BOOM! Studios have spent the last 18 months building up the cast of Angel + Spike, re-introducing the main players in new and exciting ways. There has been a crossover with the Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic and even a change in name as the fan favourite, punk rock, demon Spike joined the team.
In this first issue not written by Bryan Edward Hill, the story shifts from the modern day to the edge of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Guest creators Adam Smith and Piotr Kowalski’s tale of murder fits snugly between the TV shows historical stories and the current comic book vision.
Issue 13 of Angel + Spike is a stand alone story but has links to the ongoing arc. If you have been intrigued by the new direction of BOOM! Studios Buffy-verse characters but yet to dip your toe in them then this is the perfect opportunity. Granted you’ve missed out on 18 months of wonderful comics, but everyone has to start somewhere.
The greatest thing about this issue, apart from being easy to access for new readers, is that Adam Smith makes Angel’s world seem so massive and full of history while maintaining a focus on the plot at hand. References to other, popular, stories from the TV show are dropped into Angel’s detective voice-over. This not only gives the comic an expansive feel but also creates a Hollywood noir effect. The setting is 1962, on the edge of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and Smith’s take on an Angel story reflects the changing climate.
The actual plot of this issue is a fairly standard affair: Angel investigates the murder of one of his acquaintances and, in true noir fashion, the trail leads him to larger criminal activities. The fact that there are demons and ghosts within this story does not detract away from the structured crime story Smith is telling. The mystery unfolds organically as the plot gets more and more complicated. There is a cast of new characters for Angel to contend with but you get the impression that the story will not end in this issue. The crime may be solved but the effects will have ramifications for our hero in the modern day.
The Photographic Play
Long time readers of Angel will instantly notice the change in Art Style. Piotr Kowalski’s pencil and inks are more defined than Gleb Melniko’s. There is a purposeful shift from the emotionally driven expressionist pages in previous issues to a seemingly more rigid aesthetic. Kowalski is adopting the cinematic style of Hollywood from the first half of the 20th Century.
Classical Hollywood was obsessed with creating a realistic visual image. It did this by creating the impression that the shot continued beyond the frame of the image and focused on the actors, their gestures and emotions. This approach to storytelling is evident on every page of Kowalski’s artwork. On almost every page you have panels that bleed off the side, removing gutters. This creates the sense of expanding space and as a reader you fill in the rest of the room or location in your mind. You instinctively create a fully realised 3D world. The backgrounds are heavily detailed which reinforce a real world experience.
There is a simplicity to the characters, often with faces that are defined with a few inked lines, however Kowalski focuses on the emotion of each character. He forces the cast to act in very specific ways. To some it may appear simple and overacted in places but again this is due to the Hollywood influence. This issue of Angel + Spike is a drama being performed for your entertainment.
Creating A Style
This issue is set in 1962 and plays out like a memory or a diary entry. As such everything has a hazy reminiscence to it. The violence is toned down and Angel’s emotional reactions are turned up because this is how the character remembers this period of his life. There is an element of romanticism to it, just like Louis’ narration in Interview With The Vampire. Mattia Iacono brings out this element wonderfully with his colors by toning everything down. Vibrant colors have been muted to give the impression of a time long passed. The hues are still there, setting scene’s and emotions, but the vibrancy has all been spent.
You get a similar feeling from Ed Dukeshire’s lettering. The placement and spacing of the word balloons is very structured and, in places, appears to take over the panels. Most often this would be counter productive for the storytelling but in this instance it fits snugly with the comic’s tone. In the retelling of the tale, certain elements standout, some aspects outweighing others. What Dukeshire does with his placements is emphasise the memory aspect of the narrative and illustrates the conversations that become more important than the actual visuals.
13 is unlucky for some but not the creators on this issue of Angel + Spike. The change in pace from previous issues is instantly noticeable but also welcoming and fits the tone of the story on offer. On the one hand this issue is a stand alone story, perfect for new readers to step into BOOM!s new Buffy-verse and on the other it enhances Bryan Hill’s work over the last 18 months.
The reference to the Hyperion Hotel and the TV episode Are You Now or Have You Ever Been isn’t a simple fan Easter egg. The pace and tone of this story mirrors that one and has a similar motive. The intention is to expand on the known character of Angel but also seed future stories. Smith and Co do this perfectly while telling their own, fascinating tale.
If nothing else, this issue of Angel + Spike proves that there is still a wide scope of stories you can tell in the Buffy-verse while still maintaining the core principles of the series.