Angel: After the Fall
Plotted by: Joss Whedon & Brian Lynch, Written by: Brian Lynch, Art by: Stephen Mooney, Colors by: Art Lyon,
Lettered by: Robbie Robbins, Edited by: Chris Ryall
Cover By: Alex Garner
Page 01: L.A. Hell is falling apart as W & H throw a fit because they gave Angel his humanity back to weaken him so that he couldn't save the humans who were yanked into hell with the city. But, they didn't want Angel actually killed, and that is what is close to happening now. Despite Angel's spirit telling Cordy that he needed to stay to fight for his friends and his son, his body remains in all kinds of bad shape. And that is a direct result of Gunn, who has his own vendetta against W & H for the whole 'abduct me and turn me into a vampire' thing.
Over the city, Groosalugg and his flying horse and flaming sword are fighting the fighter-jet-dragons that are bombing the city. We learn that he's been learning English since leaving Angel Investigations by relying on a 'word a day' calendar. Being the Champion of Pylia, he does a good job of it.
Page 02: Below Groo, Spike's all-female Army is also fighting the demonic swarm.
Meanwhile, in Gunn's former penthouse apartment, Angel lies in Connor's arms. Spike tries to play off the extent of Angel's injuries, but Connor shares that his dad isn't a vampire anymore, though Gunn is. There won't be any rapid vampire healing going on for Angel, this time.
Commentary: I'll just insert here, that I really like the artwork here. I wouldn't mind seeing Stephen Mooney on permanent assignment to the Angel series.
Page 03: Spike relies on jokes about Angel's fluctuating weight, claiming he knew there was something off as Angel's looking chunky - maybe even dowdy. Plus, he's fiending for a cigarette, but Wes thinks to himself that Spike is using the sarcasm and cigarettes as a crutch to deal with this new shock.
Spike asks Wes if this is part of the Shanshu deal, but Wes states no, but Spike cuts him off before Wes can tell him what the Shanshu will actually look like (i.e. Angel's 'reward' will be to turn human after his part in the Apocalypse, in which Angelus will help defeat humankind - so really not much of a reward). Spike tells everyone they need to get out of Gunn's lair and get moving.
In the meanwhile, Gunn has already left, having been kicked out of the window by Connor. He's shot 'Fred' with a crossbow, incapacitating Illyria.
Page 04: Fred/Illyria is in Gunn's arms. He tells her that he's sorry that he had to put her in pain, and seems genuinely distressed to see it etched on Fred's face. But, he also tells her that the Fred face is just a mask... like his vampire face is just his mask. He demands that she become Illyria again and stop walking through Fred's motions.
They pass the dragon, Cordelia, which has been torn apart and left lying in the road. Gunn is very obviously bitter toward Angel that he was befriending the dragon while he was being turned into a vampire and is glad that Angel "lost another girlfriend".
Fred tells Gunn she had enjoyed sparring with the dragon, it had come close to being an equal combatant for her (she fought the dragon in #3 in a few panels I had fun with). Gunn encourages her to embrace the inner monster....
Commentary: Gunn's journey through After the Fall has been fascinating and nicely pathos-heavy. It is obvious in his dialog about masks that he is still under the delusion that he remains Charles and the vampire is something that he's struggling with, but that he is really still the man he was. All of his actions though belie that idea - he is a demon with memories and reactions informed by who Charles used to be. It's sad that he can't or won't recognize that he is acting in ways that Charles Gunn never would have, including shooting 'Fred' in the chest with a crossbow. Although, it is also very interesting to me, that he is still fighting against Wolf, Ram and Hart even now, and he's still trying desperately to free L.A. from Hell (even though he's going to use the most destructive means to do so).
I've found Gunn's role in all of this highly confused and ill-written, but when his moments click, writing wise, they really bring a sense of horror and grief for his fate. In this issue, Brian Lynch really brings the A-game, now that he isn't playing coy to stretch out the story beyond what it should have taken to tell.
Page 05: Illyria's time-slipping power briefly causes them to time-skip. For a moment, L.A. looks normal around them and Gunn is able to draw a human breath, but a moment later, they're back in L.A.-Hell. This pleases Gunn, who obviously has a plan to use Illyria's inconsistent powers to force L.A. back into normal space/time.
Page 06: As Gunn makes his way toward *somewhere*, more winged dragons/demons fly close overhead. Gunn instinctively shields 'Fred' which is sweet, if you put aside the fact that Gunn isn't Gunn and Fred isn't Fred.
He assures her that the demons don't want them... before adding bitterly that they want who they always want - i.e. Angel.
Commentary: This is some excellent writing, capturing Gunn before reminding us again that he isn't really him. These pages between non-Gunn and not-Fred are some of the finest writing in After the Fall and I just want so badly for the rest of the series to have been written this well.
Page 07: Spike has led Connor, Wes and the critically injured Angel (and I continue to call bullshit - Angel's injuries are too extensive for him to continue surviving without serious mystical or medical intervention, neither of which are readily available, and no, there is no indication that W & H are keeping him from expiring - in fact, Cordelia's earlier spirit-appearance indicates that not even W & H could intervene in his permanent physical death due to his injuries).
We get an explanation of why Spike came back from his dusting - which means that Gwen is still killed. The room in which Spike was killed has a timeloop around it, placed there mystically by Gunn much earlier. This allowed his minions, him and the Slayers he had captured to 'train' against the super-powered girls, without being permanently killed. It also very neatly explains why the Slayers weren't able to just kick the door open the way Spike had - the loop activates seconds after the door is breached, resetting everyone to their previous positions.
The reason the Slayers and he could escape the loop, is that he caused a breach in the timefield - a 'hiccup' caused by damaging the seal around the room, so that time reset, but not completely affecting everyone caught within it.
Unfortunately, the reset is only 5 minutes, and Angel's injuries were caused long before that, so when the loop resets again, he's still not healed, angering Connor that they've wasted time with the effort.
Commentary: Despite my irritation with the Spike-dusted-not killed and with Angel's super-human, human ability to not die despite horrific injury and blood loss, I really like the explanation provided here to explain away the confusions from earlier. It retro-actively clears up so much regarding Gunn and the Slayer captives and Spike's return in the same issue he was dusted that I'm very pleased with the writing away of the inconsistencies with this explanation. Good job.
Page 08: Spike suggests there is only one way to save Angel from (finally) dying from his injuries. He springs into fang-face. Connor threatens him with a sword, but Spike admits that as long as you watch your back, Angelus isn't a bad ally to have fighting on your side. He suggests that later Wes can figure out a way to return Angel, but Connor springs a new surprise on us regarding the Shanshu/Apocalypse prophecy... it wasn't Angelus we saw in the vision of the end of the world!
It was Angel in that vision ... a souled Angel who causes the downfall of Humankind! Angel's hands will have blood on them, not Angelus - as Wes confirms.
Commentary: This explains so much of why W & H have gone out of their way not to just kill Angel off no matter how much he gets in their way. I love this writing! I love how this prophecy is working out and it makes so much more sense out of the Shashu, too. Think about it: Angel will cause the downfall of good, then W & H are the ones to grant his Shanshu turning him mortal - not as a reward, but so that he is suddenly vulnerable as any other human. Then they quickly kill him, so that he can't catch a case of the conscience and work to undo what he'd just accomplished for them. It's perfect.
Are there still problems with character motivations with this new revelation? Yes. I still have problems with Cordelia's turn-on-a-dime support of Angel's not giving up the ghost to fight on despite the revelations shown to him (and even though I didn't get it at the time, I have to think that he and Cordy were aware that the vision shown to him was himself and not his soulless counterpart making it even a worse decision in hindsight). I could see human Cordelia supporting him whole hog, but I don't buy the elevated Cordy working for the powers that be not arguing more strongly that Angel should not put the world at risk to continue fighting this war that prophecy is saying he won't win. I also still find Angel's own turnabout on the issue problematic, notwithstanding his natural stubborness and Connor's inspirational speechmaking.
But, I can still appreciate W & H's actions now without wondering why they keep bothering with Angel at all - or not simply dusting him, already and finding somebody else to usher in the world conquering evil. There is something too delicious, evilly speaking, of Angel being the one to subjugate and slaughter humankind (though I still am not buying into Angel's current actions in BTVS, Season 8).
Page 09: Connor has a moment of doubt about what to do, how to save his dad, and probably whether he should at all, now. But, as Angel's thoughts reveal - his fate isn't really up to Connor, anyway.
As the W & H demons show, when the ground troops break through the concrete wall to retrieve Angel's still out of it body from the heroes....
Page 10: The W & H assault troops are acting as conduits for W, R & H and they complain to Wesley that they've wasted an inordinate amount of resources trying to break him for the vampire with a soul to just die off, now.
Commentary: I like the bizarre image of the delivery man in the background - without any explanation.
Page 11: The demons from W & H scoop up Angel while his friends and son are occupied.
In the meantime, Gunn has layed Illyria (still in Fred guise) out on an altar and orders Betta George be brought to him.
Commentary: My happiness continues unabated - we are finally recalling the disparate pieces that have been spread throughout After the Fall that seemed to just be unexplained or abandoned earlier tying up everything: Betta George & the glowing orb that Gunn stole from K'pth (see Issue #1). It has taken too long and too many issues to reach this point, but finally everything is coming together.
Page 12: On the altar, 'Fred' is begging Gunn to stop whatever it is he's trying to do. I believe the altar is to restore Illyria, so she can use her timeslip powers at full capacity to timeslip L.A. (and more importantly, himself) back to before everything went to Hell (he was changed).
Unfortunately, W & H's lackeys show up at that moment, still speaking in the Wolf, Ram and Hart's voices. They inform Gunn that the altar was ordered by them for Angel, specifically. They grab Gunn and throw Illyria/Fred to the floor, putting Angel in her place.
Page 13: Angel's battered form is wrapped in a goo on the altar, as Gunn complains that they're ruining everything.
In the meanwhile, Fred is still lying on the floor wondering what exactly is going on. Wesley finds her and and she admits that she tried so hard to be what he wanted, but she doesn't think that Fred is really there.
Connor and Spike have been taken prisoner and have been brought to see Angel restored (and I would guess, changed to bring out his more evil side, if I can read into the plan correctly).
Commentary: I have to question Connor and Spike's not being left dead - that was poor plotting (future me spoiler ---- especially since everyone killed is going to be returned to life later, I would have just shown them getting slaughtered before - like Gwen has been).
I really feel for Gunn, too, despite his evilness - as a vampire, he just refused to get that he was a tool. All of his plans were irrelevant and he can't deal with it....
Page 14: But as we know, even so powerful a force as W & H doesn't get what they want in the Whedonverse....
"Fred" apologizes to Wesley, though it is Illyria speaking. She complains that Fred haunts her, but she can't be her. She tells him that no matter what she does, how she timeslips, who she battles, she can't have what she wants and she can't have what Fred wanted - including him to be alive and whole again.
She comes to the conclusion that Gunn was insane to think that returning her to her true form would make everything better. But, his reasoning wasn't wrong - she can fix things by ending the madness once and for all....
Illyria transforms into her actual form (see the cover)....
Page 15: Angel is on the slab being healed of his (allegedly near) fatal injuries. Illyria in the meantime has turned on W & H, by spearing their foot soldiers with her new tentacles. Spike tries to yell for Wes to get Illyria to calm down, but she clobbers the vampire, with an emphatic NO.
Page 16: Angel completes his healing, as Illyria ... the true Illyria-God ... returns with a vengeance. Gunn rejoices (and note Angel's changing into Liam indicating another time slip in progress).
Page 17: Illyria has not only grown tentacles, she's also become beetle-like (actually, sort of roach-like) and GIANT.
Page 18: Things begin to move fast, now: Angel is partially healed, and he has a pulse, so he's still human.
Page 19: Angel asks after Connor, but the entire block has been leveled (and where is Groo??). Gunn, still carrying quite a bit of rage toward Angel, comes up behind him and sends a huge shard of wood through his shoulder, yelling at him to "see". What exactly, Angel doesn't know - but a time slip sends Angel back to childhood for a second.
Page 20: Gunn yells at Angel to "watch this" and then he'll kill him. He tells Betta George to contact Illyria telepathically and instruct her to use her timeslip power to move everything back to before The Fall....
This way, you see, Gunn will be the hero who saved everyone (a theme he's been repeating throughout the series), he'll be human again, and he'll be able to take vengeance on Angel for causing everything in the first place (Gunn's blaming Angel has also been ongoing - though I doubt Gunn will want to kill Angel if he's returned to human in the timeslip. I don't think Gunn is thinking about that, though).
In the meantime, we see Angel yank the wood spear from his shoulder, and coming up behind Gunn to finish off the vampire he's become. Another timeslip causes Angel to revert to his future incarnation that we saw in the Apocalypse vision, before returning to current time/space.
Page 21: Angel questions Wesley (complainingly) whether this was part of the W & H's plan - to force him to kill Gunn and Illyria, but he hesitates. He instead worries about Connor. Wes gives him a disapproving "Angel-" forcing him to turn his attention to Illyria's current rampage.
In the meanwhile, Gunn is going on excitedly to George to reach out to Illyria - to convince her to timeslip to before *that night*.
Instead, what they get is a brief white out of nothingness, before returning....
Page 22: George tells Gunn that he's suggested to Illyria about what to do to fix things, but she wants to end it all. Gunn agrees that is the plan, but George clarifies that Illyria's goal is to *end it all* by collapsing time and ergo ending all existence. Basically, a cosmic murder/suicide pact.
Angel and Wes stare off at Illyria in the distance, while Gunn takes a moment before grinning: "That'll work"....
The Good: Taking all of the bits that seemed to be random and forging them into a whole that makes sense!
The Gunn/Illyria (in Fred form) scenes are great with pathos and the dialog is superb from Gunn.
W & H's goals make sense and I appreciate how everything is still tied into the infamous Shanshu Prophecy.
The Bad: Okay, Angel's continuing to hang on to his mortal life with the wounds we've seen is ridiculous. I also still don't understand Angel's motivations in fighting to live after seeing how it is all prophesied to end - there just hasn't been offered any compelling reason for him to not choose and BtVS: Amends and self-sacrifice in this scenario.
Other Thoughts: I really like that cover of the new/old Illyria. I also love the writing and the artwork, which has been wildly uneven throughout this series.
The Score: I can't add anything more to what I've placed in commentary. This issue has finally returned a sense of excitement and anticipation to this wandering tale and looks ready to wrap up with a bang....
4.50 out of 5