Boys and Their Toys (1/2)
Written by: Brian Lynch, Art by: Stephen Mooney, Colored by: Tom Smith/Scorpion Studios
Lettered by: Robbie Robbins, Edited by: Chris Ryall
Cover A by: Stephen Mooney
Page 01: We open on a huge devil figure standing over a burning city scape. In the foreground, a man screams and tells us that everything is going to Hell.
Commentary: Beautiful artwork on this page.
Page 02: A man with a heavy machine gun warns that the big devil is making his move. Another man warns "Gunn" to back off. He tells him that if anyone is going to risk his neck, it'll be him. The man is obviously Nic Cage.
Someone from off panel is calling Nic Angel and telling him that if Angel is lost, they're all lost. George also tries to persuade Nic-Angel not to go through with his plan. George isn't a giant telepathic betta, though. It's a yapping dog.
From just on panel, we see a hand with a cigarette. It belongs to someone with a British accent.
Page 03: The hand and the cigarette belong to our alterna-Spike, who is a woman with an obvious hot-on for Nic-Angel. They share banter that ends with in huge clinch.
Fake-Gunn asks the audience if it just got hot in Hell, or if it is just them... as cheesy a line as you could want for an action movie.
Page 04: For that is what we're seeing, of course. Angel is in the audience of a sneak-peek of the upcoming movie about Hell-Angeles.
The movie is full of the usual cliche jerks and geeks.
Naturally, the director has changed just about every single detail about L.A.'s time in a Hell-dimension into the usual Nic Cage loud action pic.
Page 05: Angel leaves the screening, complaining he hadn't really come there for the mangled retelling of his life, anyway. He has a greater purpose for being there - finding and retrieving the flaming sword which killed him and Connor in Hell.
Alas, the sword has somehow ended up at a convention on auction.
With Angel is Groo, Connor and ... uh... a blonde woman. She could be supposed to be Kate or Nina... or Odo with girl hair.
Commentary: So, in case we're unclear, we've reached a self-referential issue on the vagueries of fan-geekdom in which there will be many jokes poked at the character's images and the fans of said characters who love them. This isn't bad, per se, but it also isn't my favorite kind of story telling. I enjoy small jokes commenting on the meta of a show: Buffy's comment on Dawn being in trouble so "it must be Tuesday", because that is when BTVS was airing on UPN is still funny in context. I find little jokes aimed at the fans to be humorous, including comments on slash-ficcers (the number of times that Dean/Sam were mistaken for lovers in earlier seasons was funny on Supernatural).
But there is a fine line between tweaking the audience and trying so hard to be in on the joke that you lose all track of sly and instead it turns into more of a self-involved, look at me, aren't I funny 'cause I'm poking fun at my own creation, way that is too much. It stops being funny and starts to become okay, okay, I get it already - we fans are way too involved and need to lighten up and yes, you've noticed the subtext in your own show - how clever of you, now stop beating me about the head with it.
It is these over the top commentaries that I find less enjoyable, as the joy isn't in catching the humorous asides slipping in below the obvious, but is more of somebody telling you the joke's punchline, while poking you in the ribs and then explaining the whole thing to you about why it was so freaking hilarious when it was just told to you five seconds ago. Only this doesn't go on for a joke, it goes on for an entire issue/episode. Again, I have to bring up Supernatural, as they tend to kill their own jokes with obviousness.
So, it is through this filter that you're going to have to read any comments I make and take my scoring with a grain of salt. Which is why I haven't reviewed any pure comedy shows/movies on this LJ site: Humor is one of the most individual experiences among people... if you find something funny, you do. If you don't think it's humorous, you don't. And there is really no way to make something funny to somebody who doesn't see it after the fact. Humor strikes you, or it doesn't.
Having said all that, I did enjoy the overall plot so my score should be decent and I remember liking the second part of this one... so, let's get back to it and stop my rambling.
Page 06: Also at this convention is Spike. While Team Angel is there on the case of the flaming sword, which sounds like a joke in itself, Spike appears to be there just 'cause.
There is another joke - clever at first, but then the dialog points it out and kills it - about everyone taking Spike's regular get-up and behavior as a character costume.
Spike's been at loose ends, just wandering around when he heard about the W&H-Hell movie and came to check it out.
Page 07: This page I like a bit more.
We're re-introduced to Jeremy Johns (who has his own minor running joke in which Spike never gets his name correct) from Spike: After the Fall. In that series, Jeremy was one of the humans that Spike rescued before the shocking turn in which Non - the energy draining demon - tried to feed on him in order to replenish her strength during the big battle. To stop this, Illyria punched a hole through his chest, killing him instantly to Spike's shock.
Jeremy is now throwing a fit at the director of "Last Angel in Hell" for completely screwing up the entire story of what had happened to L.A.
The director points out that no one can be sure of what did or did not happen in L.A., but Jeremy is quite sure he knows where he was during the whole "After the Fall" arc.
More importantly, Jeremy basically tells us what is about to happen when he off-handedly responds to an insult against the wizard costume he's sporting that he took it from the guys out front because you got 50% off entry price to the con if you came in costume.
Jeremy also haughtily informs director that Angel and Spike never officially dated and that Spike saw him as more of an older brother... so there. Spike turns to Angel to assure him that Jeremy must have been high on Hell-fumes.
Commentary: Here's why I like this page: It brings up someone from a past series (Spike: After the Fall). It winks at the fans (Angel and Spike's unconfirmed but oft-joked about slashy subtext) and the fact that Jeremy is only 95% sure that Spike is a dude. Finally there is the exchange between Spike denying Jeremy's charge that Spike feels a familial connection to Angel and Angel's "uh-huh, sure Spike" look back at him. All of the inside jokes at the characters, their relationships, the actor's prettiness ... all of it is there without anyone bluntly pointing to the fact that they're teasing them with a giant cue card, so we get that the comic creator is in on our joke.
Plus, the free costume will tie in directly with the chaos that is about to happen in this arc... now, where have we seen costumes gone wild before?
Page 08: Jeremy's rant causes his eviction from the hall, which he is appalled by, still yelling that the director has made up lies about what happened to them all in Hell.
Commentary: And this is another reference to The Business, in which true tales become 'inspired by' films, which in turn have nearly nothing to do with the actual tale that the film was supposedly being based upon.
Page 09: Jeremy embraces Spike, while being introduced to Angel. Spike still calls him Jerry.
He holds onto Spike a little too long, which is humorous, before telling Spike that he wanted to find him to invite him to his wedding. In the meantime, Angel has received a call on his cell. This is Groo, reporting that he's taken up position in line for the auction where the sword will be found, defending his place in line from 'cutsies' by other similarly dressed 'warriors'.
Page 10: The auction is for props and among these are the Flaming Sword. There are also various items which may or may not be recognized by me:
A) A helmet, which I can't quite identify - Star Wars, maybe? B) Lion-O's sword from Thundercats, C) R2-D2 on a table in the background, D) A Bat-Utility Belt, E) A GhostBuster's pack, F) The Transformers' Matrix of Leadership from the animated movie, G) The Sword that was in Hell-Angeles, still smoldering, H) The hover-skateboard from one of the Back To The Future movies, I) Green Lantern's power battery and ring, J) A photo/picture/painting that I cannot begin to identify, but looks sort of like Brendan Fraser.
Among those who are in the auction room, is a group of red demons in garish teddy bear costumes. Groo reports these to Angel, as they're busy chanting repetitively that Angel must be struck down.
Page 11: Angel wraps up his conversation with Groo, while Spike and Jeremy hover. Spike immediately invites himself in on Angel's mission, which he objects to because this is a situation for sneakiness and Spike is loud.
Spike responds by yelling that he can be subtle, which Angel points out is being the opposite of quiet.
Spike tells Angel he needs something to do. He's been freaked out by the sudden freedom that he's had since returning from 'After the Fall'.
Page 12: Angel agrees. But they still have the issue of being too well known to their enemies. Jeremy comes in then with an idea. You see, there are two guys out front handing out free costumes, so....
Jeremy scores a karate outfit, since he's already been thrown out as a wizard. Spike and Angel divide up the remaining two costumes: Spike as movie-version Angel and actual Angel as female sidekick/romantic interest movie Spike.
Commentary: I liked the Jeremy character in Spike: After the Fall and his fate in Hell-Angeles was cruel and shocking. This Jeremy is a bit of an annoyance, though. I do like the writing on these last two pages. It gently pokes fun at the Spike/Angel dynamic without nudging you in the ribs over it. And for some reason, Angel's facial expression in panel one of this page strikes my funny bone. I also found it funny how after every Angel instruction, he already knows that Spike will likely do the opposite.
Page 13: As Spike, Angel and Jeremy head in to find a place to change into disguise, there are two men loitering outside - they of the free costumes.
It's obvious that they're trying to help people by allowing them all to be special, rather than be trapped in the humdrum lives.
The plan they have cooking becomes obvious when they reveal the double-faced bust of the god, Janus, last seen in BTVS: Halloween. Now, you might think that bringing chaos-magic to a convention full of cursed super-powered costumes was a really bad idea, but... actually... good point, it is a really bad idea.
Commentary: Yay for continuity! Yay for re-introducing a plot device from your forebear series! Yay, I say, Yay! I also like Jeremy's constant assumption that Spike and Angel have some sort of romance going on because of their interaction. It's the little shoutouts to the slash fandom that makes things so fun for me... see current WB series, Supernatural, and the constant in series comments about Dean and Cas, also. Sure, it's all just silly fun in which slash won't actually happen ... wait, didn't we see Spike and Angel about to dress up as their movie counterparts?
Yeah, well, let's not get too excited about finally having that Angel/Spike clinch. I mean there's joking about slash and then there's entirely off limits for the action heroes.
Page 14: In the restroom, our hero trio get dressed up with Jeremy geeking out some more.
Page 15: In the meantime our demons-costumed-as-cuddly-bears discuss why they're not just storming the place and grabbing the sword rather than trying this bidding nonsense. One of them has had the foresight to bring a gun and decides his cohorts plan is stupid. He's going to just rob the place.
Groo, however has been listening in on their conversation and can no longer stand idly by.
He insists that the "demon furry" respects the rules. He orders them all to make their bid and if they win, then they can go after Angel with the sword. He adds that at that time, he'll then slay them, although it must occur off of the convention grounds due to the 'no horseplay' signs.
This causes our demonic gang to yell that they have a sidekick in play. They immediately go with our gun toting demons plan of not bothering to remain incognito.
Commentary: Again, I like the humourous dialog on this page. Angel as a comic book series seemed to do much better with the comic moments then the heavy drama and the staff handled the short stories much better then the ongoing plot arcs (which are needlessly drawn out and convoluted and I'm not convinced make absolute sense: see 'After the Fall', 'the current Angels on Earth arc', and the 'animals became people, but are now reverting' Dez story. All of those stories felt/feel like there isn't a definitive end point in mind that we're working toward - like they're making it up as they go along, and they're not very good at it. Whereas, when they have a definite plan in place - this story will be two issues and will be a comedy - they're much more focused.
Page 16: With the ruse busted, the demons-as-Care-Bears go on the offensive. Spike takes the opportunity presented to annoy Angel by claiming to be him. Angel is feeling a bit humiliated as he is fighting as She-Spike.
Page 17: We get an actual-Angel point of view through his mask, complaining in his thoughts about the restricted field of view it presents.
He's quickly tackled and the demons yank off his mask discovering the ruse, which Angel comments didn't last very long.
Commentary: I like the mask-POV and the continual humor. But, I also have to point out that Angel has to lose his mask, so that there is a reason for him to not go all movie She-Spike on actual-Spike-as-movie-Angel when the Janus spell takes effect. Bummer.
Page 18: As all of our costumed convention goers are watching the fight, Jeremy gets menaced by one of the demons. In the meanwhile, the chaos-magic duo are wrapping up their chanted spell.
Angel grabs the demon who was about to claw Jeremy...
Page 19: ...Only to be wrapped in a huge, fuzzy bear hug!
The former demon, who is now a Care-Bear-without-the-trademarked-name, tells Angel that "Hugs are the key ingredient in a love casserole!"
So true my friends, so true.
Groo quickly notices that it is not only the demon assassins who have changed, either.
Commentary: I like how in the background, Jeremy is karate-kicking a Care Bear/demon.
Page 20/21: Two Page Spread- Groo points to the conventioneers, and everyone (or at least everyone who grabbed a free costume for the entrance discount) has become their costume and started a huge superpowered brawl!
Commentary: And if you think they've taken this opportunity to draw some obvious parallels to other companies' characters, you'd be right. I spot Power Girl, Supergirl, Hal Jordan in a different outfit fighting Captain Atom (look at his facial features), Conan, a Decepticon, another Supergirl, someone in the background that looks like they have a Super Ninja Turtle shell on their back, Batman crouching behind Angel's head and about three that I think I recognize but I can't name them.
Page 22: But for actual-Angel, the worst is Spike-as-movie-Angel now believing he is Angel!
The cockeyed look is my scanner's fault. I don't know why it won't see this page straight.
Spike's line is pretty cool & actual-Angel mentions that he's lost his accent: "We have to find the source, obviously. Don't worry, I'm on already on it. I find the source, I cut it off at the knees, I sulk away into the shadows, I sit alone in a dark room, I think about Buffy, I sleep, I do the whole thing again tomorrow."
The Good: The dialog is well written and humor-filled in an obviously affectionate way. And who doesn't like it when Angel gets made fun of?
I like the hint of depth we get with Spike's admission that he doesn't have any idea what to do with his future being so wide-open in front of him.
I didn't think I was going to like the whole self-referential L.A. commentary being done again, but the movie parody amused me more than I thought it would.
I obviously liked the visual cues to my 80s childhood; I'll admit I burst into a huge grin when I saw Lion-O's sword and The Autobot Matrix of Leadership.
The Bad: The making fun of the geekdom was a little overbroad and way overdone on pages 4 and 5.
I have no idea what the hell was going on with ... uh, Kate?... The artwork for her is really bad.
Other Thoughts: The artwork is all over the place this issue. There are some drawings that catch the actors faces pretty darn well, and then there are others where ... wow... bad.
I found Jeremy more irritating than endearing in this issue, but he also had some good panels, so I think it's a wash.
The Score: I found myself having a lot more fun with this issue than I expected and put it down to some great dialog and some really good facial expressions on Angel and Jeremy. Since I tend to be a bit of a continuity whore, too, I really like the re-introduction of Janus and the Chaos-magic, although if this idea gets revisited again, they're going to have to do something else besides the cursed and amusing costume switch. A dark tale involving this magic should be told.
I find myself looking forward to the next issue, even though when I started this one I figured I'd be grimacing through the whole thing so good show, I say:
3.50 out of 5