Well, this is the issue of Season 8 where Twilight's identity is finally revealed officially... so from now on, no need for spoiler protection. \o/
Also, apparently this issue is controversial in fandom for some reason. I can't imagine why. :-)
Anyway, the opening scene is Xander comforting Buffy after Willow's shocking revelation from the last issue. There'll be a twist on that later in this episode, but the basic fact still stands that around 40% of Buffy's Slayers are dead. (206 out of 500 or so.) Considering how much of herself Buffy has invested in her creation, it's no wonder she's hit so hard by it.
The idea that she would see herself as a vampire, draining power from others to live, makes perfect sense. Remember 'Nightmares' in Season 1? - this is, in fact, one of Buffy's own worst nightmares, turning into the thing she hates most.
There's a certain level of irony here once you know who and what Twilight is, and what he and Buffy do at the end of the issue...
I was actually quite surprised by the comparatively low number of Slayer deaths. Okay, two in five of Buffy's army (and one in ten of all the new Slayers in total) being dead is certainly a tragedy, but I'd thought from what we were shown that there'd only be the handful in Tibet left at all. Clearly not.
Also, just pause a moment to reflect on the fact that Buffy can say precisely how many have died. Not "a couple of hundred" but exactly 206. She knows. She's keeping track. (Although either Willow made a careful count of the massacre sites she discovered, or there's some sort of magical Slayer interconnection working there, or Buffy is only talking about known deaths.)
Nice Buffy-Xander friendship connection here, with him being his usual supportive self. I got a completely platonic vibe from the scene, just for the record.
A few minor points:
- Pirate's Booty is an American snackfood, kind of like cheesy wotsits. It's made with real cheese, unlike 99% of similar processed snack foods.
- Buffy sitting cross-legged in mid-air was a cute touch. She's still loving her new powers even though she's upset.
- Xander using a speech from a 'Superman' film in his peptalk was typical - and how many of us have likewise used lines from 'BtVS' in real life, eh?
- Also cute is that Xander obviously discussed how best to give Buffy this pep talk with Willow beforehand.
Meanwhile, back in "Villain HQ" Twilight is following the clichés by giving his villain's exposition, along with cheesy deaththreats. Or, given who Twilight actually is, they're probably less cheesy and more deadpan humour delivered with a totally straight face.
Kudos to Andrew for standing up to Twilight. He's obviously fed up with the classic joke of nobody ever remembering his name, and this time he gets kind of snippy about it.
Apparently Amy was using a magical glamour to disguise Twilight's voice. Now he's got rid of her (for reasons yet to be explained), the glamour has faded, Twilight's speech bubbles use a normal font, and Giles recognises his voice. Given how wide her eyes are, Faith possibly does too... or maybe not since she promptly attacks him. (Unless this is a Cordelia-style "If you ever turn evil I'll be the first to stake you" deal?)
Is Twilight's suggestion to Giles that getting rid of "your resident witch" is a good thing, setting up a Giles-vs-Willow confrontation later on?
Back to the Slayer Monastery (I assume they're still in the monastery from 'Retreat'?) and Warren and Amy have revealed how to reach Twilight's secret base. I'm still reserving judgement on whether they're genuinely angry at Twilight and trying to get back at him, or if this is all part of Twilight's secret master plan. (Or both.)
Regardless, Willow is being surprisingly civilised considering what happened last time she met Amy, confining herself to bitchy comments and snippy remarks. I smiled. Dawn gets her one scene of the issue, hanging a lantern on the weirdness of Warren and Amy cooperating with the Slayers and Willow; and this time Xander actually takes her seriously instead of dismissing her concerns.
Oh, and Buffy really can now feel a connection to all the other Slayers, and feels it when they get hurt. Satsu thinks this is weird, and my mind (possibly hers too) just wondered if this means that Buffy can now feel everything intensely physical that Satsu experiences, given that Satsu is also a Slayer. Hmm. Plotbunnies. ;-)
Nice dramatic scene cross-cutting between Twilight talking to Giles and Buffy getting ready to attack him, with Satsu giving her a countdown.
Oh, and there's something odd going on. Something Giles knows about, and has kept secret. Apparently it's a prophecy or something handed down from Watcher to Watcher, that someday his particular Slayer might turn out to "be the girl", and because Buffy has recently acquired superstrength, speed and the power of flight, she must be The One.
So what's it all about? Tune in next month to find out, I suppose. There's an interesting hint that Giles was trying to find something connected to the mystery, but for reasons unknown didn't tell anybody about it. Through fear? embarrassment? Who knows...? (Apart from Joss Whedon, Brad Meltzer, Scott Allie and Georges Jeanty, that is. They know.)
Twilight adds that Buffy is about to "face something she truly can't fight" and blames Giles for not preparing her. Is he talking about the sparkly glow of Bangelly smoochiness we get at the end of the issue, or something (even) more sinister coming later? Is he, in fact, hinting that he too has tried and failed to fight the same force that now fills him? Giles later on confirms that "regardless of what Buffy does there is no winning".
And then we get the issue's comic relief scene, as Andrew courageously tries to challenge Twilight while dressing up as every superhero he can think of (including Captain America, Batman, Luke Skywalker and a bunch more I don't recognise.) Where he got the costume, I really don't know; did Warren leave it lying around? Anyway, bonus point for heroism even if it's completely pathetic in outcome. Andrew is definitely someone who respects the narrative conventions.
And here comes Buffy. I was very impressed by the big double-page image of her crashing right through Twilight's base and carrying him with her; kudos to the artist.
Also, notice the first appearance of the notorious white glow surrounding the two of them as they fly through the air. For that matter, this is the first time Season 8 has referenced the *other* Twilight, the Stephenie Meyer one. As I understand it, Joss chose the name 'Twilight' for his villain long ago, independently of the books and before the film. However, here we see that Buffy herself is familiar with Meyer's books, and not particularly impressed with them. There's a nice bit of fourth-wall breaking as Buffy comments that in her opinion, Buffy/Angel was the original and far superior to the pale Bella/Edward imitation.
And here comes the big reveal... I can only imagine how shocking it would have been if we hadn't been spoiled on it. Oh look, it's Angel! GASP. Buffy is suitably horrified, stopping in mid-air and hiding her face in her hands.
In fact, all through this scene her reactions were, I felt, spot-on. After the shock comes the denial - "It's gotta be Angelus". (And Angel's "I'm me" denial of that was spot-on Angel-voice.) Then comes anger... I wasn't sure exactly what she was doing at first, but then it hit me - she's trying to stake Angel with a tree-trunk sized stake. No hesitation; he's apparently turned evil, so she tries to kill him, because that's what Buffy does.
Not to mention, she also makes a quip (albeit a bitter one) as she does, about Angel's best asset being that he "wasn't a talker". I especially liked this in light of my recent meta about foreshadowing; Twilight's first encounter with Buffy was when he "wanted to talk" but instead ended up in a fight with her instead; and their next encounter had Buffy saying that she and Angel were "never good at the talking part".
There was something rather poignant in Angel saying "that was the first blow I've felt in a long while." It does make me wonder if he's somehow trapped in this identity, even if he doesn't know or acknowledge it.
I did like the little interlude panels of Xander, Satsu and Willow. In this first one, Willow looks very nervous as she says "I think they're fighting." Is this just pure guesswork, or does she still have that mystical connection to Buffy that lets her pick up on some of her emotions?
Now we get the next reveal: Angel claims that he's not responsible for the deaths of all those Slayers. I'd actually been wondering that recently; we saw all the dead Slayer bodies, and everybody assumed it was Twilight who killed them (or ordered them killed), but there was in fact absolutely no evidence of that. The only time Twilight has been personally, directly involved in the deaths of Slayers was Warren's missile strike on Scotland and the attack on their base in Tibet... and in both those cases, he was more going along with other people rather than giving orders directly. Indeed, in Tibet he was probably responsible for the deaths of more of his "own" men than of the Slayers, which is the sort of twisted Machiavellian scheme a double agent might come up with.
So I'm not entirely surprised at the idea that Angel deliberately put himself at the head of the 'Twilight' cult in order to sabotage the anti-Slayer backlash. It's a clever idea, and just the kind of crazy scheme Angel comes up with. (See also: infiltrating the Black Thorn.) Does it absolve him of moral responsibility for the deaths his minions caused? No, not entirely, but given how many deaths Angel already has on his conscience, I can't see that stopping him.
More surprising is the idea that this was only temporary; that Angel was deliberately trying to manouevre Buffy into a situation where she would acquire the superpowers she currently has. Why Angel wants that, how he knew it was possible and how he worked out what would be involved are, of course, still a mystery to us. (Though not to Giles, it seems.)
Interesting point: Buffy keeps trying to punch Angel, he keeps dodging. He tells her it won't make her feel better if she manages to land a blow; she furiously says "It will." Next panel, she punches him back a hundred metres, snapping the trunks of a bunch of trees as she does. So, did Angel deliberately stop dodging for a moment, just to give Buffy the satisfaction of that one punch?
She's still intensely angry, but now a touch of the personal betrayal is creeping in. She's not just fighting the leader of her enemies now, she's feeling hurt (and even more angry) that Angel has been "hiding" from her - a curious term to use.
I'm not sure if the reference to Angel being incommunicado because "things got very funky" in LA is a reference to 'After The Fall', or just a generic "Hey, whatever the guys at IDW put him through, it can fit in here" gesture.
Last issue, there was much talk, from Willow especially, about 'the universe' giving Buffy her new power as a gift in return for her heroism. Now Angel is repeating the same line. Is that because it's true? Or because both he and Willow have fallen prey to the same deception? I suppose we'll find out.
The second Xander-Satsu-Willow panel is the same as the first, apart from the different speech bubble. It's cropped differently and the colouring is slightly different, but the ink seems identical.
The mysterious power that's possessed both Angel and Buffy, giving them identical superpowers, gets even more obvious. It's also, of course, playing to all the romantic clichés - they feel a connection, Buffy's body is 'singing' because of its closeness to her soulmate's. They're even sparkling in the sunlight, just like Meyer vampires. Angel completely believes in it. Buffy is still sceptical - and again her reactions are spot-on. "You don't know me like you used to", she tells Angel, not to mention "There is no 'us'". Angel tries to convince her otherwise.
So did Angel engineer the whole Season 8 plotline just so he could get Buffy's cookie dough to finish baking at last? ;-) I don't actually think so, but it's an amusing idea.
Interesting point; Angel says "flushed with this unholy power". 'Unholy', eh? Is that a Freudian slip of the tongue, showing that the sparkling love-glow isn't actually as romantic as he's making out?
So, that penultimate page with Angel's confession of love. Over the top? Pretty much. In-character? Yes, I thought so. Angel really did talk that way back on the early seasons of 'Buffy'. A dream come true for Buffy/Angel fans, or a cruel mockery of them? Answer unclear, except I doubt very much it was intended as cruel. I'm not sure Joss or any of the other writers on the show truly appreciate the depth and intensity of feeling that some of their fans pour into their identification with their chosen romantic pairing. Still, it's really too good to be true; too over-the-top.
So what's going on? It could be that the scene is being played totally straight, and the shiny energy has enabled Angel to speak the truth about his feelings for the first time in years. Or maybe it's regressed him back to age 243 again. Or it could be that he's possessed by an evil energy lifeform, which wants to mate with the other evil energy lifeform now possessing Buffy so their children can destroy the world. I'm sure we'll find out.
As for Buffy, I think it's equally likely that she's also possessed by the same evil sparkly twilight energy glow, or she's genuinely carried away by Angel's heartfelt declaration of love. The scene where they kiss (on the last page) reminded me of the last time they knowingly met each other, in 'Chosen', except that this time Buffy doesn't have to crane her neck back. Buffy tends to revert back to 17 every time she sees Angel...
"Angel's line about "I loved you the moment I saw you"... you know, I do honestly believe that Buffy is the only woman Angel has ever loved in the full romantic sense of the term. That's not crazy shipper-talk, it's just an observation of fact. Liam was a drunken wastrel and womaniser. Angelus had a twisted, selfish, soulless version of love for Darla, maybe, but he would have cheerfully backstabbed her, and vice-versa. Souled Angel brooded for a hundred years, lurking in sleazy hotel rooms and alleys and believing he was damned and unfit for human society... until he met Buffy, who accepted him and loved him despite everything.
As I've said before, the moment of 'perfect happiness' for Angel in 'Surprise' wasn't the sex, it was the acceptance and the redemption it symbolised.
After Buffy, to quote the man himself. "You've moved on. Congratulations. I can't." Yes, he had a close friendship with Cordelia, but it always hovered around the edge of the Friend Zone and never quite moved over into romantic love. (Partly because of Skip and Jasmine's interference, of course.) His relationship with Nina apparently didn't survive LA going to hell.
Oh, and you remember how at the end of 'Home' Angel gave up his son to a foster-family then rushed to be at Buffy's side, carrying an incredibly dangerous and powerful amulet that he was planning to wear even though he suspected it would kill him? Yeah.
Angel tells Buffy that "There's a reason we can't be happy with anyone else". I think Buffy's feelings for Angel are and always will remain complicated. Many people have commented how after him, Buffy was never again able to give herself completely over to a relationship, to open herself up, to trust someone else. She always held back, kept part of herself closed up inside. I'm not sure I'd interpret that as a sign that she and Angel were meant to be together forever, though... but it's entirely understandable that she might think so, at least a little. She still carries a torch for him even when it's clear (from her angry protests earlier in the issue) that she's moved on with her life.
So what will happen next month? I'm fairly certain this isn't going to end well, but this is a Joss Whedon story so what do you expect?
And the final panel. I didn't think Willow even knew that word. :-) (assuming that #, @ and % stand for u, c and k respectively...) Xander and Satsu are still drawn identically to the previous panel, but Willow's expression has changed; she's now frowning angrily. She's not happy about this development at all...
And neither are at least half the fans, or so I gather...