Thee Comic Column #63: Peter David’s Fallen Angel

image courtesy of comics101.com

I began reading Peter David‘s Fallen Angel back with the original DC series in the early oughts. This was thanks to the work of my good friend Mike at Amazing Fantasy Books and Comics, my favorite comic shop in or anywhere near Chicago. Mike’s the taste maker that turned me on to a lot of great books, and Fallen Angel is one of the best. It’d been years since I’d read the original DC run, and after they bobbled the property and IDW picked it up I had trouble keeping up with it as the new book – with J.K. Woodward’s painted art replacing David Lopez’s pencils (both awesome) – appeared shortly after I moved across the country in ’06. The relocation left me without a regular comic shop for years, the several candidates I auditioned during this period often unable to  remember to order books I subscribed to through them, let alone successfully sequester copies I asked for. During these dark days my comics habit suffered many blows, and eventually I lost track of several books, regrettably  Fallen Angel counted among that number. By the time my comic habit was saved by The Comic Bug, Fallen Angel had completely fallen from my radar monitor.

Serendipitously, it was the Comic Bug that rekindled my love of Bete Noire’s morally ambiguous hero Lee. Recently while browsing their trades section I found the two initial DC volumes and the first three IDW ones there for a discounted price. I picked them all up – my single issues are adrift somewhere in the veritable sea of long boxes in our spare room, and at this point I deemed it easier to re-buy some stuff than actually find it. Also, I wasn’t sure how much of the IDW I’d read and what I might have missed, so for completions sake I coughed up some well-deserved cash for Mr. David’s masterpiece and on my trek out to Florida earlier in the week I once again set out on a journey to the world-influencing port o’ call Bete Noire. As much as I thought I remembered how good Fallen Angel was I severely underestimated it.

It is fantastic.

First off, the orgone-charged, libidinous sweat that clings to nearly every character on every page makes for an almost immediately intense read. Shades of New Orleans hang in the air in Bete Noire, and this makes the nefarious, double-dealing agendas the characters’ harbor coalesce into an intense puzzle-box, striking something of a literary harmonic with a lot of those other stories we’ve read or seen over the years: John Berendt, Ann Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, just to name a few. This harmonic helps the interpersonal relationships of Lee and her supporting cast carry a bit more weight than when the same situations play out in books like those of the X-Family (just think of how fairly vapid most stories involving Gambit have been since Chris Claremont left). This is of course all Mr. David, a very prolific writer in both prose and comics, and thus a man who genuinely understands how to plot out an intricate story. His tools? Complex characterization for starters. No one in Fallen Angel is a clear-cut good guy or bad guy. We think we get Lee’s number early on, that she’s a tough-nosed do-gooder; someone who sits in judgement of others, helps those she deems worthy and ignores or perhaps punishes those who fall short in her eyes. However when we see her torture – and I do mean Torture with a capital “T” – another character, we’re no longer really sure where or who the moral compass of this series revolves around.

Answer? Bette Noir has its own brand of morality. This morality is the backbone of a large part of this saga, and it helps make for the kind of twisty, turvy event scaffolding that zips you through each issue in the short term and really pays off big in the long run. There’s dozens of little mysteries in Fallen Angel – small stuff that might resolve by the end of an issue (for example, Lee’s precarious choice for a lover) or Lee’s origin (“Those twin scars on your back, Miss Lee. Did you acquire them in a battle…”) which might seem obvious based on the title of the book, but there’s a lot more to it and I am not about to spoil such a great experience of pacing and revelation for anyone who has not read this book.

image courtesy of writeups.org

Peter David really made his name in comics with his series-defining, twelve-year run on the original Incredible Hulk. However, despite knowing and loving the majority of that run I echo his oft-repeated consternation expressed in interviews that the fans he acquired penning the green/gray giant’s magnum opus (and elsewhere) seemed remiss to follow him to his creator-owned Fallen Angel title. It reminds me a bit of Chris Claremont leaving his momentous run on Uncanny X-Men only to have so few readers follow him to his creator-owned Sovereign Seven. If there is one thing I’ve learned in comics it is to always follow the writers whose work speaks to you, and when they release creator-owned books give them a shot and help support these folks who have put so much of themselves into the pursuit of great storytelling. In Fallen Angel’s case I feel this methodology is well deserved, as now that my relationship with the book has been rekindled I find that it is one of my favorite of the past ten years. Presently I am unsure as to the continuing of the Fallen Angel Saga – the original IDW run ended in 2009 and since two mini series have continued and expanded Lee’s story. I look forward to reading these with great anticipation, and can only hope that if the Fallen Angel’s saga is not yet complete, it will be one day.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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