I recently re-read all the post-show BUFFY and ANGEL comics from Dark Horse and IDW. On the whole, they were quite good with some tremendous ups and a few startling lows. They offered a nice continuation in a different medium that originated from two shows that ended just fine as they were. However, they left me with the impression that Whedon doesn't give a crap about ANGEL as a series.
Any Buffyverse comic reader should start with the ANGEL comics from IDW which are set before the BUFFY comics. ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL does a great job of following up on the Season 5 ending with Los Angeles and Angel Investigations plunged into hell. It's a great situation that brings Wesley back as an unwilling liaison between Wolfram & Hart and Angel.
The LA in hell setting feels like a new status quo to the point where the inevitable reversal is a little disappointing. The first 17 issues of the ANGEL series are a great success, but what follows is a mixed bag between three different writing teams with every different dialogue styles. Joss Whedon was not supervising IDW's output and the stories are somewhat schizophrenic, although the conclusion with #44 and the YEARBOOK is actually quite satisfying. A wobbly flight that sticks the landing.
BUFFY: SEASON 8 is from Dark Horse and completely under Whedon's supervision (with multiple writers executing his direction). It starts out beautifully. The global adventures of Buffy and her army of Slayers are splendid and full of Whedon's trademark humour and darkness. However, around the 3/4 mark, when the Slayers start unleashing Indian gods and Buffy and Angel are having orbital sex and procreating new universes, the epic scale starts to muddle the characterization. Angel is possessed by a parallel universe and kills Giles, a moment that's so unclear and confused that it doesn't land at all.
From this awkward conclusion, however, a great status quo is set up for SEASON 9. We have the BUFFY series where Buffy is trying to rebuild her new life in disgrace and failure while coping with how due to the cataclysm of Season 8, all magic is gone from reality. It's a grounded, back to basics season with some excellent character arcs. The real standout, however, is ANGEL AND FAITH, in which Angel seeks to redeem himself for Giles' death by completing every pursuit and mission that Giles ever left unfinished.
The arc of Angel and Faith tracing Giles' path through life is beautiful for both characters. Writer Christos Gage gives vivid definition to their sweet and platonic friendship that was hinted at on TV but never fully realized due to Eliza Dushku being a guest-star. Gage's snappy dialogue and masterful control of pacing and tone leads to a spectacular conclusion. He seemed to out-Whedon Whedon in converting Whedon's chatty, conversational writing into the comic book format and do so far better than any other writer in SEASON 8.
As a result, Whedon moved Gage off ANGEL AND FAITH to write the main BUFFY series in SEASON 10 and Gage brings the same excellence to BUFFY with the gang restoring magic to Earth but now struggling to work out all the new rules.
Unfortunately, ANGEL AND FAITH suffers in SEASON 10 from losing Gage. Gage's successor, Victor Gischler, doesn't write like Gage and also doesn't write like Whedon. Gischler's dialogue is subtle and minimal where Gage and Whedon are bombastic. Gischler's pacing is slow and deliberate where Gage and Whedon are driven and speedy. Gischler's humour is low-key and thoughtful where Gage and Whedon go for belly laughs.
It's weird: ANGEL AND FAITH (S9) was illustrated by Rebekah Issacs who created more cartoony approximations of Angel and Faith, but her body language and Gage's dialogue made them seem so much themselves that it didn't matter. ANGEL AND FAITH (S10) is drawn by Will Conrad who has a very photorealistic approach to likenesses, and yet, these note-perfect renderings of Angel and Faith feel like comic book approximations. Gischler is a subtle writer and Whedon's style and characters weren't built for subtlety. Gischler is a good writer, but he's the wrong writer for this book.
SEASON 8's 40 issues of BUFFY had numerous writers, but on every issue, Joss Whedon was credited as "Executive Producer." Even though Whedon didn't write all 40 scripts, all 40 issues feel like they're by the same team of voices if not a single voice. Whedon was rewriting and polishing all the scripts for SEASON 8 and SEASON 9. In contrast, SEASON 10's ANGEL AND FAITH has nothing of Whedon's voice despite the same Executive Producer credit.
Gischler revealed in an interview that he had no contact with Whedon for SEASON 10, only editors who'd spoken with Whedon. It looks to me like Whedon, busy with AGE OF ULTRON at the time, had been about as involved with ANGEL AND FAITH as he was with AGENTS OF SHIELD (barely if at all) and he either devoted his time to editing BUFFY or BUFFY as written by Gage didn't even need Whedon.
SEASON 11 is another year where Whedon's involvement seems low; Christos Gage wrote a 12 issue BUFFY arc where supernatural beings are being rounded up into camps. Over in ANGEL (without Faith), Angel and Illyria/Fred were sent into a time travel adventure; their 12 issues would not interact with the BUFFY situation at all. The BUFFY storyline was relevant, tense, taut and Gage's excellence shined with or without Whedon who didn't seem to promote this run of comics much.
In contrast, ANGEL in SEASON 11 as written by Corinna Behko had none of the TV show's quick wit or humour and the time travel storyline had Angel and Illyria visiting points in their history and avoiding any time-altering behaviour -- which led to the story-arc being a meandering, pointless affair. The tail-end of this 12 issue arc led to Angel revisiting the night he became a vampire and murdered his father and sister, but putting this emotional situation at the end left no space to fully explore it.
There was also a romance between Angel and Illyria/Fred that could have been a fascinating exploration of ANGEL's polyamorous nature (already established on TV with Darla and Drusilla) -- but compressed to an issue and a half, it was sudden, unearned and underdeveloped.
In interviews, Behko said that she received instructions to sideline the Angel character from BUFFY's stories through a time travel plot and that she worked primarily with her editor to devise arcs based on this mandate-- which indicates at least to me that Whedon had next to nothing to do with the SEASON 11 ANGEL series.
Looking back, Whedon has often seemed distant from ANGEL. In Seasons 1 -- 3, producer David Greenwalt ran the show and Whedon was more focused on BUFFY. In Season 4, Greenwalt moved on and Tim Minear took over as showrunner as Whedon's attention was on FIREFLY. With Season 5, Jeffrey Bell was showrunner.
I get the sense Whedon wasn't involved with ANGEL on a day to day basis. Despite promoting the Season 5 finale, Whedon didn't even fully write the ANGEL series finale or direct it, leaving both to Jeffrey Bell. Actor Vincent Kartheiser (Connor) said that he barely saw Whedon on set during Kartheiser's time in Season 4.
Whedon had perpetually stepped back from ANGEL, letting Greenwalt, Minear, Bell and Boreanaz control the character and series. With the ANGEL comics, Whedon was hands-off again. He gave direction for BUFFY; he gave none to ANGEL aside from taking away the best writer ANGEL ever had and moving him to BUFFY.
This has me thinking that while Whedon created and understands the Angel character, he doesn't have a strong sense of the ANGEL series. This is reflected in how the theme in Season 1 of helping individual guest-stars fell away in Season 2 as newcomer Tim Minear pushed for more of a myth-arc focused on the regular cast. This is seen in Season 4 when Angel went from a moody twentysomething to a gregarious team dad or in Season 5 when he ran a law firm.
None of these directions are wrong; they just reflect how Whedon himself didn't seem committed to any particular route. In SEASON 10, the ANGEL comic was blandly professional but lacking the strong individuality Gage brought to the title. SEASON 11's ANGEL comic was written to keep the character present in publishing but absent from BUFFY's arcs with global implications.
And for SEASON 12, there is no ANGEL series at all, only four issues of BUFFY published just before Dark Horse lost the BUFFY license. This is the finale. Christos Gage is credited with the scripts; he and Whedon share credit for the story. Whedon communicated in interviews that he was a co-writer on this one and Gage confirmed that he and Joss would agree on a plot, Gage would write the script and Whedon would revise it before it went to the artist.
SEASON 12 folds Angel back into the BUFFY cast as a supporting character. And this finale series is a great piece of work, putting a lovely bow on both the ANGEL and BUFFY saga and confronting the dark future that was shown in the FRAY mini-series which foretells death and destruction for Buffy and all her friends.
Angel has a beautiful S12 moment where Buffy, Angel and friends travel to the future and learn how the final battle between Slayers and demons played out. The future records that all Slayers lose their powers and Buffy sacrifices herself driving all demons off Earth and into hell. This leads to the future in FRAY where Slayers have been gone for centuries and what demons are present are too weak to be any serious threat. Buffy accepts her fate, but Angel refuses to play along with how history is written, declaring that he intends to fight the battle, defeat the demons *and* save the Slayers. He's spent most of his life being told to follow his destiny and all it ever did was make him realize the value of free will.
Gage and Whedon co-wrote these issues, so I'm not sure who's responsible for what, but Angel truly came alive again as a warrior surrounded by adult children, his taciturn pseudo-militarism a delightful contrast to the goofiness of Buffy, Xander, Willow, Dawn and Spike. It either confirms how vital Gage was to ANGEL -- or it suggests that Whedon fully grasps how to write Angel as a supporting character but can't wrap his head around Angel as a leading man.
It's sad that the BUFFY comic got veteran Buffyverse writers while the ANGEL comic seemed to get less experienced talent. The BUFFY title got Whedon himself and he brought in BUFFY TV staffers Drew Goddard, Drew Greenberg, Steven S. DeKnight, Jane Espenson and top comic talent like Jim Kreuger, Brad Meltzer and Brian K. Vaughan and then Andrew Chambliss (who went on to run ONCE UPON A TIME).
However, with ANGEL, Whedon selected Brian Lynch to write the IDW series because Whedon had read and enjoyed Lynch's SPIKE comics as opposed to anything specific to ANGEL. For SEASON 9, it was Dark Horse editor Scott Allie who selected Christos Gage, a Marvel Comics writer with no Buffyverse experience, to write ANGEL. When Gage proved successful, Whedon moved Gage to writing BUFFY for SEASONS 10 -- 12, a promotion that made it seem like Whedon didn't consider ANGEL worthy of Gage's time and talent -- or maybe Whedon didn't really understand ANGEL well enough to make decisions for its benefit.