Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Angel: After the Fall #12 Review

Writer: Brian Lynch
Pencillers: Stephen Mooney and Nick Runge

Spoiler Alert

In every episode of Buffy and Angel, there is a scene where either Giles or Wesley explained, at length, what was happening in the current episode. These exposition scenes tended to occur in the library, the magic shop, or the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel. After the Fall #12 is the exposition scene for the After the Fall story. There is nothing remotely wrong with that. Every story requires an exposition scene, and this one is very strong. Taken out of context, however, an exposition issue is a very odd thing. Normally, exposition is immediately framed on either side by drama or action. Here, with a month break on either side, the exposition feels like I'm taking a break from the story to read a very long summary. It's an interesting experience, and I suppose a necessary one, but this doesn't really read like a comic book so much as a university lecture. There is literally more text on every page here than there is in the average Bendis comic.

However, this book shows that Lynch really does know what he is doing with the Angel franchise. While Season Five of the television show was in a lot of ways the strongest of the show, it did seem to veer away from the original premise of Angel. The Shanshu prophecy said that Angel was to play an important role in the apocalypse, and Wolfram & Hart spent much of its time trying to corrupt Angel so that he would be on their side when the apocalypse came. However, in the penultimate episode of the series, Angel signed away his place in the prophecy, making it feel like the Shanshu prophecy was somehow a loose thread that the writers couldn't figure out how to work into the chosen ending for the show.

Lynch takes the prophecy and makes it center stage again. Not only that, but his exposition makes the prophecy retroactively at the heart of everything Wolfram & Hart has been doing, not only in After the Fall, but in Season Five as well. We find that everything from sending Angel to hell to turning Gunn into a vampire has all been a part of a continuing plan to corrupt Angel, one which, if the prophecy given to Angel at the end is to be believed, will be successful. The two-page splash in which the prophecy is revealed to Angel is a phenomenal moment, one in which Angel realises that the Shanshu prophecy is not simply a source of hope but a potential source of horror. Angel sees himself with a sword having brutally killed what looks like everyone, and decides that maybe he would be better off succumbing to the wounds he suffered last issue.

Prophecy has often been a point of focus for the Angel television show, and one of the things it captured nicely is that prophecies can be often manipulated or deceptive. We learned this lesson best in season three, where Wesley learned not to listen to talking hamburgers. Lynch wisely recalls this moment, and is aware of all those ambiguities concerning prophecies. There literally isn't a single prophecy here that might not be something else. Gunn's putative prophecies were apparently actually from Wolfram & Hart. Cordelia may or may not be an illusion, a manifestation of good or a manifestation of evil. Even the last splash page has an untrustworthy source, as it comes from Wolfram & Hart through Wesley. It is genuinely unclear here whether or not Angel should succumb to his wounds or not, and this ambiguity is deliberate on Lynch's part. While everything is revealed in this issue, in another way, nothing is revealed. We have a series of explanations that may or may not be true and a new set of prophecies that may or may not be lies. This has the effect of refocussing the book on these new prophecies until we find out what is really going on: it gives us all the questions.

This isn't the strongest issue of After the Fall. In a sense, there's no way it could be. The exposition scene is never the strongest scene in any story. However, this is an exceptionally well done exposition scene, and shows that Brian Lynch has complete control over the themes and ideas of the television show. We've taken a minute out of the action to find out what is going on, and that is a very worthwhile thing. Next issue, with all of the questions and ideas in mind, the story will be even more meaningful.


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