Turns out digital comics become available in the Dark Horse online store at midnight PST. I did not stay up til 3am to get mine. Also, same price as retail - I'm not sure yet whether I'll be more obsessive about getting my issue sooner, or owning a complete set of print comics. Anyway, today it was digital. The reader and panel zoom are very comfortable on the eyes, though I had a slight tic about not quite trusting it to bring me to the next image in the sequence, and kept going back to make sure I hadn't missed anything.
We pick up right where we left off. Willow, Angel, Faith, and Connor are staring out into the landscape, stunned. Next we get to see exactly what they're looking at: a jagged wasteland with a spiky city in the distance, a deep ravine, toxic green rivers. In the foreground there are some demon skeletons hanging from dead trees, plus a couple demon crows (gross). The scene is helpfully labeled "Quor'Toth".
Connor confirms for Angel that it looks exactly like it used to, and Angel asks how Holtz survived. We get a panel of Holtz with baby Connor on his back, hacking his way through a demon attack. As Connor says, "a pretty determined guy." Angel starts trying to apologize again; Connor's having none of it - he reminds him that everyone involved was manipulated, and he's fine, but won't be able to stand it if - and he's cut off by Willow, demonstrating for Angel that her magic is back by balancing a tiny flame in her palm, delighted.
On the next page the flame melts into goop. Willow explains that there's also bad news - magic works differently here, and she needs time to figure it out. She and Angel fight about that for a couple panels, but Faith, who's been keeping watch, alerts them to the "border patrol", a couple nasty winged demons. She shoots her crossbow and misses; Connor gets knocked over as they swoop down. "Food" says one.
Angel tells Willow to run, she says, "Never again. Infernarium mortis!". Magic crackles in her hand...and turns into a bouquet of flowers. Connor steps between the sheepish Willow and the demon about to grab her, and then, unexpectedly, it rears back in shock and fear. It's soon flying away, yelling about the Second Coming and the wrath of the Destroyer, while Faith shoots the other one dead. Connor is incredulous about being remembered: "But the way time moves here...it must have been centuries..."
Faith wants to get moving before the scared demon comes back with more firepower. Angel doesn't want to leave the rift unguarded, so Willow (who claims to be getting the hang of the magic here) casts something over it so that nothing native to Quor'Toth can go through, and Angel tests it by tossing the body of the dead demon at it. It fries. Satisfied, the four head to the nearby forest to hide.
Connor and Angel walk ahead, slicing up big scary bugs. Faith quietly asks Willow to help her keep an eye on Angel - with all the secrets he's been keeping, she wonders if he's hiding anything else from them, and he's told her about what happened to him in his demon form in Pylea. The two of them, she says, need to protect each other. Willow responds by calling out to Angel, "Let's hold off on the bumpy face for a while, okay? New dimension, new rules." He agrees with a smile and a peace sign.
Faith isn't happy. Willow says they need to trust each other in a fight, regardless of what's been going on to disturb Faith and Angel's friendship. "Yeah, you're right. Good job," says Faith, clearly not meaning a word of it. "Five by five."
The group finds a little hut that smells abandoned to Angel. Connor talks about how some of the locals lived like this for safety, but still had a high mortality rate. Inside, they find an unassuming home, except that there's a stretched skin on the wall depicting a godlike figure with wings, many arms, weapons, a crown of flames, a horde of defeated demons at his feet...and Connor's face. Faith takes a look and asks what he's got around his neck, and Connor replies, mortified, "I used to wear the body parts of demons I'd killed." Angel infers that the painting means that Connor has been elevated to Devil status by the residents of Quor'Toth; a warning of what will happen if they're not careful.
A monster that looks like a prehistoric ground sloth busts into the hut. Connor knows exactly how to kill it, and very soon he's thrust his hand into its stomach to pull out its heart (with an explanation of why that makes sense). The other three give him a numb stare, and he tosses the heart to the ground and says they should move on.
Their path continues over a natural stone bridge through the green lava-liquid. Angel asks Connor how he knew how to kill the beast, and Connor answers that it was Holtz who figured it out - but he almost trips up and calls Holtz "Dad" first. Angel starts doing the guilt thing again, mentioning that Holtz never left Connor, and Connor rounds on him angrily and says, "He left me all the time! In the ash desert or the bleeding forest, to find my way back! The guy...look, he may have loved me in his own twisted way, but he was crazy!" He goes on to say that the memories of a happy childhood that Angel gave him kept him from falling apart when he got back to Earth and realized how messed up Quor'Toth had been.
Angel reveals that the reason he didn't want Connor to come back here was that he was afraid the fake memories would feel less real, and Connor replies to that with news of his own: those memories were magic. They're already gone. Angel is naturally horrified. Connor explains a little more - he can still remember parts, like a movie you saw a long time ago, but it doesn't feel like his life anymore, and the people who thought they were his family don't remember any of it. He says he doesn't need fake happy memories anymore, since he's made enough real ones now, so he's not going to flip out and revert to his old self. He credits Angel for this: Angel gave him what he needed to stand on his own, like a good parent does.
Angel's touched, but mentions that since they've been here, Connor has seemed...something. He turns to Willow (she and Faith have been nearby, but not speaking). She says that she's done a diagnostic spell, and it showed her that Quor'Toth affects one's darker qualities and brings them to the forefront. She believes that her magic has protected her, and Angel says that he's already used to fighting his dark side. Faith says the influence might have been bothering her a little.
Angel wants to get out soon. Willow says she needs maybe five more minutes; Faith says they should still take cover. She's instantly proven right by an explosion that knocks them all off their feet. The winged demon from earlier appears, this time with a whole flock of buddies. They're holding fiery spheres and talking about their unholy mission to slay the Destroyer. The group leaps away from another explosion from the projectiles, and Willow fries one of the demons with a blue jolt. All of the rest of them hover overhead, appearing to have the group trapped. They're about to fire, all at once, when suddenly their bombs crackle and explode in their own hands, killing them all. Connor asks Willow if that was her, and she says no, pointing to the direction that it came from.
A new gang of demons, again speaking about the return of the Destroyer, has found them. This time they're bipedal canine-looking things, fairly goofy in appearance. They wave their spears in jubilation as Faith says "Here we go again..." Then they all bow before Connor, calling him Master, and Faith finishes, "Or not."
Connor tells the dog demons to stand up and asks them who they are. He has to coax them out of their overdone deference, but eventually we learn that Connor, unbeknownst to himself, won a cult of followers after a dog demon witnessed him sitting at a campfire with Holtz. When Holtz told Connor he loved him and to draw strength from that, the demon saw that love was the key to the Destroyer's power. There's a "small but devoted flock" that have been practicing love and compassion and awaiting their leader's return. Actually, there were thousands, but most have been slain, "Martyrs to your holy cause." Angel and Connor are stricken at this part. Angel's first move is to try to comfort Connor, but he only wants to find out how many followers are left. The spokesdog says that besides the group present, there are some being held for execution, making about two score total. He's thrilled, believing that Connor will take them all to a better place.
On the next page, Willow tears a hole in reality, telling them they can finally get out of here. It leads to the world without shrimp (!), and she says the magic is closer to the kind on Earth, in addition to being a safer place. Angel ushers the dogs into the rift, telling them that they can start fresh in peace. One blesses him as a friend of Connor, and when Angel corrects him, he calls him Holtz, but is gone before Angel can object.
Angel tells Willow to follow them through and close the rift behind her, and says the rest of them will go back to the rift to Earth. The last remaining dog asks about his imprisoned brothers. Faith tries to explain that they can't help - "this group doesn't have the best track record when it comes to playing God." Willow backs her up, and so does Angel, who's trying to hurry them all along so that they can get back while it's still light. Connor tells him, "You go. I'm staying."
Distraught, Angel says it's suicide. Willow says there's too much at stake. Faith says none of this is his fault. Connor insists, saying that he didn't mean to inspire followers, but he did. He says the rest of them should go on, and he'll be fine here himself. Angel, of course, says that if Connor's staying, so is he, and everyone smiles, getting ready to stage the great escape from Hell.
The preview pages are the final ones: Lavinia and Sophronia being terrible house-sitters and Pearl, Nash, and Whistler popping in on them at the end. That's all we got.
I enjoyed this one, but I wasn't bouncing in my chair like I was last month. Not much in the way of surprises - I think the point is really to just enjoy the journey through the demon dimension, since this is something we never could have seen on live action TV. The big difference between this arc and previous WOOHOO LIMITLESS BUDGET moments in the comics is that Quor'Toth is canon. We knew it was a nasty place full of unspeakable monsters and landscapes that won't come together on a standard set, but we took that on faith. Now, here it is.
You can tell everyone on the team is having a blast, especially the artists. The demon designs are varied, unique, and oddly appropriate for whatever their function is. The dogs are adorable, but also alien enough to make it appear that they belong here (though hopefully they'll also do well in their new surroundings). The terrain is laid out with a good eye; the characters really appear to be moving through it rather than just periodically being in a different kind of ugly place. I particularly liked the hut, once we got inside and it became clear that the former residents were fairly benign, but not so much that they'd object to making their home out of a giant ribcage.
There's also a lot going on in the background, for almost all of the bigger panels. Faith doesn't do a lot of talking, but she's paying attention to everyone else - helping Willow over a gap or holding her back from interfering, and always reacting to what Angel and Connor are saying or doing. Angel with his peace sign endangered my suspension of disbelief, but I came down on the side of loving it. Man, that was adorable. Also, note that Connor's bloody hand stayed bloody. Bless you, continuity. (Not to mention symbolism.)
Aside from the ending - uh, both endings, the Quor'Toth gang and the Giles Manor - I think the big drama was the revelation about Connor losing his good memories. And his "family" lost theirs! That really leaves Angel as all he has left, aside from whatever new friends he's made, so it was extra unnerving that he wanted to call Holtz "Dad" that one point. That's not even what he called him when he was Stephen, was it? Wait a second. His name was Stephen. Why does all Quor'Toth know him as Connor? Wait. Why are they all speaking the same language?
I'm hearing theories about Connor's memory loss being related to Buffy's difficulty remembering Dawn, so I'm going to go ahead and be the first one to bring up "I Will Remember You". Angel's memories about that are false, since the day never happened, but we've already seen that he still remembers it. This doesn't prove anything, but I'd be thrilled if there was some kind of universal false memory thing going on and this instance got brought up again.
Okay, anyway, very ominous! And as for those endings, Whistler's reappearance actually interests me more right now than the continued journey of the title characters. What's going to happen? No idea. Wait a second. Did I say title characters? Isn't Faith going with Willow? Is Angel going to lose her for a few issues? Is Willow's miniseries going to start in the world without shrimp? With Faith? Hey, does it mean something that there was an Illyria reference? (Addendum - someone on Whedonesque pointed out that a demon mentioned "The Old One". Holy crap, could it be?)
One way or another I knew they were going to have to find some kind of extra adventure to keep them occupied in the hell dimension after Willow neatly powers up and makes an exit. I like it that it's a rescue mission, though it's kind of hard to figure out if there's any hope for the redemption of Quor'Toth - if we remove the good dogs, isn't that depriving the dimension of the only worthwhile part of it? If we leave the good dogs there, aren't they just going to keep suffering?
It's also possible that something will go wrong (egads!) and Willow and Faith won't be able to follow the pack into the other world. I think I'd prefer the group to be split right now, though.
On the other hand, it would be great to have a little more time for Willow to fight with Angel. I'm really enjoying the tension between them (echoed in Willow and Faith), especially since they talk to each other as equals. They always have, really, once Willow got over her nervousness way back in Season 2. There are also a few panels where we see Angel actively protecting her - plenty of reasons for that, but I think we're meant to notice how it comes naturally to him, and I love that.
Angel and Faith are still on edge with each other too - check out the way he leaps down her throat when he disagrees, instead of just, you know, disagreeing. Apparently this is going to be a back burner thing, which will make it really interesting when they finally hash it out. I wonder which one will get back home first and have to deal with the break-in.
Also wouldn't mind a little more Connor/Faith or Connor/Willow interaction, but I can see there wouldn't be all that much purpose in that right now. Both would probably just talk to him about his dad, and we're already going to get him actually talking directly to his dad. I'm completely full of warmfuzzies over this, btw. Think there's any possibility that Connor will stick around past this arc? Because I want him to. He's such a fantastic character, and his potential is just starting to be tapped.
Finally, tip of my hat to Gage for that oh-so-brief reference to Angel fighting his demon on a daily basis. This is part of him, a huge part of him, and yet we hardly ever hear about it. Why? Because Angel won't bring it up unless it's relevant, and if he's successfully winning the daily battle, he won't consider it relevant.
Connor couldn't ask for a better father to have at his side for this.
So much for getting my comic earlier - this is all I have time for. I might come back and edit the entry. Hope the rest of you enjoy this issue too!