‘Angel’ flashback: ‘Last Angel in Hell’ (2009), ‘Lorne’ (2010) and ‘Yearbook’ (2011) (Comic book reviews)

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DW produced three “Angel” one-shots in the final three years of its run. All of these double-length issues are finales of sorts, and there’s a touch of comedy or lightness to them – “Last Angel in Hell” puts a bow on the “After the Fall” era, “Lorne: Music of the Spheres” is the final Lorne story and “Yearbook” is the last publication in IDW’s Angelverse.

“Last Angel in Hell” (December 2009)

Brian Lynch, the co-architect of the “After the Fall” saga (“Angel” Issues 1-17 and 23, plus “Spike: After the Fall”) with Joss Whedon, does one last “After the Fall” issue that is the worst possible entry point for a newcomer, but a delightful romp for serious fans open to a laugh. “Last Angel in Hell” is a comic adaptation of an in-universe movie about Angel’s and Spike’s exploits in “After the Fall.” It makes fun of the absurd yet oh-so-predictable dramatic license found in many “true stories.” Alternatively, it can be read as a satire of how a comic property adapted into a movie can go terribly wrong.

“Last Angel in Hell” makes fun of the absurd yet oh-so-predictable dramatic license found in many “true stories.” Alternatively, it can be read as a satire of how a comic property adapted into a movie can go terribly wrong.

Although the actors aren’t named, Stephen Mooney’s art makes it clear that Nicolas Cage is Angel Cartwright, Reese Witherspoon is Angel’s love interest Sara (nicknamed “Spike”), and Jorge Garcia of “Lost” is Gunn (who loves huge guns). Betta George is a dog, Fred is black and Lorne is evil. Character arcs are simple and Angel reiterates in narration and dialog that he’s a loner. The various lords from “After the Fall” coalesce into one villain: the traditional red, horned Devil.

Action-movie one-liners abound, such as Angel’s play on Doublemeat Palace’s “Over Five Billion Served” slogan. Angel double-fists a pair of guns and tells a frightened employee: “You just gotta do one thing: Change the sign outside. Because three more are about to get served.” Plus, the comic is filled with fake tie-in advertisements. “Last Angel in Hell” is a lot of fun if you’re in the mood for it.

“Lorne: Music of the Spheres” (March 2010)

In the 2006 “Spotlight” series, Lorne gets snubbed. And honestly, his arc was arguably designed to end in Season 5 when he does one last thing for Angel: kill Lindsey. Throughout its “Angel” and “Spike” series, IDW does a nice job of using Lorne only when it makes organic narrative sense. During the Fall of L.A., he is the peaceful lord of Silver Lake, and in the true reality, he is working as a professional singer.

Inspired to pay tribute to actor Andy Hallett, who died in March 2009 at age 33 from a heart condition, writer/artist John Byrne delivers a double-length story that finally gives Lorne the spotlight. It comes off a bit flightier than Byrne’s generally excellent historical “Angel” yarns, such as “Blood & Trenches.”

Peppering in “Angelcakes” and other Lorne-isms, the green demon is narrating fairly serious fights involving Illyria, Angel and Groo (actor Mark Lutz was Hallett’s best friend on set) as gravity starts to wobble, like earthquake tremors. The gang learns that interdimensional beings are messing with the music of the celestial spheres. The only member of the group who can stop them is Lorne, thanks to his singing skills.

Lorne’s death is metaphysical, and editor Chris Ryall notes in an afterword that Lorne could come back in a future comic, as we’ve seen with Cordelia and Wesley (as ghosts) and Fred (as a collection of memories). As it turns out, Lorne stays absent from the rest of IDW’s run, which isn’t a problem the way it is with some other characters who fade away without explanation (Nina, for instance).

“Music of the Spheres” does indeed turn out to be the final Lorne comic-book story, since Dark Horse’s Season 9-12 comics don’t resurrect him. Since this doubles as a Hallett tribute issue (with a nice remembrance and photos from Lutz at the back), it’s a fitting swan song.

“Yearbook” (May 2011)

IDW closes out its admirable 2005-11 run on “Angel” with a hit-and-miss collection of short stories by the title’s major writers and artists. The best, oddly, is not a comic story, but rather a peek inside Harmony’s blog from Peter David, titled “OMG Unicorns!.” I find the whole concept behind Harmony, a soulless vampire who retains her vapid dumb-blonde concerns, to be amusing, so these blog entries tickle my funny bone.

A close second place goes to “All the Time in the World” by Scott Tipton and Elena Casagrande. Wes’ and Fred’s attempts at a first date keep getting interrupted by vampires and demons. I braced myself for the end. Even as they assure themselves that they have plenty of time, Fred’s answering machine gets a message from Knox about the fateful sarcophagus.

Lynch and Franco Urru, the IDW Angelverse’s elite writer-artist pairing, deliver “This One Time,” which is among their most challenging works. The victim and/or villain of the piece can warp reality, so our heroes morph into alternate states of being even as the narrative moves forward. Angel and Spike are briefly in puppet form, Gunn’s body is briefly the shell that Illyria lives in, and so forth. It’s a bit hard to follow, but it’s creative, and it ends with Angel affirming that his known reality is the best one because it’s what he has shaped for himself. This is an interesting contrast to Giles’ view in “The Wish” (“Buffy” 3.9) that any other reality “has to be” better.

Jeff Mariotte’s “Dust to Dust” gives us a straightforward glimpse of Gunn’s past, but it’s a worthwhile one for continuity’s sake: We learn that he lost his parents at a young age, his grandmother after that, and a friendly elderly guardian after that. Then he and his sister, Alonna, are on their own — still kids but already hardened.

Editor Chris Ryall closes “Yearbook” with an illustrated farewell where he says he “kinda want(s) to slay the Dark Horse.” If there was anything more than a friendly rivalry between the two companies, it doesn’t show up in much of the material, aside from a joke in “Spike” Issue 1 poking fun at the “Twilight” arc of “Buffy” Season 8 (which deserves to be poked fun at).

IDW uses “Spike” to smoothly hand off Spike’s storyline (even incorporating Season 8 Willow) to Dark Horse, and it ends the “Angel” title with Angel experiencing a bad potential future, thus putting him in a frame of mind to launch his Twilight scheme.

While quality remains an open question, continuity will work more smoothly from 2011-18 with Dark Horse holding the license solo. That said, IDW did more good work than bad during its time with the Angelverse and showed consistent knowledge of and care for the characters, shining with its “Spike” series and hitting its stride with “Angel” on the Whedon-plotted “After the Fall” in 2007.

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