Monday, September 29, 2008

Angel: Revelations #5

"Senior Year"

Writer: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Artist: Adam Pollina
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Colourist: Matt Hollingsworth
Editor: Warren Simons

Adam Pollina draws awesome wings. I mean, whatever else you say about the Angel: Revelations miniseries, the wings are awesome. I remember when Pollina first showed up on the X-books back in the nineties, as an artist who started off distorting his figures seemingly at random, and evolved into one who was clearly doing it for effect - if not always successfully. By this point in his career, Pollina's distended figures have a grace and power which pretty much carries this book on its own.

Which is fortunate, because writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa finds himself wrestling with a challenging remit. This is a re-telling of the Angel's origin story. It's under the Marvel Knights imprint, which I take to mean that it isn't in continuity. It's certainly not the same story we've seen before. But whether it's off to the side somewhere, or a low-key retcon, it's only loosely inspired by the original late-sixties back-up strip.

You can't blame Aguirre-Sacasa for that. The "Origins of the X-Men" back-up strips are an albatross around the necks of the characters involved. They're clumsy, uninspired attempts to fill in the back stories of characters who were doing just fine without them. They're almost never referred to, which indicates what a poor job they did - but, in days when people were more concerned with continuity, they also acted as a roadblock to writers trying to give the characters better back stories.

Angel's story has the peculiarity of starting off in a private boarding school and then suddenly lurching off halfway through to become a story of a rookie superhero in New York. It truly is a mess. Aguirre-Sacasa has chosen to work loosely with the school plot, which saw Warren concealing his mutant powers from an increasingly hostile school, and then dressing up as an angel to protect his identity while rescuing classmates from a dormitory fire.

The core problem with the "Origins" back-ups is that they don't work as origin stories. They don't feel like defining events in the lives of the characters, or stories which bring out key themes in the characters. They're just... stuff that happened. Aguirre-Sacasa tries to address that by introducing a religious theme, which is natural enough - he's the Angel, after all - but runs into the problem that Warren's character isn't really about religion. The visual has always been treated as a mildly amusing coincidence. This is a bit of a waste - and Ultimate X-Men made sure to capitalise on the idea properly when they introduced their verson of the Angel - but it's a bit late to redefine the character now and make him all about religion.

So the story doesn't really work, I think. We've got an all-purpose religious bigot villain (and, in earlier issues, an abusive priest) representing Christianity at its most straightforwardly unappealing. Set against that, we have Warren standing up and being heroic, and a bunch of squabbling supporting characters who are shoehorned into reconciling in the final act. The treatment of religion feels superficial and one-sided, and the character arcs are unpersuasive.

But those visuals. Adam Pollina is the perfect artist for Angel, giving him outrageously outsized wings that somehow feel right. It's not a great story, but the pictures are strong enough to make the book work despite itself.

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