CBR Looks at Ed Brubaker's "Angel of Death"

Premiering March 2 on Crackle.com - an online venture of Sony Pictures Entertainment - is "Angel of Death," an original live-action series written by superstar comics writer Ed Brubaker ("Gotham Central," "Criminal," "Captain America"). The series features performances by Doug Jones ("Hellboy II: The Golden Army"), Vail Bloom ("The Young and the Restless"), Lucy Lawless ("Xena: Warrior Princess," "Battlestar Galactica") and stars Zoe Bell, the actress and eminent stuntwoman best known for her leading role in Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof."

With new episodes airing daily through March 13, Ed Brubaker's "Angel of Death" opens with the action already underway. Zoe Bell's Eve bursts into a room filled with non-descript tie-wearing guards. As she delivers blows and kicks, the screen fills with comic book-style panel frames. The pacing of each frame matches the pace of her attack. She reaches her target: a man she knows named Franklin. As they both reach for a gun, the screen fades to black and we hear gun fire.

Already, the show tells you a couple of things: It likes foley, the sound effects used to mimic punches and other miscellaneous sounds. It also feels at home using the movement of the comic page in its fight scenes.

When the fade concludes, we are told it is two weeks prior to the action scene. Here we are properly introduced to Eve, a professional killer, and her boss/lover, Graham. She is quickly given an assignment to dispose of someone and told to bring new recruit Franklin, played by Justin Huen, with her. As they discuss their plan, Franklin wonders about the identity of their target. Being the old pro, Eve informs him asking such questions eventually makes you a target for a hit. Eventually, Eve quickly does the deal, but unexpectedly runs into the mark's daughter and her two guards. More guards and panel frames later, she takes a knife to the head. Managing to escape, the episode concludes with Franklin driving Eve away from the scene with the knife still imbedded in her skull.

Each episode of "Angel of Death" is presented in eight-minute installments with an eventual extended edition on DVD. Designed to be presented online first, the episodes are well-paced. Each gives the viewer a surprising amount of plot progression and action. While the show is somewhat lean in character development, it is in keeping with the drive-in action movie experience that inspires it.

p>Over the course of the four episodes CBR previewed, Eve finds the stabbing incident has left her with a vision of one of her victims. Finding this is not the side effect of the drugs she was put on following the knifing, she attempts to appease the vision by locating the person who ordered the hit.

It is through this we are introduced to an ongoing plot about the transfer of power in the local mob family. While the son of the recently deceased kingpin is expected to assume control, his own sister and forces other cities threaten his ascension. Somehow, Eve's vision points in his direction.

We also spend a great deal of time with a mob doctor played by Doug Jones, "Hellboy's" Abe Sapien. His performance as a fidgety doctor is a standout; particularly in a scene from the second episode where he actually removes the knife from Eve's head. That scene is actually a rare occurrence in these sorts of films or shows. Usually, the main character blacks out from the trauma, to wake up post-operation. In "Angel of Death," Eve is awake for the whole ordeal, refusing sedation. And throughout, Jones's mob doctor is played with an unusual spin and energy.

All the other performances are solid. Zoe Bell fits right into the so-tough-she's-scary hitmwoman role. She also plays her moments of emotional collapse effectively in counter-point to the fighter she generally projects. Justin Huen's plays Franklin in these early episodes with the right insecurity his character needs to set up for the eventual confrontation he will have with Eve. Graham, played by Brian Poth, is an interesting take on the hitman minder archetype. Instead of a gruff, cigar-chomping, gravel-voiced type, Poth gives Graham an unusual amount of kindness. Also being Eve's lover, his affection for her comes through, even if she is unwilling to return it in equal amount.

The only performance that appears off key is off mob prince Cameron Downes, played by Jack Abel. He is not terriblu convincing as an organized crime leader. This could be the point, however, as his major scene takes place in a loading dock the character has converted into an office. Perhaps in the subsequent six episodes, his performance becomes a story point.

Notably absent from the first four episodes is Lucy Lawless, who will appear in subsequent episodes as Eve's neighbor Vera.

The use of the panel frames is interesting, if a little off-putting at first. Used in action and as scene transitions, they do reflect the flow of an Ed Brubaker comic book page. It is always tricky to use this device in film and, as seen in Ang Lee's 2006 "Hulk," they do not always successfully invoke the feeling of reading a page in a comic book. In "Angel of Death," they are part of the story grammar and, at least, have purpose and function.

The first four episodes end in very intriguing place. Eve, now a few steps up the chain of command, passes out while on the hunt. Over her is the man she was trying to kill. Having seen her, he believes a hit has been ordered on him from someone up above his post. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the following episode.

In four episodes, "Angel of Death" creates quite well the mood and atmosphere of drive-in crime movies Ed Brubaker, Quentin Tarantino, and others love so well. It is also an interesting experiment in internet broadcast and illustrates some of the narrative possibilities this new distribution system makes possible.

"Angel of Death" premieres March 2 on Crackle.com.

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