Angel & Faith” Season 10 should really be called “Angel. And Faith,” at least for the first 10 issues. The co-leads have completely different story arcs, although both benefit from the moodier, noir-style look from artist Will Conrad and colorist Michelle Madsen.
Meanwhile, writer Victor Gischler (“Spike: A Dark Place”) delivers plenty of action as the comic splits into its two threads: Angel begins patrolling London’s Magic Town and Faith takes a job with Deepscan. Through 10 issues, “Angel & Faith” Season 10 doesn’t start with mind-blowing new themes or concepts, and it feels less urgent than Season 9, which was all about the goal of resurrecting Giles. That said, it’s more focused that the comparatively scattershot “Buffy” Season 10, and I do dig the way it peppers bits of intrigue here and there, from the world-building of Magic Town to the return of an old enemy … and a few old friends.
“Where the River Meets the Sea” (Issues 1-4, April-July 2014)
At first blush, Season 10 has Angel stalking around London and helping people like he does in Los Angeles back in “Angel” Season 1. In lieu of Kate Lockley, he has Detective Brandt. He knows Rory the bartender is the demon to shake down for information, and he can also call on Season 9’s Alasdair for help with magic research. But … cue record scratch … he’s not the big hero in this town.
Angel soon realizes Slayer Nadira is the new protector of Magic Town – and she’s also the most striking figure in this opening arc, with the portion of her body that was burned at the end of Season 9 now glowing neon green. Her dislike of Angel is a thing of the past, and she believes she can guide him as a force for good with her newfound precognitive abilities.
Interestingly, while the world at large knows about magic and the supernatural now, Magic Town itself is a smaller-scale playground for the central theme of “X-Men,” with magic-altered appearances instead of mutant traits. These people are persecuted by “normal” humans, and Nadira is running the equivalent of the Mutant Underground from “The Gifted.” At the same time, evil magical creatures exist, including a pixie boss named Corky who was a low-level human criminal but who – after being transformed by Whistler’s magic bomb — is now collecting bottles of concentrated magic.
The story really catches my attention on the final panel when it’s revealed that Amy Madison is who Corky is collecting these bottles for. I’ve always been a big Amy fan, particularly because of Elizabeth Anne Allen’s turn on the TV series. While her Season 8 scheme fizzles and is overtaken by the Twilight spectacle, it makes total sense that she’d be drawn to Magic Town, and I’m interested to see her clash with Angel.
Although the back-and-forth presentation of the stories – with the first line of the new scene appearing at the end of the previous one — gives “Where the River Meets the Sea” a natural momentum, Faith’s story is a repeat of Buffy’s brief foray into working for Kennedy’s Deepscan organization in “Buffy” Season 9. Faith fails to read the briefing for her first assignment and attacks the client. It seems like maybe there should’ve been a verbal briefing, or Faith’s colleagues might’ve let slip that the client can shift into demon form. But I guess it serves to remind us that Faith still struggles as a team player. Unlike Buffy, though, Faith sticks with Deepscan.
As with Angel’s story, though, Faith’s plays the card of “Hey, here’s a character we haven’t seen in a while,” and again, I’m a sucker for this card. In this case, it’s Riley Finn, last seen in Season 8. Kennedy hands Faith a file indicating Riley is missing.
Just as “Buffy” Seasons 9-10 pepper in a bit of Illyria and Wolfram & Hart (traditionally associated with “Angel”), I think some fresh drama could be wrung from Amy and Riley (traditionally from “Buffy”) entering the pages of “Angel & Faith.” “Where the River Meets the Sea” looks wonderful but the stories are familiar, so I’m ready for something fresh.
“Old Habits” (Issue 5, August 2014)
The big revelation of this one-shot is that the new breed of vampires can go out in daylight, can turn into bats, and are harder to stake than the old breed. Since we already know that from the opening arc of “Buffy” Season 10, it’s anticlimactic. (Yes, I know Angel has to learn this for himself, but still.)
It is kind of fun to see Angel working with Giles’ aunts, who are the bait for the daytime vampire. The only intrigue of “Old Habits” comes from Angel’s dream vision of himself, as Angelus, killing nuns in a convent, and then walking out of a fire at the same convent, having rescued one.
“Lost and Found” (Issues 6-10, September 2014-January 2015)
“Lost and Found” – not to be confused with the “Buffy” Classic arc by that name or the “Spike” one-shot by that name (Buffyverse comics do tend to reuse titles, don’t they?) – is where “Angel & Faith” Season 10 really gets up and running.
Faith trekking through the South American jungle with Deepscan is the arc I most remembered from my first read. At the time, it struck me that her desire to apologize to Riley for switching bodies with Buffy back in “Who Are You?” (“Buffy” 4.16) is a case of making drama out of a small moment in Faith’s history.
But read all in one sitting, the Faith portion of “Lost and Found” works well. This is where Faith is at now: wanting to make up for her past misdeeds. Riley accepts her apology and also gives her advice that mirrors what Angel does. He tries to help people make sure to never again do what Angelus would do. In Angel’s case, it’s about not losing his soul; in Faith’s case, it’s about being a decent human being.
The jungle trek where the heroes face New Rules vampires, meet up with Sam and rescue Riley is familiar in pop culture (“Predator” and “First Blood” come to mind, of course) but different for a Buffyverse story. I wonder if some of the tension is drained by the way these issues regularly jump back to the London story featuring Angel. For example, I like Reese Zane’s arc where she has to stake her vampire father, who believes vampires are the key to the future of medicine (reminiscent of the new TV show “The Passage”). But the arc goes by fast.
While “Angel & Faith” is nominally all about redemption, Angel is actually in a good place – working with Nadira in the magic world and Brandt in the human world to protect Magic Town. But Angel’s memory-dreams about doing bad things as Angelus are now morphing into images of his current self doing horrible things. What’s that all about? From a thematic standpoint, it seems Gischler is jump-starting Angel’s guilt again.
But first, there’s the fight against Amy. Part of why I like the notion of an Angel-Amy showdown is that I recall rumors from back in the day that Angel, Amy and Whistler would be the cast of “Angel,” about a year before it premiered with Angel, Cordelia and Doyle. Of course, the producers made the correct choice, but I wonder if Joss Whedon had any rough ideas for how Amy would’ve worked as a main character, if indeed the rumor that he was considering such a thing was true.
At this point, though, Amy is firmly on a bad-guy path. She wants Angel’s help to resurrect Warren, as Angel has recently resurrected Giles. Season 10 manages to make Warren grosser than he was as a skinless person in Season 8; now he’s goo in a jar that Amy carries around. Amy also wants to take on Willow, and believes she can hold her own if armed with all her bottled Magic Town magic.
Although Willow could jump to “Angel & Faith” with a few strokes of Conrad’s pencil, the story doesn’t go that way. Instead, Nadira turns Amy back into a rat. Nadira lets the magic work through her, and doesn’t seem to want anything in exchange. Meanwhile, she provides both shelter and wisdom to the downtrodden, ex-human, newly-morphed-creatures of Magic Town. Instead of a seasonal Big Bad, we seem to have a Big Good – although her one-sided whispers with a voice only she can hear might be cause for concern.
But as soon as Amy is dispatched, the Buffyverse comics add another to the list of old characters who return on final panels of a comic issue: Fred! At first blush, I’m thinking “They have a lot of explaining to do” since “Angel” Season 5 makes it clear that Fred’s soul and essence are destroyed when Illyria moves into her body. Still, Illyria’s arcs in the IDW “Angel” comics and “Buffy” Season 9 may have bought some of that back. I’m willing to give Gischler a chance to explain this one.