‘Angel’ flashback: ‘The Curse’ (2005) (Comic book review)

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 little more than a year after the “Angel” TV series ended, the saga returned in comic-book form via new licensee IDW. Whereas Dark Horse’s Volume 1 told various hardboiled Angel Investigations mysteries in Season 1, and the short-lived Volume 2 made Angel into a more traditional four-color comic superhero in a Season 2-set yarn, Volume 3 is – at least initially – a step back from both of those. It’s set after the TV series – in “Season 6,” if you will – but it doesn’t pick up where one would assume.

Despite being written by Jeff Mariotte, writer of many excellent “Angel” novels, the five-issue “The Curse” (June-October 2005) is blunt, thin, redundant and weird. The weirdness comes from the continuity. When last we saw Angel — in the TV finale “Not Fade Away” (5.22) — he and his allies were getting ready for a portal to a demon dimension to open and spill monsters into Los Angeles. But in this next-chronicled adventure, Mariotte jumps ahead to Angel on a solo mission in Romania.

We do learn in broad strokes what became of the demon incursion: Santa Monica took the brunt of the damage, but the whole world was knocked back a peg. In the mountains of Romania, a vampire rules the surrounding populace, which includes the Kalderash gypsy tribe that cursed Angel in 1898. Setting aside that it seems like gypsies would move to a safer area rather than digging in their heels, this isn’t a bad fighting-for-freedom yarn. But it’s frustrating that this story focuses on Romania – rather than Los Angeles, where all 100 episodes of the series take place — and we don’t know the global picture.

Despite being written by Jeff Mariotte, writer of many excellent “Angel” novels, “The Curse” is blunt, thin, redundant and weird. The weirdness comes from the continuity.

Still, it’s hinted that this is a rebuilding period of sorts, rather than a full-on apocalyptic wasteland. After all, Angel wouldn’t undertake a personal quest if Earth was still under direct inter-dimensional attack. He plans to ask the Kalderash to remove the happiness clause so he can make things work with Nina, or a future love interest. In exchange, he will help them overthrow the local vampire ruler.

A letter writer in the back of one issue suggests that “The Curse” is meant to introduce “Angel” to people unfamiliar with the show, and although it strikes me as strange that someone would pick up a licensed comic but not watch the TV show, it would explain why this story is so old-hat. In montages, an internally monologuing Angel recounts his history, with particular emphasis on his recent romances: Buffy, Cordelia and Nina. I guess if it sends people to the DVDs wanting to know more, that’s a good thing.

The art by David Messina, Andrea Fattori (ink assists) and Davide Amici (color assists) sets a Gothic tone from the opening panel of a blue moon lighting our hero in dark woods. But as nice at it looks, it becomes oppressive after five issues of woods and castles and fight scenes where it’s hard to follow the specifics (on the other hand, you don’t need to follow the specifics).

The climactic twist touches on a familiar thematic point: One of the gypsies is dying from her wounds, and her boyfriend wants Angel to “save” her by turning her into a vampire. Angel explains that, um, that won’t work. He is tempted to try it, though, since this woman is – conveniently – the only remaining Kalderash tribe member who could potentially remove the happiness clause.

It’s great to have the “Angel” saga continue in a Season 6 of sorts (and two years before “Buffy” would get its Season 8, no less), and Mariotte certainly grasps the personality and nature of the lead character, even if his comic writing is more blunt than his novel prose. But I hope future yarns won’t be so tentative. Angel’s closing line sums up the spinning-its-wheels nature of “The Curse”: “In the end, I’m in the same place I was before I came here.”

Click here for an index of all of John’s “Buffy” and “Angel” reviews.