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Angel returning to Dark Horse, in a series with Faith that takes place in the same universe as Buffy Season 9?  Written by Christos Gage and drawn by Rebekah Isaacs?  My nerdy squealing when this series started was loud and long, and it hasn’t exactly calmed down even now that the first trade paperback of Angel & Faith is released.

Angel & Faith: Live Through This collects the first story arc of the series: Angel back from catatonia and now attempting to atone for the latest in his long line of sins – killing Giles while possessed by the universe-destroying Twilight.  Confused?  Don’t worry.  You could go pick up Buffy Season 8, now coming out in gorgeous library editions – or just reread Angel & Faith Issue 1, as it’s all pretty much covered there.  This is a user-friendly series, one that will catch you up if you’re a new fan – but that’s still packed full for devoted followers.

The first story arc of Angel & Faith, Live Through This, is a tight continuation of both Angel the television series and Buffy Season 8.  There’s enough here to be familiar – Angel’s overriding guilt complex, Faith’s abject badassery and halting steps to maturity, quite a few familiar demony faces – but enough to push it along, make it into something fresh and new.  There are callbacks to moments across the Buffyverse – both Buffy and Angel TV shows as well as Season 8 – but it never feels like you have to know these moments in excruciating detail to follow the story (of course, if you know about Mohra demons and how they give rise to one of the most depressing episodes in the history of television, you’re going to get a bit more out of Angel’s fresh wave of guilt – but it’s not required).

There’s a new Big Bad carried over from Season 8, a way to adapt supernatural threats to a world devoid of magic.  There’s also a satisfying Bad Decision quest, a master plan that’s destined to fail in a spectacular way.  The groundwork for the two as overarching themes – hopefully, eventually intersecting overarching themes – gets set up here.  For an introduction to the series (and to the world that this comic shares with Buffy Season 9), Live Through This sets the stage masterfully.

That drops away a bit with the last issue included in this trade – the standalone Harmony-centered In Perfect Harmony.  I freely admit – Harmony?  Not my favorite character.  An entire issue worth of her?  Not my idea of a great time.  I do love Clem, but even he couldn’t save this one for me (neither could Christos Gage’s script, though it did provide a few high points like Faith’s ruminations on her reputation versus Spike’s list of conquests).  Artist Phil Noto takes over for In Perfect Harmony and, while I generally love his work, there’s something off about this – it’s too big a shift from Rebekah Isaac’s interpretation of the characters and, after getting lost in her world for Live Through This, the change is a bit jarring.

On the upside, it’s quite easy to skim across In Perfect Harmony and get to the good part at the end of this trade – the section of Isaac’s sketchbook pages, character studies and cover art.  It’s obvious within this book alone that these characters really come alive through Isaac’s interpretation, so I found her notes and sketches fantastic.  Live Through This proves that this series is at its best with Gage’s writing and Isaac’s artwork, developing familiar characters in a new world of familiar threats and guilt.

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