Review: Angel Falling

I feel bad for hating this comic as much as I do. Writer Jeffrey Kaufman states in both the foreword and the epilogue that the inspiration for Angel Falling was his son, a boy who is on the autism spectrum. Kaufman wanted to create a character that his son could relate to, and that is a truly beautiful motive for writing a book. However, as pure as this motive is, it doesn’t stop Angel Falling from being – unfortunately – a deeply flawed book and one that I simply cannot recommend that you read. Most of this book’s problems stem from Kaufman’s writing rather than the art, which is passable although far from exceptional. The writing in this graphic novel in terms of character, dialogue and plotting is an utter mess. The book begins with the titular character Angel, as she regains consciousness in a dumpster with no memory of who she is or where she came from. After some awkward panels wherein she searches the dumpsters for something to cover her bare chest, Angel is inevitably faced with some local thugs who have all the character of a cardboard box. In the following fight, after one gangster subtly makes his intentions clear by screaming, “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU,” we are introduced to “Five” or as he is referred to by Angel, “Connor.”

Connor is the aforementioned character created for Kaufman’s autistic son and is very much the driving force of this story. After saving Angel, it is Connor who decides where the pair goes and what they do for the vast majority of the story, as it is he who holds the key to unlocking Angel’s forgotten past. And so the rest of the book revolves around these two characters as they are hunted by the government officials that trained them. This is one of the least original concepts in modern fiction, however if written well these stories can still be compelling. Sadly this book features villains that are extremely one-note and almost completely undeveloped, and not even the frequent fight scenes are able to salvage any excitement from this flaming wreck.

This is because the character of Connor is an unstoppable machine. I understand that Kaufman wanted to create a strong autistic character, and I am completely on board with that idea. But Connor’s ability to stop any and all threats that he and Angel faces in the space of a few short panels just relieves this book of any tension whatsoever. It would have shown far more strength to see Connor faced with a challenge that he struggles with, but eventually is able to overcome than watching Connor and Angel repeatedly beat the living crap out of one group of generic bad guys after another.

Angel-Falling-9.26.14The scenes that connect these action sequences are no better as Kaufman’s writing turns nonsensical on more than one occasion. The most ludicrous scene comes about a third of the way through the book when Angel elbows Connor in the face, and as a result is immediately faced with a police officer whose gun is drawn and pointed in her direction. Was he just passing by at the time? Or does this local police department have the fastest response times in the world (less than a second)? At any rate, threatening to shoot someone for an apparently harmless elbow to the face seems a little extreme. Still, the madness continues as Angel goes on to fight the policeman which leads to his gun firing, and shooting a civilian bystander in the chest. As Connor protests about leaving the injured woman, Angel calmly reassures him that, “She’ll be alright. An ambulance will be here any minute.”

Perhaps I could buy that this woman would be “alright” had she been shot in the arm or leg. But aside from the head, the chest is probably one of the worst places to receive a bullet wound and the way the scene is illustrated seems to show that the gunshot hit exactly where the woman’s heart should be. I don’t think many could suspend their disbelief far enough to accept that a woman who had been shot in the heart would be alright so long as an ambulance got there in a few minutes time. And whilst we’re on the subject of ambulances – who called this one? Neither Angel nor Connor is seen dialling, the policeman was kicked in the face and knocked out after his fight with Angel and no other civilians can be seen in the surrounding area.

Put simply, this entire sequence makes no sense.

These weird inconsistencies happen throughout the graphic novel. For example, when Angel mentions to one of the book’s forgettable supporting characters that she has been researching Aspergers syndrome, when at no point in the book have we seen this actually happen. Angel has been far too busy beating the daylights out of anyone who looks at her the wrong way. All of this makes me wonder whether this book is based on a first draft of a script that was rushed together in the space of an hour or two.

And that brings us to the core problem of this story, which is it isn’t rooted by any likeable characters. Angel comes across as a sociopath, who I suppose is meant to be a “strong, female character,” but comes across completely the opposite. Sure she can hold her own in a fight, but in terms of a personality, Angel is less developed than Milla Jovovich’s character in the Resident Evil movies. Not to mention she has no initiative whatsoever, constantly asking Connor what to do and where to go. I understand that she has no memory, but that shouldn’t stop her from summoning at least one thought of her own throughout the duration of the book.

Connor comes closest to likeability because at least I can understand the thought process behind the character, and I know that he’s there for a reason. But as for the rest of the villains and supporting players, they may as well have been faceless shapes for all the character they showed.

I’ve been searching for something good to say about Angel Falling, as I don’t want to make this review entirely negative. It is good that Kaufman is trying to raise awareness for those on the autistic spectrum in the hope that they can live normal lives, and be accepted into society. That is a great aim to strive towards. Additionally, I did see other glimmers of hope in this book. At one point, Kaufman seemed to be portraying his views on war and collateral damage. First I thought the message was that violence should be stopped, but given the death toll that Angel and Connor rack up in the duration of this book that seems implausible.

At least the art isn’t so bad. Artist Kevin West is competent, and shows skill at drawing the human body and basic backgrounds. However even the art cannot be stated as a redeeming feature as while the people are anatomically correct, they aren’t drawn in any real detail and look rather basic really. Meanwhile the backgrounds West draws are often bland and uninteresting, failing to add anything fun to the mix. The last indie comic I reviewed, Beatrice is Dead, was experimental with its art to great success and I would have loved to see that same experimentation here. Instead we are given bland panels and page layouts that don’t bring anything new to the table.

In the end, while I appreciate what Jeffrey Kaufman was trying to do with Angel Falling, unfortunately I’d be lying if I said he was successful. While stories with autistic characters – or characters with any other disability for that matter – I feel are a great way to raise awareness, Angel Falling is not an example of a story done well.

Score: 1/5

Writer: Jeffrey Kaufman Artist: Kevin West Publisher: Zenescope Entertainment Price: $9.99 Release Date: 8/28/13