sets the reader on edge. It is darker in tone, both visually and narratively, than it’s sister title Buffy. It also draws you into the story with the characters and then traps you with a sense of fear. Melnikov’s artwork builds tension and Roman Titov’s colors creates an all encompassing, nerve wracking mood.
The artwork, and layout designs, also create some outstanding, and often subtle, storytelling. Take page 5 of the most recent issue as an example.
Angel has just returned home and discovered that his crew have been working with Spike. The page is the start of an argument between the two vampires with the two humans as focal points, trapped in between.
Not only does this page set the scene of this sequence in the comic but it also gives the readers a quick recap of the characters, realigning the status quo after the long Hellmouth Crossover.
The page is broken down into four tall, thin panels with a fifth panel taking up a third of the page at the bottom. The first panel in the sequence is the scene setter. It is a view of Angel’s Office/Home seen from above. The darkness outside lets the reader know that it is set at night but also reminds the reader of the danger that the outside world represents. L.A. is not a safe place and the encroaching darkness is a metaphor for this.
The speech in this opening panel is also scene setting. With lettering provided by Ed Dukeshire, the speech sums up the last few issues for the reader: Angel has been away and Spike has moved in. This single panel sets the scene beautifully; location and plot.
The next three panels do something similar but with the emphasis on particular characters instead of setting. Panels two to four each feature a portrait of a central character, in fact the three characters that have been carrying the story while Angel has been away. First is Fred, then Gunn, then the cause of the problems himself, Spike.
What makes these panels so interesting is that Melnikov packs them with character, combining imagery with the expertly selected dialogue by Bryan Edward Hill to create a sense of who the cast member is and where they have come from.
Fred is slightly dishevelled. Her recent past has been hard on her, throwing her out of her comfort zone and being hunted by demons and lawyers. However, she holds a warm, comforting drink in her hands. There is still an element of the homely young woman that Fred wants to be. Her personality is further enhanced by the background; a shelving unit packed with books. Fred is educated, smart.
Over the top of this is Angel’s explanation of where he has been in the last few weeks, but his words are easily attributable to Fred. “I was in Hell,” Angel says, a fair description of Fred’s life since she was introduced.
Melnikov does the same character breakdown for Gunn in panel three. Charles is depicted with a sombre face, downcast, and with none of the comforting trapping that share Fred’s panel. There is a clock in the background, ticking away time, but to what? The clock could represent a schedule, a plan of action slowly unraveling. Is this representative of Gunn’s wait for his moment to strike out at Angel? Gunn is a vampire killer, protecting the innocence on the street, this is indicated by the speech overlaid on this panel.
“Protecting you from people like him,” This is spoken by Angel but could so easily have come from Gunn. Menikov reminds readers of Gunn’s mission, his fight against that which he now works for. As with Fred, Gunn’s past and a large part of his personality is on show in that single panel.
The Vampires Two
When it comes to Spike the imagery and representation is more straightforward, just like the vampire himself. He is depicted with an indifferent face, as if he couldn’t care less about the confrontational nature of Angel. His arms are crossed and standoffish.
His speech is sarcastic and flippant. It is important that Spike speaks for himself at this moment. It asserts his authority over the situation, over Angel. Although Spike has become part of the group, he is not really part of the group. He is still an individual, working towards his own ends, whatever they may be.
The relationship between the two vampires is cemented in the final panel of the page. A third of the page is given over to a head shot of Angel, framed between the interior white light and the ominous red light from outside. The lighting illustrates the two forces within the vampire with a soul; the good and the evil, the opposing sides that make him who he is.
Down the centre of the panel you have his stern face. Always serious, always brooding. His speech is succinct and straight to the point. This final panel on the page is the very essence of who Angel is.
As you finish reading the panel, taking in Angel’s personality, you contrast him against the other cast members. The page can be taken as a whole entity, like a roll call or character sheet from a role playing game. Melnikov uses the page to set the scene, highlight the conflict between two of the characters, but also sums up the personalities of Angel’s team. Succinctly and extremely effectively.
Each of the panels is steeped in character and these five panels contain so much storytelling, so much personality. This condensed page allows Hill and Melnikov to focus more of the comic on the plot and the introduction of Kate Lockley. The pace of the comic overall is fast, with building tension and action covering many pages but this is only possible because Melnikov is able to successfully pack so much into this single page.
It’s pages like this that make reading comics so exciting.