I've read it through once on the bus home, and then read all four comics back to back a second time. I'm still buzzed; I think it rated an Excellent. It tied up the initial arc, introduced the main season plot, and still left us with some big mysteries to mull over. Plus gave us a Buffy moment to rank alongside "I'm pretty clear I said 'no interruptions'" and "I'm standing on the mouth of Hell..."
So, onto the detailed review.
Buckets of virtual ink have already been spilled over the whole Warren retcon, so I won't go into it in a big way again. Yes, I'm perfectly aware it's a retcon; no, I don't have a big problem with believing it could have happened anyway; and no, I don't think it gives Willow a Get Out Of Being Evil Free card just because the man she [thought she'd] tortured to death is actually shambling around as a skinless monster. Nuff said.
Well, except that "Are you bored NOW?" is a classic line. And that Warren's speech patterns are awfully jerky and semi-incoherent, as he jumps about from thought to thought almost at random. He wasn't particularly like that on the show, except perhaps during his final being-tortured-to-death scene. I assume it's meant to show that he's pretty much insane now - although it's also possible that Amy's spells are keeping him in stasis at the point where he died, and that includes his mental processes. Which is a pretty horrible thought, if you think about it...
Nice to see that Dawn still trusts Buffy when the chips are down, however much they're currently estranged. And yes, I do sympathise with Buffy feeling hurt over being told how Dawn sees Willow. :) Also, really liked the drawing of Buffy at the bottom of that page - not all the artwork of her is good by a long shot, but here she looks both beautiful and dangerous and stylishly dressed. :)
I wonder how Team Slayer recruited its witches? I assume they're not Slayers (although they could be - that would be a scary combination) so I'm guessing they came through the links to the Coven Giles and Willow dealt with, or are actually members of it.
OK. Images of people's eyes being held open by hooks to symbolise torture are a bit cliched, but still... yuk. And the next panel of Warren actually stabbing Willow there is even more yuk - although in a way I like the fact that they're being realistic about the sort of thing Warren would do, instead of showing fake TV-torture. Also, the idea of magical bonds that siphon off the captive's own power to make them stronger the more powerful the prisoner is, is a cool one that might well get stolen. :)
The next page with the five horizontal panels confused me at first - I thought the Slayers were watching some sort of TV programme with the five mystical figures, until I realised what was happening. I'll come back to them in a moment.
So, the big reveal of the episode is that Satsu's in love with Buffy! :) Or so I assume. I'm also guessing that Buffy is completely unaware of this fact, although dedicated femslashers could probably advance arguments to the contrary. (Basically, that when Buffy told Satsu to "see me after" in issue 2, it was for hot sex rather than discussing haircare tips). Also, it's interesting that the other Slayers have noticed Buffy's attention to Satsu's hair, enough to wind her up about it. The scene where Satsu was preparing was kind of fascinating too: there was some friendly banter between her and Leah, but there seemed an undertone of awkwardness too; and Rowena looked really upset (and possibly jealous) that she hadn't been chosen for the mission. The panel where Satsu's eyes are reflected back in the blade of her katana was pretty powerful - and on a different note, I just loved that Buffy's main concern just before this huge fight against unknown odds was to borrow some lip gloss. For all the comment about her wearing ugly combat boots and kevlar body armour these days, she's still the same old Buffy underneath. :)
Now for Willow's mystical allies. This is fascinating, and something I'm eager to learn more about. I assume she encountered them during her year away from the others - and it's interesting to meet powerful entities who are apparently on the side of good; not just in an abstract and morally dubious Powers-That-Be sense, but beings who show actual compassion and caring. My guess is that they're either linked to the Coven and white magic, or that they're somehow linked to the Guardians we encountered at the end of season 7.
As for individual identities, we have a tree, a hairy werewolf-like creature, a water elemental (who seems particularly fond of Willow, and is the spokeswoman), someone made of mathematical formulae, and the rather abstracted figure in a red checked dress. They all seem to be female. My first guess was that they represent the Chinese elements - wood (the tree), earth (the shaggy one), water (this one's obvious), fire (the red dress one) and metal (the mathematical one does seem to be stamped out of a flat sheet of silvery metal). Alternatively, maybe they're elements of Willow's psyche - the maths one is obviously her intelligence, the tree might represent the strength of her core being (especially if it's a willow tree...), the werewolf her latent heterosexual side ( ;-) ) or perhaps her passionate and angry side, the water her dominant personality (since she's the one who does most of the talking), and the red, with her long straight hair and slightly anxious expression, might represent Willow's teenage insecurity and nerdiness.
Back to the action, and despite Amy's words (which were funny) the big gizmo doesn't look *that* phallic. :) Liked the teasing between Buffy and Xander. He has grown into a leader (which we saw happening in seasons 5 - 7), and usually (not always) knows what he's doing and isn't afraid to be assertive; but it's also clear that Buffy isn't intimidated by this and can even joke about it (and roll her eyes in the next panel...). I'm going to predict that some readers thought he actually was giving Buffy orders and she was obeying them - and said readers are doubtless getting all outraged and furious even as I write - but it was obvious to me that she was eing sarcastic, and it's clear who's actually in charge.
"Sound off! Who's hurt? Stay calm, dammit!" "No. Panic." isn't *the* Buffy line I mentioned at the start, but it's close. And while six consecutive panels of fight scene with no dialogue aren't the most interesting thing for me (neither were the big fight scenes in the TV show, for that matter) I've got to admit that there's just something about seeing two girls taking on 30+ fully armed soldiers and kicking their butts. And as I said in my review last time, you really don't want to get Buffy pissed off with you, or bad things will happen. "We tried to be nice here"...
Another mystery; what exactly did Willow do? Does it have anything to do with her eyes now being blue, and Buffy's apparently being green in this scene - maybe they've swapped? :) (I know, Buffy's eyes aren't blue either).
Actually, my deduction is that the "part of her" that's with Willow all the time is the Scythe, on account of the spell that Willow cast in 'Chosen' - the Scythe is linked to all the Slayers, and Willow's linked to them through it. The green object that starts materialising out of light in Willow's hands looked vaguely Scythe-like, and she's holding it in the same position Buffy's holding the real Scythe. The fact that Willow's speech-bubble is emerging from Buffy's head in the next panel looked at first like an artist's mistake, but I take it that Willow is transferring her consciousness (and magical ability) into Buffy through that link, so they can fight Amy.
It is a shared fight, incidentally, because the knowledge of Amy's dreamspace comes from Buffy, but the power to create the image of Catherine Madison comes from Willow. They're working together. Also, I totally called that Catherine would be important plot-wise to Amy, although from her reaction, probably not because the First was taking her shape... Oh, and I presume Amy teleported away from the grenade just in time, grabbed Warren and ran, but this took too much of her mojo to continue the fight... Is it a continuity error that Satsu's holding the Scythe in one panel? I suppose it's possible that Buffy dropped it to rush over to Willow, and Satsu caught it. She is holding it in her left hand, which supports that theory - I guess her own sword is in her right hand.
I also guess that when Buffy says "Nnnaaah!" she's seeing what Warren did to Willow, in the next panel when Willow's hand comes up she's about to borrow some of Buffy's strength, or is maybe just checking it's her (because, presumably, she's got no working eyes at this point), and by the time we turn the page, she's magically healed herself back to normal.
I wondered what the sqiggly brown stuff was in the control room scene for a while, until I worked out it was dust being shaken down from the ceiling by Dawn jumping up and down. Which, incidentally, is a cute image.
And the 'antique Roman' XXX thing turned out to be a reference to cell 30 after all, just as predicted. The fact that Ethan would be dead was not predicted, however. *Sniff*. Wonder if he's really gone forever? Natural human death, so presumably he can't be resurrected (it may well be significant that we were reminded of that rule in this very comic, when the Elemental Spirit Thingies told Willow she couldn't bring herself back from a natural death. Incidentally, who else caught the implication that Willow now *could* return from a mystical death? See also, Kennedy - as mentioned last month.) Lots of groundwork being laid down here. If Ethan does show up again, I guess it'll be via Buffy's dreams, as part of his soul got tied into her dreamspace as a result of his spell. Bet she'll just love that...
And finally, the big confrontation and reveal. Ethan's comment about "Twilight is falling" in #3 is echoed by General Voll saying "Twilight is coming" here, and I think it's now definite that "Twilight" is the name for the "Beautiful Sunset" cult we met in #1. (Incidentally, I just want to point out that it was Buffy who recognised the scar as being a picture of a sunset; another point for Slayer intuition). Interesting too that Buffy initially assumes that it's a patriarchy -v- feminism equation, until Voll explains.
I love the idea that in the eyes of Twilight, Buffy is no better than the demons and the forces of darkness - because it's not something you can dismiss as just a delusion. The Slayer power really does come from demonic origins; and Slayers really do have a lust for violence and killing. It makes them hungry and horny. Not to mention that while the Slayer Spell might have been presented as liberation and an actualisation of female potential, it can also indeed be seen as an attempt to create an all-powerful race of Übermenschen. (That, I recall, was Arbitrar of Quality's main objection to the plot of 'Chosen'.) And since any review of a genre TV show or comic is improved by a quote from Nietzsche, here it is:
"He who fights with monsters should take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
That's a powerful philosophical idea for the series to have to grapple with, don't you think?
And then we get the final scene. "Oh. . . Kay." That, and Buffy's expressions, just send shivers. This was the line I was referring to at the start. :)
Also: definitely canon. ;-)