So that was it then? The massively controversial, tidal-wave-of-drama inducing, shark-jumping, oh no the world is ending and fandom is imploding issue of the comic?
Meh. Unless you're among those likely to burst into flame and turn to dust if exposed to Bangel sex, I can't really see what the fuss was about. We learned some new things, had a few more questions answered, had some left unanswered, and finished on a cliffhanger again. And, oh yeah, we appear to have a slight apocalypse...
...And things are looking bad because Buffy isn't around to stop it this time, seeing as how she's the one causing it. With a little help from her friend. Oops.
On a nerdy note, I wonder if the subtitle of this issue, which is written as "Them F#©%ing (Plus the True History of the Universe)" should have the second word pronounced as 'fucking' or 'eff-hash-copyright-percentaging'. What do you think?
The opening page shows us an odd pattern which looks rather like a Rorschach inkblot (although it's not one of the official ones). The point of the Rorschach test, of course, is to present people with a random image and see what they perceive it to be... this one could be a human face, or a distorted map of the world, or just about anything, really. I'm guessing it's here to show us that perception and reality are not the same; that depending on where you're standing or who you are, the same object can be perceived as something totally different. That, of course, is a theme that will carry right through this issue as we get the voice-over about how wonderful reunion sex is compared to the reality back at Twilight HQ. I assume the voice-over is Buffy, but that's for no other reason than because she's the main protagonist. It could equally be Angel talking.
When the preview pages came out, there was some debate on why the pool of blood behind Faith's head seems to vanish in the next panel. I think it's because in the first, we're looking almost directly down on her; in the second picture, the camera has dropped down to a much lower angle, and so her body is hiding the blood from us. The broken floortile behind her head shows at a different angle too. Incidentally, in my last review I missed something which came out in later discussions of the issue: Faith at this stage is still depowered, a normal human rather than a Slayer. That would explain why she was so badly injured by a blow that a Slayer would have shrugged off. To be honest, I half-suspected she might die here; in the end, that turned out not to happen.
This scene is staged as a series of disconnected incidents rather than a continuous timeflow; you can tell because of the way people are in radically different places in each panel - for example Willow and Dawn looking out the hole in the wall in one, then later Dawn is next to Xander and Willow is over by Giles. That keeps things moving along and lets us skip over all the inevitable-yet-boring exposition. Presumably, for example, Andrew would want to know why Warren and Amy are accompanying the good guys, but since we the readers already know that, we don't need to see the explanation again.
Warren is mad at Andrew for playing with 'his' Captain America shield, which is pretty much a throwback to their Season 6 Nerd Trio interaction, with the interesting exception that Andrew now stands up to Warren instead of backing down. There is one interesting point: either they discussed making the shield three years ago when they were still allies, or Andrew knew what Warren was up to more recently - which would make him the mole. Oh, and for the record Joe Simon is the comic book writer who created the character of Captain America back in 1940. He's still alive, 96 years old.
I laughed out loud at Dawn capping Willow and Xander's astounded "Twilight is Angel?" exclamations by muttering to herself "Ben is Glory?" Nice call-back. Strictly speaking, of course, Dawn wasn't there to witness that scene originally - she'd already been kidnapped by Glory - but I bet Spike would take great pleasure afterwards in telling her all about what idiots the rest of her friends were. And apparently Amy didn't now Twilight was Angel either, and is pretending to understand what's going on so as not to be left out - or is she mocking the others?
I interpret the byplay between Willow and Giles here as being: he knows about the ancient mystical prophecy of doom; she doesn't, but she can sense that powerful magics are at work here. Oh sorry, magicks with a 'k'. I thought it was very in-character for Xander to be all emotional and impulsive and want to rush to help Buffy - since he still assumes they're fighting at this point - and to say "screw magic" and then immediately tell Willow to "do a spell"... Make your mind up, Xan. :-)
Buffy in Willow's magical glowy vision spell looks young, and she and Angel are both fully dressed; I'm not sure if this is showing them as they were at that moment, or a flashback to when they first fell in love back in Season 1.
Now we get the first of around four interludes of Buffy and Angel having sex - or foreplay, rather, in this case - interspersed through this issue. I can see what Georges Jeanty meant in his jokey comment about drawing "body parts" for this issue: to get round the whole censorship problem, the scene contains lots of close-ups of the bits of their bodies you're allowed to depict in US mainstream comics. :-) While it's very obvious what's going on in the pictures, nothing we're actually shown (as opposed to being allowed to assume what's going on just out-of-shot) is any more explicit than the various sex scenes on the TV show.
There's not a lot to say about the first scene in relation to the plot. We can speculate on why they talked about Angel's coat: did he think she'd want him to wear it, as a kink thing? Did she tell him to get rid of it because it reminded her of another vampire with a long black swirly coat? Also, for the record: yes, the two of them are still surrounded by a faint white glow; and neither appear to be under any form of external control.
We go back to Twilight HQ, and a kind of shimmery quivering energy passes through them making everybody there - Giles, Faith, Andrew, Satsu and Dawn, specifically - seem to vibrate. It's pretty clearly implied that it's Buffy and Angel's foreplay that did that to them. And the energy instantly heals Faith, and gives her back her Slayer strength. Not to mention her bolshieness - she immediately confronts Giles on what he knows and why he was keeping quiet about it. In the next panel, Faith looks furious, Xander and Dawn pissed off, and Willow upset that Giles has been keeping secrets from them.
And so Giles begins to talk - with a nice ominous introduction that the last time this started to happen, 30 Watchers killed themselves from fear. Apparently they all drank poison while sitting around the council table in their HQ, which looks like a European stately home; I don't know enough about architecture in the 1680s to say if it's authentically contemporary.
I smiled at Dawn correcting Xander's "centaurs" to "centaurettes". Considering that a few issues ago she was correcting Buffy's "horse" to "centaur", I suspect she's just being contrary for the fun of it now.
Back to Buffy and Angel bonking. Now they're discovering that being able to levitate makes oral sex much more fun. (Willow and Tara could already tell them that, I'm sure.) As Buffy reaches orgasm, we cut back to the HQ to see another of those quivery energy waves surrounding the people there.
That's a damned impressive 'radar set' Satsu is holding if it can pick up TV-style pictures of Buffy and Angel... Still, her angry reaction and stalking off in disgust when she sees with her own eyes what her old flame is currently up to was a moving character moment. I also thought it was interesting that she picked Dawn to be "in charge" when she couldn't stand it any longer. does Satsu know Dawn well? They are, presumably, the same age, but we've never seen them interact much on the page. Was it just because Dawn was closest? (And given that Satsu is Buffy's second-in-command and Buffy is out of action, does that mean that Satsu just put Dawn in charge of what's left of the entire Slayer Army? :-))
I wonder what it is about the Bangel sex that's "ruining everything" for Andrew? Could it be because he's a Spuffy shipper, as he told us back in 'Predators and Prey', and this is a gentle in-joke pointed at the fans? :-)
More Giles exposition. I like Xander getting impatient with him. so let's see what he says.
First we get a spiel about ecosystems, and how the number of predators and prey (there's that term again) has to stay in balance or disaster would result. The picture to illustrate this is a mosquito - an evil bloodsucking insect - being eaten by a vampire bat. That's quite disturbing, since it seems to put predator and prey at the same level; both of them are bloodsuckers. Are we meant to apply the same analogy to Slayers and vampires? Or humans and demons? That they're as bad as each other?
Giles now sums up the history of the Slayer line. On a selfish note, there was nothing here to Joss out of existence what I've written or sketched out for 'Hiywan's Story', as I'd half-feared there would be. :-) We see the First Slayer killing a vampire, then a 17th century Slayer fighting a vampire and being killed by him, fading to an 18th century Slayer being killed by another vampire in an identical pose, then a 1920s Slayer being called as a result. Note that the newly-called Slayer is surrounded by a familiar-looking white glow?
Both Willow and Xander now point out what, to be honest, has always been the big flaw in the whole Slayer mythology all along. What use is one solitary Slayer against a whole world full of vampires? The old assumption was that the Watchers' Council wanted it that way so they could keep the Slayer under their thumb. Giles, however, is now saying that "the universe" wants it that way. Vampires were created, and soon afterwards the first Slayer was created to be a predator upon them... but if the Slayer ever came close to wiping out all vampires forever it would (apparently) cause ecological catastrophe.
I think it's a slightly silly idea, myself, but okay, let's go with it and see where it takes us. I do notice that Giles is talking about "the universe " as if it's a conscious self-willed entity, which is also shifting the Buffyverse in a rather more theistic direction than it ever used to be, for all the talk of 'mystical forces' and 'powers'.
Meanwhile, volcanoes are erupting - no, honestly - the oceans are churning, and we're given visual proof that the "cataclysmic mythical event' that re-empowered Willow a few days earlier is linked to all this.
We now have a voice-over from Giles telling us that, as far as he's concerned, Buffy and Angel may well feel genuine love and affection for each other and be having a loving reunion after years apart, but yes, they're also "experiencing the pull of something far more ancient" which is driving their actions. So that answers that question from last month.
This is accompanied by a rather more sinister set of images. We see another sequence similar to the previous page, where a Slayer - an Indian one this time - attacks a vampire apparently successfully, but the vampire overpowers her and is about to bite her. And then we cut to Buffy and Angel still having sex - and they're standing in an identical position to the Slayer and vampire in the previous panel: Angel behind Buffy and pressing his mouth to her neck. That's kind of ominous...
At this point, our two young lovers burst a mountain apart with the heat of their passion - accompanied by a tornado, an earthquake, the sea boiling and for some reason, a tiger. Dawn's comment (and expression of disgust) is, as usual, very funny. We also see two hippopotami fighting followed by, once again, Buffy and Angel in an identical pose. They're really trying to tell us something here, aren't they? Buffy's expression is wild, and hungry, and pretty scary.
More exposition... and now we learn that the superpowers Buffy recently acquired are not an end in themselves. No. She - or rather, the entire world - is going to need them for protection once "the Earth gives birth to a new reality".
Which is actually kind of genuinely scary. Especially if it implies that only people with Superman-level powers will be able to survive in this new reality... have "the power to survive the Twilight." So Twilight isn't just Angel's secret identity... and cue "Oh of course, why didn't I think of that earlier!" moment - we're talking here about the Götterdammerung. Ragnarokr. The Twilight of the Gods. You know, the Apocalypse with a capital 'A'.
And Angel is playing a key role in it, just like the Shanshu prophecy said he would... :-)
Just as an interlude, here's something Buffy said way back in issue 8.11, written by Joss:
"Saving the world means keeping the status quo. But apocalypses come because the world is trying to change. It has to. That either means chaos, and the morons chaos inevitably employs... or it means moving forward. To something better. And I did that. Yay me."
So if I've got this right: the universe wants to change, to move forward to a new plane of existence. Normal humans won't be able to survive that, but the new generation of superhumans will. When she created the Slayers, Buffy unknowingly allowed the change to begin happening... and the universe 'rewarded' her for that by making her the protector of the new world, or possibly the first of its Gods.
I have to applaud Joss for one thing; he's finely nuanced the issue of making the Slayer empowerment spell still a good thing, even though it's obviously led to dangerous consequences on a mystical level as well as a merely human one. And General Voll's comments about "upsetting the balance" and "creating a new master race" from back in 8.04 look even more significant now as well.
I'm curious to know what happened back in the 1680s. Presumably an earlier Slayer seemed to be on the brink of passing to the next stage of existence. Did she try to empower more Slayers? Was there simply more than one Slayer at once, which caused an instability in the Slayer line? I suspect we'll have to make up our own fill-in fic about that.
So that's Giles' story. Willow works out herself what Angel's role in this is - as the first vampire to be in love with a Slayer, he's the penultimate of the vampire breeding programme just as Buffy is of the Slayer one (to get all Doc Smith about it.) The universe wants him and Buffy to get together - both of them humans empowered by vampires - to be "the first of a new kind". At which point, to quote Giles, "We humans won't matter at all."
Interesting that Willow is still considering herself to be among the humans, for all her power. She also realises that Buffy should be killing Angel right about now, if she wants to save the human race, but she can't because "the world" is urging her on. She's naturally horrified by the realisation.
Meanwhile we get yet another flashback to a Slayer attacking a vampire, but ending up dead at his hands in the next panel; and the Buffy/Angel sexfest goes into orbit, literally. Amy does something useful for once by working out that they're also now time-travelling, and we get a sequence of panels showing that. The panel of Buffy and Spike fighting side-by-side against a huge demon - in mirror-image poses - is labelled "Soon", which has interesting implications. (Oh, and Willow says that Buffy's "truest loves", plural, are vampires, along with a picture of both Angel and Spike.)
Three days ago Willow is re-empowered, just as Faith was re-empowered by her proximity to the Mystical Destiny Sex. And in the 23rd Century, something scary just happened to Melaka Fray. She's holding her Scythe, which was broken in the last issue of 'Time Of Your Life' - so either the MDS just repaired the Scythe, or this scene is set before 'Time Of Your Life'. I suspect the former, since Angel and Buffy are apparently re-empowering everybody who's ever lost her power during this season.
And what was Giles searching for, in Germany and England? A totem powerful enough to kill a god, to stop Twilight from arriving. Just in case. Presumably, he's talking about having to kill Buffy if she ever showed signed of turning into a god... but now it's too late. That does explain a lot about his actions, and his secretiveness and estrangement from Buffy, if he had that on his conscience.
When Giles says "I needed to know how to kill a god" we're shown an image of the Scythe. Very interesting. I do wonder if the Scythe is actually the totem he was looking for, or if we're being shown it to tell us that the Scythe is *also* powerful enough to kill a God, even if Giles's mysterious totem can't be found. But where exactly is the Scythe? We haven't seen it for a very long time - not since issue 8.20, in fact. Has someone stolen it? Has *Giles* stolen it, and used some sort of spell to make Buffy not notice it's gone? It's a puzzle.
Remember, incidentally, that we learned in 'End Of Days' that the Scythe was first used to kill the last True Demon to walk the Earth, on the site of what would become the Sunnydale Hellmouth. (And in my private fanon it was the First Slayer who was wielding it, and that's where she died, and it's why her spirit was still hanging around the Hellmouth thousands of years later.)
Well, when we say "last true demon to walk the Earth", that should probably be "until now". Because it looks like the portals are opening and all the demons banished from Earth back at the dawn of humanity are on their way back again.
And where are Buffy and Angel? Apparently in a place called Twilight, which seems to be a parallel dimension. Angel thought it was a myth, but when he and Buffy "pierced the final wall" (which may or may not be a sexual innuendo) they found themselves there. Angel looks scarily cheerful... actually, Angel always looks scary when he's smiling. Buffy's bewildered. They appear to be dressed as Greek gods, or like the Oracles in 'Angel' Season 1.
So what happens next? Are Angel and Buffy the new Adam and Eve, in their Garden of Eden, ready to begin work on breeding a new race of superhumans while demons wipe out the old, outmoded humanity? I suppose we'll have to wait until next month to find out...
A final word. Does this issue contain a certain degree of silliness? Well, does it have two characters having sparkly sex in outer space? Why yes, yes it does. I think it's safe to say it's being silly, and we can expect a Brigadier to come along any moment and tell us to stop it. But here's the thing. Did Season 1 of 'Buffy' have a schoolteacher who turned into a giant preying mantis which tried to bite off Xander's head? Did it have a wooden ventriloquist's dummy inhabited by the spirit of a century-old demon hunter? The scale and the budget might be different, but I think we can agree that 'Buffy' has always had a certain amount of crack in it. The thing is - and this is as true now in Season 8 as it was back then - the characters deal with the bizarre happenings around them pretty much the way you'd expect normal people to do so.
The moment that sums up 'Buffy' for me is in Season 4, when Buffy and Willow are walking home and talking, and Buffy stakes a vampire who jumps out at them in mid-stride - then, without a pause in the conversation, asks Willow where she thinks she gets her violent streak from. It's the mixture of mundanity and wild crazy supernatural stuff that's BtVS's signature for me, and that's what I saw here. The cuts between the two scenes, the ironic nature of the dialogue, the disturbing parallels between the flashbacks and the present day... they're all trademarks of my show.