Stop! Read the disclaimer!
ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL #13
Having recently rewatched all of "Buffy" on DVD with my fiancee, Megan, I can say that as a full body of work, that show is certainly superior to "Angel" and has held up better. However, it was a case of timing for me back in the day, as I only sporadically watched "Buffy" until late in college when it was winding down but picked up on "Angel" at exactly the right time. "Angel" started right as I was getting ready to graduate high school, and as it was ostensibly about the journey people take after that period in their life, so I was hooked.
Also, I'm a dude, so the male fantasy show hooked me a little more quickly at age 18 than the female empowerment one. Go fig.
Anyhow, back to the funnybooks, Angel: After the Fall, like the Buffy comic, picked up after the show's series finale and, again like its counterpart, threw the status quo into a tailspin, plunking Angel and friends (and L.A.) down in Hell where humans were caught in the crossfire of a demonic turf war. Over the course of its first year, After the Fall has roped back in pretty much all of the familiar faces from "Angel," in some cases in extremely altered states (Gunn has fangs, Angel does not), and had them circling one another leading up to the climactic clash of the last couple issues.
Before I (finally) get to issue #13 proper, one final Buffy vs Angel comics comparison: the Buffy book is great on its own but can feel like kinda a separate beast from the TV show since their base of operations for the seven-year run of the show no longer exists, the cast is scattered, etc.; however, on "Angel," there was never quite that sense of comfort as the locales and cast changed much more often, so After the Fall really does feel like a logical extension of where we left off.
Ok, the issue itself. As mentioned, writer Brian Lynch (under direction from Whedon) has spent 12 issues manuevering his pieces into place, so my expectations going into this were emotional payoffs galore, and this one delivered by the boatload.
No character has changed from the show to the comic more thoroughly than Gunn, who went from being the human heart and soul of the team on TV to a vampire with delusions that he can succeed where Angel has failed on the printed page. He's a truly tragic and frightening "villain" as you desperately want him to come around and realize how crazy he's acting, but he just won't. His complete emotional breakdown upon realization of his fool's errand is crushing and makes his reunion at issue's end with former lover Fred/Illyria all the more tragic--and what happens next all the more shocking.
Connor is a character I always hated on the show because he was all about the whining and the inner darkness, but Lynch has found room to grow him and make him really likeable. His relationship with Angel, his father, has become the core of the book, and it has become something both touching and cool that doesn't detract from either being a badass hero. His speech about not giving up the fight in this issue as he attempts to bring his pop back from the brink of death is "Braveheart" dope and makes me wish the show had gone another year or two if only to see if the character could have gotten here in that medium.
The one problematic character in the book, as he was in the final season of "Angel," is Spike, simply because the guy can clearly carry his own show (or comic book), so making him a supporting player is tough. Nonetheless, Lynch writes him very well, as his dialogue makes him far and away the wittiest member of the cast. Being breathlessly offended at a Slayer thinking his jacket is pleather as three of them leap at him with murderous intentions is classic.
At the end of the day, Angel: After the Fall is exactly what an "Angel" fan would hope for: another season of the show with an unlimited budget and no casting conflicts. Shit is crazy, there are dragons in every issue, and tragedy, comedy and action collide on a monthly basis for a nice little soup. I would say it's a comic I can really sink my teeth into, but that would be cliched. So I won't.
But I could.
See you tomorrow (I hope)!