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Includes Issues: Angel: Barbary Coast 1-3
Issue Dates: April – June 2010
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

You might be excused for ignorance when it comes to the Buffyverse family of licensed comics. As we’ve touched on before in this blog, most tie-in material is pretty horrible. But the comics that follow Joss Whedon‘s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel TV seasons aren’t really tie-ins, well, not the good ones.

There have been absolutely amazing stories told in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 and Angel: After The Fall, both of which continue the story where the shows left off. and many of the arcs have been written by Whedon himself!

As for the rest of the Buffyverse comics, there are good ones and there are bad ones. The good ones help flesh out the ‘verse with untold stories of beloved characters. The bad ones either retell us something we already knew, and usually worse, or are straight up filler. This one, unfortunately, felt more like the latter.

It seems like IDW, who published the aforementioned amazing After The Fall series, has been making some strange choices as of late. Angel: Blood and Trenches wasn’t perfect, but it was interesting – a black and white WWI tale told by comics legend John Byrne.

I can understand their attempts at historical stories. But do we really need to see comic retellings of pivitol Angel episodes? Isn’t it easier to just go watch them again?

Back on topic. This book takes place in the early 1900s, back when Angel had just been cursed with a soul and wandered off to America. San Francisco, to be exact. 1906 to be exact (Maybe a small spoiler for history buffs.) It’s a setting with some potential, though I have to admit I wasn’t exactly pining for more solo Angel tales. I think he’s best when interacting with his crew, the other characters I came to love through obsessive following of his TV show.

They balance him – without them an Angel story tends to lean too heavily towards the brooding angst. This book suffers a bit from that.

David Tischman, who I’m not overly familiar with, writes a readable tale, but it’s not particularly exciting. Sure, there’s a big battle with a certain kind of scaly beast – but didn’t we just see a much more interesting Angel/Dragon interaction during After The Fall?

The general point of the book seems to be Angel learning that maybe he can’t “cure” his soul and perhaps he does want to be on the side of good. Again, is this adding anything new?

What we’re left with is a bit of a supernatural beat em up, with the major problem solved in an unclear and unsatisfying fashion. Since it takes place in the past and it’s a mini, the considerable cast seems pretty useless. We know we’re not going to see them again, so why care?

True, there are a couple good moments here. Historical event cameo. Angel playing the drunk. But they’re vastly outnumbered by conflict that doesn’t make sense or wooden dialogue.

The art isn’t really my thing either. The overall look reminds me of deviantart paintings and Oekaki chats. It’s more polished than most of that kind of work out there, so I may be being a little harsh with the comparison.

But the point stands: everything is colored digitally now, but does it need to feel so digital?

A lot of this is the fault of the coloring. There’s some inked pages in the back that actually look a lot nicer. Franco Urru has a modicum of talent, and if it was colored with flats, I might have enjoyed the art a lot more.

It’s sad that I’ve come to expect less when it comes to IDW releases, in terms of art, but this is why. At least it doesn’t look like it was just painted over pictures of an actor, though. There are some well done characters (like the green guy in the comparison I put together on the left side) but none of them are leads.

Speaking of the gallery section in the back, I don’t need so many pages. There’s one great illustration in here by Frank Stockton (and if all the work in this book looked like this [right], I’d be singing praises to heaven), but the rest of it is like filler to filler.

That means that of the 88 pages in this already slim volume, only 66 are actually story!

And is that story worth the 14.95 price tag?

Unfortunately, I’d have to say no, not unless you’re a Buffy completionist. Otherwise you might want to wait until you find it in a bargain bin.

In the end, maybe it’s good news that Dark Horse is getting the Angel license back. Their original Angel comics weren’t amazing, but they were more fun than this.

I’ll give Tischman another shot when I read his run on the main Angel title, but I think it’s time for that move.

2 out of 5 stars. It’s readable as a story. It doesn’t add anything new to Angel. I own it because I am a Buffy completionist.

Essential Continuity:
No. If you’ve seen any of the episodes that cover Angel’s past, you’re covered.

Read first:
Watch the Angel TV show! One of my absolute favorites. Then read After The Fall. It’s an excellent follow up and put IDW on the map for me.

Read next:
Chronologically, Angel: Blood and Trenches would come next if you’re working your way down the Buffyverse list. It’s not terrible but it’s not really essential either. If you haven’t, I’d check out the Buffy: Season Eight books instead.

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