StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) Angel & Faith 1.01: Live Through This - Part 1

They're back! 'They' being both Dark Horse's Buffyverse comics and my reviews of them. This is my reaction to 'Angel and Faith' #1, published today. As I did with Season 8, I'm planning to post regular reviews of each issue of the comics as they come out. (You can find past reviews using my tags.) Essentially these are read-throughs; a page-by-page discussion of what's going on in each scene, and what I think it implies about the characters and the ongoing plot. I generally read the comic once to find out what happens, then a second time to look for nuance, foreshadowing and references I might have missed first time round; then I write the review. As a rule I try not to look at any other peoples' reviews before writing my own, to make sure these are my own unalloyed thoughts. It helps a lot in that regard that the UK distributor of Dark Horse comics now publishes them on the same day as in America, instead of a day later. :)
For the record I should probably say that I enjoyed the Angel TV series, but I'm more a fan of 'Buffy' - I can't generally pick out individual 'Angel' episodes and know their plots off the top of my head, for example, as I can with the other show. I didn't hate the show, though, and I appreciated that it had some extremely funny moments amidst the generally darker and more angsty tone, as well as some genuinely dramatic and stirring scenes.
As for Angel himself, I characterise him as a monster who's trying to walk like a man. He means well, generally, but the darkness inside him that he has to struggle against isn't just figurative. He has major flaws, especially the arrogant and manipulative nature that made Angelus so terrifying and is still visible today in Angel's actions. He also has offsetting virtues, and is genuinely committed to doing good as he sees it, and that's something I find admirable. As for Faith, she's one of my favourite characters and I'm looking forward to finding out more about her.
The idea of teaming up Angel and Faith is an interesting one. It makes sense from an in-story point of view, firstly. In Season 8 Angel made some really bad decisions and ended up being responsible for the deaths of innocent people; and his friends turned their backs on him. Faith knows exactly what that's like, albeit on a smaller scale; and it was Angel who held out a helping hand to her when she needed it back then. As for her own story in Season 8, it was one of increasing maturity and self-awareness. She's tired of all the fighting and killing, but found a new role in helping people, especially the younger Slayers. She's always been Buffy's mirror: and in a season where Buffy was getting too caught up in the big picture, Faith was the one who went around saving individuals, one soul at a time. Now in Season 9 that Buffy's apparently returned to her nightly-patrolling roots, it'll be interesting to see where Faith's storyline will take her.
There's also the little detail that in S8 Faith became closest of all the characters to Giles; and Angel's biggest source of guilt now is that he killed Giles. Oops.
From a meta perspective, the decision to re-start Angel as the co-star of a new series starting at Season 1, rather than continuing with Season 'Whatever' of Angel the Series, is probably controversial. I can see fans of AtS being upset, since it's pretty clear that this is intended to be a fresh start: same character, different show. They're not even using the familiar old 'Angel' logo on the cover, but a new one. From a practical point of view, I can see the sense of it: AtS ended in a big climactic fight scene that was meant to symbolise that the fight against evil never ends, and plenty of people have said since that any attempt to show what happened next is kind of missing the point. Of course, IDW did go on to show exactly that, and the cynic in me wonders if the decision to start a new series is aimed at avoiding needless antagonism. If they called it  'Angel Season 6' that would conclusively de-canonise After the Fall, which would be unfair to IDW; calling it 'Angel Season 7' would conversely be effectively advertising a competitor's products by saying they're essential to understand what comes after them - not to mention arguments about which of IDW's 'Angel' comics actually count as part of this putative Season 6. Starting the whole thing afresh at Season 1 sidesteps the whole issue.
There's also the fact that AtS ended with pretty much all the main characters dead or gone. Wesley, dead. Gunn, fatally injured. Fred, dead. Cordelia, dead. Lorne, disgusted with the whole mess and leaving. Connor, supposed to be off living his own normal life apart from Angel with his adoptive family. Even Wolfram & Hart are no longer likely to be scary adversaries anymore, now that Buffy has broken the Seed and the Senior Partners can no longer communicate with or affect this dimension. So what would be left of Angel the Series? Not a whole damn lot. Hence it makes sense to start again. Pairing Faith with Angel works for a variety of meta reasons. I can't say I'm sorry to see a strong-willed female character with her own agenda given equal spotlight to Angel, since on AtS the women tended to get sidelined too much, or made into victims. Also, Angel's tendency to enter 'pretentious brooding' mode at the least excuse needs someone around him who's willing to be irreverent and sarcastic; and while Faith isn't exactly Cordelia, I can see her filling a similar role in terms of puncturing Angel's bubble when needed.
So! Having said all that, on with the review.

The Steve Morris cover is nicely gothic and spooky. He's gone for the younger-looking Angel with cheekbones, which kind of makes sense - vampires aren't supposed to age the way David Boreanaz or James Marsters have in real life. I'm not exactly sure what's going on with his hand, but maybe the cross-shaped tombstone is burning him? Other details of note: Giles was born in 1955 according to his tombstone; there's a Weeping Angel in the background and nobody is looking at it; and the Houses of Parliament and St Paul's Cathedral have apparently teleported themselves right next door to this graveyard.
Just to get this out of the way: I live in London. I fully expect this comic series to contain inaccuracies, stereotypes, distortions and clichés about London in specific and Britain in general. I also plan to point them out, and possibly mock them unmercifully, whenever I spot them. However, that doesn't mean I'm all ~angry~ about them: I'm sure I've made worse mistakes in my own fics set in the US, and getting all bent out of shape because the artist drew an American fire hydrant in a British street scene would be silly.
Besides, this is the Buffyverse. We know from 'Hush' and 'Once More With Feeling' that fire hydrants are actually an intelligent and malicious species of demon. They move around when nobody's looking, causing cars to crash into them and Mutant Enemy executive producers to get parking tickets. No reason why one shouldn't have emigrated to Britain.
We start with a flashback. It's nice to see Giles again for such an extended scene, being his own person. It's not clear when this takes place, although it's clearly after Season 2 of Buffy. My guess would be Season 6, after Giles returned home, though it could also be at some point between the end of Season 7 and 'No Future For You' in Season 8. We're getting what seems to be the set-up for the season: Giles kept a journal and a series of files on the supernatural menaces he encountered - especially the ones he was unable to deal with permanently - so that posterity would be forewarned. It's implied this was a standard Watchers' practice - I can imagine Watchers without a current Slayer being instructed to make lists of all the threats in their area so that if their Potential did get Chosen, they could immediately send her after them. Giles, being rather more proactive about evil-slaying thanks to Buffy's influence, isn't waiting for a Slayer to become available but dives in himself. Now he's dead Faith and Angel have taken possession of his records and are tying up the loose ends on his behalf.
(I gather this idea was similar to Joss's concept for the 'Ripper' BBC series that was much-talked about but never materialised. I wonder if Christos Gage will be using actual ideas Joss had for that show?)
The contrast between the action-packed images and Giles's calm, slightly prim but also irony-laden narration was fun. The first spell he's casting is Latin for "We exorcise you, all unclean spirit", which actually makes sense for once - 'immunde' is the vocative case of the adjective meaning 'unclean', immundus. I'm not sure what the word 'all' (omnis) is doing in the sentence, though. Also, kudos for having the English girl saying 'Mummy' not Mommy' :) I did like the creepiness of "I'm frightened, I'm cold...and I'm hungry"  (*chomp*)
A Plagiarus demon, huh? Does it go around copying other people's work and passing it off as its own? I did notice the cunning bit of exposition slipped in there: this demon possesses people as "an innate attribute of its species" rather than by magic, which is (a) why Giles's exorcism spell failed but also (b) why it's still a threat even after the Seed was broken. I anticipate many more such demons appearing in the new seasons. :)
Giles's second spell is in Greek, which I don't speak. With a bit of poking around, Google Translate offers, "The body, if kiss. If my life, the wall". Anyone speak Greek who can improve on that so it makes more sense? Still, we get the gist. "Stamata!" is "Stop!", that one was easier.
The woman whose daughter he's trying to help is a nurse, which comes in handy afterwards when she has to bandage his wounds. It's an interesting idea that to cast the spell he had to sacrifice "the best day of his life", or specifically his memory of it. It was fairly predictable what that would be: we'll learn it shortly. It ties in with the whole theme of sacrificing yourself to help others that runs through Giles's narration - and of course finds its own expression in the stories of Angel and Faith.
Whom we now meet. They're fighting the same demon; the spell Giles put on it to bind it has clearly worn out, but our dynamic (and superpowered) duo are much more proactive in their approach to demon-fighting than Giles was. There are bits of severed tentacle and green demon blood flying everywhere. The two thought monologues - Faith in yellow, Angel in blue - contrast both with each other and with the scene. Faith expresses confidence in Angel, but it's clear she has her doubts she's trying to suppress. We also get the exposition that he "spent the last few months staring at the wall" - which is how we left him in 'Buffy' 8.40 - only to "go from vegetable to badass overnight".
When the preview came out I guessed that Angel was pretending to be callous and evil - and biting the little girl - as a ruse to drive the demon out of her body so they could fight it without hurting her too. Angel will later confirm exactly that in a later page. Still, as he says, "pretending to be evil" is something he's had a lot of experience with lately... In the same panel Angel mentions that he noticed Faith reaching for her stake when he bit down on Hannah's neck... clearly her trust of him only goes so far. That detail is actually shown in the art, although I didn't spot it first time around. I liked Faith's reassuring comment to Anne (Hannah's mother), and her unspoken and much more pessimistic mental addition. This was one moment that definitely made me think that Faith will be filling some of the role of Cordelia in this new series - with the difference that if Angel went evil, Faith the Vampire Slayer would probably be able to use the stake rather more effectively than poor Cordy could have.
Do a Google image search for "Gene Simmons's tongue" if you don't get that reference, and are not easily squicked. :) He's the lead singer of Kiss, and also has his very own page on Snopes. (No, he did not have a cow's tongue grafted onto his own.)
Nice contrast between the fighting styles: Angel trying to find the demon's brain so he can attack its weak spot directly, while Faith's approach is, quote, "I'm just gonna keep hacking things off". It may be significant that Faith's tactic seems to be the successful one here... the direct approach is sometimes better than trying to be too clever.
As the demon dies it releases the memory of Giles's best day ever, as sacrificed when he cast the original binding spell, and Angel re-lives it. Of course it had to be one specific day he spent with Jenny Calendar, whom Angel also killed. We can't pass up an opportunity to pile yet more guilt and angst onto Angel, can we? I'm not sure if it's deliberate, but there's also a neat contrast that Season 8 readers will notice between the best day of Giles's life -a romantic picnic with Jenny - and Buffy's "bestest, weirdest, bestest day of my life", which in hindsight really wasn't all that great.
Datapoint on the "Angel's duel identity" controversy. Faith starts to say that he killed Jenny, then changes it to "Angelus killed Jenny". She thinks of them as two separate people - or possibly, she thinks she needs to talk of them that way in order to avoid upsetting Angel. Angel, on the other had, doesn't hide behind that; he clearly says "I killed [her]".
Faith and Angel now walk home through the set of a Charles Dickens TV drama that has been mysteriously set up in modern day London. And one of those deadly fire hydrant demons is there, lurking in the background ready to pounce! We get a bit more backstory: Faith was reading Angel Giles's Watcher journals to pass the time when he was catatonic, and one of the stories in them - this particular one about the possessed girl - gave Angel the motivation to get back into the game. Though apparently there's more to it than that, as we'll learn.
Now we turn to the second plot element of the issue: the group of Slayers Faith is hanging out with. I understand Nadira is going to be a major character of the arc, though I have to admit when we first see her on this page I thought "vampire victim" rather than "Slayer" for a moment. Which I'm sure was a deliberate set-up. 'Nadira' is an Arabic name, also sometimes found in other places influenced by Islam; I seem to remember an interview mentioning that she's supposed to be of Indian ethnicity. Her dialect is thoroughly English, though (or at least an American writer's version of British dialect, full of shibboleths like 'bloody' and 'chav'). I'm not entirely sure what she's meant to be wearing, but it's definitely not hijab. So I'm just going to classify her as 'British Asian' and leave it at that. We learn more of her background as the scene goes on: she was one of Buffy's Slayer army, based in the Azores.
Nadira's first lines are reported speech: someone invited her to a club in a dodgy area of Brixton, and she's rather regretting it. I guess that it was Faith herself who told her that, since she leads the rooftop ambush - which implies that after a few months in London, Faith already knows all the best clubs and has started saying words like 'dodgy'. While it's Faith who actually tackles Nadira, we can see other people on the roofs with her; and half a dozen young women are then standing around watching their confrontation. Presumably they're all Slayers too, out nightclubbing with Faith - we see one of them, the black girl in the dress with roses on it, on the dancefloor later. Nadira mentions later that Faith "brought us together", presumably meaning this group. It's a continuation of her Season 8 role, and I do wonder if the other Slayers are as broken, in their own ways, as Nadira clearly is.
As for why she pretended to attack her, Nadira seems to think it's training - "to keep us sharp" - though it could also be that a secret part of Faith still likes fighting other Slayers. ;) Or maybe it's because Faith has clearly sensed that something's wrong with Nadira, and thought some physical violence would help her either get over it or put her in a more sharing frame of mind - after all, it works for Faith herself. When Nadira is about to stake Faith and screaming "Come on! I'll kill you all! I'll..." that reminded me a lot of Faith's own fight scene in 'Faith, Hope and Trick'.
It's a nice little scene that Faith is on the dancefloor with the other Slayers when she notices Nadira is sitting on her own, away over at the bar, and so Faith goes over to talk to her. (I also liked, later on, the way Nadira is pulling the label off a beer bottle as she talks). It turns out Nadira has survivor's guilt; the rest of her squad were killed, and she was the one on watch who should have warned them, so she blames herself for their deaths. This is a rather spectacular and nasty introduction to Pearl and Nash, who are, we soon learn, being set up as the main opponents for this arc, if not the whole season. Nadira wants revenge, badly. And worse still - Twilight was watching the whole thing, and Nadira now know that Angel was Twilight, and she wants to kill him too. Faith's "Uh oh" face when she hears that is hilarious.
I'm going to have to be careful I don't talk about these two villains as Pearl and Dean instead.
I liked that we got some continuity with the 'Buffy' comic too: it's refreshing for an 'Angel' comic to be able to mention Buffy and Willow directly by name instead of beating around the bush with sly hints. Willow rescued Nadira after her squad was slaughtered, and I'm guessing that took place in the scene in 8.32 'Twilight' where Willow is teleporting around the world looking for "The Slayer who needs me most", only to find dozens of them slaughtered in various horrible ways. It's nice to get confirmation that she did use her powers to heal the ones who needed it (and weren't already dead). As for Buffy, the consensus among other Slayers seems to be that she screwed up pretty badly in her choice of friends, but they don't blame her for causing the apocalypse directly. The fact that by ending magic she also ended the Slayer line seems like the bigger betrayal - at least, presumably, to those of them who genuinely believed in the importance of their sacred duty as Chosen Ones. The way Nadira says "I say leave her be" - that losing her role as "Slayer-in-Chief" is punishment enough for Buffy - does imply that other Slayers would prefer to take a harder line, and that this question has been discussed a lot among them. It's also suggested that Faith's status as a friend (or possibly enemy, depending on what day it is) of Buffy makes her no longer trusted by many other Slayers.
And now comes the big surprise revelation of the issue - Whistler! Who is stuck on Earth, and with the Seed broken can no longer contact the Powers That Be to get instructions from them, so he's on his own. And he's angry about it. Given his role in the previous season, this is important exposition. It's not made entirely clear whether he was acting on behalf of the Powers then - though the way describes them as "his bosses" implies yes. And Whistler, and possibly the Powers That Be, were all in favour of the Twilight prophecy. They thought it would make things better because it would force "us" to evolve (who exactly that "us" refers to is left unsaid). Whistler even uses the word "salvation" to refer to what he's trying to achieve - which is nothing less than attempting to reverse the outcome of Season 8 and bring about Twilight after all. And he's angry at Angel for "blowing off what I told him" and not going through with the prophecy when it came down to the last minute. (Interesting that Whistler blames Angel, not Buffy, for that.)
And the reveal is that Pearl and Nash are the people he's talking to, and they've just slaughtered a pub full of people in a particularly nasty variety of ways. Presumably just for fun. They're fans of "evolution" too, and apparently Whistler recruited them originally to help Angel fulfil the prophecy. We later learn that they're half-human, half-demon: a brother and sister created deliberately to be a new stage of evolution, which is why they were so enthusiastic about the whole Twilight idea. (Also, given that they're supposed to be taking the roles of Adam and Eve, we can presumably add incest to their other charming qualities.)
The moral here, I think, is that the Powers That Be are often thought of as "good" because they want to help humanity instead of destroying it - however arrogant and dickish they might be about how they go about that. But in the eyes of immortal godlike beings from another dimension, the Twilight prophecy would have "helped" humanity by helping it evolve to a new level, and any merely temporary disruption caused by that was only a moderate inconvenience. There's no birth without blood.
The final scene is the confrontation between Faith and Angel after she learned that he watched the slaughter of Nadira's Slayer team. She wanted answers, and I have to admit so did I. I liked her suggestion that it was a cosplayer wearing Twilight's outfit - and that Angel's explanation of his "whole Twilight phase" make as much sense as a David Lynch movie.  She's not exactly alone in thinking that. Still, we get to hear Angel's own side of the story, which was good to listen to at last.
It does seem that what happened to him in 'After The Fall' was his motivation: that he believed the whole world would be sent to Hell just as LA was unless he acted the way Miss Kitty Twilight and Whistler told him. I noticed a slight discrepancy to Brian Lynch's comic (I wonder if the mention of David Lynch was a deliberate subtle call-out?) in that Angel here says that nobody except him remembers Hell-A, which wasn't the case in the IDW series. But it can be explained as memories of unpleasant supernatural events magically fading away for most people, as they tend to do in the Buffyverse. Also, the other IDW comics are passed over in silence, but at last the outline of After The Fall is acknowledged as canon.
Angel also says specifically that he knew Pearl and Nash were evil and dangerous, but he was trying to manipulate them by redirecting them against other demons instead of innocent humans or Slayers. Of course, his power over them was only fragile because it was based on deceit: he could only influence, not control. That confirms what I thought about his role in Season 8. There is a new detail added, however: that the scene in 'Last Gleaming' where Twilight took over Angel's body wasn't the first time that had happened, although it was the most extreme. Angel was being "influenced" by Twilight many times before the end, more and more as things went along, and he has no memory of the actions he took while under that influence. That has implications for Buffy and the 'glow' too, I believe.
Tying this in with what Nadira said about Pearl and Nash slaughtering her friends as TwAngel watched, and then her being rescued by Willow, it seems to me that what happened was this: after Buffy was dropped into the snow by the angry earth goddess, Miss Kitty decided it was finally time to to power her up and activate the prophecy. So she possessed Angel and drove him to set his followers onto Slayers in a worldwide pogrom. I'm guesing most of the 206 of them killed died in this massacre. Whether this means that Buffy's godlike powers really did come from slaughtered Slayers, as Willow guessed, or if the deaths were just necessary to herald Twilight's birth, is unclear. (Compare how Jasmine wanted her conception to be heralded by a rain of fire and the sun blotted from the sky. Gods are such drama queens.)
The idea that all Angel's evil actions in S8 can be explained away by his being possessed at the time sounds rather convenient, and even a cop-out - as Faith herself immediately notices. To his credit, Angel rejects that idea. He chose to put himself in the position where he could end up as a tool of evil; he failed to ask the right questions or to pay enough attention to his doubts. His regret and self-awareness reflect well on him, although I did detect a hint of self-pity too in that "I was weak" comment.
We get a quick reminder of the season set-up, that Faith and Angel are using Giles's journals to find cases to solve. It's interesting that Faith assumes Angel is trying to "take Giles's place" out of guilt and a desire to amend - and she suggests he's trying to do the same thing herself, by becoming a kind of Watcher to the younger Slayers.
And then we get the final revelation of the issue: Angel wants to bring Giles back to life. Uh-oh. I suspect I'm not alone in my immediate reaction being "Angel, you idiot". Although by her expression I think Faith's feelings are more, "Angel, you've finally lost it."
So the questions are, how, and why? There's no more magic, so resurrection spells are out of the question. However, a preview cover apparently shows a Mohra demon, and as we learned in 'I Will Remember You,' "Its blood has regenerative properties", and can turn a dead corpse (such as Angel) into a living human. And since that's a natural ability, it follows that it will still work after magic has left the world.
Of course, there's no mention what would happen to Giles's soul. Would his reanimated body be a vegetable, or a soulless husk? Or even a living, thinking human with no soul, like an evil vampire with a pulse? Or will Angel find a way to pull his soul out of whatever dimension it currently resides in - even though we've been told there's no longer any way to contact the mystical dimensions anymore? Has he even thought that far ahead? Doesn't he remember how much Buffy hated it when that happened to her?
Alternatively, he could have an entirely different plan. I do wonder whether the rather odd picture in the frame on the wall behind Faith is meant to represent something; it seems too prominent to be merely set dressing. Maybe it's a hint as to what Angel plans? The picture shows a boy in a formal suit - maybe a younger Giles, maybe an ancestor - with two expensively-dressed women resting their hands possessively on his shoulders. Was Giles raised by a lesbian couple in 1950s England? Does this have any bearing on the plot, or is it just the artist filling space? Remember also the earlier comment that Angel was roused from his catatonia by hearing the story of the possessed girl. Did that crystallise his determination to bring Giles back, or give him a clue as to how to do so?
The other question is "Why Giles"? I can understand Angel's motivation to a degree: he screwed up badly, and he wants to fix his mistake. It's not the first time he's considered resurrection as the answer to the death of someone important to him: remember that he tried to get Willow to bring back Fred in Season 5. You might reasonably ask why Giles, rather than the hundreds or thousands of other people whose deaths he bears responsibility for; but I can understand that from a psychological point of view. Giles was somebody he knew; he personalises the masses who would otherwise be faceless, and gives Angel someone specific to focus on. Somebody whose forgiveness he craves more than anybody else's. Of course, he's also living in Giles's house and constantly surrounded by memories of him - and constant reminders that he was a good man and someone who helped the helpless.
So that's Angel's plan. The arc title, "Live through this", can be read two ways. "Endure this, and in enduring grow strong." an instruction to Angel. Alternatively, it could be "Live, through this" - a command to Giles instructing him to come back to life. Either way, I'm sure we're not supposed to be cheering Angel's plan just yet...

Tags: angel, angel&faith, angel&faith review, buffy, meta, review
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