A beautiful woman awakens to find herself naked in a Brooklyn city dumpster with no memory of who she is or how she has come to be there—though she quickly discovers that her body knows how to fight. She also finds that she has a protector, Connor, who is a strange and dangerous young man who calls her “Angel” and clearly knows about her past, though he refuses to discuss anything but their need to survive. Together, Angel and Connor must try to escape dark government forces seeking to capture or kill them, even as they try to understand who they are and what their place in the world is meant to be.
In Angel Falling, Jeffrey Kaufman offers something too rarely seen in popular media: a story whose protagonist has an autism spectrum disorder. Building on the idea of the autistic savant, an individual with almost preternatural skill in one area, Kaufman has gifted Connor with remarkable memory—but rather than skill in calculation or recall, his gift is described as “eidetic kinesthesia,” the ability to perform physical activities perfectly after observing them. Additionally, Connor is hyper-focused and determined that he and Angel will survive.
In the epilogue, Kaufman notes that in writing Connor, he “wanted those who don’t know what autism looks like to get a glimpse behind the curtain.” He goes on to explain that he “also selfishly wanted to give the world a special needs character who wasn’t a victim, or needed to be pitied.” His goals are laudable, but his success therein is questionable. Constant emphasis that Connor’s strange or vexing behaviors occur “because he’s on the spectrum” could serve to reinforce negative stereotypes of autistic behavior; it seems implied that neither the other characters nor the reader should be annoyed or exasperated by him because of his difference.
Even more frustrating for the reader than the overemphasis of Connor’s atypical behavior is the general lack of story and character development. Despite several violent fight scenes and a generous helping of cleavage, Angel Falling is boring. The plot is neither original enough, nor the characters interesting enough, to draw the reader into the story. Indeed, both Angel and Connor are more caricature than character, with little depth or growth as the story unfolds; neither heroes nor antiheroes, the pair seem perfect for a made-for-television, low-budget action movie. The story, too, is formulaic, and attempted plot twists as the story reaches its climax are still not enough to lift it above mediocrity. The art is uninspired, of solid quality but without any unique touches to separate it from dozens of other mainstream and independent American comics.
Kaufman draws attention to the need for more special needs characters in graphic novels, but while his point is certainly an important one, Angel Falling does little to advance his cause.
by Jeffrey Kaufman
Art by Kevin West, Mark McKenna
Publisher Age Rating: Senior high, older teen