Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

Spike: Lost and Found

A Review by Ian Dawe

 

 

The IDW Spike and Angel comics were published between 2005 and 2011, at which time Spike and Angel came back under the Dark Horse banner and rejoined the canonical Buffy universe for what became Buffy Season 9, and the Angel and Faith series. As such, they represent a specific artistic cul-de-sac in the Whedon universe, with highs (Angel: After the Fall) and lows (Spike: Shadow Puppets) and just about everything in between. Compared to the Dark Horse run, the Angel and Spike books were presented in a much darker, more photo-realistic style that often used lots of digital compositing and image manipulation on screen captures from the original TV series, rather than Georges Jeanty’s more traditional comic book art found in the Dark Horse titles. And this probably sums up both the strength and the weakness of the IDW comics, because their stylistic ties to the original series, particularly Angel season 5, gave them a rich visual palette but also prevented them from really going to new places with the characters and situations. For those missing the series, and for those who wanted more episodes and didn’t get them (didn’t we all, with Angel?), these comics certainly serve a soothing function. But compared to the Dark Horse comics, which gave the characters room to grow and change and for big canonical events to happen, they can’t help but come off a bit more timid.

Spike: Lost and Found, from 2006, is typical of the IDW approach. It follows up from two TV episodes from the Whedonverse, Buffy season 4, episode 3, “The Harsh Light of Day” and Angel season 1, episode 3, “In the Dark”. Both episodes deal with Spike’s obsession with finding the legendary Gem of Amarra, a ring that confers on Vampires the ability to walk in the daylight and be immune to staking. (In a typically witty Whedon touch, the ring itself looks like a hockey goaltender’s mask in gold, mounted in a wireframe over jade.) In the Buffy episode, Spike and his new girlfriend Harmony the vampire are excavating underneath Sunnydale to find the ring, which Buffy eventually fights him for, and wins. Oz, on tour with his band at the time and playing a show in LA, takes the ring with him to leave with Angel for safekeeping. Spike follows the ring to LA and thus begins the Angel episode, in which Spike captures and tortures Angel for information leading to the return of the ring.

Eventually the ring is destroyed.We pick up the story in Spike: Lost and Found some four years later, at a very different point in the extended story of Spike and Angel. It is now Angel season 5, when Spike has regained his soul and saved the world, and is now trying to work out exactly how he fits into Angel’s corporate structure at Wolfram and Hart. The story spends so much time on dialogue between these two characters that it’s worth remembering where they were in terms of development at this point in the longextended saga of Buffy/Angel.

Angel the gumshoe PI from the early scenes has become Angel, CEO in season five, one of the most intriguing plot twists in the entire Buffy/Angel saga. Angel, taken as a whole, always seemed to be at least partially about the compromises and negotiations one needs to make to be a successful adult in the modern world. (Just as Buffy was among other things a coming-of-age story.) In season five, Angel has to make the ultimate compromise and literally wear the skin of his enemy. The quiet, furrowed brow style David Boreanaz adopted for this season had a slightly different caste than in previous years. Angel in season five, especially early on, doesn’t seem tortured as much as wary and confused. In trying to play his newly-dealt hand with caution, as he probes the “senior partners” for their hidden agenda, Angel is introspective in a way we hadn’t seen since Buffy Season 3. For the first half of this season, no matter what or whom he’s fighting, he may just as well be in a tomb doing tai chi exercises. Spike, on the other hand, is still his exuberant self, but his soul has given him, in the long run, a grudging human sensitivity and his share of remorse over the actions of his past.

The interaction between these two characters, the only two ensoulled vampires in the world, apparently, with a centuries-old history was always a highlight of season five. One signature shot of the season simply shows them both slumped on a couch next to each other, wearily admitting that they were once victims, too. And that they’ll never be redeemed in the scheme of things. It’s a powerful moment of emotional honesty and maturity, with resonance back into the original Buffy season two from all those years ago.

So, one of the most interesting things about Spike: Lost and Found, perhaps the most interesting thing, is spending some time with Spike and Angel. The story begins with a recap of the story of the Gem of Amarra, with many panels drawn directly from stills from the TV series episodes. Angel pays a visit to Spike in the apartment rented for him by Lindsay in the middle part of season five, which situates us in terms of the narrative. Spike is playing video games, to improve his manual dexterity, just as he did in the TV series after receiving a hand transplant. Angel reports that a vampire has been spotted killing people during the daylight, obviously using the Gem of Amarra. Spike is initially ambivalent about this, having never received the respect he believes he deserves from “Evil, Inc” but is persuaded by Angel’s usual strategy: appeal to his self interest. The authorities think it’s Spike himself who is the rogue vampire, logically due to the fact that he was the one last seen with the Gem of Amarra. So, Spike and Angel team up to find out who has the Gem and stop them. This is all a very ordinary set up for an episode of Angel, and the dialogue rings true enough. Scott Tipton, who wrote this comic, captures Spike’s voice especially well, referring to Wesley, who researches the problem, as “Specs, here, and his enchanted Cliff notes.”

The big plot “reveal” of the story is not particularly earth-shattering or creative: Wesley simply discovers that the texts referring to the Gem of Amarra had the translation wrong, and it should have always read “Gems”. There are more than one. And as it turns out, none other than Harmony took one with her from the caves she and Spike were excavating way back in Buffy season 4. Harmony being who she is, of course, instead of using the Gem to take over the world she put in on eBay (or “ePay” as they write in the comic, obviously for legal reasons) and uses the $75 sale price to buy a snazzy pair of red boots. The sale does leave an electronic paper trail, and soon Spike and Angel are gumshoeing around Los Angeles following the clues to a middle man buyer and finally to the vampire himself, working in a Deli with ample access to blood. The final act is essentially a chase sequence through downtown LA, involving busses and fistfights and many things we often saw in the Angel series. Of course, Angel and Spike win the day, Angel destroys the Gem, and the adventures continue next week.

None of this is particularly striking in terms of story, unless we count the notion of hearing Spike dialogue as a reward in and of itself. The real treat of this particular story is in the quiet moments between Angel and Spike, especially when they have a long scene together driving through LA at night and the subject of their last Gem-related encounter, where Spike tortured Angel almost to death, comes up. A silent moment passes between them and Angel says, “Look, if you want forgiveness, you can forget it.” Spike is shown simply listening, for once. “…But I will admit that I’m no better,” continues the eternally guilty Catholic Angel. Spike’s wiseguy response is as close to an apology as he ever gets: “I guess that’s somethin’ isn’t it?” The final scene also picks up on a theme between Angel and Spike, the perennial question of which of them gets to be with Buffy. Angel accuses Spike of palming the now-recovered Gem with the intent of wearing it so he can be the man “she deserves”. Spike responds by smashing the ring himself. “Then again, maybe neither one of us deserves it,” he says. He could have just as easily said “her” rather than “it”. It’s a nice call back to an important conflict between Spike and Angel that was never really resolved.

There are many other short one-off Spike and Angel stories from IDW, and this comic is typical in that one’s enjoyment of it is very much a function of how deeply one knows the TV series and is invested in the characters. As a balm for the loss of season 6 of Angel, as well as the repository of some of the plot threads that were being explored for the legendary lost “Spike Movie”, they certainly play an important role in the expanded Angel universe. We’ll have a look at some more in the coming weeks.

Ian Dawe is a writer in Vancouver whose work often appears on the Sequart Research & Literary Organization webs (sequart.org). Follow him on Twitter at iandawe42.