Belated happy Christmas to everyone*; I'm back after spending the season at my brother's and taking a break from playing Skyrim (a Christmas present) to write this review of Angel & Faith 1.05!
It's a one-off issue, drawn by a different artist (Phil Noto instead of Rebeckah Isaacs) and on the face if it, a comedy issue - although one with a serious underlying story about redemption and forgiveness. So let's review it!
*Christmas greetings void where prohibited by law. Your winter festival may vary. Or summer festival if you're Antipodean.
We start with a Chandleresque opening - Angel sitting in his office (but not drinking whiskey) when there's a knock on the door and a beautiful dame walks in out of the rain to ask for his help. Undercut by Angel admitting that "he gets a kick out of feeling like Sam Spade" and that's partly why he did the whole Angel Investigations thing.
Which is funny, but also the first example of the underlying tension in this issue. Angel admits that he doesn't only help the helpless because it's the right thing to do (though to be fair that's part of it), but because it make him feel cool and dashing and dangerously glamorous. He even admits that what he enjoys most is when it's beautiful women who 'desperately need his help'.
This isn't exactly Angel the selfless Champion of Good - although it certainly is Angel who's hyper-aware of all his faults and sits there brooding about them.
We also get a continuation of the ongoing idea that Angel was personal friends with everybody famous who lived in Los Angeles in the 20th century - in this case Raymond Chandler. Which does strain credibility if taken seriously, but is easier to accept if you take it as a running joke.
The woman at the door turns out to be Harmony - whom I wouldn't have recognised from the artwork if we weren't told (and she didn't have Clem and her two dogs with her). Luckily for the audience Faith doesn't recognise her either, so Clem makes the introductions. Apparently Harmony didn't win 'Dancing with the Stars', so now she's moved to Britain to appear in the ITV show 'Britain's Got Talent'.
(According to Wikipedia, in real life 'As series 3 [of Britain's Got Talent] started, it was announced that the show would have a fourth judge, actress and glamour model Kelly Brook. However after just a few day of filming, it was announced that Brook had been dropped as a talent judge after stating the format would be "too complicated"'. Hmm; wonder where they got the idea to make Harmony a judge from? *g*)
Highly amusing complaint by Faith, when told that Harmony used to date Spike, that "I'm supposed to be the slutty one when everyone but me has nailed Spike" - and Angel's nervous sidelong glance at her. I'm not sure if Faith's main complaint is the unfairness of being called slutty, or the unfairness that she hasn't had sex with Spike, unlike everyone else in that room. *g* Of course, we can suspect that in Faith's mind 'everyone' probably really means 'Buffy', although the name is unspoken.
There's a possible continuity error here since it's Angel who invites Harmony into the house, not Faith, even though Angel is dead. On Twitter Christos has said that he assumed that Angel had the right to do this because he has a soul: he went with the idea that it's this, rather than the fact of being alive, that permits someone living in a house to invite a vampire over the threshold. I suppose that idea does work, although I'm not sure if it's ever been contradicted by anything on the show. Did we ever see a vampire invading Angel's mansion or Spike's crypt uninvited in the times when they had souls?
Anyway, Harmony reveals she's being blackmailed over a sex tape, which Clem produces on an iPad (or similar - it's almost but not quite the Apple logo on the back). Angel is adorably embarrassed, peeping at it through his fingers, while Faith is a little nonplussed but has seen it all before. She's also puzzled why Harmony would be bothered by it since sex tapes are "good career moves for chicks with no talent" - and characteristically, Harmony doesn't even blink at the implication that she has no talent. In fact, we learn a little later that Harmony made the sex tape herself, so she could release it if her career ever started flagging (more than it already is).
The tape shows Harmony feeding off the man she was having sex with, then siring him - in the same way Darla sired Angel, incidentally, by cutting herself over her breasts so he has to suck the blood from them. In Darla's case that was presented as dangerously sexy, in Harmony's it seems more tacky and derivative, which is almost certainly the point. Also, Faith's expression of surprise (even for her) about where exactly Harmony was feeding from is best left unexplored.
I thought it was a neat twist that Harmony doesn't care about the sex tape itself - she care about the fact that it shows her turning someone, which is against 'Harmony's Rules'. I was under the impression they only said 'Feed but don't kill', but I suppose turning someone into a vampire does involve killing them... And apparently he was a willing convert - like Severin and his girlfriend over on the 'Buffy' title - although this was before the Seed broke since he didn't become a zompire.
Still, this revelation would make Harmony look bad, which might stop other vampires being willing to follow her rules - which is why Angel and Faith don't just stake her out of hand. (I'm glad they did at least consider that - and Faith actually pulls out a stake.)
Harmony's flat in Kensington has unicorn decorations - a nice continuity touch - and an enormous picture of her on the wall. She also apparently has a full-time employee there to carry out colonic irrigations (the 'colonic guy') which sounds like the world's worst job.
After the revelation that it's Harmony who made the tape, the question is who stole it. Faith's plan is to consider who might hate Harmony enough to want to hurt her, but gives that up when she realises how large a category that is. Angel goes for who benefits most, and so they start by hunting down "vampire supremacists" who want to go back to the old days of killing humans wholesale.
They find some in a local recreation ground, stringing up a couple of victims - and they're guarded by zompires. We get some clarified information about them: apparently the demon that turns a corpse into a vampire can only animate it instead of inhabiting it, "like a faint radio signal". So my cartoon of a bunch of demons sitting in a hell dimension operating vampires by remote control was apparently correct... Also, note that Angel knows the word 'zompire' even though I suspect Xander, who invented it, hasn't been talking to him much lately. Of course, it's not impossible other people came up with the same word independently.
Also, it seems that zompires are forced to obey 'full' vampires as slaves. It's not explained how or why that happens - and I note that Angel doesn't try commanding them himself. Maybe it's actually only the zompire's sire that can command it?
Big fight scene. Faith expects Harmony to join in on their side, but she refuses until one of the vampires calls her a 'race-traitor' who has a 'fat arse' - naturally it's the second comment that infuriates her. Clem's self-defence move is the same one we saw him use in Season 7, although I think it's kind of less scary when seen from the front instead of only being suggested. Frankly, I think his comment about doing stripperobics is far scarier...
The Angel-Faith dialogue in the fight scene is exceptionally clunky, I have to say. Though it was amusing to learn that Harmony has previously released another twelve sex tapes, some in 3D format, and the vampires want her autograph...
Now it's back to Harmony's apartment where Clem paints her nails as the gang tries to work out who might have a personal grudge against her. This scene has some interesting depth to it.
Firstly, Harmony chides Angel for not letting go of the past. She can't remember the names of the people she's killed and doesn't care because she's looking to the future: Angel claims to remember the name of every one of his victims. That's why she's more successful than him, she argues. I don't think we're meant to take her word for it as moral guidance - not only is she a soulless evil demon, but also a total ditz - but it is true that constantly obsessing over the past is not a route to success, especially if you never learn from it. So maybe the right path is one halfway between Angel and Harmony? :)
Angel's claim to know the names of every single one of his victims seems a stretch, although I can certainly believe he'd want to think he knows that, and see it as his responsibility. Also, as Angelus, he was much more interested in slowly stalking his victims, learning everything about them to identify what would hurt them most, than just killing at random. After gaining his soul, I can also imagine him making a point of researching the names of all the victims whose names he never learned, just to give him even more guilt to brood over.
We should also remember his anguished plea to Darla in 'Five By Five': "Funny. You'd think with all the people I've maimed and killed I wouldn't be able to remember every single one. Help me." That implies that maybe remembering all his victims individually is one of the effects of the gypsy curse.
Next, Harmony asks her PR advisor - who looks like she comes from Pylea - to work out a plan to help Angel (as opposed to her actually paying for his help...) The suggestion she comes up with is to spread a rumour that Angel's plan as Twilight was "to take good humans to the new universe with him, once it was ready, and leave the bad ones here for us to eat". Angel starts to protest that that was his actual plan...
Apparently, some people have been claming this is a retcon. I see it more as a clarification. Back in Season 8 Angel thought that he and Buffy would create a new universe together, and that her friends could be "anywhere she want them to be" and if they were in trouble, "We can fix that. We can fix everything". That does imply that he saw their role as saving humanity, not abandoning it to burn - although granted, there would be a difficult period of transition that he, with an immortal's detachment, saw as less of a problem than Buffy did. ("They'll survive. They always do.")
However, the exact mechanics of what Angel intended - and how he planned to do it - were unclear. This story makes it more clear: after he and Buffy had made their new Paradise, Angel's intention was to uplift humanity - or at least those who (a) survived (b) were worthy - and bring them into the new world they'd created. So this revelation is only confirming what was already implied in S8, not changing it.
Of course it raises moral questions of its own, if it's true that Angel was planning to play God and decide who gets to be saved and who doesn't. Speaking personally, I'm not even happy with the idea of God playing God, which is one reason why I'm an atheist... and although Angel and Buffy did have Godlike powers at that stage of Season 8, they didn't have the wisdom or the omniscience to be making such judgements fairly. It's quite typical of Angel's arrogance to assume he would have the right to make such decisions, though. On the other hand, it's left to our own imagining whether he planned to save only the 144,000 most worthy, as some versions of the Christian God are claimed to intend, or whether in the end he'd take everybody who was less evil than he himself...
(For that matter, given the spur-of-the-moment nature of his response to Harmony's idea, maybe it's not fair to draw too hard and fast conclusions on what he actually planned.)
Harmony also suggests it would help Angel's image if they made another sex tape together, the two of them - Angel politely turns her down. Instead they decide to follow Faith's plan, of beating people up a lot to see if it turns up any new information... Cue montage of different locations from sleazy bars to graveyards to upscale parties.
At one place, Harmony apparently decides to do a striptease... I'm really not sure why, it seems a bit gratuitous. I'm also unclear if she's standing on a table in a normal bar (and this is impromptu), or onstage in a strip club. I suppose it's meant to be a sign that she's an attention junkie, unless it's a reference to some real-life incident involving a similar starlet? Still, it's significant to the plot since we see Angel looking curiously at Clem, who's staring avidly at the topless Harmony. (So is Faith, incidentally, although she's less than complementary.)
I'm pretty sure that's David Tennant that Harmony is chatting up in the final panel - Angel notices that Clem is looking depressed as she does so. Apparently she couldn't get near Matt Smith...
Finally, as they walk home through Trafalgar Square, Angel suggests just releasing the tape anyway, preemptively. "Publish and be damned". Faith agrees, saying it will work out if Harmony claims to have reformed since those days - but Clem disagrees strongly, offering his own services to track down the blackmailer.
At this point Angel springs the bombshell of accusing Clem himself of sending the blackmail demand. I assume Angel got the suspicion as he watched how obsessed and jealous Clem was with Harmony over the past few pages, and how forgiving he was of her mistreating him; then Clem's violent objection to her calling the blackmailer's bluff confirmed it.
Clem confesses his scheme, and his motive - he's in love with Harmony and planned to make her admire him by dealing with the fake 'blackmailer' himself, but hadn't expected her to go to Angel for help. Harmony makes it clear she has no intention of ever sleeping with Clem because it would be bad for her image (as opposed to not finding him attractive, which she doesn't specify), but she still sees him as a friend and will get Simon Cowell (boss of 'Britain's Got Talent') to give him a raise. Angel expects that Clem's self-respect won't let him settle for that, but he's wrong. Harmony gets in a barb about how he should learn to let go, and leaves.
Angel looks at the envelope containing Harmony's PR plan to rehabilitate him in the eyes of the public, then drops it into a litter bin. He doesn't want to let go of the past in order to win acceptance.
Faith seems more tempted, standing there looking at the discarded envelope as if she's going to fish it out of the bin and take it; then she too walks away. The envelope is still in the bin.