Joss Whedon is known for being a writer who can switch from comedy to tragedy in the blink of an eye, and this was never more true than in season five of his show Angel. Episode 14 was titled “Smile Time” and is still considered one of the funniest episodes in the Whedon world, but this was followed up quickly by the painfully heart-wrenching episode “A Hole in the World.” Fans were forced to say goodbye to a beloved character, and the death was sudden but certainly not quick, giving her plenty of time to die in agony, misery, and fear. Way to kick us where it hurts, Whedon.
Now a few years later IDW decided to turn this landmark storyline of Angel into a five-part mini-series of comics, and issue #1 is out now. For those not in the know, the story is this: Fred Burkle, scientist extraordinaire, is having a good day. She’s finally settled into a new relationship with long-time admirer Wesley, and she has her own science lab at her disposal. She’s long shed the fear in her past where she was transported to a demon world and treated like a pet. Fred is stronger, smarter, and more capable than ever now. Which is why it will be awful when all that hard work breaks down. I’m getting ahead of myself. Fred receives a strange ancient item in the mail, and she curiously touches the wrong gem on it. Air goes shooting out, and she inhales it.
After being cleared for medical, Fred is certain she will be just fine, but a few minutes later she starts spitting up blood. This issue ends with the whole gang surrounding her and trying to figure out together what the problem is. They need to find a solution because her organs are dying, and there is not much time before Fred will die. She’s very important to all of them for different reasons. Angel saved her from the other world — she’s his damsel in distress; for Wesley she’s the love of his life that he’s been waiting for; for Gunn she’s his once-lover and good friend; for Spike she’s the only one who believed in him and tried to save his life; and for Lorne she’s his best friend and lunch buddy. They love her, and since not long before that they lost their other female companion Cordy, it is more important than ever to keep Fred safe.
Now fans of the show know how this is going to go, and people who read the regular Angel comics know that Fred turns into Illyria. But this comic breaks down into five parts the tale of her demise and her rise as a new character. It is brutal; it is cruel; and it still stings even today. If there is a story arc from the show that deserves to be put down onto paper, it’s the Illyria twist. Get a box of tissues and be prepared, because it only gets worse from this issue.
Fans will find nothing new in this comic. It is panel for panel what was showed on the screen, although the comic has a few different shots and angles that the camera might not get. The artwork is detailed and catches the right emotional expressions, plus Elena Casagrande seems to have fun with the backgrounds of Wolfram & Hart. While the comic form is just incapable of getting the full emotional weight of seeing Fred’s body break apart as the characters helplessly watch, it still is an excellent reminder.