Writer: Peter David
Artist: J.K. Woodward
Publisher: IDW Publishing

The Story Thus Far:
“Welcome to the enigmatic city of Bete Noire. In its shadow resides the Fallen Angel, whose origin has long been a mystery… until now. Much time has passed since we last saw her, and now, dreams of er long-suppressed past are surfacing and making her life even more torturous than it already is. Dreams that anticipate the return of someone from her past who may hold the key to her fortune…”

So begins Peter David’s reintroduction of the character Fallen Angel. Much time has indeed passed—twenty years in Fallen Angel’s world and a switch of publishing companies for the comic book itself. The first incarnation of the Fallen Angel series was published (and cancelled) by DC Comics. The series, after a hiatus, has been picked up by IDW Publishing. Odd as this may sound, cancellation may have been the best thing to happen to the book.

Fallen Angel takes place in Bete Noire–“the city that shapes the world”–or as Peter David described it, “Casablanca in ‘The Twilight Zone.’” The name translates into “black beast” and like everything else about the comic book, the city works on a physical as well as metaphysical level. “Think of the world as a vast pond, and Bete Noire as a source of pebbles thrown into that pond. Pebbles causing ripples that affect all they touch.” This city is the anti-Eden.

Enter Fallen Angel.

Fallen Angel (Lee, as she is called by the few people who know her) is a school teacher by day and a guardian angel by night. Peter David loves the idea of angels. He toyed with them in his run on Supergirl and Fallen Angel, while at DC, and always operated under this vague cloud of ambiguity that Lee/Fallen Angel was, in fact, the Linda Danvers character from his run on Supergirl. Lee/Fallen Angel helps those who seek her out, though only as much as she judges they deserve her help. She’s a regular at the local watering hole, Furor’s, run by her only true friend, Dolf. Bete Noire is chock full of eccentric characters, chief among them being Dr. Juris, Bete Noire’s magistrate and some time love interest for Lee.

Again, cancellation maybe the best thing to happen to this book. Besides shedding the Linda Danvers baggage, Peter David seems to have stripped down the story, cutting right to the heart of the mystery as if fearing the story won’t be told before it gets cancelled again. People have often complained about his style of often breaking the mood of a moment with inappropriate puns or one-liners (a charge that could equally be levied at Joss Whedon), when those very things define a David (or Whedon) work—however, frustrating it can be. Cancellation also gave the book the opportunity to pick up JK Woodward as it’s artist, whose gorgeous painting perfectly captures the moodiness of the character and the story.

Lee/Fallen Angel is a sometimes charming, sometimes dark, not always likeable, always enigmatic… I don’t know if heroine is the right word to describe her, but she certainly is on a hero’s journey of sorts. While the comic book teased us as being little more than a quirky super hero book in its previous incarnation, this second go around fleshes out our Fallen Angel’s tortured character and painful past. The comic book is rife with symbolism: even her costume is more Judeo-Christian vestments than anything typical of the spandex set. As with everything else about Bete Noire, appearances can be deceiving as the truth usually lies somewhere beneath the surface. Everyone is more than they seem. Fallen Angel’s story itself is both mystery and metaphor.

The phrase “fallen angel” alludes to Lucifer and the angels who rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven. Yet it also speaks to her dual nature: fallen, though still trying to do the right thing. Lee searches for redemption, all the while not thinking about what to do with it should she find it. As a fallen guardian angel, she can’t help but do what she was created to be and do. She lives her life, an echo, a shadow of her true self. This is the same place we all find ourselves in as we seek to navigate through this world. The thing is, our fallen-ness doesn’t land us past the point of redemption, despite how we think it might. It reminds me of what Michael Yaconelli wrote in his book, Messy Spirituality, about the woman at the well:

All of the cards are stacked against the woman at the well. Looking at her long string of bad choices, many would consider her unredeemable, unsalvageable, unteachable, and beyond help. She hasn’t just made a few mistakes; she has lived a lifetime of mistakes, enough to cause most to conclude her life is scarred beyond hope. She comes to the well at the middle of the day because respectable women come in the morning and she understands that she is no respectable woman.

But Jesus respects her. Jesus doesn’t see what everyone else sees.

As far as Jesus is concerned, this woman is salvageable, teachable and redeemable. As far as Jesus is concerned, the woman with no future has a future; the woman with a string of failures is about to have the string broken. Jesus sees her present desire, which makes her past irrelevant.

You don’t suppose, do you, the same could be true for you and me? Our mistakes, our strings of failures, and what everyone else labels unredeemable may actually be redeemable? You don’t suppose the mess we’ve made of our lives can be the place where we meet Jesus? Do you?

Like the woman at the well and like Lee, we also have to learn that it’s not the stumbling that marks our walks. It’s not the bruises and scars that we collect along our spiritual journey, or any part of our life really. It’s the getting back up and continuing the walk of redemption. The walk may not always look pretty and we’re not always going to know the right thing to do. It can often be quite messy, but it is as valid a walk as any other. No matter what we can do, no matter what we say, we can’t fall far enough to separate us from grace, love and most importantly, redemption of God. Not our past, not our sins, not the secrets we keep from others, not our true selves we hide for fear of rejection. Jesus’ message was simple and direct to the adulterous woman. “Go and sin no more.”

It’s never too late to turn your life around.

Having been a long-time fan of Peter David, from his twelve year run on The Incredible Hulk to his version of Aquaman, I find that Fallen Angel continues the kind of engaging, morally ambiguous character exploration stories that have made David popular. I can’t wait to continue to follow her journey.

[For matters of complete disclosure: my story “In the Shadows of Meido” appears as a supplement in issue #1.]