When “Angel” premiered on Oct. 5, 1999, with “City of,” it was nominally a darker, more adult show than “Buffy,” its parent series and Tuesday night lead-in on The WB. But today, at the tail end of a decade of grim television (“prestige” though it may be), it’s notable how many smiles and laughs are to be found in even the most heart-wrenching hours of “Angel.”
Buffy” Season 12 should ideally be longer than four issues, and I’m guessing it would’ve been 12 issues if the timing had worked out better. But Fox brought the “Buffy” license back in-house – ending Dark Horse’s 21-year run with the title and canceling this 11-year canonical continuation of the TV series – so Joss Whedon and Christos Gage had to cram their final statement into four issues.
During the time of “Buffy” Season 11, Giles is off at high school in Los Angeles in the clunky four-issue series “Girl Blue” (February-May 2018). It’s credited to Joss Whedon and Erika Alexander (also an actress, who has a role in “Get Out”), but since I get no sense whatsoever that this is a Whedon script, I’m tempted to see it as Alexander’s work.
Dark Horse’s “Angel” comic series ends its run with a surprising but appealing smaller scale. With the “Buffy” characters facing a major threat in their Season 11, Angel would have to be seriously sidetracked to not help out, and new writer Corinna Bechko (“Star Wars: Legacy Volume II”) finds a perfect way to occupy him: He’s traveling through the past. While this might seem like the most epic concept so far, “Angel” Season 11 maintains a personal scope. There are just three main characters – but only two at a time, since Illyria and Fred share a body – and the three time-travel stops reflect important moments from their pasts.
Just as “The X-Files” returned for shorter TV seasons in recent years, the “Buffy” comics take a crack at the miniseries format in Season 11, which is only 12 issues long, compared to at least 25 in the previous three seasons. On one hand, important side stories are missing within the overall arc of the US government’s smackdown of the supernatural population. On the other hand, Buffy shines this season – partly affirming superhero traits that have always been there, but also achieving milestones that would’ve been unthinkable in past seasons.
In my review of the first two installments of “Buffy: The High School Years” – “Freaks and Geeks” and “Glutton for Punishment” (both from 2016) – I noted that they seemed to be aimed at the youngest theoretical fan. The stories both center on Buffy’s school-Slaying conflict and have simple resolutions; if one wanted to be generous, they almost matched the shallowest episodes of Season 1 in depth.
Angel & Faith” wraps Season 10 with the five-part “A Tale of Two Families” (Issues 21-25, December 2015-April 2016), which affirms the themes I’ve remarked on in previous posts. A makeshift family has formed around Angel in Magic Town; they are voluntarily drawn to him based on the good example he sets. This contrasts with Archaeus, who recruits vampire minions with the promise of power.
At the end of Issue 15, Fred asks Angel: “Can we call ourselves Angel Investigations?” But, nostalgia aside, writer Victor Gischler’s “Angel & Faith” Season 10 isn’t about the re-forming of the detective agency, but rather about a disparate group of people coming together to defend their home neighborhood of Magic Town in London. For being loners at heart, the title characters sure do attract allies, and the rich cast of characters is starting to make this title a page-turner; the drama is often low-key, but intensely based on the journeys of these individuals. This batch begins with the best “Angel & Faith” arc so far:
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.
Season 10 started with Buffy and the gang being modest about their callings, and it ends with them realizing the mature response is to embrace their callings, because the world will be worse off they don’t. Too many bad actors will seek to fill the power vacuum. It’s a pretty great way to dig into the theme of adult responsibility, and not exactly like what we’ve seen before.