It’s appropriate that on the heels of BOOM! Studios’s graphic reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the publisher released its Angel equivalent only months later—because you can’t have one without the other. Well, you can, but it doesn’t seem right. The relationship between the two TV-shows-turned-comics was never a simple duality, but one of self-reflexivity. In the vampire with a soul, Buffy found her quieter, darker side, and in the high-spirited vampire slayer, Angel found happiness (however detrimental) and a purpose. Like Buffy, Angel refuses the good vs evil, light vs dark, us vs them dichotomies, and inhabits a world that is messy, complicated, and not always what it seems. But when Angel became its own television show it also became something quite distinct from Buffy: darker, seedier, more twisted, and inherently more noir.
In this regard, the reboot written by Bryan Edward Hill (Detective Comics, DC Universe’s Titans), with artwork by Gleb Melnikov, is flawless. Not only does Hill have a clear understanding of Angel’s character and dark history, but he has also managed to capture the spirit of the original series while creating something fresh and new.
The aptly named Angel, vol. 1: Being Human opens on a little girl standing amid a village in flames. It’s an obvious reference to the show’s flashbacks of Angel’s previous life as Angelus, the sadistic vampire who terrorized Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s also a brilliant way to kick off Angel’s return to graphic novels. He is the epitome of the brooding antihero with a dark past, a beloved cultural archetype, and whether readers are new to Angel’s story or are longtime fans, it’s a familiar tale that will appeal to both.
In BOOM!’s Buffy reboot, writer Jordie Bellaire made a lot of questionable changes and undoubtedly alienated many fans. Because it’s one thing to incorporate smartphones and tablets into a retelling, but it’s quite another to make Cordelia Chase the nice girl. Hill was much more careful in this regard, or maybe he just understands that a good thing shouldn’t be tampered with. To be clear, Hill’s reboot is truly a 21st century upgrade. In the first installment, a predatory demon uses social media to feed off of young people’s insecurities and desire to be “liked,” leading many to violence and death. Angel seeks to destroy the demon with the help of Lilith (the one and only) and a patient from the local insane asylum named Winifred Burkle (think post-Pylea Fred but in much worse shape).
It’s your typical monster-of-the-week scenario, but with a level of foreshadowing and character depth that suggests exciting things are on the horizon, and that more serialized storytelling is forthcoming. I really hope Melnikov remains a part of this process. His art is fresh and clear, and beloved characters are instantly recognizable. But my favorite part about his style is his use of Ben-Day dots. The dots, a technique created by 19th century illustrator Benjamin Henry Day, Jr. to limit the amount of ink used in printing, have become synonymous with the early comics of the 1930s-1950s. In most aspects, the artwork in Angel is very contemporary. From the distinct linework to the bold use of color, the style reads clean, digital, and intentional, with little room for the abstract. But the use of Ben-Day dots suggests a blending of the old and the new—300-year old Angel coming into the digital age, the inhumane vampire of the 18th century “being human” in the 21st. All this to say, Hill and Melnikov have managed to launch a thrilling revamp (pun intended), and I can’t wait for the next installment. Angel is in good hands.
Recommended for fans of urban fantasy and shows such as Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Grimm. There is some violence and graphic imagery, but the publisher does not give an age rating. I recommend this title for teens and adults.
Angel, vol. 1: Being Human
By Bryan Edward Hill
Art by Gleb Melnikov
BOOM! Studios, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)