Ask any fan of “Angel” to compile a list of their favorite episodes and you’re likely to find the Season 5 episode “Smile Time” on that list. The episode featured the titular hero being turned into a demonic puppet by a group of “Sesame Street”-esque creatures and even worse, taunted by his immortal enemy Spike (the other vampire with a soul). Heck, Diamond has even produced multiple replicas of Puppet Angel (and a Puppet Spike), all of which have sold out quickly. Karma’s a, well, bad word this June when IDW releases “Spike: Shadow Puppets,” announced earlier at Wizard World Los Angeles. CBR News spoke with scribe Bryan Lynch about the new mini-series and what it all means for the platinum blond vampire.
“Basically, ‘Smile Time’ is back,” Lynch told CBR News with you. “For those that don’t know, Smile Time is the evil childrens’ show run by demonic puppets that literally sucked the lifeforce out of children. Angel and crew put them down in season five of ‘Angel.’
“But what they didn’t know is that Smile Time lives on in Japan. It’s the second biggest kids’ show overseas, popularity growing every day. And they’re up to no good, let me tell you. Killing its audience left and right.
“Lorne gets wind of this, goes to Spike (he kind of HAS to, you’ll see…) and tells him. So Spike, like all good champions, packs up his weapons and heads to Japan to stop them…and is immediately attacked by millions if puppet ninjas.”
This all came about due to Lynch’s own fascination with the Muppets. “I began my career by selling a Muppet movie script to Henson, I know every Muppet episode by heart, so when the ‘Smile Time’ episode aired, it was very much my two favorite worlds (Henson/Whedon) coming together.
“Chris Ryall, the editor in chief of IDW, and I would discuss how much fun it would be to have Spike face off against Smile Time, as he’d definitely have a different way of handling the puppets and a different reaction if and when he was turned into a puppet.
“So when it was time to think of a follow-up to ‘Spike: Asylum,’ we just kind of slid into ‘Shadow Puppets.’ I think it’s scheduled to ship in June. And then it’ll run monthly. Four issues. Each one has puppets. Evil, bloodthirsty, adorable puppets.
“There are tons of new puppets, too. Seeing as we’re not confined by the budget of a weekly TV show, we can afford a hundred times the puppets. Cats, Femme Fatales, giant dragon, every color of the puppet rainbow.”
While IDW has told a few tales of Angel and company after the cliffhanger series finale that saw his team of heroes quite literally facing the hordes of hell, most of the stories have been set in the series’ past, with “Shadow Puppets” as no exception. “Spike is stationed in Los Angeles, and he’s very much embracing his role of champion,” explained Lynch of the vampire’s status. “In fact, he has a whole secret life that we reveal in the first issue of ‘Shadow Puppets.’ Spike is doing his best to be the white knight. But it’s not an easy path. It is, however, a very entertaining path wrought with demons and ladies.”
For those not familiar with “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” lore (from which “Angel” spun off), Spike was originally introduced as the vampiric embodiment of Jack The Ripper and anything but a hero. Over the course of both “Buffy” and “Angel,” the character evolved into an unlikely hero, becoming quite possibly the most popular character produced by creator Joss Whedon. Asked about the enduring popularity of Spike, Lynch explained, “I think he’s a very layered character: started as a truly despicable (yet strangely likeable) villain, gradually (and very believably) became one of the greatest heroes in that universe. He’s been on both sides, and it’s a testament to the creative talent involved, from writing to acting to directing, that both sides, and the journey from one to the other, was completely believable.
“Plus, reduced to the very basics, he’s a bad-ass and, a romantic. And he’s really funny and charming. Something for everyone.”
Speaking of something for everyone, the covers revealed by IDW hint at “Shadow Puppets” displaying the same lunacy as “Smile Time,” which Lynch confirmed for readers. “Yeah, this gets pretty nuts. It’s vampires vs puppets, with a dash of crooning demons thrown in. One of the most fulfilling things about ‘Shadow Puppets’ is how different it is than the ‘Spike’ series that came before it. ‘Asylum’ had some light moments, but basically it was Spike in jail, which, you know, unless you crack up at HBO’s ‘Oz,’ isn’t all that funny.
“‘Shadow Puppets,’ on the other hand, is much more of a roller coaster ride. It’s trippy and packed with some dark humor. At times it’s a big action epic– a few pages later it becomes a buddy comedy between Spike and Lorne. There’s also some romance (not between Spike and Lorne– sorry, slash fiction fans). The whole series is a big, crowd-pleasing ride. If ‘Spike: Asylum’ was a Spike adventure by way of Jerry Bruckheimer, ‘Shadow Puppets’ is Spike by way of Tim Burton.
“Coming up next, a third series which is Spike by way of Ed Burns. Spike lives with a bunch of bland Irish brothers. Gonna be sweet.”
While Spike might like to see himself as a solo act, don’t expect that he’ll spend all four issues of this mini-series without some familiar faces nearby. “Besides Spike and Lorne, we have cameos from some of your favorite ‘Angel’ characters,” revealed Lynch. “Plus, it’s no secret that Spike becomes a puppet during the course of the series, but believe me when I tell you that’s just the tip of the ‘turning “Angel” regulars into puppets’ iceberg. It ain’t just Spike, baby.
“And, like ‘Spike: Asylum,’ there are tons of easter eggs for fans of the series. References, in-jokes, the book is littered with them. I’m working on issue three and there’s a subtle nod to the original ‘Buffy’ movie.”
“Shadow Puppets” also marks the official creative reunion of Lynch with artist Franco Urru, for whom Lynch only had positive comments. “Franco is the best, plain and simple. Dramatic, funny, scary, anything I write he turns in five times better. One of the pages called for a cast of thousands, and in the script I told him to Photoshop, trace, whatever he had to do to fill out the crowd and Franco drew each and every character. One by one. It’s amazing.
“I’m really honored to be working with him. Every time I get a new page it’s like Christmas morning. But not under a tree so much as at a computer. And it’s not wrapped. And it wasn’t delivered by a fat man in a red suit. As far as I know.”
As for those fans who want to see what happened to Spike after the “Angel” series finale in more detail, Lynch smiled and said, “I think it was pretty obvious Whedon implied that two seconds after the series finale, Spike jumped on a plane and went to Japan to fight puppets. Maybe you didn’t catch the subtext.”
Lynch does, however, promise that things will stay exciting for Spike and that fans should expect some major events. “Oh, we’re not done with Spike just yet. Big things are coming, and he’s front row center for them.”