Even as you read this, geeks from all over the Internet are flocking to that hub of digital civilization known as MySpace and voting for their favorite Top Cow character to win their very own ongoing series in 2008. And with the long-awaited opening of the MySpace polls comes the fifth and final entry in this exercise in rampant democracy: Angelus.
Written by Warhammer 40,000 scribe, Ian Edginton and illustrated by insanely talented Croatian artist, Stjepan Sejic, Angelus – Pilot Season #1 picks up where Sejic’s previous Top Cow project, First Born, left off. Having left the city and her dark past behind her, we find Celestine, the current host of the Angelus, waiting tables at a grease-trap in Middle-of-Nowhere, Arkansas, under the assumed name of “Tina.” While the simple life suits Tina just fine, she is constantly at odds with the sentient Angelus force within her, which urges her to aspire to greater heights than mere menial labor can offer. The Angelus’s wish for action comes true soon enough when a trio of walking oddities enters the diner, claiming to have connections to Celestine’s secret past.
(…not to be confused with her *dark* past…)
(…well… I mean, her secret past is also pretty dark, but it… it’s a different past from the one that…)
As the Pilot Season books go, this is one of the better ones in *concept*, but not in execution. There is plenty of bloody action to go around once the Angelus makes its debut, as well as the requisite amount of T&A, but the story itself is a bit of a jumble. An overarching storyline is definitely being built here, and the little tidbits of information littered throughout the book do serve to catch one’s interest, but overall, the plot suffers from a bad case of over-exposure. Too much of a good thing.
The writer is so busy inserting fun little visual clues into the flashbacks and battle scenes that he leaves virtually no questions to be answered by the end of the issue. Oh, sure, Celestine may have a few questions, and this is supposed to be the driving force behind the potential series, but her own curiosity just isn’t drawing enough for the audience. I have little interest in following the rest of the story and a majority of that apathy is due to the amount of answers spoon-fed to me over the course of the issue. It’s almost as though Edginton was so excited about the story he was setting up that he forgot he was only *supposed* to be setting it up. Because of this, the pacing of the issue comes off rushed and the action in it inconsequential.
Even the protagonist suffers, as the most character development she’s given comes in the form of flashbacks and exposition about how unstable she was before the Angelus. You see, once upon a time, Celestine was a vigilante who enacted brutal justice on the corrupt, but she possessed a psychological suggestion that made her follow each act of righteousness with an act of “desperate criminality.” Basically, she was a more realistic, much darker echo of Marvel’s character, The Sentry. For all the good she did, she was compelled to balance it with an act of evil. Cool idea, right? Then the Angelus came into her life and bonded with her, supposedly curing her of that particular ailment. A big glowing 12-Step Program in the form of celestial retribution. Now she’s at peace! While I’m sure this was a great moment from previous issues, all it does for this particular story is to illustrate how interesting the character *used* to be. And, unfortunately, Edginton doesn’t really offer anything new to fill that gap, making her nothing more than a pretty face sliding by on the coolness of her gimmick.
Now how many times have we read *that* comic before?
Mind you, it’s not a horrible comic! Just… average. It’s yet another book that’s so concerned with making the hard sell in the first issue that it sacrifices the essentials of good storytelling.
On the other hand, you have interior art by Stjepan Sejic. This guy’s work has the attractiveness of a young Michael Turner mixed with an eye for color equaled by any digital painter working in the movies today. Plus, he is the only digital artist I’ve ever seen whose people don’t look stiff and lifeless. He takes the comic-booky line art away without losing the feel of the comic, and that is something to take notice of. I will admit that his work on this book isn’t quite as impressive as his work on First Born, but I’d attribute that more to the setting of the stories than any failing on his part. Half of this book features fairly mundane, dusty backgrounds, but once the craziness kicks in, his true strength is revealed. He is definitely an artist who feels more at home drawing the outlandish and extreme than he does drawing talking heads and regular people. Luckily, the Angelus is just the sort of title to cash in on that aspect. All due respect to Mr. Edginton, but people were never going to vote for the The Angelus based on the writing, they’re going to vote for it based on the artwork… Which brings up an interesting quandary.
With all the marketing hype surrounding Pilot Season, one small detail has managed to get lost in the bustle: These are all One-Shot creative teams. The writers may be here to stay, since it is their take on the characters that Pilot Season is promoting, but the artist you fall in love with here isn’t necessarily going to be the artist on the ongoing series you voted for. Now, in some cases (Cyblade), this can benefit the book. In other cases (Necromancer), this will be a non-issue. But in the case of The Angelus, this could very well be the downfall of the entire Pilot Season project. What happens when The Angelus wins its own series and a new artist is chosen? Talk about the ultimate bait and switch! Sejic is one of the most talented new artists to grace the comic-book page in years, and any artist that follows him on this book is going to pale in comparison. What will that do to the sales for the new series? I wonder.
In any case, even if Sejic does stick around for the Angelus ongoing, the book is going to need more than just pretty artwork and a hot chick that knows how to make people bleed in order to make it work. Edginton’s foremost priority will have to be pumping some vitality back into a character who seems more fit for a supporting role than the main spotlight. While nowhere near a total failure, Angelus-Pilot Season offers little incentive to draw readers into future issues, and in doing so, probably damages its chances at ever seeing issue 2. Which is a pity! Because those flashbacks looked pretty cool.