When Spike and Willow duck out of the main “Buffy” Season 9 series, their solo adventures are told in a pair of five-issue miniseries, with Spike brooding over his purpose in life without Buffy, and Willow seeking a way to regain some of her magic powers.
As he did with his love letter to hardboiled fiction, “Hollywood Noir,” Jeff Mariotte lets his passion for bloodless British mysteries show in “Solitary Man” (December 2003) – but in a different way. He invents Mildred Finster, a woman in the mold of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or “Murder, She Wrote’s” Jessica Fletcher – at least, that’s how she sees herself. As the story begins, Mildred finishes reading the last of the 79 Christie books, then tells her cat that she’s going to become a detective herself.
In this next batch of 10 issues, Season 9 becomes slightly less Buffy-centric, somewhat to its detriment, but Andrew Chambliss continues to be a sharp writer and I trust he knows where the wider narrative is going. The only major misstep in this batch, surprisingly, is when “Buffy” veterans Jane Espenson and Drew Z. Greenberg step in for two issues to tell the origin story of side character Billy.
Doranna Durgin crafts a more readable and entertaining “Angel” book her second time around with “Fearless” (October 2003). It has the same structure as “Impressions,” which I didn’t like as much, wherein we know what’s happening early on and there aren’t any twists and turns before getting to the end. But because of better character writing for the Angel Investigations team and better guest characters, “Fearless” is the superior entry.
After Season 8, Dark Horse’s canonical “Buffy” comics do what the TV series did more than a decade prior: split into two series. While “Angel & Faith” go off to do their own thing, “Buffy” Season 9 sets up shop in San Francisco and welcomes excellent new lead scribe Andrew Chambliss, who had written for “Dollhouse.” Here are my reviews of Issues 1-10 of the 25-issue Season 9.
Jeff Mariotte recaptures some of the hardboiled style from “Hollywood Noir” in “Sanctuary” (April 2003), which has a straightforward mystery that all takes place in one night. It’s also an excellent character piece for Fred – marking one of her rare early ventures outside the Hyperion Hotel – even though she spends most of the book chained to a radiator as the kidnap victim that Angel and company must retrieve.
IDW 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.
Doranna Durgin did solid work on her short stories in “Tales of the Slayer, Vol. 1” and “Angel: The Longest Night,” but she trips up when making the leap to a full-length novel with “Angel: Impressions” (February 2003). Tuingas demons from a pocket dimension accidentally lose a deathstone in Los Angeles, and the stone gives off emanations that make the local demons go berserk. For no good reason, it takes nearly 300 pages for the Tuingas to reclaim it. In the meantime, the gang fights crazed LA demons and Angel struggles to keep Angelus at bay.
Throughout my reread of IDW’s Angelverse work, it’s become increasingly clear that the “Spike” titles tend to be better than the “Angel” titles. There are some exceptions: “Spike: The Devil You Know” is not very good, and some “Angel” yarns are outstanding. But generally, your odds of getting a great tale are better with “Spike,” and it’s because Brian Lynch – with whom Joss Whedon co-wrote the canonical “Angel: After the Fall” — writes most of them, and Franco Urru does the art for most of Lynch’s work.
“Cursed” (November 2003) is a rare novel with “Buffy” in the title that doesn’t have Buffy in it (aside from a phone conversation on the last page). This “Buffy”/“Angel” crossover by Mel Odom is truly a “Spike”/“Angel” crossover, and a good one (despite a big continuity problem I’ll get to later). I never tire of tales of Angelus, Darla, Spike and Dru cutting swaths of terror across Europe, and “Cursed” is a prime entry in that subgenre, while also bringing Angel and Spike together in present day.