At the cusp of the 20th century, Angel works as a janitor in a New York mental institution, which houses a familiar, hidden patient. I get the impression that the folk at IDW asked John Byrne to come up with something Angel-related for Halloween. Although Halloween is a day of supernatural rest in the Joss Whedon universe, Angel lends himself to the holiday.
I don’t believe this conception compelled Byrne to write and illustrate. Rather, he just thought a bit, and his ponderings quickly drew him to a rematch between Angel and Frankenstein. Technically speaking this is their first encounter. The Frankenstein monster met the evil Angelus in the first Angel vs. Frankenstein. That’s not quite the same thing as encountering Angel.
I imagine the novelty and the homage to Universal monster films appealed to Byrne. So he started to turn toward the mechanics of the story. He wondered when he should set the story. The modern day was right out since that would immediately bring up Slayer questions. So, perhaps, he should make it a period setting but a little closer to modern times.
With the setting in mind, he searched for a horror setting that hasn’t been used too often. Mental institution sprang to mind. The story began forming in Mr. Byrne’s mind, but how to put the Monster in the mental institution? Byrne resurrected an old tiny plot twist he used in an issue of Fantastic Four. In that story, Dr. Strange fells Galactus by haunting him with the ghosts of the devoured. Byrne however doesn’t like to repeat himself. So he spiced up the old twist with a fundamental theme in Joss Whedon’s work.
Byrne dressed the stage and introduced his cast. Let the actors interact and the story will evolve with little effort. Byrne’s tale, however, features a fistful of true masterstrokes that raises what could be a merely good solid rematch to an outstanding comic book.
The Frankenstein Monster’s abduction of Moira, the nurse taking a shine to Angel, reflects the monster’s abduction of his creator’s bride in the Shelly original. Slick foreshadowing foretells the fate of the monster and sparkling vampires must annoy Byrne as much as they sicken me. Burning vampires play a surprising role in the denouement.
By now, everybody should know that John Byrne is a superb artist and he’s certainly up to snuff in this issue. His replication of David Boreanaz’ likeness is occasionally hit and miss, but for the most part, you know who this is. Byrne’s direction of drama has only improved over the years. For example, his use of an electric chair and the blasé attitude of the doctors reveals the sad state of early psychiatric treatment. His illustration of an unexpected beast forges Byrnerobotics into steampunk vision.
Ronda Pattison’s colors create the feeling of a sepia world lit by the onset of electricity. When Angel ignites, as all vampires should when exposed to sunshine, his blazing body contrasts the brownish, yellow atmosphere and emphasizes something fantastic in the ordinary world.
Angel vs. Frankenstein #2 is actually superior than Byrne’s first one-shot. Whereas previously, Angelus and Frankenstein were simply distillations of evil, Angel and Frankenstein are the opposite faces of the coin. This change makes it easy to root for the vampire with a soul.