Glenn Yeffeth, editor,
Five Seasons of Angel
(BenBella, 2004)

To call Angel multifaceted is to sell the character short.

Born to an 18th-century Irish landowner, Angel (a.k.a. Angelus, nee Liam) grew into a drunken ne'er-do-well and womanizer. Seduced by Darla, he became one of history's cruelest vampires, thirsting more for the pain and anguish of his victims than their blood. Then, cursed by gypsies for an ill-chosen snack, he regained his lost soul and spent a lifetime in wretched misery, feeding on rats and saving puppies to assuage his guilt.

Then he found his purpose: Buffy.

Although looking like a young man in his 20s, Angel was dusty with age when he met the feisty young California blonde. Finding kinship of purpose with the anointed Slayer, he became first her mysterious informant, then her comrade in arms. Her boyfriend. Her lover. And then, her arch-nemesis, then her ally again.

Let's skip the ethical question of seducing a girl in her mid-teens when you count your age in centuries.

For most of three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel was content to hang out with teenagers, attend school functions and take marching orders from a high school librarian. Then, suddenly, he had his own spin-off series, and Angel was forced to grow up. For the first time in a long time, his friends and allies were adults. He was his own boss. He hung out in an office instead of a school. His romantic liaisons were with women old enough to vote.

So how does one define Angel?

The various contributors to Five Seasons of Angel, edited by Glenn Yeffeth, attempt to answer that question, and many more besides. How did bumbling ex-Watcher Wesley become so grim and deadly? How does green-skinned crooner Lorne fit in with a gang of demon killers? Who's really cooler, Angel or Spike? Who did those gypsies think they were punishing, anyway -- and wasn't there a serious flaw in their plan? Why was Jasmine, like, the scariest villainess ever? And why did the series, at some level, fail to work as well as its network sire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

Besides Yeffeth, the series and characters are analyzed top to bottom by an impressive array of writers: Peter S. Beagle, Amy Berner, Abbie Bernstein, Roxanne Longstreet Conrad, Jennifer Crusie, Joy Davidson, Don DeBrandt, Laura Ann Gilman, Steven Harper, Candace Havens, K. Stoddard Hayes, Nancy Holder, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dan Kerns, Marguerite Krause, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Jean Lorrah, Laura Resnick, Josepha Sherman, Michelle Sagara West and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

Five Seasons of Angel is another interesting examination of popular television from the folks at BenBella. As long as they continue to produce such interesting, intelligent collections delving into the nooks and crannies of popular culture, I'll be here to read -- and heartily recommend -- their books.

by Tom Knapp
11 March 2006

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