Angel & Faith is a Fantastic Addition to the Buffyverse

1987980-1“Angel & Faith” #1-25 (2011-2013)
Written by Christos Gage (#1-25)
Art by Rebekah Isaacs (#1-4, 6-9, #11-14, 16-25), Phil Noto (#5), Chris Samnee (#10), David Lapham (#15), Lee Garbett (#15), Derek Fridolfs (#15)
Coloured by Dan Jackson (#1-25)
Executive Produced by Joss Whedon
Published by Dark Horse Comics

Joss Whedon’s cult hit television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer has always had a relationship with comics, which is not surprising, given the fantastical nature of the series and its universe, and the manner in which the TV show effortlessly switched genres – sometimes even in the span of a single scene. But another reason why Buffy and comics go together so well is that Buffy Summers is essentially a superhero, and her adventures are not entirely unlike what one would find in a Marvel or DC universe comic book.

Realistically, of course, not all Buffyverse (the universe in which Buffy and spin-off Angel both belong) comics are good. The actual quality of the comics has been a massive debate for years, which each new title potentially moments away from being ripped to shreds by the loyal Buffyverse fans online. What makes the series so sacred to some is the drastic switch in medium; Buffy originated as a television show (well, technically a movie, but the less said on that, the better), and after a several year absence, returned to continue its story in comics. No one really discusses the original late ’90s/early ’00s Buffy comics anymore, because the vast majority that were published are accepted as a non-canon product tie-in, and nothing more. All of the comics published post-2007 are a touchier subject, because Joss Whedon returned as “showrunner” and made the claim that these new titles would be canon. Similar to how some fans like to treat Buffy’s death in the season five finale as the “true” finale, and disregard the sixth and seventh seasons, an even greater number of fans view the TV finale as the “true” finale, and disregard all the comics, either out of disinterest or disappointment in the quality of the stories.

The first canon Buffy comic was actually published while the TV show was still ongoing. “Fray”, an eight issue miniseries, depicted the events of a Slayer born hundreds of years after the events of the TV series. The large time gap was to ensure the comic and show would not contradict; the seventh season, which started after “Fray” was already on-going, has a significant arc based around the Slayer mythology and can effectively tie into the comic.

The major canonical continuation to the TV series, “Season 8”, ran from 2007-2011. It was an epic, overlong, ambitious, entertaining, controversial, confusing, mess of a season. Comparable to a roller coaster ride in the vast range of its highs and lows, it told some really good stories (“No Future For You, “Wolves at the Gate”, “Time of You Life”), and some really bad stories (“Retreat”, “Twilight”, “Last Gleaming”); also similar to a roller coaster in that it steadily went up for the first half, and then suddenly spiralled downhill until hitting the very bottom.

“Season 9” branched off into two parallel running comics, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel & Faith”, at 25 issues a piece. They both directly deal with the status-quo-changing “Season 8” finale, and prove that sometimes good things can emerge from bad ideas. “Season 9” is not exactly stellar, and like its preceding season, it is a little too bumpy, but it does contain some good stories, and at the very least, it never scrapes the bottom of the barrel like the end of the previous season did.

“Angel & Faith”, on the other hand, completely justifies the existence of the Twilight saga (no, not that Twilight Saga). Both characters find themselves in a bad place at the end of “Season 8”; Angel is even mopier than usual because he caused a lot of pain and killed Rubert Giles while under the Twilight influence, and Faith is devastated to have lost another father figure in her life and finds herself disoriented and lacking direction. The two lost souls find companionship in one another, and agree to continue some of Giles’ side-work, chronicled in his Watcher’s Files. Angel has an incredible guilt-consumed task ahead of him: he plans to resurrect Giles. Even under normal circumstances in the Buffyverse, resurrecting a person who died a non-magical death is practically impossible (see: the season 5 Buffy episode “Forever”), but in a world without the Seed of Magic that Buffy destroyed in “Season 8”, it is downright impossible (or so everyone believes). Faith agrees to join Angel on his mission, saying that she will help, but also tagging along to keep an eye on her tortured friend.

In the very first issue, the “Big Bads” are introduced; Nash and Pearl, two half-demons who worked for Angel under his Twilight tenure and now seek revenge after he sabotaged their evil plans. Whistler, a key player in Twilight, is also disappointed in Angel and appears to be leading Nash and Pearl. The trio have an interesting side-story that is fleshed out more and more as the comic progresses.

What is so impressive about “Angel & Faith” is its narrative structure. The whole story was clearly thought out in the very early stages, and is evenly plotted, and immaculately paced. While technically split into five story arcs (with four one-shots, placed in between arcs), all the arcs seamlessly go into one another, telling one very coherent story. Even three of the four one-shots contribute important elements to the larger story.

Only one of the 25 issues can be accurately described as filler, that being the first one-shot, #5, which tells a silly story about the first vampire celebrity in the modern age, Harmony. The interior artwork in the issue is created by Phil Noto, one of the most talented cover artists working in comics today; his “Buffy Season 9” and “Angel & Faith” covers have been mostly excellent. Noto is a solid interior artist as well, but his style feels very out of place in this comic, and the issue actually looks somewhat jarring, especially after the foundation-laying first four issues drawn by Rebekah Isaacs. “In Perfect Harmony” is the closest “Angel & Faith” has to a poor issue, and while it is sorta pointless, it is harmless and fun in its own way.

3270704-25a“Angel & Faith”’s first story arc (#1-4) does what any good starting arc should, and does it rather well; getting the reader invested in the premise of the comic, and hints at bigger and better things to come. The second arc, spanning #6-9, is definitely bigger and better, and is a good indicator of when the series goes from good to great. Still following along in Giles’ Watcher’s Files, the duo find themselves following clues, trying to locate a demon that Giles only ambiguously referred to in his files that may have returned in the present day. The clues bring Angel and Faith to Drusilla, the vampire Angel sired centuries ago; former travel partner in the Angelus years and ex-lover of Spike. Drusilla has changed drastically since her final appearance in the TV canon: she’s been cured of her insanity. Her speech patterns are not what they were, she now has clear motive and has become a leader of sorts, and writer Christos Gage faces the difficult task of making Dru still be Dru, without that key characteristic that helped make her so memorable on the TV series. And he succeeds brilliantly; at this point in the series it becomes clear that Gage has a clear understanding of every character he is writing.

The other stories in this family-themed arc involve Faith getting a visit from her estranged alcoholic father, who is trying to get back into her life, as well as flashbacks to Giles’ Watcher-in-training years, with some focus on his relationship with his father. Even though he is dead, Giles is the third main character in “Angel & Faith”, with his presence felt throughout the entire comic. Perhaps what gives this comic an edge over “Buffy Season 9” is that while the latter consists of all-new material, Joss Whedon incorporated unused story threads and characters into “Angel & Faith” that he created years earlier, for his planned television series Ripper, which would have brought back Anthony Stewart Head in the title role. Many of the flashback stories in this comic were written for that series, and issue #10 introduces Giles’ two witch aunts as recurring characters, two characters also written for Ripper. The aunts, Sophronia and Lavinia Fairweather, balance the delicate line between annoying and endearing, and Gage makes it work. Their presence is a much desired source of comic relief and they even become likable characters. If they do not return in Season 10 in some capacity, they will be missed.

The third arc (#11-14) continues the thematic focus on family and features several big returns: Willow, Connor, and Los Angeles. Having recently left the pages of “Buffy Season 9”, Willow is on a quest to restore magic, and she needs Angel’s help. She wants to go to Quor’toth, a hell dimension ripe with magic; also the dimension where his son Connor spent his entire childhood (see: Angel season 3). Angel, Faith, Willow and Connor all travel to Quor’toth, with several action-packed issues. Rebekah Isaacs’ imaginative depiction of the hell dimension feature some of the finest background detail in a Buffyverse comic. Just in general, Isaacs’ work in this arc is wonderful; her ability to draw faces and stage action keep getting better and better.

Technically, #15-25 consists of a one-shot followed then by two arcs, but these final 11 issues feel a lot like one extended story arc. Whistler, Nash and Pearl are featured more prominently , tensions rise considerably, drama hits escalating heights, and Angel gets very very close to resurrecting Giles. Spike even shows up for a couple issues, following his solo adventure and before he returns to “Buffy Season 9” just in time for that finale.

The “Angel & Faith” finale does predictably build up to a large the-heroes-must-try-to-prevent-a-catastrophic-event-from-occurring-at-the-hands-of-the-villain situation, which is usually a given for a superhero/genre series finale, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less enjoyable or rewarding. Gage and Isaacs know the drill, and provide one hell of an endgame. Gage advances and concludes the story in a thematically satisfying manner, and Isaacs proves from panel to panel why she is arguably the greatest young new artist working in mainstream comics today.

The final issue is bittersweet, as it brings an end to the “Angel & Faith” era of the Buffyverse. There is not going to be a second volume to this comic. The primary cast has decided to go in separate directions, with issue #25 providing hints as to what each character will be pursuing in the Season 10 narrative. While “Angel & Faith” won’t be around for the next season, fans everywhere sincerely hope that Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs will be. When this comic was announced back in 2011, response was mixed; this sounded like a strange little comic compared to its sister series (this wasn’t exactly the TV series Angel returning to comics; this was a direct spinoff to “Buffy Season 8”; Angel spinning off from Buffy a second time?). Perhaps to everyone’s surprise, this spinoff series outdid the main “Buffy Season 9” series on an almost monthly basis, with its stronger more Buffyesque story arcs, more faithful characterizations, and gorgeous artwork. “Angel & Faith” is a fantastic addition to the Buffyverse comics canon, and ranks alongside the other excellent comics “Angel: After the Fall”, “Fray”, and the first half of “Buffy Season 8”.

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