It’s not easy to drop a surprise comic book—at least not physically. While digital files can be uploaded with little notice, physical books are preordered by retailers months in advance, preventing publishers from shocking readers too suddenly with new projects. This week, BOOM! Studios pulls its own vampiric Beyoncé move by revealing a surprise Angel series just eight days ahead of its release in comic shops—and exclusively in comic shops, as there will be no immediate digital distribution for two weeks. BOOM! pulled this off by shipping equal quantities of Angel #0 to match orders of Buffy the Vampire Slayer #4, which features Angel’s first appearance in the new continuity and leads directly into his solo series’ zero issue.
“Instead of simply announcing and releasing a new Angel series in all the expected ways, we wanted to do something truly special to mark the occasion, something that would drive fans exclusively to comic shops,” said Arune Singh, VP Marketing, BOOM! Studios, in a statement. “The release of Angel #0, spinning out of our top-selling reimagining of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, presented a perfect opportunity to generate nationwide excitement without the typical wait for the issue to hit stands months after an announcement.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #4 Cover Art by Matthew Taylor
Angel #0, written by American Carnage scribe Bryan Edward Hill and drawn by Saban’s Go Go Power Rangers artist Gleb Melnikov, launches an all-new ongoing series starring Joss Whedon’s vampire with a soul. Angel, still seeking redemption for his (after)life of bloodsucking sins, discovers a prophecy: the restoration of his humanity requires him to take one more life…that of Buffy Summers, Sunnydale’s new Slayer extraordinaire.
“Angel instantly connected with audiences worldwide because his very existence asks a question that resonates with all of us—is it possible to find redemption or are we forever defined by our pasts? Now, more than ever, it may be a question without any clear answer,” BOOM! Studios Executive Editor Jeanine Schaefer said in a statement. “Bryan and Gleb are tackling that question head on, exploring a man quite literally combating the monster inside of him..But even if Angel does find a way to cure his vampirism and put the horrors of his past behind him, it doesn’t mean he has a future ahead of him—especially if our favorite Slayer from Sunnydale has anything to say about it.”
As Hill explains in the exclusive interview below, Angel will explore Angel’s past as well as his present day, and will update the Byronic hero for a new generation. Paste readers can learn more from Hill (along with additional insight from Singh) below, and take a first look at Mondo illustrator Boris Pelcer’s main cover and special one-per-store “Thank You” variant cover. For more on BOOM! Studios’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel plans, stay tuned to Paste.
Angel #0 Cover Art by Boris Pelcer
Paste: Buffy and Angel are obviously such major cultural touchstones for several generations at this point, and you’re no stranger to shared universes, but how does it feel to be rebuilding one from the ground up? And were you a big Buffy or Angel fan when the shows first aired?
Bryan Edward Hill: Oh yeah, of course. Angel was a big deal for me, because it had shades of a lot of stuff that I’m into, like horror, Batman, all of those things. So I’ve always felt that Whedon liked the same stuff I liked. So working on it is really exciting, because we get to revisit the iconic moments and characters that I’ve always been really into, but also open up new story possibilities in both the present of the story and the past of the story.
Paste: When I spoke to Jeanine [Schaefer] ahead of Buffy, she teased other titles in the works. Arune, can you talk a bit about stealth-launching Angel and keeping something like this under wraps for so long?
Arune Singh: The stealth launch is actually something we planned very close to when Jeanine joined BOOM! Studios last year as executive editor and took on the Whedon line along with other partners in editorial like Bryce Carlson. And what we looked at last year—the Joss Whedon tradition is to have a twist ending and then, by the way in the last minute there’s one more big twist. How can we recreate that with comics, at a physical, brick-and-mortar store level?
You know when you think about those kind of big surprise drops, you all think of the big global brands like Beyoncé dropping an album on iTunes. And digital is easier to do because of the nature of digital. How do you do it with a big global brand like Angel, in comic shops? And naturally, Jordie Bellaire was planning to introduce Angel in Buffy #4. So this was the perfect time to do it. It wasn’t far from when we planned to launch an Angel comic so we said why don’t we launch the comic that day?
We’ve been working with our partners at Diamond. The book has been codenamed The Tooth Fairy this entire time in all our emails, all our internal docs. And we worked with a very small group of people there and with everybody here at BOOM! and creators like Bryan and Gleb, we’ve just been working on this in secret. We let retailers know there was going to be a special promo item that we told them that was tied to their orders for Buffy #3. And so we worked to get as much of Angel #0, the first printing, in stores as we can. But when this announcement breaks, the first printing covers are limited only to this run that we’re surprising retailers with, and there’s a second printing variant that will be available for reorder right away. But we’re really hoping that this fulfills what BOOM! Studios’ core goal is, which is bringing new readers to comic shops. Potential readers and fans are going to find out about this eight days before the book goes on sale which means they can call the comics shop, and go pick it up really quickly. And I think that regular barrier to entry sometimes, preordering the comic three or four months before it comes out and having to go to a comic shop, which is outside their regular shopping patterns, is eliminated, and hopefully this just gets more people reading comics.
Paste: And Bryan, how did you get involved with the book?
Hill: Oh, well, Jeanine reached out to me and asked me if I’d be interested in it. And I was glad because it’s not the kind of thing that people bring me often. Because my work, especially after American Carnage, people have a certain idea of what Bryan Hill is focused on. But Bryan Hill has a heart! Bryan Hill likes love stories. [Laughs] So yeah, I was totally into it and we had a great conversation over salad, where we talked about the character and the story, but we also talked about the experience of growing up now and how we could utilize some of those things in the story we were trying to tell.
So we could honestly articulate the struggles of adolescence and all of that, which I think are a deep part of why that narrative and that character have endured for so long. And so we were clearly on the same frequency, which is the best thing you can ask for when you’re working with an editor, because it’s difficult when you’re not. But Jeanine was so much in sync with kind of where my mind was, that it seemed like a great thing to be a part of.
Angel #0 Variant Cover Art by Boris Pelcer
Paste: Getting into the book itself, the #0 issue of Angel kicks off with events we see in Buffy the Vampire Slayer #4, but overlaid with a new perspective from Angel. How closely linked will the two books be going forward and should we expect any Shattered Grid-style crossovers in the future?
Hill: What I’ll say is, the Angel book has to work as a book without Buffy in it for him to be the fully realized character he needs to be before you start bringing these icons together. So there obviously will be a crossing over at some point in the narrative, but there’s a lot of rich storytelling stuff to explore before that moment and during that moment.
So yes, you’re always working with the gravitational pull to get to that moment and we certainly will. But hopefully the path that we take is just as interesting and raises the stakes on what will happen after.
Paste: I think one of the most surprising things about Angel #0 for me was that we see Angel trying to train a partner in his war against demons, something I think is new to this iteration of the character. Can you tell us a little bit about Helen and how Angel’s experiences with her shape his attitude toward the other characters he’s going to meet in the near future?
Hill: We have a story of a character that’s trying to understand how to both heal the world and make up for his past transgressions. Angel has always been a bit of a Byronic figure, a man with a willfully imposed solitude. He’s similar to Bruce Wayne in that way, another character I know fairly well. You want to see the step-by-step place he gets to in terms of who he invites into his world, who he allows himself to care about and why he may not allow himself to care. So all of those things are part of that.
What I want as a storyteller is for the reader to simultaneously see Angel and his kind of calculated withdrawal from emotional connection, but also to understand the deep emotion that’s causing that behavior. The readers will be intimate with him in a way we haven’t been. So that story is really just a preamble of things, because Buffy Summers might meet a person with emotional scars, but the reader needs to know where all those scars come from before that happens.
Paste: Well it’s interesting that you talk about Angel’s sort of tragic past, because the kickoff issue also gives a brief flashback to his darker early days, which is something I fondly recall from the Angel and Spike flashbacks from the TV series. Should we expect to see more of these looks into the past as the series progresses?
Hill: Oh yeah. I mean, certainly, going forward I’m sort of telling two narratives in a way. I’m telling a narrative that’s kind of a horror epic of Angelus while I’m talking about Angel in the present day. And each story will help contextualize the other. It speaks to the fluidity of time. What is time to someone immortal, really? What is memory, right? It’s sort of “everything is the now” in a way. Expect to explore that world of Angelus’ past—and also to see things that are new. There’s a lot of time to deal with there. There’s a lot of time for story there. There are characters who will be born, who will live, who will do things that create consequences, who might die or might not, or might change or transform. So we want to explore all of that in a mythological way while we are telling the modern-day story of what Angel himself is doing in suburbia.
Paste: Readers don’t have to wait too long to get more Angel for themselves, but any final teases to hold them over?
Hill: I want old fans of Angel to know that we are going to honor all of that stuff because I love it just as much as they do. And I want new readers, who maybe have heard of all this stuff but don’t know much about it, to know that you don’t have to be an expert on the source material to enjoy the story. And this really is a jumping-on place for both longtime fans and the curious. And expect some different stuff from me than you’ve seen in my other work too. I think I’m doing something narratively, emotionally that is unique in its construction and hopefully its effect. So I look forward to getting it in the hands of people and hearing everyone’s reaction to it.