Starting with three transitional issues (36-38) where they share plotting and scripting duties with Bill Willingham, the duo of David Tischman and Mariah Huehner takes IDW’s “Angel” series to the finish line in Issues 36-44 (August 2010-April 2011). It’s a notch below Willingham’s run on Issues 28-35 that breathed new life into the title: not terrible, but there’s also a reason why these issues didn’t stick in my head as well as “Buffy” Season 8, which was published by Dark Horse at the same time.
Too many good ideas fizzle out. Issue 35 ends with the suggestion that Spike might not have a soul after all. This makes for some decent psychological drama in “Prophet for Profit, Part Two” (36), when the gang defeats the soul-sucking monster, but in “Prophet for Profit, Part Three” (37), Spike simply gets cured of his “soul flu” off-panel.
Then it’s time to address another threat: The alien warrior women who have recruited Connor plan to sacrifice him to their gods. In “Cats in the Cradle” (38), Connor’s secondary mutant power is revealed and he turns these enemies to dust with a thought. It’s a bit too much of an “X-Men” thing, and it’s a convenient way to end the thread. Granted, if character beats like Spike’s concern about his soul and Connor’s worries about his uncontrolled strengths were more woven into the stories, they could be good, but they only play on a superficial level.
The same goes for the death of jaguar-human shapeshifter Dez in Issue 36. It’s nice that the writers remember this character is present, and her demise does illustrate that the soul-sucker means serious business. But after Angel’s comment that they will find time to mourn Dez, she’s never mentioned again. Maybe that’s about right for this ancillary character, but it shows how these issues zip from one story point to another without pausing for feelings or introspection.
Tischman and Huehner fully take the reins for “The Wolf, the Ram and the Heart” (39-44) to wrap up “Season Seven,” and while it’s more focused than the three issues before it, this arc has the same problem of being a surface-level yarn. In one thread, Angel is warped to the future by Wolfram & Hart to help take on James, the last Big Bad standing in the IDW run. In the other, Connor and company take on James in the present day.
For bizarre reasons that might come down to what the artists want to draw, Connor moves Angel Investigations into a modern architectural marvel that resembles Tony Stark’s home from the “Iron Man” movies, and we’re unconvincingly told the rent is cheaper than on the old Hyperion Hotel.
The future story, although not as engrossing as when Buffy jumps to Fray’s time in Season 8, is decent. In Issue 39, Angel sees a “Terminator”-style future Los Angeles of automated factories in a splash panel by Elena Casagrande (the main artist on this batch). In Issue 40, artist Jason Armstrong shows demons openly roaming the streets in a “Blade Runner”-esque neon-lit marketplace. James’ only use for humans is as “Alien”-style incubators to birth his warriors. (Poor Anne, whom it’s hinted might be a love interest for Gunn, is among the infected humans.) The fact that I immediately point to three legendary sci-fi franchises when describing this future is an indicator of why it didn’t stand out in my memory.
Still, I do like that Tischman and Huehner tie “The Wolf, the Ram and the Heart” into Season 8, at least somewhat. Wolfram & Hart’s Darrow, who like Whistler can see potential futures, tells Angel that he will do something that many people will find out of character in order to prevent horrific prophecied futures from happening. (Later, in a clever surprise from the writers, Darrow’s power becomes less inexplicable when Anne names her part-god baby Darrow before Angel has recounted his future tale with the man.) And now that Angel has seen one possible bad future, we can see why he would be more prone to take heed of Whistler’s dire warning about bad futures (from the “Riley” one-shot) and launch his Twilight scheme.
The writers approach this arc like “X-Men” scribes picking a team. Connor fights alongside Gunn, Laura and Anne; and a future, level-headed Illyria is Angel’s ally. Kate pops up briefly, but mostly disappears. Spike is off on his adventure in “The Devil You Know” and present-day Illyria is on her own journey in “Illyria: Haunted.” So the continuity lines up, but I had a nagging feeling of “If the battle against James isn’t important for Spike and Illyria, why should it be important to a reader?”
(Actually, this is just the start of that problem. After IDW’s “Angel” run concludes, the Buffyverse has too many good characters and not enough comics for them all, leading an overly analytical reader to think “Where the heck is so-and-so during this time?” “Buffy” Season 8 eventually invites Angel and Spike into its sandbox, and Angel will get his own title back – sharing it with Faith – in Season 9. But the rest of the Angel Investigations team draws the short straw. In Dark Horse’s Seasons 8-12, they are relegated to supporting roles.)
Issues 36-39 wrap up Bill Williams’ backup strips about Eddie Hope, a blue horned devil who can also morph into human form. The main cast helps free Gunn from the misguided Eddie, who thinks Gunn should die for his actions as a vampire in “After the Fall.” Then Eddie realizes he’s gone too far and opts to take a break from vampire hunting and return to his loved one, Rachael Hope, who had wondered where he’d run off to.
A reader doesn’t get much out of the 12 issues of Eddie’s story other than the knowledge that he exists. Eddie teams with Spike in “The Devil You Know,” but that’s set before this (when Spike joins this yarn, he already knows Eddie), so this story isn’t a lead-in. When one considers other possible uses for this real estate — the untold backstory of ageless former Watcher Laura Weathermill, a thread for Kate in the build-up to the climax, or an explanation of where Nina ran off to — it’s a head-scratcher. Basically, IDW desperately wanted to make Eddie Hope into a star, and it didn’t click.
The Tischman/Huehner run:
Eddie Hope backup story, Issues 36-39: