Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Angel: After the Fall #11 Review

Writer: Bryan Lynch
Penciller: Nick Runge

Spoiler Alert

After ten issues of trying to find its tone, Angel: After the Fall #11 is the best issue yet. Angel and Gunn finally meet face-to-face, and Lynch has the opportunity to explore the psychology of vampirism that was always such an important part of both the shows Angel and Buffy. Neither show ever really glorified vampires. They were neither Murnau's Nosferatu nor Rice's Lestat. Vampire were not characterised in the purely aesthetic categories of ugly and beautiful.

Vampires instead are pathetic mockeries of their former selves. They have human emotions and they have their human memories, but they have lost their humanity, sometimes called their ability to love. Instead, those emotions have nothing to ground them, as they are no longer human, and can never be fulfilled. However, lacking that humanity, they cannot even realise that they are unfulfilled. As Darla said of her unborn baby when she realised she was about to turn back into a soulless vampire, "I won't be able to love it. I won't even be able to remember that I loved it."

In this issue, we see that this is what has become of Gunn, one of main characters on Angel for all but its first season. He still wants to be a hero. He still hates vampires. He believes he has visions from the Powers That Be, and plans to save Los Angeles. However, his emotions are confused. He lurches back and forth between rage and pride. Meanwhile, he can't even quite see what is wrong with leaving a demon, rotting, nailed to a wall for week. He cannot be a hero, and he cannot even be aware that he cannot be a hero. He still wants Angel's approval, while he also wants to kill him. Simply stated, Gunn is a mess. Moreover, he can never be anything more than a mess, because all his emotions and desires are distortions of a humanity that he has forever lost.

The issue takes the right approach in having the reader realise what has happened to Gunn at the same time as Angel realises it. We see that Angel still holds deep affection for his former friend, and come to the realise along with him, that he will almost certainly need to kill him. That captures perfectly the simultaneous sense of familiarity and loss that accompany characters in the Buffy universe when they encounter their sired former loved ones. And Gunn is one of our loved ones, too. Many people identified with him on the show more, perhaps, than any of the other characters. He was a normal guy trying to make things right, deeply angry at the death of his sister at the hands of vampires. Now he is one, and cannot see that he can no more save himself than he could save his sister. He is lost to us, and this book makes us feel it strongly.

The issue has other strong elements as well. The banter between Spike, Connor and Gwen is well written, and it looks like Gwen is going to be playing a much larger role in this story than one might have thought. When Gun stabs Angel, thinking he's still a vampire, it's a reminder of the kind of torture that vampires are able to inflict on each other. Gunn's complete indecision at finding out that Angel is dying shows just how confused he's become. Then, Gunn's strange and ambiguous whisper to Angel, "I found her first", reminds us that this story will stay personal for a long time.

Overall, this is definitely the best issue of Angel: After the Fall by far. It is better than most of the Buffy: Season Eight comics, as well. The book has really returned to its roots, not being afraid to tell the sort of dark, meaningful stories that made the television shows so memorable.


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