I can’t believe it was almost a decade ago.
In early 2007, I went to Borders in search of some Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel books. I had recently (finally!) acquired both series on DVD and was fresh off of the first full re-watch I had since the respective finales a few years prior. I ended up leaving with some tie-in novels and a Buffy magazine with a stock photo of Spike on the cover. On the ride home, I leafed through the magazine and was surprised to see that a new season of Buffy was coming… and that it would be a comic series. I remember thinking that I had no idea why Joss Whedon chose to do it as a comic book rather than a novel, but figured I’d give it a try anyway. I did, and I was pleasantly surprised with the way the characters and Joss’s writing translated into a different medium – a medium with which, besides a few childhood comics, I was largely unfamiliar.
Later, after the success of Buffy: Season Eight at Dark Horse, IDW Publishing announced that they would release a 12-issue series that picked up where Angel left off, and that it would be titled Angel: After the Fall. They reported that Joss Whedon was overseeing the series with his handpicked team of writer Brian Lynch and artist Franco Urru, who I knew and liked from a couple of Spike series that I’d picked up after getting into the Buffy series. Now that I was getting more into comics, I was excited to see what they would do with Angel.
I can’t say this without sounding hyperbolic, I know, but the first issue of Angel: After the Fall changed my life.
Buffy: Season Eight, Spike: Asylum, and a few other series I picked up showed me that I could enjoy comics, and that I had been foolish to overlook the medium. Angel: After the Fall, though, showed me exactly what comics can do, and I fell in love. That single issue dismantled everything I expected from the format with its visual pacing, the way Franco’s amazing layouts guided the reader expertly through his artwork, which crackled and swelled with movement unlike any I’d seen in a comic. Brian’s writing, from the dialogue to the way the story turned, the amount of information given in each panel, the way he incorporated page turns and splashes and double page spreads… I was stunned by it, and when I revisited the series to write this piece, I still am. Beyond offering me new stories about my all-time favorite characters, which were every bit as great as the original TV series, Angel: After the Fall made me realize that comics just might be my medium of choice as a writer.
I finished my re-read just a couple of hours before writing this piece, and it was the only time that I read the entire series in one sitting. Angel: After the Fall had a stranger format than most series, and thankfully expanded beyond the originally announced twelve issues. The first five issues take place a couple of months after the famous alley fight that begins in the final moments of the televised series finale. In these, Los Angeles has been sent to Hell, and Angel struggles to save lives and maintain order in this post-Apocalyptic terrain. Then, issue six through nine are made up of short flashback stories that focus on individual characters moments after the finale, in the first moments that LA is sent to hell. Then, issues ten through seventeen, the finale, go back to the main story. I read these as they came out in single issue form, and would post reviews on my old blog the day of release, and then I’d re-read once the hardcover collections were released. Before this, I’d never been involved in fandom, which was another brand new and exciting thing for me – now, I was part of the conversation. I would routinely talk to Brian Lynch and the artists, which made the already emotionally gratifying experience of reading Angel: After the Fall all the more exciting. I purchased the oversized premium hardcover, which re-prints the entire series, when it first came out… but I already had the smaller collections, and this thing was just so gorgeous that I didn’t want to risk harming it.
But now, now that years and years have passed since my last re-read, I figured it was time. I sat down with Angel: After the Fall in its oversized form, and I read it from start to finishing, hoping that the magic would still be there. The thing is, I’ve read hundreds of comics since that first issue dropped in 2007. Hell, I’ve written and published over 200 of my own comics since then, which hurts my head (and carpal tunnel) to even think about. I knew, going in, there was a chance that the magic would have dulled over time, and that my fondness for the comic would be nostalgic.
That wasn’t what happened, though. As I read it, sure, I did think back to how I felt when I first sat down with those issues, but the story was every bit as enthralling now as it was then. At every moment, it reminds me why I loved Angel as a story and a character to begin with, reminds me why I fell in love with comics, and reminds me of that pure excitement when I saw the heights to which this medium could soar.
I don’t know if there will ever be another comic like Angel: After the Fall for me. I love it for what it did for me as a reader and a writer, I love it even with its flaws, and I love it for itself – for what it is: a beautifully written, beautifully drawn comic book. I expect that when I read it again, doubtlessly sooner than another decade from now, I’ll feel the same.
Some stories, the best stories, stick with you forever.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Destiny NY, Robyn Hood, Van Helsing), novels (Iron Man, Avengers, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Blastoff Comics, Sad Girls Guide). His first work as a professional writer was for IDW Publishing, on their final issue of Angel, to which he contributed a story drawn by Stephen Mooney, whose art was featured in multiple issues of Angel: After the Fall. Needless to say, it was a dream come true.