A&F #15, Summary and Review
Angel enters a pizzeria to find Whistler sitting at a booth, jovially waving him over to join him and have some pizza. Instead of sitting down, Angel asks if he's crazy, working with Pearl and Nash, and grabs him by the lapels. He demands to know where they are so he can take them down, but Whistler responds by seemingly snapping his wrist. He tells him again to sit down. Angel does. The title informs us that this is "The Hero of His Own Story, Part One: Whistler", but the words frame Angel's face.
Two preview pages are next. Whistler recaps finding Angel, bringing him to Buffy, and setting him on course to fulfill his destiny, and then flips out over Angel ditching the plan. He also puts the other people in the restaurant under a light trance.
Angel's defense is, "Our friends were in danger" (referring to the choice he and Buffy made to return to Earth at the vital moment. Whistler angrily explains that they could have saved their friends, and everyone else, by finalizing the new world and bringing them over. Angel says that that's what he told Buffy, but she didn't believe it - "Because it wasn't true, was it? The hell dimensions were invading Earth. No matter how fast we worked, there were going to be casualties." Whistler admits this easily and asks if Angel thought it was going to be a cakewalk.
He says no. "But you didn't tell me I'd make things worse. Because you knew I'd never go along with it. You figured by the time it got to that point, Buffy and I would be so drunk on power - and each other - we wouldn't notice. Or be able to make the choice she made. Admit it. Everything you did...from that alley to Twilight...you were using me. Using us.."
Whistler says that's what destiny is, the universe using you. Then he tells Angel a story which is shown to us through the art, too. Whistler's parents were a pureblood demon and an agent of the PTBs. This was unheard of, and the forces of good and evil joined up to kill them - not in a true alliance, just to clean up the mess of the couple who had broken the rules. After his parents were gone, though, baby Whistler was still there. The PTBs, rather than letting the demons eat him, adopted him and gave him precognitive powers, raising him to help where he was needed and not let the natural order get out of balance again.
He operated behind the scenes - we see an image of him pointing young Arthur toward the sword in the stone - but did a lot of work keeping the world from getting too dark. Sometimes he had to go the other way, to keep the balance, but he says that was less often, as people were prone to making their own problems. He didn't like it, but refused to get sentimental, believing that balance was always the greater good.
Eventually it got to him, and he decided there had to be a way to keep things balanced but still make them better - and that Buffy and Angel were it. We're back in the restaurant, and Angel is looking stunned. Whistler says, "I like to think the universe got the idea to bring you together from my folks. That their death wasn't for nothing, y'know? You coulda birthed a new universe. One where good and evil, magic and science, light and dark merged together. Where the balance was maintained 'cause everyone evolved. Into something higher."
We see a panel of Buffy smashing the Seed. It's overlaid with Whistler talking about how Angel threw away his chance, and the whole planet with it, and the loss of magic cut Whistler off from the PTBs and destroyed the balance and everything basically sucks. He had a huge part of himself ripped away, and it makes him empathize with how the Earth must have felt. But the worst part was that he got one last vision. We see it with him: it's a dead world, grim and sick humans wandering around a dark dirty city. He says it will be like hell, unless they act now and work to change it.
He pulls a glowing marble from his jacket to show it to Angel, and explains that the only magic left in the world is in magical items, which he's been collecting. He's going to distill the magic from them and use it to imbue the world - there won't be a Seed; the magic will just be part of nature, and everything will evolve. We see another panel of a possible future, which is equal parts awesome and hilarious: an equestrian on a unicorn, a giant building a skyscraper like a tower of blocks, doctors healing a patient by means of glowing hands.
On the next page, Angel inquires about the cost of it. Whistler says about two billion people might die, but to look at the bigger picture: we're already overpopulated, and the only other option is for the dead world he talked about earlier. He doesn't want to work with Pearl and Nash anymore. Angel's his guy, and he wants to save the world with him.
Angel admits that he owes Whistler everything: his purpose, his chance at redemption, Buffy. He owes him more than he can repay, and he does want to help him. Then he drops the bomb. He believes that the end of magic has altered Whistler's mind, and he's not thinking clearly, and that's what he wants to help him with, if Whistler will let him.
Whistler doesn't like this. He gets up to go, and Angel starts to say that he can't let him go through with this, at which point Whistler turns around and literally punches a hole through his stomach. Angel falls to the floor, and Whistler breaks a stake off from a tabletop, raising it to kill him. Instead of doing it, though, he says, "I can't. You were always my favorite, kid. I can't do that to you." He tosses the stake to the floor, says, "So don't make me," and leaves with a warning to not let him ever see him again.
That's the end of Part 1. The rest of the issue is Pearl and Nash. It starts with an old shack in Oklahoma in 1935. Inside, a naked old woman with runes all over her skin is waving a dead chicken over a pentagram: she's just summoned a big, spindly orange demon. He's irritated, but speaks eloquently about how ever since the printing press was invented, any literate human can decipher a spell to summon him and make him perform a task before he can leave the dimension. He asks what she wants, expecting it to be riches or some altruistic improvement to the human condition. She looks at him grimly and says she wants him to make her pregnant. He's surprised, and pleased.
The next page is another of the previews; five-year-old Nash and Pearl sitting with their mother getting schooled on their purpose in the world. Next page is thirty-five-year-old Nash and Pearl getting their brood of demon youngsters slaughtered. Next page, still there. They're putting up a good fight, and Mama shows up with a shotgun to help. The last of the human warriors disappears through a portal, still issuing threats. We don't see his face, but Mama calls him Alasdair Coames. Heh!
When it's just the three of them, Pearl and Nash hold each other and cry while Mama bitches about all the fine breeding that went down the drain. Pearl says she can't go through this again, but her mother is having none of it. She suggests trying humans with strong magic, rather than just demons, so the offspring will blend in. She also says that maybe the two of them can come up with something better, and tells them to take the pain and use it as a reminder of what they're fighting for.
Next we see the two of them talking to Twilight (while floating in the air at dusk). They want to know exactly what he means by "evolution". He tells them the world is ending, and the "most suitable candidates" will enter a new world of merged light and darkness, etc. (Essentially the same thing as Whistler's spiel.) They get especially excited when he tells them there will be blood.
The last part is captioned "Today". Pearl and Nash are over their mother's bed, teary-eyed. She's on some kind of unholy life support involving a giant spider and dead chicken IVs. They apologize for failing her, and she says they just need to pick themselves up and keep trying. Twilight is to blame, she says, but they're in good company now with Whistler. She bids them get on with it, and they kill her with their optic blasts. Over the charred remains of her body, Nash comforts Pearl, and they talk about getting their salvation and revenge. They smile. The end.
First, let's have a talk about destiny.
Some of us (not me) have already been having one, because the moment in this issue that's asking for it was in the preview: Whistler says there's a difference between destiny and predestination, and didn't give us much of an analysis on what that difference is. I'm going to do us all a favor here and not pull out a dictionary, but I do ask that you compare the roots of the two words. It's right there - if they were the same thing, we wouldn't need a prefix. What's "pre-"? It means the destiny was decided beforehand.
The common perception is that all destiny is decided beforehand. This is perhaps just a matter of interpretation - maybe I need that dictionary after all - but I don't believe it at all. Future events are going to happen. We know this by looking at events that already happened. At some point, those were the future, too; someone's destiny. But that someone made choices to get there. There's no such thing as not fulfilling one's destiny. If it doesn't happen, it was never going to happen.
So, Buffy and Angel were destined to love each other. The only reason for it is that they were Buffy and Angel. Random occurrences came together to make them into two people who happened to be the perfect match for one another (and I don't accept any explanation that those occurrences were not random; their histories were about creating their individual selves, not an ultimate couple). Taking it as fact that we can't choose who we love, and I do, the only way that they could not fall in love was to never meet each other.
Enter Whistler. Yes, of course he was manipulating future events by bringing them together. You're also manipulating future events by introducing a friend to his future wife, you sick bastard. Whistler never implies that he might have altered someone's feelings artificially, and really, why would he have to? What he does say is that he saw to it that Buffy and Angel made the right choice, but he follows it right up by saying "that you found each other", which is a bit of a contradiction. Finding each other wasn't a choice. What he did was open up a choice, informing Angel that there was a reason to live and to fight, and letting him act on that information.
Angel knew back in his rat-eating days that there was something he still had to do, which is why he wouldn't commit suicide. Point of interest, I'm pretty sure this is new - I know I've always wondered his exact reason for not taking that route. I'm not prepared to call this part an interference from the PTBs. More likely, he felt that way because he was aware that he still had some kind of power. He knew that he could be doing something other than hiding and eating rats; he just didn't know what, or how. (I feel that way myself sometimes but a lot of the details are different.)
There's another little contradiction with canon in here (we gotta keep track of them or why are we even here, right?), when Whistler says that the two of them falling in love was part of the right choice. Then again, the line that we all remember from "Becoming" is "Nobody saw you coming", which has the benefit of being a little vague. I think the easiest way to reconcile it is to assume that Whistler didn't know about the curse's loophole, so he didn't see that coming. A little oddly phrased, but even without the new developments, it makes more sense than Whistler introducing these two people and never expecting them to fall in love.
So, indeed there was a plan. Whistler set it in motion with his first appearance to Angel, and then backed it up by helping Buffy keep Angel from sucking the world into hell. We see now that he still needed both of them after that incident, so let's say he either assumed that Angel's soul would be returned without his death, or he knew that the PTBs could bring him back if necessary. Either way, Buffy and Angel would both be back in the world again, and eventually they would get back together and get the Twilight thing going. (So where was Whistler during Buffy's death? I doubt this will be addressed and we could call it a plot hole, but we could also assume there were complicated circumstances and he was still hard at work on a backup or blah blah. Anyone want to ask Christos Gage?)
Since the plan appears to be about saving the world, of course Angel goes for it, and of course Whistler is shocked and furious about him pulling out at the last minute. So this is where I'm really, really impressed. I mean, I've said this before, but Brad Meltzer screwed us over and I'm pissed about it. He twisted the essence of two beloved characters for the sake of a plot that never actually made sense in the first place, and left the damage for other writers to clean up. Well, Gage is cleaning it up. Blam: Angel agreed to leave Twilight for the sake of their friends. Blam: he did so reluctantly because he believed there was a better way to save them than abandoning the plan. Blam: Buffy made the choice because she didn't believe that. Blam: Angel now believes she was right. He wasn't just following her because she's his woman. She actually convinced him that the lives at stake in that moment were more important than the greater number of lives he intended to save through untested means.
And my favorite: Whistler was hiding things from Angel. I still don't blame Angel for trusting him; after everything, how could he not? But he didn't go into this believing that he was going to make anything worse, and Whistler did all he could to keep that illusion going. Angel even points out the place where the illusion should have broken - it was neatly covered by the mental effect that the process had on himself and Buffy. This is exactly what I wanted. There isn't any other way to explain the way that the two of them were acting in Twilight. There was no ridiculous "glowhypnol" state, but they were drunk on power and each other. Him more than her, which makes perfect sense considering how much longer he had been in the game, and the difference in their personalities. They could have easily been swept away with the glory of their new lives, but Buffy's connection to her friends kept her attention on the consequences, and Angel's respect for her led him to consider it too.
Note that Angel never questions that their love was real. He emphasizes that both he and Buffy were manipulated, which echoes what Buffy said after Twilight - they were being used together, not using each other. He also never indicates that he regrets meeting her or loving her. This fandom being what it is, I'm sure there's already an idea circulating that this proves B/A was merely forces conspiring to make a universe, but I'm here to tell you to not be sorry for me. My ship has just received another jolt of canon validation and I am stoked.
I'm less stoked about Whistler's back story. For one thing, I'm pretty sure I saw the exact same thing in Preacher (a rather well-written comic that I will never, ever pick up again), right down to the illustration of the divine spirit and the demon getting it on. For another, it's pretty stupid. So many of these "Heaven and Hell" stories end up bringing us back to the ~shocking~ revelation that good and evil are one and the same. Moral relativism isn't enough of a premise for me, quite aside from my own distaste for the philosophy. You can say it's not headed that way, since Whistler isn't the one we're supposed to follow here, but as soon as he starts talking about "breaking rules for love", it's a done deal. Good and evil aren't a set of rules, okay? They're good and evil. Love belongs to good. You try to put it in an evil character, you end up with Spike.
I also object to stories that take events from history or legend and insert a background figure who secretly inspired the key characters. It's nice that Whistler's job is to just plant the seed, but if we take the original version, these things were done without the additional encouragement; it was Arthur's own idea to draw the sword. He should get the credit.
Anyway, if I try to look for a functional moral belief system in the Buffyverse, it always disappoints me, so I'm probably going to just shrug those bits off. That said, it would help me enormously if the text gives a good reason to believe that the demon half of Whistler's parents (the female, wouldn't you know) was not in fact fueled by love. Otherwise it's just gonna be sympathy for the devil from hereon in. Yuck.
Saving grace for this particular difficulty is Angel, yay! Maybe he's just objecting to the cost of it again, but I'm hoping he also sees now that Whistler's version of utopia with good and evil merged is not such a hot idea. And maybe that's what convinces him that Whistler isn't right in the head - or maybe the idea of having such an awful choice in front of him is just too much. Either way, it really seems like this is the only thing he could have done in this scenario. Say no - he does learn - but do it with mercy. Try to help the friend who's suffering. Maybe find out enough along the way to figure out what kind of action the big picture needs, if any. And failing that, of course he isn't going to let Whistler kill two billion people.
And then he finds out that he can't stop him. Whistler can remove Angel from the playing field any moment he chooses. I can't help it, this is pretty exciting.
This is already too damn long, so I'm just going to say a couple words on Pearl and Nash's story. Or maybe just one word - "fun". I wasn't really interested in hearing more about them, even if it cast some light on their origin and motivations, but like any good story, the origin and motivations made me more interested in them, and now they're a better part of the series than they were. And seriously, that was fun. The cranky horny demon complaining about Gutenberg? The demon classroom with "5+5=666" on the chalkboard? Coames?! More please!
Didn't love the art. Didn't expect to, though, so there were some panels that pleasantly surprised me, like Buffy with her Scythe. I can see places where this style really works, especially with the solid shading darkening the characters' eyes, but in other places it just makes them look doofy. I'd have more of a complaint if this were the regular artist, but I do have a smidge of regret that this super cool issue wasn't quite delighting me visually.
Okay, let's wrap this up. Can't wait to go find out what other people think about it!