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Indie Comics Spotlight: Bryan Edward Hill updates Angel for a new generation
Everyone's favorite vampire made a surprise return to comics this spring when BOOM! Studios surprised fans, Beyoncé-style, and dropped Angel #0 in April. Written by Bryan Edward Hill and drawn by Gleb Melnikov, this series exists for the most part in the same universe as Jordie Bellaire and Dan Mora's hit Buffy series. But the emo vamp and Summers haven't quite met yet.
And now, just in time for the 20th anniversary of Angel's 1999 premiere, BOOM! released Angel Volume 1, which collects the first five issues of the series. The TPB is also a prelude to the Hellmouth crossover arc, which puts Buffy and Angel (and Spike, apparently) in Hellmouth at the same time. The series is true to the original characters, but not the original storyline. As relevant as the original Angel TV show was in the early oughts, Hill decidedly updated certain storylines (and tropes) in this new comic book series.
In addition to Angel, Hill is writing Batman and the Outsiders for DC and the TV show Titans, currently airing on DC Universe. He's also penning Marvel's rebooted X-Men series Fallen Angels, which was one of the first titles to emerge from the Hickman-inspired Dawn of X universe teased at NYCC, due out in November.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Hill about his work on Cannon Busters, what it's like working on an enduring character like Angel for a whole new generation, and why he had to hire ninjas to deal with fans.
Did we see your name in the credits of Cannon Busters on Netflix?
Yes! I wrote Episode 7, I believe. LeSean Thomas and I go way back. Fifteen years ago, when he was getting his show off the ground, he reached out to me and said, "Hey man, do you have any time to work on it?” I agreed and it turned into Episode 7 of the show. It's really cool to have some anime on Netflix. So watch Cannon Busters!
When those rumors were flying around last month about DC creating a "Black" Batman series, were they referring to the characters that you helped shape The Signal?
The Hill Administration officially has no comment.
LOL. Okay, so in this iteration of Angel, what universe are we in?
We're in kind of the revamped BOOM! universe of Angel and Buffy. It's something of a soft reboot, but it's very true to the original spirit of what's going on. When Angel and Buffy first premiered in popular culture, we lived in different times. Young people had different things they had to bear. Now the same waves are still with them, but there are new weights as well. I think it was incumbent on this world to be relevant.
When I work on an established universe, I'm always looking for a way to build on what's gone before rather than just taking a sledgehammer and reformat it just because I might have the opportunity. Life moves fast and time changes things. This is a new universe in the spirit of the show, but also hopefully right with the relevance that we need from fiction today.
Were you worried at all about the die-hard Angel/Buffy fans and what their criticisms were?
Oh, well, you know, I mean, I had to put a couple of million dollars into my private security. I have a very, very good group of ninjas.
Everyone needs a good ninja.
There is a rabid quality to fandom, and there's a lot of energy that comes your way whenever you're working on something that people have strong relationships within their own lives. But I'm used to it, I mean, I've been working on Titans for a while and I've been writing Batman and the Outsiders, but I've had nothing but great interactions with people about Angel. People that seem to be welcoming to this modern interpretation of things. I think that people can sense if you respect the source material. And I put little nods in there for the diehards just kinda let them know, "Hey, I watched it too.” We just can't worry about that stuff these days is because entertainment has become a contact sport, unfortunately. And part of it's going to be a lot of criticism, you know, along with the praise, if you're lucky enough to get it. But I don't internalize any of that stuff.
Have you been collaborating in all with Jordie Bellaire's Buffy to make sure the storylines are parallel, or are you working entirely separately?
I'm aware of what's going on in Jordie's work for sure. These two worlds are separate until they're not, which is basically the Hellmouth event, which joins both narrative tracks. I remain aware of what's going on, but [in this iteration], Angel really has yet to experience any of [Buffy's] characters. It's not that anything that's happening in the Buffy book is keeping me from doing anything I want to do in my book and vice versa.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Jordie's doing. There are so many millions of people who love these characters, like this world, and are rabid for new content. To be able to stand in the middle of that and deliver the quality of work that Jordie is delivering right now is remarkable.
So Angel hasn't even met Buffy yet in this volume?
No. I think one of the most significant changes we've had in the narrative is I'm gathering Angel's companions before his experience with Buffy. This shifts the timeline a little bit, and there are opportunities in that because now you have a group of characters that might look at Buffy differently because they're Angel's friend. They don't know her.
That's a huge change.
I always looked at Angel as a little more, for lack of a better word, edgy, a little more mature in its themes. And also a little less stable in terms of its ethics. What drew me to Angel as a television show was the characters that seem to be a little bit more on the precipice of change. And I liked that. I liked the kind of not knowing, where folks are going to end up or not being able to trust what their role is going to be and watching that evolve in a spontaneous way. I think we've preserved some of that in the book.
Does that mean Angel's companions are going to be human? Other vampires?
I picked a small group of characters that we know from the series to introduce into these first arcs of Angel. Some of them come in later, and I'm bringing some of them in sooner than you would expect. The Angel that goes into Hellmouth is a character that had some experience before he goes in. So when he enters that world, he comes in with some more dimension than he did in the original show.
Now Angel's standing on his own, in his own narrative, so that makes it interesting. And I think for readers, it makes picking up both books and then reading them, then comparing and contrasting them, an exciting experience. I think it'll make Hellmouth a more interesting experience. You've got these two characters that are holding their own in their own stories, and then they cross paths when this event happens.
So the point was always to make sure that Angel could access and survive without Buffy Summers. Not that it should be in perpetuity. Not that I'm not interested in their relationship and how that can play itself out, but it can't be dependent on that. That can't be the reason the book exists, and it has to be its own thing.
Will fans that aren't as well versed in the original show be able to follow this story?
Absolutely. You don't have to be fluent in the television show to understand the book at all. That was always my goal. When you're working on something like this, you know, you want to give core fans an experience they really appreciate, but you also don't want to shut new readers out. You want to bring more people in. One of my missions in comics is to make the umbrella as big as possible and to get as many new people into the medium as I can. Ultimately Angel is about a question. And the question is: Can a monster fight other monsters? Can someone with darkness fight the darkness? That's a universal question. Anyone interested in anything concerning, you know, horror, comedy, vampires, the troubles are growing up, any of that should pick up the book.