After the weak end run of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight," I was feeling distinctly unenthusiastic about the "Buffyverse" in comic book format. Unenthusiastic enough, in fact, that I was finding myself wondering if I'd continue to read the comics as they returned this fall.
Then fellow reviewer Kelly Thompson gave the first issue of "Angel & Faith" a 4.5 star review, and my first thought was, "Faith is starring in Angel's new comic from Dark Horse?" My second thought was, "I need to check this comic out." And boy, am I glad I did.
Christos Gage has brought to "Angel & Faith" what I was looking for in this comic's script: two characters who "sound" like they should, acting logically and following on what was previously established, but at the same time feeling like it's moving forwards rather than looking backwards. "Angel & Faith" is still dealing with the repercussions of the conclusion of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight," but in a way that feels far more satisfying than the original story was. Angel and Faith are the two characters above all others who have searched for redemption in the television show, so pairing them back up works especially well here. I like how Gage is bringing to the page Angel's desperation to undo his horrible mistake, and how Faith is finding herself the reluctant voice of reason (even as she has her own issues tied up into this particular situation). It's a great balance for the pair of them, each tugging the other in a direction they don't want to go.
Then again, the plotting in general is strong in part because it's able to mix multiple bits of story in without letting any overwhelm the other. Gage is able to work in information on why a "magical" death has a better chance of being undone versus a "natural" one, stage attacks on demon lairs, and even introduce some new bad guys. It's fun, and it feels like an actual episode from the stronger eras of the show. Best of all, though, is when we get flashbacks to Giles teaching Faith. Their partnering was one of the great early ideas of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight," and its eventual abandonment in favor of other stories was a real pity. With the way Gage writes the duo, it's a reminder of how well that pair worked together. Giles was always the ultimate mentor, but teaching the unteachable Slayer was especially fun to watch.
I've loved Rebekah Isaacs' art ever since "DV8: Gods and Monsters," so her strong work here is no surprise. Once again, she's great with body language and action; her characters leap and jump all over the place, but they never feel stiff or staged. "Angel & Faith" needs a high energy style, and Isaacs brings it. The only shock for me was how good she is at nailing likenesses, a difficult skill at best. Angel and Faith look just like David Boreanaz and Eliza Dushku, but never posed or traced. It's just another skill for Isaacs to pull out of her pocket here, and a great surprise. Just don't get too distracted by the excellent likenesses, or you might miss the rich backgrounds. (I especially enjoyed all of the furnishings in Angel's new place.)
"Angel & Faith" is a pleasant surprise. If you'll pardon the pun, it restored my faith in this little corner of comics. I'm definitely going to read more "Angel & Faith" so long as this strong creative team is on board. Heck, I'll even give the new "season" of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" a whirl now. This isn't just an excellent licensed comic, it's an excellent comic, period.