Sometimes you just have to wonder about why Angel, the star of WB’s “Angel” series and created by Joss Whedon, always has such a sour expression on his face. Sure, the whole brooding, tortured soul thing gets you the girls, but it’s not like that’s a problem for him. He’s virtually immortal, possesses enhanced senses, seems to make every woman fall for him, kicks butt and does everything with style. So what if he needs to drink a little bit of blood, is haunted by memories of his sins, and can’t ever achieve a moment of true happiness without becoming the embodiment of evil? Oh wait, that does sort of suck. Unfortunately, things aren’t going to get much better for the vampire with a soul, as he finds that many of his dead antagonists aren’t so dead anymore in November’s “Angel: Auld Lang Syne,” from IDW Publishing. Fans of “Angel” know that the titular hero has barely survived some of his battles with these foes, and with a whole slew back to kill him, Angel’s going to need all the help he can get. We spoke with the writer of this mini-series, Scott Tipton.
Whenever these kinds of tie-in projects are announced, fans often wonder where the tale will fit in when it comes to the established continuity. With a series such as “Angel,” which seems ripe for follow-up films or television mini-series, there may be no exact answer as to where a series such as “Auld Lang Syne” fits in. “This one falls in that same continuity limbo as the first two ‘Angel’ series, ‘The Curse’ and ‘Old Friends.’ Angel and Spike are both living in Los Angeles, and Spike has his soul, so it’s at the very least after Spike arrives at Wolfram & Hart,” Tipton told CBR News. “Precisely where is up to the reader to decide (although if you run into me on the street, I’ll tell you what I think).”
Speaking of Tipton’s new mini-series, much like his previous “Angel” work at IDW, it’s a story inspired by the fundamental themes of the television series. “It’s about guilt and recrimination, redemption and forgiveness,” he explained. “It’s about a couple of broody guys who have a lot of history together, not much of it good. And it’s an action-packed moody thriller with a few good curves coming your way. All of which is my way around giving away too many details about the story. The story’s inspiration came when I was writing my second Spike [Angel’s vampiric one time nemesis and now ally] one-shot, ‘Lost & Found.’ As I fleshed out the plot, I found it becoming much more of an Angel/Spike team-up story than I had originally intended, with the two characters having such an enjoyable interplay that it seemed like it practically wrote itself.
“So when I had the opportunity to pitch IDW publisher Chris Ryall on an Angel miniseries, the prospect of another Angel/Spike team-up was irresistible. Of course, I then perversely punished myself by keeping the two characters apart in the series as long as possible. They’re really two sides of the same coin. Both vampires with souls, one cursed with it and one who fought for it. Both of them looking for ways to redeem themselves. Just being near each other is torture, because they remind each other of all their past sins, (and all that they’ve lost) and yet they’re the only ones on the planet who can truly understand each other. And that pisses them off more than anything.”
Fans will also get a chance to see some familiar faces, but Tipton isn’t about to reveal who that includes just quite yet. However, the scribe is happy to talk about the series’ protagonist, and what makes him so unique among the plethora of tortured heroes in comic books. “Angel has a nobility about him that comes with his constant search for redemption, one that stands in direct contrast to his ferocity, thanks to his vampiric nature. Plus, the girls all tell me he’s dreamy,” laughed Tipton.
When asked which of the supporting cast members were his favorite, Tipton replied, ” I had a great time writing Wesley in the issue of ‘Angel: Spotlight’ I did with Mike Norton — the interaction between him and Spike was something we didn’t see enough of on the series, and I could very happily write more stories with those two. But I think the most underutilized character was Fred/Illyria. Amy Acker was so appealing in the role of Fred, and then just broke your heart with the introduction of Illyria, playing her own murderer and never letting you forget it. David Messina is as big a fan of the character as I am, and we have some ideas for bringing Illyria into our Angel/Spike team that we’re really hoping we get the chance to explore.”
Besides David Boreanaz’s (the actor who portrayed Angel) natural good looks, Angel is defined by the sins of his past and quest to atone for those sins, for his own sake and because he feels it’s the right thing. Though obviously portrayed in a more “dramatic” fashion for viewers, Tipton feels that Angel’s journey isn’t so different from the path that many of us walk. “Maybe it’s just my own neurotic nature talking, but I think to some extent all of us are ruled by our failures, by the things we’ve done in the past that we wish we could take back or do a better job of,” said the writer. “For most of us, these things are minor, and just prompt us not to make the same mistakes in the future. The genius of Whedon’s creations is to blow this same struggle up on a colossal scale for his flawed heroes like Angel and Spike. Who can identify with perfection? But we’ve all hurt people in the past and regretted it. Seeing Angel struggle to redeem himself on a larger scale just ‘clicks’ with the viewers, even if only on a subconscious level. Then again, maybe it’s just me. I might have issues.”
Though many fans would agree with Tipton’s assessment, there’s a divide between fans that do and don’t believe that Angel and Spike can find any kind of redemption. Tipton doesn’t feel that there’s an easy answer, or even one “correct” answer, and explained, “One can make the argument in the context of the show that they’re not really responsible, since when they’re vampires, they’re soulless demons, and it’s only when they regain their souls that they become themselves again. There’s the rub: even if you tried to tell them they weren’t at fault, they’d never believe it, and no matter how much good they’ll do, they’ll never think it’s enough. And maybe it’s not. I think the only way to redeem yourself is to always be trying to do the right thing. Once you decide you’ve done enough, that’s when you’ve lost your soul.”
As much as Tipton loves Angel and Spike, writing those two characters can be quite intimidating, since superstar writer Joss Whedon not only created the characters, but also defined their personalities, from how they act to how they speak. Additionally, the fanbases for these characters are among some of the most devoted you’ll find, and Tipton admitted that all of that is very intimidating. “You’re very aware that you’re working on a character and a universe that means a lot to thousands and thousands of people, and if you get something wrong or it doesn’t ring true, they will most definitely let you know about it,” he explained. “The good thing is that Joss Whedon and his crew have done such a remarkable job of delineating the characters over the years, it makes it very easy as a writer to think to yourself ‘Is that something Spike would do?’ The best compliment I’ve gotten as a writer was people telling me that ‘Lost & Found’ felt like it could have been an ‘Angel’ episode. That’s pretty sweet.”
As with many licensed comics, some “Angel” fans seem reticent to pick up the offerings from IDW, which Tipton understands, and said, “I can only speak from my own experience, be it in movies, comics or any kind of shared-universe fiction. If I like a license, I’ll give it a chance, and if it doesn’t work for me, in my mind, it ‘didn’t happen.’
“Best example for me: James Cameron’s ‘Aliens.’ A marvelous, marvelous movie. Smart, thrilling and satisfying to the very end. The movie closes, and Ripley’s on her way home with her adopted daughter Newt and what looks like the beginning of a relationship with Corporal Hicks. As happy an ending as you’re gonna get, right? That is, until the first five minutes of ‘Alien 3,’ which viciously disposes of Newt and Hicks like so much excess baggage. No thanks. As far as I’m concerned, Ripley’s story ends with her, Newt, Hicks and poor Bishop’s torso safely whizzing back to Earth on board the Sulaco.
“All I can say to the ‘Angel’ fans out there is that everyone working on the books, whether it’s bossman Chris, David Messina and I, or Brian Lynch and Franco Urru over on ‘Spike: Asylum,’ we’re all of us huge fans of the series and the characters, and we’re breaking our backs to make them as faithful and exciting as possible. Give us a try.”
The first issue of “Angel: Auld Lang Syne” presents readers with an interesting mystery, as seen in the preview pages accompanying this article: why are all of Angel’s enemies suddenly alive? Tipton wouldn’t say much about why this is happening, but when asked about why these villains all seem to be playing on Angel’s guilt, the scribe said, “Angel and Spike are ruled by their guilt — to a certain degree, I’d say it’s the defining motivator in their lives. And we’re not talking about guilt of omission like Peter Parker, who has to live with the fact that his uncle’s death is on his conscience. In Angel and Spike’s cases, the blood is quite literally on their hands. Finding a way to live with that is fascinating.”
By now, fans of Angel’s comic book adventures are probably familiar with artist David Messina, having penciled “The Curse” and “Old Friends” mini-series, and he’s got a big fan in Scott Tipton. “David has been an absolute joy to work with, a true collaborator,” gushed the scribe. “He always comes back after each script with smart questions and ways to improve the pacing and the narrative, but still gives me everything I ask for, both in the specific framing and actions and in the emotional wallop I’m looking for in the renditions of the characters. We worked together very closely on the development of some new characters that will make their debut later in the series, and it was the best experience I’ve had working in comics.”
Just like all you “Buffy” and “Angel” fans reading this article, Tipton has seen every episode of both those shows and has some specific favorite moments for both Angel and Spike, though he readily admits it’s hard to narrow down the choices. “I found myself liking Angel much more in his own series than I did in ‘Buff,’ and really enjoyed the story arc with Jasmine in Season 4, particularly the bait-and-switch with that season’s Big Bad,” he revealed. “But for me, the defining season was Season 5. It’s no coincidence that the first four Whedonverse stories I wrote were all set in between Season 5 episodes. That season had everything — outrageously funny episodes like ‘The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco’ and the brilliant ‘Smile Time,’ and heartbreakers like the brutal loss of Fred in ‘A Hole in the World.’ I heart Season 5.
“As for Spike, I still look at ‘Once More, With Feeling’ as the emotional keystone for the character, and it’s kind of my baseline for how to write Spike: funny, sad, bitter, angry and desperately in love.”
Whoa, let’s back it up for a moment and take a second to re-read that: Tipton loved season 4 of “Angel?” The season that is often the butt of jokes from “Angel” fans? “There was a lot to like in that season,” Tipton contended. “I thought Amy Acker really came in to her own as Fred that year, especially later in the season when she was the only one left against Jasmine. (Little did I know she’d go on to blow us all away as Illyria the next year.) There was the return of Angelus, too — we hadn’t gotten to see Boreanaz in full-on wicked badass mode since the early days of ‘Buffy.’ Like I said before, I loved the bait-and-switch there with the Beast and Jasmine (and the surprise of Evil Cordy) — all great storytelling.”
Many “Angel” fans have their own idea of how the series should have ended, with some liking the open ending of the last episode, entitled “Not Fade Away,” and some wanting Angel to regain his humanity, only to get run over by a bus. “I’ve got to be honest — I really liked ‘Not Fade Away.’ I think the failing of most TV series finales is to try and have a big weepy ‘goodbye’ episode that ultimately feels contrived and maudlin,” said Tipton. “For the last televised appearance of Angel, how do you top slaying a dragon? In my mind, Angel and company remain fighting the good fight.”