Buffy, Koh, and Illyria face Severin. They're outmatched. Illyria gets them away shortly after he reveals that his intentions are to save his girlfriend who turned into a zompire. Buffy explains to Koh, Illyria, and the Council that Severin wants to steal Illyria's time-traveling abilities. She warns them that he'll try again, just before the air crackles, heralding his arrival. The Council is afraid of losing their powers, but Illyria decides to act as bait. The plan fails when she misjudges her teleportation of Buffy and Koh to her side, and Severin sucks her dry. Physically, she's now Fred, but she's freaked out and says something feels different. The Council has run away; the balloon reports that they're regrouping without Buffy et al. Illyria says that Severin could cause an apocalypse, and Buffy says they'll need her friends for help.
Meanwhile, Xander sits with Dawn at the hospital while the doctors try to figure out what's wrong with her, and Billy returns to the scene of the "crime" to find out where Buffy went. Anaheed shows up and they try to discourage each other from getting involved in dangerous Slayer stuff. She leaves. Xander calls Andrew into the hospital. He proposes putting Dawn into the Buffybot for the present, and the two of them dress up as doctors, wheel her out on a cot, and get her set up to transfer her consciousness into the bot. Billy checks the warehouse's security cameras for evidence, and then he's attacked by zompires and saved by Anaheed, who explains that she's a Slayer who's secretly been protecting Buffy. They exit as pals and watch the security footage on an iPad at the hospital. Anaheed recognizes one of the zompires and Dowling wakes up long enough for them to establish that it was a Slayer who joined Simone's side. We find out how she got sired by a cut to Simone, chaining up another Slayer to be sired and claiming it's an experiment so she can figure out how to become stronger than Buffy. Severin shows up, all godking'd out, and says he needs her to get him more energy to help him turn back time, and that she needs his help too.
Buffy creeps into her room through the window with Koh and Illyria and talks to the latter about why the transformation hasn't killed her, what with the body being held together with magic, until Tumble interrupts and informs Buffy that Xander's been calling her. At Andrew's place, we find that the transfer of Dawn's mind into the Buffybot isn't working. Illyria sees that the magical energy inside her is fading, and Buffy and Xander speculate about her origins as the Key until Buffy finally grasps that Dawn's dying because she destroyed the Seed. A bit later, she goes out to the rooftop where Xander is brooding and tells him they're going to fix this, but he flips out on her, blames her for everything, and punches the wall until he's bleeding. He says she and Angel are responsible for Twilight, and that every time she saves the world it keeps getting worse, and he doesn't want her help anymore. She insists - because Dawn is her sister.
Xander keeps resisting Buffy's attempts to make up and involve him in her efforts; she's called everyone she can think of and says it's up to the two of them, but he won't even talk to her and then he storms out and goes home. We also see an extended flashback of the moment in the chamber of the Seed after Giles' death. Xander apparently went beserk and tried to kill Angel, but Buffy stopped him, saying she couldn't lose him/anyone else. His thoughts from the present are overlaid across the issue; he's always felt helpless as his friends die, because all he could do is watch. Suddenly he's teleported off his couch and into an old warehouse, where Simone and Severin are looming over him. They do some threatening and then explain that their plan is to go back in time and prevent Twilight from happening, and they need him to steal the "Vampyr" book from Buffy. Buffy spends the issue moping on the roof until Willow appears, gives her the restored Scythe, and shows that she's got her magic back. They go to diagnose Dawn together, but Willow isn't sure if she can save her. Xander says to Simone and Severin, "I'm in."
Willow is magically examining an unconscious Dawn; Buffy hovers until Willow asks for space, and then goes outside, where Xander, all roughed up, pops into the air in front of her. He says Severin and Simone tried to recruit him to steal the Vampyr book from Buffy, but that he refused and they tortured him and 'ported him back. He's explaining about them needing the book to show them where to get the power they need when there's an explosion from Andrew's apartment. They rush upstairs, but Willow says she's overloaded on magic and that nothing has worked yet.
However, Dawn wakes up. The others are overjoyed, but she's disoriented and doesn't recognize Willow at first. Willow says that all she's done is buy Dawn a few more days; she doesn't have the power for more. Billy and Anaheed bring over the Vampyr book and then get out. The team looks up the Deeper Well, which Willow says has an entrance in England which Giles showed her, and another in New Zealand, but they're both heavily guarded. It's the tomb for the Old Ones, who wreaked havoc on the Earth until mortal creatures killed them, or in some cases, locked them in crystals deep underground. The last Old One sired the first vampire, which seems a bit Chekhov's Gunrackish. Buffy speculates on why Severin needed the book at all, but the three of them decide to devise a plan to use the Well to get Willow stocked up on magic. Buffy and Willow have a talk about the risks and manage to improve their relationship in the process, both of them feeling optimistic. They leave Dawn with Anaheed and Andrew - Dawn wants Xander to stay too, but he says he can't stand back when her life is on the line.
Kennedy comes and takes them away in her private jet, and soon after, Spike gets to Andrew's apartment to sit with Dawn, even though she doesn't recognize him. Buffy, Willow, and Xander arrive at the location of the Deeper Well in England, and find that D'Hoffryn and the Council are there along with the guardians (about forty total) to guard the Seed from Severin. They won't let the Scoobies through without a fight, which Buffy doesn't hesitate to provide.
Severin and Simone are at the New Zealand entrance. They see the guardians for that side leave, except for the talking balloon, to reinforce the side that Buffy is attacking. Xander has set it all up.
This is interesting. And that's already something I don't usually say about this comic.
Xander isn't my favorite character. I don't dislike him, either. He's just kind of a staple of the Buffyverse - you know he's always going to be there, and he's very unlikely to be killed off for the sake of drama. Beyond that, the other characters can count on him, too. They don't rely on any skill or strength particular to him, but they know he won't be corrupted or turn on them, and that gives them a source of stability that they can't get from anyone else. It's why he's the "heart" of the group - his primary feature is loyalty, and the readers get the same kind of comfort from that as his friends do. It's exciting to wonder when Willow is going to go dark again or Giles is going to sacrifice someone's safety for the greater good, but it's a relief to subconsciously assume that we don't have to worry about Xander's alignment.
Well, no more of that. For once, this is a plot twist that has Joss Whedon's fingerprints all over it. Xander is the betrayer. I mean, at least when it was Buffy, they warned us that it would be unexpected! This offense is committed against us much more than against Buffy, and I want it to hurt, but so far I'm just too intrigued by the implications. Can he come back from this? If not, will the group get a new heart? Either way, this might mean the end of the Scoobies, in a much more real sense than we've gotten so far from the series and its annoying history of keeping them all away from each other. And it wasn't sprung on us out of nowhere, either. Xander's PTSD (if that's the term we're going with) actually did lead somewhere. The things he said to Buffy when they fought were cruel, wrong, not completely wrong, and completely in character, but this time he had the emotional push he needed to push him out of his pattern of observe-blame-fight-forgive.
Nearly every season of BtVS has concluded with a Big Bad who involved someone close to Buffy in a very personal way - Glory using Dawn, Willow going dark, etc. In retrospect, Giles might have served that role in Season Eight, what with his dying and all. That leaves Xander as the only character who hasn't been there. The series is almost coming together as a unified whole. I wish the comics were better overall.
See, Xander's long con (that is, stretching from the end of the last issue, when he made his deal, to the end of this one, when he confirmed it for the reader) is a thing of beauty because it was a) clever and b) a meaty chunk to add to the story, and the one thing that would make it better is if it mirrored the way Xander has been used throughout the season up to now. The writers could have been pulling their own long con, making it look as if he were unimportant only to put the bulk of the conflict directly on his head. And I think that's what they intended, and to some extent, have accomplished. There's just one problem, though: you can't retroactively fix a boring book. The reason we needed Xander showing his face wasn't because we needed to know what he was up to; it was because Buffy's story was short on good characters and it wasn't an enjoyable read. It's like when you ask your dad to turn the heat up, and instead he makes you stand outside in the cold for ten minutes. Sure, you feel warmer when you come inside, but that doesn't change the fact that you've spent ten crappy minutes of your life shivering and wishing you were someone else's kid.
(Don't worry, my dad never actually did that to me. I was just thinking of a Calvin & Hobbes strip.)
Another effect of the Disappearing Characters strategy was the failure of Xander/Dawn. I don't know anyone who was on board that ship as much as me, but after they spent the whole season bickering and looking bored with each other, even I found it a lot harder to care about Xander's desperate measures to save her. As a couple, provided they both survive as reasonably decent and normal human beings, they still have a fighting chance, but we should have had a chance to enjoy their relationship already. Since Dawn actually is a favorite of mine, I kind of feel like she's been wasted more than Xander has.
Oh yeah, and how 'bout that revelation that Buffy had about Dawn fading away because of the destruction of the Seed? Seemed to come to her as a bit of a shock. That's cool, that's cool. I mean, why would anyone worry about something like that? Nobody thought about the Dawn/Seed connection earlier than this except ALL OF THE FANS. YEARS AGO. I understand the writers would want to skirt around the obvious, but that was just sloppy. The characters had all of the pieces of the puzzle, and this is their lives. Hopefully the reasoning is that the memory lapses across the board also included a blind spot to wondering about it. Or at least, that can be the fanwank.
Speaking of which, I'm not really pleased with the way Spike's being used in this regard. Where did he get his immunity to the memory loss? He spent more time around her than Angel and Faith, sure, but Buffy and Xander have been forgetting Dawn-related things since the early issues of the season. And now we're seeing him make his grand entrance to sit by her side all nobly even while she can't remember him...there was a Spuffy-identified letter in one of the latest lettercols which actually contained a lot of stuff I agreed with, but it also wanted Dawn and Spike to have a heart-to-heart and reforge their friendship, and there's probably a large like-minded chunk of fandom, and I'm worried that they're going to get that wish. If there's one scene I want the comics to give us, more than anything involving Buffy or Angel, I'd ask for Dawn to tell Spike in no uncertain terms that she doesn't forgive him and she wants nothing more to do with him. It's what we should have initially had with Buffy, but Dawn could still pull it off without the franchise needing to lose the Spike character. As so often happens, it would be too good, and we'll most likely never see it.
I just took a jaunt through my last couple reviews for the Buffy title and it looks like I thought Koh was fried, and he's obviously not, and I forgot all about it before I picked up the next issue, which probably says something about how little thought I've put into Koh, which isn't a surprise, but anyway I thought I should own up to it. (Plus I have no idea who Severin was clutching at the end of #17. Anyone?) His story doesn't seem to have progressed since that point, which is fine, but sadly, Illyria hasn't had much going on either. I'm glad that she brought up the inconsistency of her own survival after she's had the Siphon treatment, since it means that it actually means something, but I don't have a theory. I'm still disappointed that Willyria wasn't in the cards for Season 9, but maybe there's a way to get Fred back through whatever's going on and then we can have Willafred! but okay no.
Can't go without acknowledging that it was great to see Willow again, especially being drawn by Jeanty (and Moline) - and I'm happy about saying that, because his art has been highly inconsistent this season and it's good to see improvement. Almost feels like she's escaped from her miniseries and reentered reality, except there's already evidence of how she's changed, and Buffy even mentioned the Scythe's new paint job. Willow's a lot more like her old self, and a lot like her new self, too: more patient, less resentful, quicker to say something humorous or kind. Her access to magic isn't being abused by either herself or the narrative, and she and Buffy are a team again. I have high hopes for both of them. Buffy's definitely showing her better side, too. Is it just Willow that brought it out in her? How come even her dialogue is better? What is this? How about that panel where she and Dawn touch foreheads and you can only see their eyes? Do we love it? I even cheered a little inside when Buffy did her "Bring it" at D'Hoffryn, and usually I just yawn through the moments of hero's bravado.
What else? Oh, Anaheed. Not impressed; I see no reason for her to be a Slayer. The story didn't need it, and she was an interesting enough character without it. Why couldn't she just have known a loyal Slayer or something and agreed to keep an eye on Buffy? It's not a big deal, though; I like seeing more of her. Billy, I could lose at any moment and never miss, but he's been fairly unobtrusive. Andrew is alive, which is more than I wanted out of him. Clearly all the elements of past arcs are coming up so they can be tied together or given the requisite nod before dismissal, which is, to me, one of the rewards of reading comics. Look, it's Kennedy's jet! Great, now we can forget about Kennedy! Even the one-armed Buffybot got a final appearance.
The Moline issue was nice, but I think I'm actually glad he didn't draw the whole series. He works better as an intermission. And it looks like the break really did help Jeanty out, since his latest work kind of looks like his best. Not only is his Willow looking good, but everyone else is too, except for Illyria, but let's cut our losses. I think I recall that he said Dawn was the hardest for him, but I've grown to really like the way he draws her, and the color effects for her condition were really neat. I don't know how the other characters saw her, but to me it was a good way to depict the idea of a person fading from reality. She's not translucent (yet?), but she's getting closer to monochrome, as if the next stage will be a black-and-white form in a full-color world. At the same time, it just kind of makes her look a bit sickly, which makes sense for someone whose health really is endangered.
Gotta give the artist the usual props for his fun with backgrounds, too. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that Andrew's apartment is his new favorite. Also that he loves to plug Dark Horse's other series - Xander certainly kept that jacket on for a while! If that was really Anakin Skywalker I saw in one of the background posters, though, Andrew isn't living up to his geekhood cred. Also just let me complain about Buffy's weird hairdo in the last couple pages.
Even with my complaints, it's really nice to be enjoying this comic again, and I'll admit it, it's also really nice to be up to date with my reviews on it. I haven't gotten any comments on this side of the series for a long time so I don't know if anyone's still reading, but if so, I'll try hard to stick around long enough to hold up a conversation with you! I mean, looks like I have plenty to say about it once I get rolling.