The "Angel" series (and related books) at IDW were, for the most part, good and interesting books with compelling stories and solid creative teams, but somehow it feels comforting to have everything that goes with "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" safely housed under one publishing roof, Dark Horse. Already "Angel & Faith" feels more tightly tied to "Season 8" of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and I suspect all will be the better for it in the long run as well.
Things pick up here with a quick flashback about a case Giles was working before his untimely death at the end of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" Season 8. The flashback is well done and leads us into the rest of the issue expertly, proving that flashbacks, when utilized correctly, are great tools. We then plunge into Angel and Faith trying to deal with the same case from Giles' past and learn that they're planning to work their way through Giles' Watcher diaries with Angel's "help the helpless" shtick in an effort to redeem themselves (though Faith is for once ahead of the game on that point).
The plot in Christos Gage's story works well, setting readers up with a quick back-story and then plunging us into an action scene that parallels and trades upon that back-story. There's barely time to breathe (in a good way) as Gage catapults us from action pieces to character moments. He sets up not only where we're headed for this first big arc, but also the demons these two heroes on paths of redemption are going to battle inside as well as out. The real strength here, however, is how easily Gage captures these characters' voices and the voice of the Joss Whedon universe. The characters are flawlessly rendered even as they head in new directions. This issue could use a bit more humor, though the Angel stories have always trended a bit more dark and less humorous than the Buffy stories, so that's not entirely unexpected. It should be said, however, that the television series version of "Angel" was always at its best when it pushed the funny.
Rebekah Isaacs is a brilliant artist for this new series. Her work is incredibly strong and vibrant. Her storytelling is crystal clear and captures heroic action and quiet character moments with equal aplomb. Most importantly, in a comic book based on a television show, she finds a way to capture characters that need to look like recognizable actors, without the visuals feeling derivative. She holds onto the character more than the actor - i.e. though Isaacs' Angel looks like David Boreanaz, as he should, I don't feel like I'm seeing Boreanaz; I feel like I'm seeing Angel. It's a subtle and important difference in the translation of film and television to comics, and Isaacs just nails it. The colors by Dan Jackson are surprising. The book veers from bright and popping with color to more moody pages that trend slightly toward monochromatic. Jackson makes interesting choices that I don't always expect, and the net effect is lovely color work that nicely enhances Isaacs' powerful art.
As someone deeply familiar with this universe, it's hard to know how well this first issue might work for a new reader. I think enough is there to make it new reader friendly, but this is dense stuff with a lot of complicated history behind it, so that's always a bit of a tightrope to walk. For existing fans however, this is a hell of a start to a new series. With an incredible creative team in place and Whedon's rich universe to play in, this issue is a slam-dunk.