Willow #4&5, Double Feature Summary and Review
Willow wakes up from her dream with Marrak and finds herself on the beach with Aluwyn, with whom she argues briefly about whether or not she should keep the Scythe and whether or not she should drink from her canteen of magic loopy water. She chooses to drink, and instantly has a vision of a crowd of meaningful Earthlings, some of whom are showing signs of distortion which I'm pretty sure are just art hiccups: Spike, Tara, Giles, Vi, Anaheed, Cordelia, Simone, Kennedy, Angel, Dawn, Buffy, Faith, Xander, and Oz (who is in the forefront, a bit apart from the others). She snaps back to reality and starts panicking about abandoning her world, and Aluwyn grudgingly reveals that she always knew Willow's plan wouldn't work, so she led her to the supercoven and tried to keep her happy there.
They part ways when Willow says she has to find someone who wants magic back on Earth as much as she does, and she leaves the sanctuary and finds Marrak sleeping on the ground. Willow casts a divination spell while Marrak rants about her being afraid of power or whatever, and she lets the magic guide the two of them to the "liminal lands", which at first blush looks pretty bare and empty. Marrak grumbles off and Willow meditates until she has the revelation that she can become the new Seed, the source of magic for her world. She's worrying about what this means for her dark side when she's interrupted by her dark side, who briefly takes form in a body of her own and reminds Willow that there's really no difference between them. Marrak returns, says he's going to fill up on magic and bring it back with him, and tries to offer her "a taste". She pushes him away: she's figured out he's actually Rack. He changes into his original human shape and they start to battle.
It's mostly throwing taunts and blasts of magic at each other, but he does get the Scythe and somehow opens up a tear that reveals a giant circulation vortex. They can feel the power from it, but Willow swears to not let him anywhere near it, even after they both get sucked into the vortex. (Or trip and fall into it. I don't know, they're bouncing around the pages a lot at this point.) He gets a few tendrils to wrap around her wrists, but then the system starts taking matters into its own arteries, whispers his name, and whisks him away. Next it starts whispering to Willow, introduces itself as an embodiment of magic while denying that magic can have an embodiment, and shows her what she is and how opposing forces exist within her. Then it gives her the gift-that-she's-finally-ready-for, an inherent magic that she must use for everyone's sake and not just her own. Then it sends her home to San Francisco, telling her to find out how to use her new power. She walks down the street thinking about how she's changed and now she truly wants to share the magic, and we see how a bored-looking kid is inspired by her presence and is suddenly able to doodle a creative chalk masterpiece on the sidewalk.
Willow and Aluwyn: In Willow's one-shot back in Season 8, we saw the origins of her relationship with Saga Vasuki, both as a mentor and a sexual partner. Willow's remark was that for truth, she chose the trickster, and they also alluded to Aluwyn's habit of lying and Willow's lack of concern for it, but it all felt a little incomplete at the end. Why choose the trickster for truth, except that it's a snappy line for a hip young sorceress to deliver? Here, the topic was finally revisited: "That's why I chose you as my guide on the witch's path. Because you'd lead me to the truth, but you'd make me work to find it." Maybe it's just a rephrase of the same idea and I was too dull to get it the first time, but for me, this chapter of Willow's past finally makes sense.
With all her failures and everything she's been through, this one thing hasn't changed - she's intelligent. She's a learner. When she's in a position of study, she figures out how to get the most of it. That's not a matter of morality; if anything, it's Slytherin-caliber ambition, but there's also a foundation of integrity to it. No doubt there was an instant mutual attraction between the two and it may have even colored Willow's judgment when it came to choosing her guide, but now we know that even back then, she knew enough to find a way to justify it, and she could do that because there was only one proper justification and for her it was immediately evident. I'm impressed. The girl knows when it's time to get to work, and she's ready to pile on the challenges if she knows they're going to help her out in the end.
Her final moments with Aluwyn are the payoff of her intuition. Gambling on the trickster's truth did work out, not only because the two of them appreciated mischief and used it to form a genuine bond of trust and respect, but because Saga Vasuki's beautiful lie was just what Willow needed to come to her self-defining revelation. She had to face a personal sacrifice, a blatant example of choosing hardship and her world over her personal magic and gratification, and she had to be the one to pull herself out of it (with some incidental help from a canteen), rather than having her friend and lover explain honestly that she was in the wrong place.
This also meant that Aluwyn's betrayal didn't end up being a betrayal, which worked out fine for me. The character still doesn't do all that much for me - perhaps a bit more than she used to - but I get why she and Willow connect. I get that Aluwyn truly cares for and wants her, and that it manifests first in her attempts to keep her close, then to keep her safe, and then finally to help her through that painful age-old test of love: letting her go. She even acknowledges that she's not the right one to help Willow on her quest, and points her toward a much less desirable companion who nonetheless has the one necessary trait, who "wants this as badly as I do." If Willow ever has another lasting romantic relationship, it shouldn't be with Aluwyn, but this was a good ending for them, and I wouldn't at all be opposed to seeing it revisited in the occasional cameo if the comics keep going. Also, there are a few pretty panels of the two of them together that I might cut out and save because hell, you gotta make the most out of what you've got.
Marrak is Rack: I don't care. I'm sorry. I just...really don't care. He was a Season 6 villain who was eliminated in some way that I really can't remember because I didn't care, and nobody was feeling like there was a loose thread about it. So, he's clearly only here to give Willow something from her past sins to fight against, but the fight was a weak point in the miniseries and her own memories could have done the same job and ugh, I just don't care. I'm not even saying I think it would have been better if Marrak had just been a new character who provided the power-hungry contrast without a revealing transformation into a familiar nemesis. Maybe it wouldn't. But it definitely isn't exciting to see the return of a character who wasn't exciting the first time.
Willow is Dark Willow: Inevitable, but executed fairly well in spite of it. I liked how brief Dark Willow's appearance was, and how she didn't really do anything. Willow's monologue got a little too expansive, but at least it was pointed in the right direction. Yes, there's no difference between you and your evil persona, finally, now let's move on.
It does feel like I should be getting more out of this, since it's so pivotal and we've been talking about it for so long, but maybe we've already covered everything there is to say. Parallel to Angel, check. Vital puzzle piece for Willow coming to grips with her role, check. Hints throughout the rest of the miniseries, hints throughout the rest of Willow's past, hints from Willow's future, check, check, check. And she was so explicit about stating it ("There is only one Willow", "My mistake was acting like you're a separate person"), not much is left for the reader to ponder over.
But to take a stab at it anyway...I, personally, do believe that there couldn't be light magic and dark magic any more than light science and dark science. By extension, I do believe that Dark Willow is not a character of her own, but simply Willow's power turned toward her worst desires and unrestrained by self-control. (Sidebar, I see Angelus as a little more complicated, because there's no amount of self-control that could retrain him once Angel has left the building. The parallel doesn't provide all that much before the laws of the verse wears it out.) What I don't believe is that this leads to the conclusion that good and evil don't exist. Now, this isn't stated within the course of Willow's revelation, but Lord knows it's implied often enough in the Whedonverse. Otherwise, doesn't it seem like a smart girl like Willow would realize pretty darn quickly that her dangerous side isn't a unique persona?
My preference would be for the ultimate message of the story to be a "use your power for good", but the context seemed to want more of an "accept your power for what it is". Willow doesn't walk away from Dark Willow; the latter vanishes after an assurance that she's still there. Willow has to face the fact that the darkness is within her and always will be. I don't think that has to be true. Every time Willow chooses to do the right thing with what she has, she's building herself into what she should be, and leaving her silly veiny face behind a little more. Why assume that you'll always be tempted by corruption? Isn't there already reason enough to focus on the good that you can do?
To draw from a real-life conversation I had the other night: "I thought of all the reasons to quit smoking. I would be healthier, I would save a lot of money, I wouldn't have to always look for a place where I could light up...the list went on and on. And then I thought of the reasons to keep smoking, and there was only one: I'm addicted." It's extremely difficult to give up an addiction, and that should never be trivialized. You don't get out of it by pretending you're not addicted, but if you're intelligent and courageous about it, you'll know that you don't have to accept the addiction as part of who you are. The smoker doesn't stay on the patch for the rest of his life. Dark Willow stops existing if Willow stops listening to her. No light magic, no dark magic, just oneself...and the choice between the light and the dark that are always there waiting to be chosen.
The Embodiment of Magic is not the Embodiment of Magic: Look, the fortune cookie slogans are a problem, but they're not the kind of problem solved with a lampshade, and there's a much deeper issue here, in that we don't need any more embodiments of anything. SERIOUSLY. I don't like giant brains!
Willow is the Seed: And at last, here we are. Again, we all knew it was coming, but it was nice to see Willow looking so at peace with herself and so full of hope. In one of the recent interviews, someone on the team (Allie maybe?) actually came right out and said that Willow hadn't been the same since S5 or so, which I thought was fantastic. Could it be that we're really going to get her back as her old self? No more nose-in-the-air, sulky, sarcastic, too-sexy-for-her-overalls mega-witch? She's already had a good entrance back into the main title, and I'm excited to see how her character will change from this point forth. The most powerful magic user in the world made for an interesting member of the team; the only magic user in the world will be a whole new dynamic.
Mostly I'm hoping that her journey ties into the main plot in a better way than just sealing up whatever's lacking for Dawn's cure or the defeat of Severin and Simone. There's still a Big Bad to defeat and a world to save, sure, but the loss of magic is the danger that we've been hearing about since Season 8, and it seems a little too pat for that to have concluded satisfactorily just in time for it to patch up someone else's mess.
But aside from that, this was a very feel-good ending (which is a positive thing from my perspective, to be clear). My favorite part was the kid with the chalk. Not an epic moment, but it was a payoff - Willow's quest came to exactly the kind of success that it should have. Magic is still gone in the literal sense, and will certainly remain so until Fray, but the world has what it needs to keep running as long as nobody goes and wrecks it from the outside. As anticipated, it's now a much closer mirror to our own real world, which has never had a "Seed" but nevertheless produces creativity and hopeful people. Season 10 can carry on with zompires and the occasional magical item without needing to make up more reasons for apocalypses (although granted I am probably asking for too much with that).
The mechanics of how Willow's gift works are a little worrying, though. Does the inspiration of those around her depend on physical proximity? What happens if Willow is killed? Does it grant her any special strength or resistance as a safeguard against that? Do we assume immortality, or is there a chance that she has to gain it for herself, and is that what really gives her the black-eyed look in the Fray future?
All in all I'm really pleased with Willow's emotional development over the course of these five issues, more than I've been with any other character in the comics so far (except possibly Faith). The question of whether she's doing this for herself or others has been definitively answered, she loves her friends again, she isn't depending on a romantic partner, she has nifty tricks to share, and she's still hosting a tantalizing mystery over what happens to her over the next couple hundred years. The one disappointment I expect I'll have to deal with is the lack of Oz - I shouldn't have gotten excited when I saw his placement in her vision of people who needed her, but I couldn't help it. Hopefully he'll still appear at some point, but the absence of any further mention of him within Willow's series probably means there was no particular foreshadowing in that page.
Speaking of that page, I'm still a little annoyed by the art, but I definitely found a few pages to love, mostly involving Willow in unrealistic Magical Girl poses with the Scythe or Aluwyn or the Embodiment Formerly Known as Magic. It's all about color, isn't it? When she saw the two-color rainbow she knew she had to do something about it. Now we've got a full spectrum. Well played, artists. Well played.
Can't stop now, of course. Just a stack of Buffy comics to work through, and then back to the regular rotation. Phew!