Faith and Angel are coming home, after an indeterminate length of time since the events of the last issue (although they still seem to be talking about it). Angel senses that someone is in their house, and they enter by kicking in the door, swords at the ready.
The intruders are a pair of beautiful women, sitting comfortably in the living room. One is painting her nails, the other is drinking wine and welcomes Faith by asking her for a top-off. "You must be Rupert's little friends," says the brunette. Faith demands to know who they are, Angel says, "You knew Giles?" They introduce themselves as Lavinia and Sophronia, Giles' great-aunts, and point to the portrait of young Giles with the two of them. Faith protests that he never mentioned them, and Sophronia (pouring herself more wine) says that they're in the will, which apparently says "All occupants of the country home may remain." (In addition to the London house, Faith inherited an estate in Bath, which she thought was occupied exclusively by her horses.)
Faith comments on the youth of the pair and guesses magic. Lavinia confirms it, saying that mystic talent runs in the bloodline and they used theirs to stay this way. Angel cuts in to tell them about the fate of Giles, but they already know, and won't hold it against him even when he insists that his own choices were to blame as much as his possession. Faith directs them to the guest room, saying they can all stay out of each other's way during their visit. Lavinia brings up the other matter that brought them here: "The end of magic has had a consequence we didn't expect." At that moment, the door smashes in.
It's a big, Godzilla-looking demon that's looking for Lavinia, saying her life and soul are forfeit. Angel hits it with the broken door, but it breathes fire and gives him and Faith a respectable fight. Angel asks the sisters for help, saying they must have the power for it, but Sophronia informs him that they used all their power for staying young, beautiful, and rich.
Faith and Angel decapitate the demon with their teamwork, and Faith confronts Lavinia, demanding the story. She says she made a deal to give him her soul on the day that she got her first grey hair, in exchange for a magical cellulite cream. She never expected that day to come, but with the end of magic, here it is, so she decided that Angel's to blame and he should solve the problem. Angel's response is, "Uh-huh. Y'know what? Even I'm not about to take the blame for this." Faith orders the sisters out now that the demon is dead, but Lavinia hesitates, saying, "...We made that sort of deal quite a lot." Right on cue, a tentacle creeps in the door.
Angel is about to ask how many, when he and Faith look outside and see for themselves. It's a huge crowd gathered outside, every kind of demon imaginable. He and Faith shut the door and try to bar it with a loveseat, Faith asking the sisters if Giles hated them as much as she does. "Oh, rather more, I should think," Lavinia responds.
For the next few pages we get a montage of the demons that Faith and Angel have to fight while the sisters offer self-absorbed commentary and a few grudging tips. A particularly disgusting demon explains that all he wants was the kiss he was promised, so Faith stands back for Lavinia to pay up while Angel calls a cease-fire so everyone can watch.
After there have been no new visitors for ten minutes, Angel installs the last spare door while Faith asks the sisters about something that's been bugging her: what's the family drama that kept Giles from mentioning them even though he's got their portrait on the wall? They tell him about their other sister, Edna: Giles' grandmother. He got his sense of honor and duty from her, including his view on how one should employ one's mystical gifts. Angel says there's more - he's seen mentions of "consulting the girls" in the Watcher's Files, and wants to know the whole story on why this was such a sore subject for Giles (who was, as Angel says, pretty up front about his mistakes).
The girls bring us into a flashback to Rupert's childhood. He's running around in an aviator cap with a toy plane while his aunts (looking much the same as they do in the present) scold him. His father picks him up with obvious affection and pride to take him upstairs, and Sophronia returns to the discussion she was trying to have with Edna (who looks like the naturally aged grandmother that she is). Edna says the discussion was over: the Watcher's Council would never approve of entrusting the "Shard of Stronnos" to her sisters. Sophronia says she's asking her family, not the Council.
Giles' father agrees with his mother, but he calls Sophronia "auntie", which Edna objects to on the grounds that it's playing into Sophronia's attempt to make him feel like a child disobeying his elders. She goes on to say that her sisters have never been responsible with their gifts, and they won't even reveal what they want with the shard, which is a dangerous artifact that can convert matter into energy. The Council lacks the raw power to tap into it themselves, but they can at least keep it out of the hands of "flighty dilettantes". The three sisters start to argue about the way Lavinia and Sophronia use magic to retain their youth, while Giles Sr. notices how bright it's getting, and looks out the window.
The brightness is coming from a light demon, a man-shaped anti-shadow. He says that the shard can also make energy into matter, which is how the Fairweather Sisters (L&S) intend to bring back their lovers from the trap that he's put them in: transformed into beings of light, stuck within the sisters' mirrors. He wants the shard to give his people substance, so they can conquer the physical plane, and the Fairweathers have led him right to it. He senses it and then sees it on the shelf, a hand-sized purple crystal. Edna grabs it to shatter it, but the demon shoots a beam of light that makes her drop it. Before he can pick it up from the floor, though, another hand reaches for it. Little Rupert holds it out, there's a burst of light and a ZZVVMM sound effect, and the anti-shadow is now a bright crystalline humanoid thing. He's reveling over his new body when Edna comes up behind him with an axe. Rupert's father shields his eyes as she does the deed.
Rupert asks if he did something bad, and Sophronia gushes over how brilliant he was and how much raw power and skill he just showed - and what it means. Giles Sr. looks at the boy gravely and agrees: "He shall have to enter the Watchers' Academy straight away. He will be a target for beings like that, as well as a danger to himself and others. He must be properly trained." Sophronia offers to train him, and Rupert's father rejects them angrily and takes his son away. Rupert reaches for his toy plane, but his father says he won't need it any longer. Edna thrusts the shard at the Fairweathers and orders them out.
We're back in the present. Angel says that Giles' talent would have come out sooner or later, but Sophronia says he could have had a few more years as a child. The two explain that they knew how horrible the Watcher Academy was, and they felt an obligation to watch over Rupert over the years. They helped him out from time to time with information and magic. Angel tells them his plan to bring Giles back, while Faith does a subtle facepalm. The sisters already knew about it: they've brought him the shard, and explain that it (probably) contains Rupert's childhood innocence. Angel holds the crystal, awed, while Faith asks if they really think this plan has a chance.
Lavinia says it's a splendid idea; Sophronia thinks it's daft. ("Don't you remember the zombie Jim Morrison incident?") Faith is about to back her up, but she goes on to say that Angel seems reasonably clever and both he and Faith seem to care about Rupert, so the plan has their blessing. She asks to be shown to her room. Angel says there's only one small guest room and offers them the master bedroom, saying Faith can have his. Lavinia says she can't share a room with Sophie, who snores, and that she'll take Angel's room and he and Faith can share the guest room. He smiles, defeated, and tells Faith he'll take the floor.
In Angel's room, Lavinia says she's glad she finally has a moment alone with him, and he recoils from what he thinks is a romantic advance. She clarifies that she just wants to tell him that he can't let anyone talk him out of his plan to resurrect Rupert: the world needs him, and "we" need him. On the other half of the page, Faith is alone with Sophronia in the master bedroom, telling her that there's something important that they need to discuss: Faith is the level-headed one, and she needs to be ready to stop Angel if his plan gets too dangerous.
Faith and Angel meet on the staircase, telling each other that everything's fine. Lavinia lies back in bed, saying she can feel Rupert scowling at her and that she intends to see Angel bring him back, if there's a way. Sophronia lies back in bed and says, as a continuation of Lavinia's speech, that if Angel must be stopped, they'll make sure that Faith stops him. Giles may have thought that they only used people, but really they're just "helping them play the roles they so desperately want", and it's time for him to let his aunties watch over him.
Faith and Angel are wondering how long their visitors will stay when there's another knock at the door. Angel, believing it's another demon, answers with a threat on his lips to snap its neck like a toothpick. It's Willow, of course, holding the broken Scythe. "Uh-huh," she says. "Kinda your wheelhouse, isn't it?"
Well, that took a while. If anyone was waiting for it, sorry!
I got the Steve Morris cover, mostly because my comic shop didn't give me a choice. Later, though, I felt rewarded when I looked at the cover after reading and realized that what I thought was a naughty sheepish look on Giles' face is actually an exasperated but resigned smile. I admit I had worried a little bit about his relation to these women - if it was kinky, I wouldn't want old stalwart Giles reminiscing with a portrait on his wall.
So, Lavinia and Sophronia? Not at all my favorite kind of people, fictional or otherwise, but somehow they worked for me. I think the way the story was constructed helped a lot, as it starts by giving us questions and then spaces out the answers: not only "Who are they and what do they want?", but why Giles tolerated them and why he kept them secret. That last was especially crucial, as it's always a gamble to insert important backstory and find a reasonable explanation for why we've never heard it before, but my credulity doesn't feel stretched by this.
A particular bonus was the way the information in the flashback dovetailed with what we learned way back in "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date". Aside from the fighter pilot business, there's a solid basis (finally) for why Giles' career was apparently both destined and voluntary. It would feel a little too close to a Hogwarts letter if the implication was that magic=admittance, but I got the impression instead that Watchers aren't necessarily magical - there's just no other institution that provides safety and training for those who are.
It was good to see lil' Rupert's father again. I remember some comment from Gage about differentiating him from Wesley's father by making him more compassionate and less rigid, but those qualities showed up much more this time. Grandma Edna was clearly a good woman with a lion's heart, too, and that's a context that really jives with the Giles we know. Unlike other characters, who built themselves through their newer experiences with each other, he was already wise and dedicated when we met him, and now we know a little about how that came to be.
Of course, as important as Giles is, his name isn't in the title. Angel and Faith didn't have a whole lot to do here other than kick demon ass, drop funny bits of snark, and hammer in their respective purposes a bit more, but they did all of these extremely well. The fight scenes were enjoyable, not only because of how cleanly they were drawn but because of how much they were played for laughs - the characters' battle prowess actually came out more when we could see that they were working hard but annoyed rather than afraid or desperate.
All in all it's the details that make the issue, though, especially for Angel. His guilt comes up at all the right moments, and he gets accordingly called out for it. He forgoes the usual tragic monologue about his love life and just tells Lavinia that she freaks him out. He micromanages sleeping arrangements and needs to be reminded that this isn't even his own house. Throughout the issue he's himself, if a bit more lighthearted than usual - and that's not only a break, but also a natural development, given his new purpose and his friendship with Faith.
Faith doesn't get the same attention this time, but she doesn't fade into the background. The subtle touches like her messy bedroom (contrast it with Angel's smaller but neater room) make me feel like the team is showing a lot of respect for the characters and building up a world for them. Okay, team, how about those horses? While you're at it, I'd love to hear more about zombie Jim Morrison.
Finally, the interior art - like most fans, I look first for character likenesses, so I went into this one expecting disappointment, just from the preview. And it's true enough that Faith doesn't look much like Faith and Angel's panels are rather hit or miss. There are a few excellent ones, though, like Angel drilling the spare door into place, and of course every character but those two (and Ms. Final Page) had no live-action face to dictate them. I'd say the Fairweathers looked great, and no qualms about the rest of the Giles family, either. More importantly, though, the artist's style was fantastic in its own right. The bold lines and limited palette, especially in the flashback sequence, gave all the action an intense, in-the-moment feel that was both visually entertaining and easy to follow.
Regarding the story's next step, I have to say I'm excited about seeing Willow back and about to interact with Angel and Faith, if only for the crossover value. Everything else I'm not too sure about. It seems we're keeping L&S, at least temporarily. That could be good times, but at the end of the issue their narrative purpose seemed to be summarized as reinforcing Angel's and Faith's respective plans, and I can't yet see much point to that. It's clear enough that at some point Angel will believe he's ready and able to resurrect Giles and Faith will believe it's time to stop him - or that's just what we're supposed to think. There have been a lot of threads left dangling so far, so I wouldn't commit to any supposition that didn't include them.
And yeah, we all knew it was going to be Willow with the Scythe, but this time? Didn't bother me. Bring on the spoilers!