Do We Need the Darkness? Angel & Faith: Daddy Issues

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Picking up a media tie-in comic is a risky prospect. Sometimes you find a creator let loose on their favourite characters with glorious results. Sometimes you find a steaming pile of cud, the remains of once great stories chewed over and spat out in a rush for brand recognition.

Against my cynical expectations, the high quality stuff has become more prevalent in recent years, and that’s especially true in the universe of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. So it was with enthusiasm rather than trepidation that I picked up Angel & Faith Volume 2: Daddy Issues.

Big Questions, Big Action

The plot and dialogue of this comic is very Christos Gage, both in its strengths and its weaknesses. I enjoy Gage’s big ideas, his deft touch with character development and his willingness to try new things, as exhibited in the sadly short-lived Stormwatch: PhD, a comic about superhero internal affairs investigators. Daddy Issues delivers on the big idea through its central plotline, in which brooding good vampire Angel and edgy vampire slayer Faith take on a villain who is taking away people’s sorrows and regrets. It raises an important question about what makes us human – do we need those dark feelings to make us who we are, to drive us to strive for better things? Or would it be OK to just be happy?

The cleverness of Gage’s writing is that he ties this in well to both the characters and an action story. Sure, there’s a big issue for the reader to reflect on, but it’s developed through its importance to the characters, making me care far more about it. And it’s used to deliver a series of nice comic book set-pieces.

Great Comic Art

I’m not terribly knowledgeable on the nuances of art. My assessment of artists is mostly about gut feelings and overall impressions. But on those grounds, Rebekah Isaacs nails it with this book. There isn’t a particular distinctive style at play here, like Sean Phillips’s noire stylings or Rob Guillory’s dynamic exaggeration, but it’s a well executed example of the style somewhere between realism and cartoon exaggeration that is currently very popular in American comics. It’s perfect for a comic that follows on from a TV show, bringing in the verisimilitude we’re used to from the big screen.

But the Dialogue…

And now the downside, because nothing is perfect – as this comic itself argues, we need the shadow to see the light.

While I love Christos Gage’s ideas, his dialogue never grabs me, and as someone very focused on words, that’s a problem. My absolute favourite comic writers make the words sing, whether it’s through the distinctive snark of Warren Ellis, the convincing dialects and slang of Brian Azzarello, or the poppy banter of Kieron Gillen. Gage’s words aren’t terrible – there are far more clumsy writers in the world of comics – but they left me very aware that I was reading a story, rather than absorbing me utterly in it.

Angel & Faith Volume 2 is worth the time of any fan of the franchise or a comics reader looking for an interesting story. Not an all time great of the medium, but a well executed and surprisingly thought provoking book.