Angel & Spike from BOOM! Studios gets a new writer with Lovely Receiver's Zac Thompson. How does this new team handle the reboot of Buffy's sister series?
Zac Thompson's social media spoiled the surprise a little. Nothing narrative… but rather the "is it going to be good?" of it all. Thompson has already established himself as an incredible creator through his own indie titles, but since the publication of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #1 back in 2007, the comics industry has seen many capable writers attempt to contribute to the Buffyverse with hugely varying levels of success. Thompson, though, has tweeted about Angel multiple times since the announcement of Angel & Spike, showing a deep understanding and appreciation for the show that goes beyond this current gig. That comes across in his writing with the thrilling Angel & Spike #14, which pits the title characters and Gunn against a werewolf that, by the final page, many readers will be very happy to see. Thompson's Angel feels very much like the Angel of the show, who broods in deep, silent, poetic thought but speaks aloud more colloquially, attempting to fit in but never really succeeding. As the moral core of the series, Angel has beautiful moments here that contrast him against Gunn's fiery passion and Spike's wild card energy, using story and character beats to develop each of these Whedon-created icons.
As a die-hard Angel (and of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) fan, I have to admit right up front that I have what might be considered a limited view of artwork that is right for an Angel comic. The best Angel artwork, in my opinion, captures character rather than likeness. Previous greats have been Frano Urru when the title was at IDW. Urru never strove for exact likenesses, but instead captured Spike's swagger in the way his body was always drawn in motion, Angel's internal torment from the way shadow coaked his face. Then, at Dark Horse, Rebekah Isaacs chose key points of the actors' likenesses while making the characters fit her overall style. Now, here we are with artist Hayden Sherman and colorist Roman Titov on Angel & Spike #14. On the positive side of things, as a fan of comics and dynamic creators, I love the art. The pages are beautiful, many of them looking like modern art paintings that you'd see in a museum or perhaps in a high fashion magazine. On the other side of things, I personally feel that this style doesn't suit the characters. Everyone has the same body type and the same face, with huge shoulders and bodies that V down into tiny legs. Angel's face could be Spike's face. Spike's face could be Kate's face. There's no real sense that the art is reverential to who the characters are and what energy they bring… and yet it is still, I'd even go as far as to say objectively, even, beautiful.
The only critique I'd have of Angel & Spike #14 besides beautiful, but ill-fitting art comes down to BOOM! Studios core premise rather than Thompson's script. Angel and Buffy aren't stories that benefit from a reboot because they're evergreen… and also not very old. This kind of story could have been told beautifully within the confines of the established characters, almost beat-for-beat as is. The strongest parts of the story are the most unchanged: Angel in all of his peaks and valleys, his flaws, and moments of grace. The odd moments — a few bits Spike says here and there, and for sure Spike's shirt — are the ones that feel like they're added to update these characters to fit in with the modern reboot. It's still a terrific read, but I'm noticing that the same is true for all of the Buffy titles. What works best about Angel & Spike, Willow, and the core Buffy title is when writers create new stories using attributes of the characters that are already in place rather than tweaking them to fit something new.