Written by Bryan Edward Hill
Art by Gleb Melnikov and Gabriel Cassata
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Following the reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer earlier this year, her soul-baring vampire lover couldn’t be too far behind. With an ongoing Angel series due out in May, this surprise “zero issue” - announced only eight days before its release - sets the stage for a spin-off. But while Buffy has been fully updated for the 21st century, the vampire formerly known as Angelus doesn’t get as radical a makeover.
Picking up on seeds first planted a few months ago in Buffy with Xander alienated and on the cusp of being turned by Drusilla, the scene primarily serves as a launchpad for a series of flashbacks to Angel’s past. Some of this will be familiar to long-time fans, although writer Bryan Edward Hill doesn’t necessarily fill in any gaps for the uninitiated. Instead, we get impressionistic glimpses of a past: the murderous past, the regaining of a soul, the tortured years in between.
From what we do glean of this Angel, he’s suffering from what can only be described as a persecution complex. Reflecting on his distant past, he laments “I deserve this pain.” Later, in sunny California, he thrusts his hand into the sunlight and repeats the sentiment as his arm bursts into flame. It’s the 21st century, and Angel has taken brooding to a new level of self-harm.
As the issue transitions into a more contemporary setting - or at least “Los Angeles. Before” - Hill introduces some of the newer characters and a fresher perspective on the series. While the set-up is similar to the Angel television series, in that the vampire with a soul helps out with paranormal investigations in L.A., this is a different kind of redemption story. While training an ally named Helen, there’s someone else named Fee-Fee who is given no context whatsoever. It scarcely matters, as the fragmented story skips off to fight a demon in a sequence that only serves to dispatch of a character we’ve just met.
Gleb Melnikov and Gabriel Cassata are on art duties for this preview issue. A stylistic match for the Buffy comic, it doesn’t have the same polish as Dan Mora and Raul Angelo’s work, but retains the likenesses of the 1990s television counterparts. The rough-hewn pencils work best during the Angelus flashback sequences, as the puffy-shirted vampire is underlit by fire and lightning. The perpetual twilight of L.A. is a nice counterpoint to Sunnydale, and Melnikov’s liberal use of speed lines gives the action sequences a perpetual feeling of motion, even if they don’t always gel together into something cohesive.
In the book’s backmatter, veteran Buffy editor comments that the series “reimagines (only slightly) the titular character.” So while this is just a preview, it does little to define who this new version of Angel is, or what makes him distinct from the original version. The issue quite literally ends with one of Angel’s sidekicks telling him to “Try a place called Sunnydale…you might make a few friends.” If it was an issue of Buffy, it’d feel like a backdoor pilot, but for now we’re content to wait another month for the full debut to arrive.