Considering the decidedly lukewarm reception that the latter half of Dark Horse’s Buffy Season 8 received from readers, it may come as something of a surprise that the Whedonverse is once again expanding to include another comic spin-off. But the Whedon Empire marches onwards undaunted and at the end of August, the first issue of Angel and Faith hit shelves worldwide.
Picking up where Buffy Season 8: Last Gleaming left off, the semi-comatose Angel has been left to the tender ministrations of bad-girl slayer Faith Lehane. Living in the London apartment willed to her by the now-deceased Giles, Faith agreed to care for Angel after the disastrous fallout from the Twilight crisis in Buffy. With the Watchers Files to guide them, Angel and Faith will attempt to atone for their past misdeeds as they team up to fight the forces of evil lurking in Britain’s capital city.
Intended to run alongside Buffy Season 9, but with its own distinct storylines, the new series is slated to last 25 issues over two years. Angel & Faith aims to set a darker tone than Buffy and, according to the Dark Horse website, hopes to capture a creepier, almost noir feel. Issue one, Live Through This, Part One was released on August 31 thus giving the series a solid head start on Buffy Season 9 which doesn’t kick off until September 14. (The new series also marks the transferal of the character rights to Angel from IDW back to Dark Horse and the end of any future independent Angel comics as he once again becomes a regular player in the Buffy storyline.)
At first glance the concept for Angel & Faith seems like an odd one; after all, haven’t we already had an entire television series devoted to Angel striking out on his own to right supernatural wrongs in the big city? But Faith has always been a fan favourite, and she and Angel do enjoy a certain chemistry. The opportunity to see Faith shine on her own, away from the complicating presence of Buffy, has been a long time coming and is something many fans will be eager to see.
The first instalment is a well-paced, engaging introduction to the story and drops the reader right into the action from page one. Somewhat strangely it doesn’t bother to document Angel’s recovery, instead picking up after his sudden return to lucidity. This particular element did feel a little awkward at times since it seems to gloss over the fact that the last time we saw Angel he was a drooling, unresponsive mess. Nevertheless, the story proceeds at a good clip as Faith and Angel team up to take on the ‘monster of the week’ using information from Giles’ Watcher’s diary.
Gage manages to pack in the beginnings of various story elements that will no doubt form the backbone of Angel & Faith over the course of its run. The reader meets one of the surviving Slayers whom Faith is keeping an eye on, and gets a glimpse into the tensions surrounding Buffy and Angel within the supernatural community. We also get a look at the series’ first ‘big bad’ who will no doubt be stirring up trouble for our new crime-fighting duo. Throughout the issue we begin to understand the emotional baggage that will drive Angel and Faith both individually and as a team over the coming series. They’re a troubled pair and it’s fair to say that both characters have an axe or two to grind.
Isaacs’ art is very good throughout, and I prefer her depiction of the characters to that of Georges Jeanty on Buffy Season 8 . Drawing characters from television shows can be a tall order but Isaacs manages it with aplomb. Her depiction of Faith is particularly accurate as she manages to capture not only Eliza Dushku’s looks but also her body language. Dan Jackson’s colours perfectly complement Isaacs’ pencils and help capture the somewhat gothic vibe of the story.
Finally, Angel & Faith may be an opportunity for readers to gain more insight into Giles as a character through his diary. Issue one introduces his personal diary and the Watchers Files as the guiding influence on Angel and Faith and consequently Giles’ voice is like a third main character. Hopefully this element will continue throughout the series because, like Faith, Giles is a popular character who is sometimes sidelined in the Buffy comics.
This first taste of Angel & Faith promises more good things to come and, regardless of how you might have felt about Buffy Season 8, this series is well worth picking up and judging on its own merits. It promises to be darker and edgier than Buffy and hopefully it will continue to find its own niche. Gage and Isaacs have so far shown themselves to be more than capable of maintaining a balance between remaining true to the world created by Whedon, and taking ownership of the story to let their own creative voices be heard.
Verdict: A great read that lays the groundwork for what will hopefully be an equally good continuing series. 8/10
Written by Christos Gage
Art by Rebekah Isaacs
Covers by Jo Chen/Steve Morris
Executive Produced by Joss Whedon
Dark Horse, out now