The first issue of the new 'Buffy' arc 'Welcome to the Team' was one I enjoyed, because it was good to see Buffy back to something like her old self again, after her absence in the last couple of issues. There were some nice bits of continuity, and while the ending twist has been spoiled already, it was still effective. So all in all, I thought it was a good recovery after the slow patch of the 'Billy' arc.
We start with a scene of a group of zompires attacking a victim on the streets of San Francisco. Specifically they're on Lombard Street, which is a well-known landmark - paved with red cobbles, extremely steep and winding in hairpins up a hillside. One of the zompires, a female one with long black hair, an orange top and bangles, is trying to turn the man, which is not something we've seen depicted before. Zompires clearly have a reproductive instinct even if they're otherwise mindless.
Buffy intervenes, and we immediately learn that she's after this zompire in particular - apparently she's been on a "siring spree". After kicking her aside - so hard she breaks the cobbles - she goes to pull the other two zompires off the victim. But the female one grabs her ankle from behind and trips her. A nasty moment is saved when Billy and Dowling appear through the dust of the two zompires they just staked, in the classic 'Faith saving Buffy at the end of Consequences' pose. They apologise for being late, then efficiently get to work looking after the victim and calling paramedics.
Buffy goes to fight the female zompire, but it grabs her wrist so hard she drops her stake, then flings her to the ground. At this point the sun starts to rise, so it runs away rather than continue the fight. Buffy lets it go rather than pursue, saying she'll come back tomorrow night.
When I saw this scene in the preview I was concerned that Buffy was weakened in some way; it's unusual for one vampire to give her so much trouble. With the additional context, however, it's clear that this really is an unusual zompire, one Buffy has been chasing for some time. It has exceptional fighting skills, rather than Buffy's own skills being sub par; and Buffy mentions as well that it's stronger than normal. I've seen a suggestion that the zompire is a former Slayer who's been turned, and this accounts for its skills and abilities; I don't know if this is just someone's speculation or something that's been spoiled, but it does seem like a likely explanation.
Later on Buffy will also realise that she knew the zompire before she was turned, which adds weight to the theory. I did look back to see if saw any Slayers wearing that particular outfit previously, but I didn't notice any. (Although long black hair, a love of the colour orange, and many bangles actually is a characteristic of Willow's temporary girlfriend Aura, which would be an unusual twist. The zompire doesn't have Aura's skin colour, however - though that may be a side-effect of vampification.)
I laughed out loud at Dowling's concerned comment that Buffy was holding her injured arm "like someone just tore it off", and Buffy's reply. And as Dowling and Billy talk about doing research, Buffy thinks that we're "officially a team".
Speaking of continuity, we learn that Bully is currently crashing on Buffy's floor - and that she's back in the apartment with Anaheed and Tumble. So where's Billy's boyfriend Devon? Surely not also crashing on Buffy's floor.
And now - oh wow, who are these two mysterious strangers? Dawn is throwing up in the bathroom and Xander is concerned about her. Here's another amusing continuity nod, when his first question is, paraphrased, "You're not pregnant, are you?" and the immediate follow up when Dawn says no is "And you're not a robot?" It's quite a sweet moment, if also gross because of the vomit, when Dawn is really touched by how much Xander cares about her.
Now we see yet another person who's been out of the comic for a while, Anaheed. She's rummaging around in Buffy's stuff, and covers for it when Buffy catches her by saying she's looking for a particular item of clothing she wants to borrow. While Buffy definitely has a sardonic look on her face, she doesn't seem particularly outraged, which is a little surprising; nor does she question Anaheed's rather stumbling explanation. So what was she really looking for, I wonder? Is it sinister?
Buffy then pays the rent, much to Anaheed's shock - this is, as we get confirmed later, from the money for the job she did with Kennedy in the 'Guarded' arc. Anaheed has recorded the previous evening's episode of 'The Bachelor' and offers to make Buffy some tea while they watch it; Buffy seems delighted at the prospect. It is interesting, as I remarked in my last review, that she's constructing a new circle of friends around her as the old high school one drifts away. It's very realistic for someone in their mid-20s, even if we all hope that Willow, Spike, Xander and Dawn won't really drift apart forever, since we're fans of them as well.
I liked Billy's comment that he needs to "hit the book", since they've only got the one book for Scooby-style research now.
I assume it's the next evening when Buffy goes to visit Dawn, having heard she was sick. There's a very significant moment when Buffy says she's brought various snacks, and Dawn reminds her that she's violently allergic to peanut butter. Buffy's reply is a confused, "Really? Since when?"; and then when Dawn runs to the bathroom and Xander come in, Buffy facepalms then looks really miserable.
This definitely adds weight to the theory that the monk-manufactured memories of Dawn all vanished when the Seed broke. Not Dawn's own memory, because that's an integral part of her and supernatural creatures retain their own abilities; but everybody else's memories. They'll still remember the last six years; but everything they learned about her prior to Season 5 will be a blank - and presumably, Buffy's knowledge that Dawn is allergic to peanut butter was one of the facts that vanished.
Or alternatively, maybe Dawn's flu is some kind of supernatural infestation after all, and it's another plot element entirely. Or maybe it really is just the flu.
I liked Xander being jealous of Buffy going into space - who wouldn't be? - and jealous of her being a robot, which is a more Xanderish thing to wish for. I was a little confused by the mention of Buffy's scar from "a mystical blade" that her Slayer healing powers were finding it difficult to cope with; then I remembered that it's where Koh cut her in the finale of the 'Guarded' arc. I wonder if it will be permanent?
I got a feeling of déjà vu in the next scene until I remembered we saw it in Willow:Wonderland part 2 as well, except from Willow's point of view. That's a neat way of connecting the two arcs. However, I did notice one subtle change. What Willow saw is Buffy rejecting the idea of a relationship with Dowling, because he's not her type. What she missed was the follow-up where Dawn mentions that Buffy is actually returning his texts, and the two of them encouraging her to date him because they both like him, and he seems to be making her happy. Buffy seems receptive to the message, too. So when Willow returns, it's quite possible she'll be blindsided by whatever's going on in Buffy's romantic life, with potential plot complications.
Sure enough, we next get a scene where Buffy joins Dowling on patrol and the two of them are basically flirting madly. It was kind of amusing, especially Buffy's reply to the offer of breakfast. I'm not entirely sure if this was an ironic, "We'll be spending all night patrolling together, so when it's over it will actually be breakfast time for real" comment, or the sexual invitation it would more commonly be. I suppose we'll find out in later issues.
Of course, Buffy is flirting with the idea of a relationship with Dowling right at the moment that Spike, off on his travels, has realised that he values the reality of his love for Buffy - despite her capacity for making him miserable as well - above any number of temptations of the flesh. So this is setting things up for a big angsty scene in the final arc - unless it's instead meant to be Spike's motivation for finding someone new he can love as much as he loved Buffy, if that's even possible.
Maybe Illyria? :)
Billy shows up, having done the research and come up with something new - a rope soaked in holy water for capturing the peculiar female zompire, so they can study her. If Buffy's characterisation is going to be the guy ho thinks up this sort of stuff, I an get behind it; it gives him more depth than he's been given so far.
Final act: big fight scene in a zompire nest. They definitely seem to be running with the idea that zompires, for all their strength and ferocity, really aren't anything like as dangerous as normal vampires if Buffy is confident leaving two barely-trained normals to fight them while she goes after the main target.
This time Buffy overpowers the female zompire, but it's at this moment she looks into its eyes and believes she recognises it from before. Her shock gives the zompire the opening to escape again.
At this moment Buffy vanishes into thin air (!) - and the female zompire leaps on Dowling and starts biting his neck. Uh-oh. Cliffhanger.
In her miniseries we heard Willow saying "What the Hello Kitty?" and here we hear Buffy saying "What the Hell Dimension?" I hope this becomes a running joke. :)
Buffy is suddenly in Los Angeles - or Vahla Ha'nesh as it used to be called, which is the first clue who teleported her there, if you remember 'Angel' Season 5. That was the name of Illyria's kingdom back when the Old Ones ruled the Earth.
Sure enough, it's Illyria who teleported Buffy to her. What's interesting is I don't think Buffy recognises her - they never actually met on the TV show, and by the time Illyria appeared Buffy wasn't returning Angel's calls. Spike's the only one from Buffy's current circle who has met her, and he's not around right now. (Though Willow quite possibly knows *of* Illyria from her magical research, given that she's heard of the Deeper Well.)
Illyria claims to represent something called the Council, which is very concerned about the end of magic. They intend for Buffy to join them - "or perish". Of course, we're not yet given any clues as to their motives or intentions, or whether they're good or evil. So, another cliffhanger.
I have to say I'm not entirely sure whether the writer has Illyria's voice down right: the arrogance is there (although since when would Illyria admit to working for someone else?), but on the TV show Illyria's dialogue also had a kind of poetry to it that isn't really showing through. Still, it's early days.
Apparently the Illyria arc was one of Joss's very own ideas for Season 9, rather than something one of the other writers came up with; so it'll be interesting to see where this goes. Of course, the 'Team' that someone is being welcomed into, as per the title, is likely to refer to Buffy and this Council as well as Dowling and Billy.