Six years ago, IDW Publishing picked up the rights to a TV series. And while the publisher had worked on licensed comics before and continues to today, their nabbing of the "Angel" franchise created by Joss Whedon stands as perhaps the strongest example of what comic book follow ups can give back to the characters and the fans of long gone television serials.
From its first stories chronically life within the world of the titular vampire's battle with the law firm of Wolfram And Hart through multiple spinoffs featuring characters like Wesley and (of course) Spike and on to the Whedon-co-written "After The Fall" canonical follow up to the show's last season, IDW covered a large amount of material and expanded Angel's world in ways unexpected ways. And this April, it will all come to an end.
As Angel and company prepare to return to their initial home of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" which is currently published by Dark Horse, the creators who've shepherded the franchise forward at IDW are preparing to say goodbye. Aside from the upcoming final issues of the "Angel" ongoing and "Spike" – the ongoing series brought short to eight issues – IDW will also release a giant-sized "Angel Yearbook" in April featuring special farewell tales from a variety of creators associated with the franchise. To celebrate the end, CBR News spoke with four of the writers behind the one-shot – original "Angel scribe Jeff Mariotte, "After The Fall" and "Spike" writer Brian Lynch, current "Angel" writer David Tischman and prolific franchise contributor Scott Tipton – for their take on where they've been, what final stories they had to tell, what impact their work will have on the characters and they grow back towards Buffy and more.
Jeff Mariotte: The Angel license came to IDW because I had an existing relationship with the Fox licensing person in charge of the property, thanks to the many Angel (and Buffy) novels I had written. By the time the deal was done and they were ready to start putting out books, I had left the company to go freelance, but I was pleased to be asked to write the first couple of story arcs. Those were tricky, because Joss hadn't quite decided whether he was going to try to keep the story going through direct-to-DVD movies or some other way, so I was given a pretty complicated instruction – write stories that seem like they take place after the series finale, but might also take place before it. Having written eleven Angel novels, a nonfiction book, and then eleven Angel comic book stories (two five-issue minis, and the "Doyle" one-shot), I thought it was a good time to retire from Angel writing. They lured me back for one last tale when I got the chance to write the first puppet Angel comic book story, but then I was done.
Brian Lynch: It’s emotional, for sure. The series I’m writing now, "Spike," was originally an unlimited series, and we were really plowing into the outline/blueprint for the first year. Tiny moments in the first couple of issues would have blossomed into big moments down the line. I had just finished scripting issue #1 of the series when I got the call from Chris Ryall that "Angel" and "Spike" would be leaving IDW. Of course I understood Joss’ desire to have all his characters under one roof, I’d want the exact same thing. I just wish it was the roof that I was also living under. It’s a nice roof with wonderful landlords.
Anyway, I tossed out that story and started anew. Plus side was, we got to go out big: it was really cool of Joss to let us borrow Willow for our story, and equally awesome of Scott Allie to give us the inside scoop on the bug ship and Spike’s role in "Buffy," so we could set it up in our SPIKE series and have the two series tie in. Unrelated note, I think now might be a good time to plug my NEW completely unrelated comic "Pike," starring a smart-ass Scottish vampire in San Diego.
Scott Tipton: I’m not going to lie; it’s very emotional. In a lot of ways I’m still in denial about it. Although I had written a few smaller things in comics before it, and have done lots of other things since, my first high-profile writing job in comics was my first "Spike" graphic novel, "Old Wounds." And although I’m probably a lot more well-known as a Star Trek writer nowadays, I’ve been involved in the Angel franchise for the entire time IDW has had the license. I think we took very good care of Joss’s baby, and I hate to see it go.
David Tischman: I really like Angel, the character. I love a hero motivated by redemption, a hero who overcomes his own personal failings every day. It's super-heroes, really. All the vampire stuff out there, it's just super-heroes. Instead of running super fast, or wearing a magic ring, these characters need to drink blood to live. It's how they deal with that. So, long story short, I'm sad to see Angel go. Mariah Huehner, who edited me when I wrote the "Angel: Barbary Coast" mini-series last year, and who's been my co-writer on the monthly "Angel" book, we had some big, long-term plans for Angel.
Before we get into the "Yearbook" finale, David, you were already heading towards a "season finale" of sorts before the news of Angel's end at IDW hit. Once you knew that this arc would be the last of the series, did it change much of what you were building?
Tischman: The current storyline, with Angel in the future, was originally envisioned as a 12-issue, year-long maxi-story. And it was all about Angel, really focusing on him in the future. Back to the super-hero idea. He was going to become a hero in the future, kind of like their Batman. Sorry. No pun intended. Really. But when we realized the license was going away, we made adjustments to that story; in the end, we told the story we wanted to tell, we got to deal with the character of Angel in the way we wanted, in these last six issues.
And you've introduced Rowant in issue #42 – the long-awaited big bad of this arc. What can you tell us about her origins and what you wanted that character to accomplish in terms of Wolfram & Hart? What other threads are you looking to tackle by the end of #44?
Tischman: I love Rowant. She's my kind of girl. I think two of the best things Bill Willinghmam did on his run was creating Rowant and Laura. She also brings the idea of a really powerful female villain back to the book. With Wolfram & HArt, we wanted to create a world in which the firm had lost all its power, where it was a minor player, who needed Angel's help. Time's a funny thing. Things that were so important 100 years ago are forgotten today. And minor events get bent through the course of history. Angel is – I always forget the exact number – like 200 years old, and he's seen this, first-hand. For Rowant, aeons-old and immortal, it affects the way she sees what's happening today.
Meanwhile, Brian, your last full IDW comic in the world of these characters is for the "Spike" series. That character has had such a strong thread in your hands, and you've introduced a lot of concepts that stuck with him. How did you and Franco approach the final issues of Spike in terms of bringing the Vegas setting and cast members like Betta George and even Dru to a close?
Lynch: Well, we knew how the series was going to end because of our discussions with Scott Allie. We talked about how it had to feature the story of Spike becoming captain of a space ship with an all-insect crew. So the skeleton of that last tale was easy.
The real fun came with Spike reacting to what is, as many readers have pointed out, the very odd (even for the Buffyverse) situation of an interdimensional bug space craft. Spike’s seen some weird, weird stuff in his life, but I think this is probably the strangest. Naturally his immediate reaction is going to be a memorable one.
The emotion came from wrapping up Spike’s plotlines with the characters Franco and I created for the IDW Spike series. Firestarter Beck, telepathic fish Betta George, Spike’s human buddy Jeremy...we never saw them on the ship with Spike over in the "Buffy" book, so they had to say good-bye to our hero. For now. If they survive. This is the Whedonverse, after all.
And Willow is showing up at the end. What's been your favorite part of getting her on the page and with Spike?
Lynch: Willow is an amazing character and this was my first time writing dialog for her, so that was a real honor. One of my favorite scenes on the "Buffy" TV show was when Spike tried to bite Willow in her dorm, but couldn’t because of the chip in his head. As the scene went on, she went from being scared for her life to feeling bad for him. Their chemistry was amazing. I tried to recapture that in the "Spike" comic.
And while I was writing the Spike/Willow scenes, I was also reading the "Buffy" comic, which was going to some incredibly dark places. Giles getting his neck snapped by Angel, that kind of thing. It was brilliantly done, but WOW was it heartbreaking. I wrote the Spike/Willow reunion issues as an antidote to that. The situation that Willow comes into in "Spike" isn’t nearly as dire as what went on in the "Buffy" books, so I was able to have a little more fun.
Of course, a lot of people are curious as to how your story is going to thread together with what we've seen of Spike in "Buffy Season 9." Do the parts you're working in take a front seat in the end of your original story, or are you coming at the big ship from a different angle?
Lynch: You’ll start seeing the set-up for just how Spike came across the bug ship in issue #6. By the end of the "Spike" series, it’s quite clear who the bugs are, why they follow Spike, and who Spike was pursuing when he started getting pulled into the Twilight escapade.
I LOVED writing all the bug ship stuff. I wish it could have come sooner. Let’s do a spin-off, "Cap’N Spike And The SS Grasshopper." Come on, it’ll be fun. For all I know, Dark Horse is doing that. Probably not the same title, though.
Like I said, the "Yearbook" issue is promising to be the big she-bang for Angel at IDW. When you heard that the book was being put together, what was the story you immediately wanted to tell?
Lynch: I wanted to include the entire gang: Angel, Spike, Illyria, Gunn and Connor spearhead the adventure. It deals with some key moments in their lives, their greatest victories and their biggest regrets.
The plot is Angel’s Uncle is going to lose his surf shop unless they can win the big surf contest. Problem is, it’s during the day. What’s a sun-allergic vampire to do? SPOILERS, he wears a wetsuit. Also, Spike does the hula. Crap, I just ruined the whole thing. It’s actually about paths not taken. And fighting. And Wesley kinda sorta makes an appearance.
Tipton: More than anything else, I just wanted the chance to say goodbye to a couple of favorite characters, and by extension, to a series that’s been such a big part of my life for the last six years.
Tischman: I've been incredibly fortunate at IDW to tell the Angel stories I want to tell. I'm leaving feeling good, and I hope the fans liked what we did. Actually, there is one other story I wanted to tell. It would take place a little before "Barbary Coast." I'm a big fan of the movie "Jeremiah Johnson," and the story is a one-off, 22 pages of Angel as a fur trapper in the mountains. Completely alone in the wild. The story is silent--no dialogue or VO, just the sounds of animals and nature.
Mariotte: For this one, I was given quite a bit of latitude. Pick a character, and deliver a sort of farewell story for him or her--that was essentially the charge. The overall theme, I was told, was redemption. I couldn't resist that. I chose Gunn, who struck me from the first moment we saw him on-screen, back in the season one episode "War Zone," as an incredibly exciting, versatile, and entertaining character, with a tragic history and an unlimited future. I wanted to dig into his roots, his early days, before he met Angel and the gang, and unearth a little about what makes him tick.
Lynch: My story that celebrates the characters. "Angel" is my favorite TV show of all time, and if this was my last story, so I wanted to spotlight what I love about each character. Hopefully that comes through when you read it. Franco Urru is doing my last story, though I haven’t seen any art for it yet. I HAVE seen his art for the last issue of "Spike," and it is stunning.
Tipton: When "Angel" editor Mariah Huehner came to artist Elena Casagrande and me about the "Yearbook," there wasn’t much deliberation at all: we knew we wanted to tell a Wesley and Fred story. Elena and I have spent the last two years absorbed in Wesley and Fred’s tragic romance, first in our adaptation miniseries "A Hole In The World," and then exploring its repercussions in "Illyria: Haunted." So when we heard we had one last opportunity to tell an Angel story, we really wanted to give Wesley and Fred something we never had been able to before: a few happy moments. Elena and I wrote it together; it takes place just before the events of "A Hole In The World." If we have to exit the stage of Angel’s world, I’m happy that this is the one we’re going out on.
Tischman: Again, I've been lucky. I worked with Franco Urru on "Barbary Coast," and Elena Casagrande on the monthly book. Both really talented artists. It's been a pleasure working with them. Sometimes you can get stuck with an artist who doesn't understand the mood of the world you're creating. Both Franco and Elena showed their love for the character, and their understanding of who Angel is, on every page. I hope they enjoyed the scripts as much as I enjoyed the art.
Mariotte: I haven't seen the art yet. I've been told that it's by David Messina, with whom I worked on most of the earlier Angel stuff, so I can't wait to check it out. Since it takes place before Gunn meets Angel, it's a look at a changing Los Angeles – a place in which vampires are coming out of the shadows and turning into yet another plague striking at the disadvantaged. What we never really saw on the show was how Gunn and his friends became vampire hunters. I hope this story gives a glimpse into that process.
Brian, whether you play with the elements from "After The Fall" in your story or not, that series was such a huge deal for the character and the franchise as well. What do you think the character and the world of Buffy will carry with them because of the book that they didn't have before?
Lynch: Man, no idea what my legacy will be. I just hope people enjoy the books, whether they read them now or years from now. I’d like to think Joss will wake up in a cold sweat one night and scream “I have a great idea for Betta George!” At which point his wife will look at him oddly and he’ll jut out his lower lip and say “you just don’t get me.” They’ll bicker, and then he’ll have to sleep on the couch that night. But it will be on a couch made ENTIRELY of "Avengers" money.
Between all the Spike and Angel issues you've done and really all the material IDW has put out, what favorite moments come to mind?
Lynch: So many moments come to mind. I loved sitting down with Joss Whedon to hear all the plans for "Angel: After The Fall." That was one of favorite moments in life, let alone favorite moments working on the series. Also, doing "Spike: Shadow Puppets" was the most fun. Spike goes to Japan to stop the Japanese "Smile Time" spin-off. Ninja Puppets, Puppet Spike, with killer art by Franco Urru.
There’s also "Last Angel In Hell," which was a comic adaptation of a film written by a character that Angel saved when Los Angeles went to hell. The fact that Chris Ryall and the rest of the gang at IDW let myself and artist Stephen Mooney do a book that was “the official adaptation” of a movie that didn’t exist, that was pretty cool.
And I just want to say, I think IDW is going out strong in terms of "Angel" books. "Angel’s" last story arc, written by Mariah Huehner and David Tischman is my favorite since the series began. And there is an awesome "Illyria" mini-series by Mariah Huehner, Scott Tipton and Elena Casagrande is quite amazing. So while I’m sad IDW is losing the "Angel" franchise, at least we go out on the top of our game.
Tipton: Overall, I have to say that the high point has to be Brian Lynch and Franco Urru’s absolutely masterful work on "After The Fall," the official follow-up to the series finale. I thought they did an absolutely amazing job of picking up the ball from Joss and running with it, and I think it’s still the watermark that every "Angel" story since has tried to measure up to.
As for my own work, I’m too close to it to judge. I thought artist David Messina and I created a pretty cool Big Bad with Lilitu, our demon goddess from our series "Auld Lang Syne" – we always wanted to bring her back. I did a neat little trick in a Wesley story for "Angel: Spotlight" where the ending reads entirely different depending on if the reader has seen Season 5 or not; I’m still kinda proud of that. The finished graphic novel of "A Hole In The World" is maybe my favorite book of mine, just because we labored over that thing for so long. And the "Illyria" series that’s just finishing up is unlike anything I’ve ever done, no doubt thanks to my co-writer Mariah’s influence, and I think it’s the best work of Elena’s career.
But by far, the most rewarding thing about the experience has been the friends I’ve made working on it. David Messina, Elena Casagrande, Franco Urru, Stephen Mooney, Brian Lynch – all amazing talents I was lucky to be able to collaborate with and with whom I’m already planning to do so again in the future, or else certainly hoping to. Sure, the books on the shelf are nice, but those relationships are a hell of a lot more valuable, and certainly mean more. And for that I owe "Angel" (and more to the point, IDW chief Chris Ryall, who gave me a chance to pitch a Spike story to FOX back in May of 2005) a debt I can never really repay.
Tischman: "After The Fall." Angel in that story, and what he accomplishes, and why. And the characterizations of all the players, and how they interact – just super terrific work. And the "Illyria" mini Mariah did with Scott Tipton. In that case, it was writers who love the character taking her to another level – using the foundation created on the show and in previous issues to create something new, and yet 100% authentic.
Mariotte: I'm gonna have to go with puppet Angel. That episode was so great, and getting the chance to write the first non-televised puppet Angel story was a dream and an honor.