BOOM! Studios is starting to build a substantial fantasy world based on the Buffy The Vampire Slayer franchise and Angel is playing a massive part in it. Released this week is the dramatic end of Angel’s first story arc and it features a number of recognisable faces.
With the big sister title Buffy making some very large waves, can Angel stay afloat or will the title be lost at sea?
An Angel In Hell
At the end of last month’s issue, Angel had rescued the psychologically disturbed Fred from a physical attack but the demon was still free to spread it’s evil into the world. With Fred helping to open a portal, Angel is forced to take the fight to the demon’s home dimension.
Trapped in a hell dimension where he can’t rely on his own senses, Angel has to face up to some of his past indiscretions. Meanwhile Lilith is helping Fred, leading her back from the brink and giving her a higher purpose.
Bryan Edward Hill tells a straight forward horror story and packs it with in jokes and references. He creates a hell dimension with virtually no physical substance in order to develop Angel’s character. It is a concept that was used a number of times in the T.V. show and proves successful in this format. Despite the Legacy, Hill is still introducing his version of Angel to the reader so this first arc is important in establishing the character of the central protagonist.
The framing of Angel’s character development is a twisted version of the movie Labyrinth. Angel is cast into a maze and haunted by elements of his life from the ‘real’ world. The demon sits on a throne teasing the vampire, arrogance his greatest flaw. The sequences work well showing the reader who Angel was and contrasting that to what we have come to know of him in the previous three issues.
It also hints at elements of Angel’s future which is a theme picked up in Fred’s narrative, linking the plot threads together. Hill brings everything together towards the end of the issue creating a satisfying end to the first arc with enough of a hook to come back for more.
Dark and Darker
Gleb Melnikov’s art work is fantastic, seamlessly blending the supernatural fantasy elements with the modern technological aspects of the story. He has a dark, shadowy style that suits the Vampire with a Soul. The pages are shrouded in darkness with the backgrounds barely visible unless absolutely necessary. This sometimes means that there are no establishing shots and the space the characters inhabit lacks any sense of location. This approach works occasionally but not all of the time.
The mood and atmosphere, created in part by Melnikov’s use of solid black shadows and dark gutters separating the panels, takes over the comic producing an intensive read. The colors by Roman Titov keep everything shrouded in darkness with the only burst of color illustrating shocking elements of the narrative.
Ed Dukeshire has to deal with a number of disembodied voices throughout this issue. By using a combination of tail-less speech balloons and caption boxes, he places the text in logical positions within the panels so that it is easy for the reader to follow.
Just like the T.V. shows, the styles and themes in Angel are different to Buffy. They are more adult in nature and have a sense of experience to them. The characters aren’t as cut and dry; the line between hero and villain isn’t so much blurred as smeared across the landscape. The artwork in this first arc has represented that perfectly and is markedly different to the styles of Dan Mora and David Lopez over on Buffy.
Angel issue four completes the first story arc in style. It has the confrontation with the Big Bad and there is some resolution to the story, however there are enough threads left dangling. The main characters are fully realised, abound with flaws but with redemption on the cards. Both Fred and Angel have their own past and futures to face and this story is a great place for them both to start.
Hill presents a horrific, modern day villain and the damaged heroes who are compelled to battle him. He draws on pop culture references and Angel Lore to help the narrative flow in an entertaining way. The artwork creates an unnerving, uncomfortable atmosphere for all of this to take place in. In essence, this is the perfect Angel story and the best way to relaunch a character.
All that remains to be seen is if they can pull off the dramatic crossover event ‘Hellmouth’, due out later in the year.