Angel. The Vampire With A Soul. The Vampire With Big Brass, well, you know. Spinning out of the television series "Buffy The Vampire Slayer," "Angel" focused on the titular hero's quest to find redemption for his past sins. The show ended its five-year run with a cliffhanger that saw the deaths of major characters and the beginning of the battle to end all battles. Fans clamored for more and IDW Publishing obliged, obtaining the comic book rights to "Angel" and presenting the next part of Angel's ongoing story. CBR News caught up with writer Jeff Mariotte, the man behind "Angel: The Curse" and "Angel: Old Friends," to learn about the fate of our heroes and how he became involved with the franchise.
"I wrote the first 'Gen13' novel, 'Gen13: Netherwar,' with my friend Christopher Golden, who wrote many 'Buffy' novels," explained Mariotte. "At one point his editor needed a book done in a hurry, and he was too busy so he recommended me. The editor contacted me, I wrote 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Xander Years, Vol. 2,' a novelization of three Xander-centric episodes. She was happy enough with that job to invite me to pitch for the new Angel line when it started up. With my friend Nancy Holder and my wife Maryelizabeth Hart, I also wrote the nonfiction 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Watchers Guide. Col. 2,' and then the first 'Angel: The Casefiles,' so at the same time I was writing 'Angel' novels I was also writing the reference book I would need to do the novels. In the end, alone and in collaboration with Nancy, I wrote eleven 'Angel' novels, more than any other writer."
Through all that hard work, Mariotte had become acquainted with the licensing department at Fox and while he was still Editor-In-Chief of IDW, he approached them about picking up the "Angel" license should the then current license holder, Dark Horse Comics, choose to drop it. When the show was cancelled, Dark Horse did drop the license and IDW moved in to scoop it up. "By then I had left the company and gone freelance," said Mariotte. "Obviously Chris Ryall and the rest of the IDW gang knew of my history with the character, knew I'd done a bunch of novels and the series companion. I was not only familiar with the character and his world, but with the people who would be approving the material, so they came to me first. Which I deeply appreciate."
While the fan response to Angel's latest comic book experiences has been overwhelmingly positive, fans should be careful not to treat the comic as the "official" continuation of the franchise, as Mariotte explained. "Typically only what appears on the screen is considered canonical. If the original property's creator writes something -- like Joss writing comics about his own characters -- then I guess you can consider it canon even though it's on page instead of screen. But if anyone else writes it, whether it's a show writer or a freelancer (both are work-for-hire writers), however much that writer communicates with the show's creator it's not truly canon, and it might well be contradicted on screen sometime."
Though "Angel" was a popular series in its own right, the show never seemed to connect with audiences in the same manner as "Buffy," which was its own cultural phenomenon. But for fans such as Mariotte, there's something about "Angel" that made it a unique entry into the crowded television landscape. "Originally I loved the noir feeling of the show -- the fact that Angel was an L.A. private detective, almost in the mold of Philip Marlowe or Lew Archer (except, of course, for the being undead part). I've always been a fan of throwing different genres together, like the Western and horror mix of 'Desperadoes,' so doing horror/crime novels appealed to me. I also liked the fact that the cast of characters was smaller than Buffy's, because it allowed me to build tighter plots that gave everyone an active role and still have plenty of space to explore character. As the show progressed, both those things changed, but by then I had plenty of experience with the material and the books progressed naturally with the show.
"Besides which, they're just great characters. Angel is a nearly tragic figure, trying to atone for a violent, really horrible past. Cordelia is fearless and will say anything to anybody. Wesley went through serious changes trying to find out who he really was, and became a wonderful combination of knowledge and courage. There was no real overlap among the characters -- each one added brought a whole new set of attributes to the group, and it was fun to work with them all."
And don't get Mariotte started on his favorite moments, because like any "Angel" fan, it's going to be a long list. "One of my all-time favorite eps would have to be 'Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?' but there were so many great ones over the five years -- even into Season 5 with eps like 'Smile Time.'"
Though Angel, as portrayed by David Boreanaz, saw many trials and tribulations over his three years in "Buffy" and five in his own series, Mariotte feels that there are many more tales left to tell about Mr. Tall, Dark and Broody. "One thing I'd love to see, although I was never allowed to do too much with it in the novels, is more of Angel's past. He's been around longer than the United States, he's met all kinds of historical figures. I would have loved to have explored more of that history. A miniseries focusing on different moments from his history, but with some kind of consistent through-line, could be hugely fun. I also think that because his quest is essentially timeless -- he will never believe he has fully redeemed himself for his sins -- there will always be room for more stories."
While "Old Friends" is enjoying rave reviews, Mariotte's earlier series, "The Curse," had mixed (though overall positive) reviews, something the writer cites as an unfortunate result of scheduling. "This came about because when IDW got the license, we were asked to pitch two different story ideas. The first one I pitched was set during Season 5, but then we were told to set them after Season 5. That was what I had really wanted to do anyway, so I came up with two ideas, one I really, really wanted to do, which was 'Old Friends' and would explain what became of everyone after the series finale, and one, "The Curse," which went more in a direction Joss had indicated he was interested in exploring, which was Angel as super-hero.
"It turned out that Mutant Enemy wanted us to start with 'The Curse,' which was not the order I thought they should come in. Then, to complicate things further, they decided we shouldn't actually reveal any post-series details because they might still want to do those stories on the screen at some point.
"When you do a lot of licensed fiction, you become very adaptable (ask me about my experience with the first 'Las Vegas' novel sometime...). But here I had a story outline that was approved, except for a significant amount of detail that had to be left out, for a story that was supposed to come after the other one. I still thought it worked as what it was -- a solo Angel superhero story -- but I think a lot of people wanted to see the gang, and wanted revelations about the post-'Not Fade Away' world, and those were not things I could provide in that series."
"Old Friends," which recently saw its final issue ship, focused heavily on the theme of identity and the aspects that comprise one's identity, both of which are recurring themes in Mariotte's work. When asked why he feels people have such issues defining themselves and relating to others, he answers, "Careful, you could be asking me for a doctoral thesis combining psychology, sociology, and storytelling. I do think it's an issue we all face, and maybe more so these days, and some of it's our fault! Yours!
"Okay, maybe not yours. But the Internet -- lots of 'personal'-seeming communication, carried out without ever seeing the faces of the people you're 'talking' to. It makes pretend-relating easier, but doesn't necessarily carry over into the real world.
"Then you can add in the cocooning habits of modern American society, in which everyone has their cell phones, their laptops, their blackberries, their iPods, their TIVO -- creating, once again, the impression that they're in touch with the world when it fact they're further isolating themselves.
"In days gone by, you could be isolated and at least get a good sense of who you were. But now when you're isolated and yet surrounded by constant stimuli, is it any wonder that people have a hard time knowing themselves? Add in questions of identity theft, and it's almost impossible for anyone to really know who anyone else is. You're only assuming that Jeff Mariotte is answering these questions, after all..."
There's a fear that licensed books, such as those based on "Angel," won't move the franchise forward, though fans saw that the end of "Old Friends" provides a new mission for Team Angel. But did it do even more than that? "Because of the restrictions I mentioned above, the miniseries doesn't really tell you who survived 'Not Fade Away' or what the world they're living in is like. Or does it?" he teases.
"To see how the world is changed, you might have to read between the lines a little. And I didn't get to take some things as far as I originally wanted to. But you can get a sense of where things might have gone."
While "The End" was mentioned in the final issue of "Old Friends," don't expect Mariotte and IDW to put ol' Fang Face to sleep just quite yet. "I wrote the Doyle one-shot, which is set before Angel moved from Sunnydale to Los Angeles. Doyle was another of those really fun, engaging characters, and I think I wrote the last Doyle scene in a novel -- in "Haunted," long after his televised death (although it's possible that some other writer went back to that well -- I haven't read all the Angel novels. Getting to play with that character again -- especially "pure" Doyle, before he joins up with Angel, was a blast.
"After that, other writers will carry on the torch. I announced my "retirement" from "Angel" on my blog a couple of months ago -- after eleven novels and eleven comics, I felt like it was time to focus my attentions elsewhere, and I thought the Doyle story was a pretty good swan song. I left the door open, however, to return if a really cool opportunity came along. And then, wouldn't you know it, Chris Ryall came to me with a really cool opportunity. I don't know if I'm allowed to talk about it yet... but I have left a clue in this interview..."