A&F #23, Summary and Review
Whistler tells Nash and Pearl to deal with Angel and Faith's attack while he continues his magic-distillation. Everyone does a little exposition while they're fighting, particularly about what Whistler is trying to do and Angel's objections to it. Whistler succeeds in producing a glowing little ball right before Nadira shows up on the scene and takes over fighting Nash so Angel can stop Whistler, who transforms into a blue glowing horned thing who can melt Angel's weapons with his hands.
Faith tries to send Nadira away, but she's in a fury, and Faith watches helplessly from Pearl's grip as Nash takes Nadira out, burning off half her face. Meanwhile, Lavinia, Sophronia, Alasdair, and Mini-Giles are speeding up in a car, stocked with weapons, spell books, and runestones that will protect them from the magic plague. The aunts take the weapons up to the roof while Alasdair and Giles attempt to use the energy in the air to cast a spell. Nash grabs the ball of magic that Whistler made and flies it up into the air. Lavinia tosses a sword to Angel, who throws it at Nash, who deflects it easily. Giles, however, manages to channel some magic into a small fireball, which strikes Nash's back and makes him drop the plague-ball. Everyone tries to catch it, but it hits the roof, bounces a few times, and then explodes over the heads of the many spectators standing below the building.
The people think the 'fairy dust' raining down on them is lovely, but then they begin writhing and transforming into monsters and mutants: one girl's growing wings, one guy has his face melting off his bones, etc. On the last page, Pearl says the future is finally here, and she and Nash look down smugly at all of the warped humans screaming out in jealousy of the one guy who gets to be a white werewolf.
Ugh, of course this plague had to be released right before I'm traveling to London. Heathrow is gonna be a mess.
Not an extraordinary issue, but solid. Despite the emphasis on action, I felt fairly engaged the whole time, partially due to the vitality in the artwork and partially because our heroes and villains in this book have a nice complement of styles and abilities that make their battles interesting. This time around a lot of the tension came from the baddies cornering the market in flying (and also a bit of a plot hole, since it seems Whistler himself could have been the one to fly the plague up into the air)- it would have been an overwhelming benefit for our team to have their collective skills rounded out more, but that's exactly what gives them credence as an organically formed group. Except for Alasdair, nobody was sought out on the basis of what he or she could do, and it shows.
Also I just kind of like Pearl and Nash's eye-beams. It's the one trait they have that makes their ridiculously flashy trademark work. And how about Whistler and his new shape? I thought that was a pleasant departure from the usual formula for Buffy demons. Note particularly how in at least one shot, you can still recognize his comic-ized face within the blue flames. But I'm getting ahead of myself; I'll go back to the artwork later.
In addition to the action there's also a lot of recap in this one, which is another thing I would ordinarily object to. Sure enough, it feels clunky sometimes coming through the dialogue, but I could also buy that all of the characters had a few things they needed to say to each other at this point. And let's face it, sometimes the audience needs a recap, too, not just as reminders but to cement the central themes of the story. Look at Whistler on the very first page and the emphasis on his words 'big picture'. It's a good thing to keep in mind as we're reading: big picture guy, right here.
Near the end of the issue the conversation between Angel and Whistler gets particularly intense, and I thought that much made the whole thing totally worth it. Key phrase - "when the body count coulda stayed in the millions." Killing some now to save more later is an age-old ethical dilemma, but we don't usually hear it on a scale like this. When the "some" is millions, you can't possibly condone it, but when the "more" is everyone... Well, if you ask me, you still can't condone it, but who has a better solution? Angel? No. Not Angel. He's not even claiming he's going to find a way to save everyone, but if it turns out that Whistler isn't crazy (which is still a possibility), he'll have to come up with something. We all knew that he doesn't want to murder anyone, but check out Whistler's accusation here: "You always think there's a way around the hard choices." That's the exact opposite of what the fans claim. Time and again, Angel's been faced with situations that demand he sacrifice something or someone, and he always makes the choice, allegedly because he's playing God. Now we have a character who truly is playing God, and Angel's fighting him tooth and nail - can we use this to reinterpret Angel's past? Has he really murdered people for the greater good, or has he just tried so hard to keep from killing anyone that he fails to keep someone from being killed?
Okay, Nadira. I wasn't Nadira's biggest fan and I thought Faith's inner monologue as she tried to save her dragged a bit, but one thing about her death scene really did draw me in: her vehemence as she declared herself a Slayer. She's essentially quoting the show's intro (and the Vampyr book, maybe?), so this is a description we're only accustomed to hearing applied to Buffy. But hell - shouldn't we be used to thinking of all these new Slayers as Slayers by now? Don't they each have the exact same calling as the original one? How does this affect who Nadira is, and how she wants to live? All in all, I just gained a ton of sympathy for her, and even for the narrative, which has been moving too slowly for my tastes when it comes to addressing the real issues with Buffy's big decision at the show's finale. Nadira might be all about revenge, but her revenge has a purpose. She even seems to understand at last that Angel isn't evil, and she's going straight for the ones who are. She's a true Slayer: RIP.
Big points for the little moments; there weren't a slew of them, but I love stuff like Whistler snarking at Angel for rounding up a third of the world's population to half. It's just such a petty thing for a supervillain to complain about, but totally in keeping with Whistler and his Big Picture. If he can't find the worth in individual human lives, then sure, a third versus a half matters quite a bit, and why stop there when he can pretend that Angel just isn't getting the facts right.
There's a panel of Nadira kicking Nash in the balls that recalls the one with Faith doing the same to Spike, a few issues back, so much that I feel like it can't be accident, but if the writer or artist is trying to draw a comparison here, I'm not sure what it is. Nadira and Faith, sure, but Nash hasn't done much to distinguish himself from run-of-the-mill evil guy, which Spike isn't. Perhaps it was a joke about the characters' appearance, since they do bear some similarity.
Does anyone know what Faith meant by "Your three" when she shouted it at Nadira?
Not enough Giles in this one, but I'd like to high five him for that pedantic remark about why one does not miss an apocalypse. Also, the one about the way magic feels. That was damn fine writing. I was pleased that he was the one who managed to score the vital hit on Nash. Likewise, nice bit part for the aunts. One death left! One of them, or Alasdair? Place your bets now!
Aside from that, what do we reckon happened here? That is, how localized is the spread of the plague? Pearl seemed convinced it was going to get to the whole world, but I suppose our heroes will now turn their attention toward containing it. And then...the surviving mutants do some relocating until some of them end up in Manhattan and say hello to Fray? With Giles back and Whistler's project essentially concluded, I'm not sure where else we have to go for the last couple issues. Which, come to think of it, is kind of exciting. Plus, some of those mutations promise to be pretty cool. The scary tentacle people might die off anyway (as the face-melters must be doing already), so we'll just have a new race of werewolves and chicks who can flutter.
If you can't tell, I was pretty tickled by the assortment of transformations that Isaacs dreamed up here. I think I particularly liked the art in this one, not just for that reason, but for all the sparkly stuff, because I am 100% wee child at heart. The movements of the characters and the ball of magic in the last few pages had some real speed and sprawl, and I think it helped the story a lot. There were probably a whole bunch of panels I wanted to point out, but I'll limit myself to two. Angel preparing the throw the sword at the bottom of the page; I don't throw swords myself so I can't speak for accuracy, but I got the impression that there was a life reference involved here, just from his pose and the position of his fingers on the hilt. Then, the panel with the plague ball going falling-star over the crowd. I missed this on my first look, but the wall of the building is decorated with question marks. They don't make sense as graffiti, but they're lined up with the building's perspective so that they're not hovering punctuation. The result? You get a subconscious sense of the crowd being confused, but without the silliness of hovering punctuation. I could be reading too much into it (or not enough), but I was pleased with that interpretation.
On the flipside, I noticed the simplified faces of distant characters a little more than I usually do; not sure if that's because there were more of them, or they weren't as accurately depicted as usual, or nothing at all. Minor complaint, but I always find myself being too complimentary in reviews and I NEED YOU TO TAKE ME SERIOUSLY.
*cough* No, I'm fine. Well, this is a hefty one, huh? Cheers, all! Hope everyone else enjoyed their monthly dose of A&F, too!