Harmony and Clem drop in on Angel and Faith, just like they did in the preview pages. On re-reading them the only thing I noticed that I hadn't before was that Harmony's a judge on "Britain's Got Talent". She is famous. That is an important plot point for this issue.
The tape seems to show that Harmony killed her partner, but she claims that she sired him, and that it was a long time, he asked her to do it, he was dying of cancer, etc. Now that she's "the leading advocate of reform vampirism", the tape would make her look bad and she doesn't want it to get out. Angel doesn't care and Faith's stake never leaves her hand, but Clem points out that Harmony's popularity and reputation are valuable to the human populace too, as she inspires other vampires to follow her example and not eat people.
In Harmony's flat in Kensington, the group begins their investigation. They consider people who had access to Harmony's things and people who hate her or would benefit from defaming her, and decide to start by finding vampires who still sire people.
On the next page, some vampires are standing around a couple of human victims hanging by their ankles from a swing set in a playground. Angel, Harmony, Faith, and Clem (holding Harmony's two Pomeranians) are watching from the bushes. Angel explains that the vampires on guard are "zompires", the new variety of vamp that we were introduced to in the last issue of BtVS. Faith and Angel attack; Harmony refuses until one of the vampires insults her arse. Clem joins in too, protecting the dogs with his snake-face trick.
Once they're down to two vampires (not zompires), Angel and Harmony interrogate them about the sex tape, but they don't know anything - one is actually a fan, and says he could get rich off the footage of Harmony siring a guy. Harmony and Faith stake them, but Angel has realized that with the profits to be made from the tape, there's no need for blackmail, and the motivations must be personal.
Back at Harmony's...studio?...they work on making a list of everyone who hates her. The topic gets off-track when she can't remember the names of anyone she's killed. Angel does remember the names of all his victims, and Harmony retorts, "Uh-huh. And that's why you're still a private dick while I'm the most important vampire in the world." She goes on to fire a few quotes at him about moving on from shame and fear, and says that her decision to let go of the past means that "vampires and humans are living in perfect harmony."
Harmony snaps her fingers to summon a female demon she calls "Superbia", who is on her PR team, grooming her image for the supernatural community. She tells her to launch a campaign to fix Angel's image. "And we can't tiptoe around the whole 'creating a new universe, leaving ours to burn' thing. Start a rumor he was going to take good humans to the new universe with him, once it was ready, and leave the bad ones here for us to eat." Angel cuts in with "But that is what I was going to--" and Harmony shushes him and concludes her spiel by putting her arms around him and saying they should pretend they had a thing and proving it with a sex tape.
Angel finally gets away from Harmony as she ties things up with Superbia, rejects a magazine cover of herself that Clem shows her, and shoves a bouquet back at its delivery guy, and Angel and Faith briefly discuss their next step. Faith is still thinking about the PR stunt, though, wondering if Harmony's way really does get better results. "We're all killers here," she says. Clem says "Not me," and reveals that his kind feeds on emotions. (So what are the kittens and constant snacking about?)
Faith and Angel's conversation ends when Angel reminds her of the dangers of forgetting what they've done. She tears up the PR outline and leads everyone out to go bust some heads.
There's a montage of head-busting and also Harmony strip-dancing, and then a party where Harmony talks to a gentleman who looks vaguely familiar. She calls him David and makes a TARDIS penis reference and OH GOD, HARMONY IS HITTING ON DAVID TENNANT, MAKE ME UNSEE IT.
Finally, the four (+dogs) are walking down the street discussing their failure, and Angel says their only option now is to release the tape before the blackmailer does, putting a positive spin on it. Clem freaks out and says he'll find these people and pay them off rather than letting her take the risk that the public won't forgive her. That's all the evidence Angel needs - Clem was the blackmailer.
Clem confesses, first claiming that she doesn't pay him enough and he needs the money, then, at further prompting from Angel, admitting that he's in love with her. He wanted to set up a situation he could save her from and paint himself as the hero. He's miserable now, sure he's lost her, but she kisses his cheek and says he hasn't. She won't date him, because it would be bad for her career, but she'll give him a raise and they'll pretend this never happened.
Angel objects to the "pretend this never happened" part, but Clem leaps right on it, smiling happily. Harmony takes this as evidence that letting go is the best idea, and gives Angel an envelope containing Superbia's image-rehab plan, telling him to move on with his life. She and Clem depart.
Faith asks Angel, "Any takeaway from all that?" and Angel replies, "Yeah." He puts the envelope in a trash can and says, "Famous people are crazy." Faith takes a moment to look at the envelope as Angel walks away, and then she leaves it there and follows him.
So I'm having some feelings about this issue. Foremost feelings are in regard to the scene in which Angel basically states that his Twilight plan was just "lock-the-lawyers-in-with-the-vampires" on a bigger scale. That's kind of atrocious and if we're going to stick with it I'm deeply disappointed. The best save I can think of is some later clarification in the vein of "The Twilight influence on my mind made me think that locking the lawyers in with the vampires was a good thing", but if that's going to happen, I wish they had just saved the whole explanation for later instead of dropping it into an otherwise humorous context.
With that in mind let's just jump right to something that I did like. We got zompires. Now, I'm not crazy about zompires in general, but a) yay multi-series continuity, and b) the radio-signal explanation actually does work within the confines of the mythology. It's not too clear yet exactly how intelligent zompires are or what other limitations they have, but any slips that have been made so far can be wiped away with a little suspension of disbelief. The term might have spread a little too quickly, but who says Xander was the only one who came up with it?
The other thing I liked was the use of a funny/ridiculous one-shot to bring up some relevant and deep questions about Angel's guilt (and Faith's, and Faith's feelings about Angel's guilt). Harmony's repeated insistence that it's pointless and destructive to look back doesn't carry much weight coming from her, but she also has visible results to back her up. Faith's reluctance to dismiss the PR idea felt very real. She's not taken in by Harmony, but she does see the sense of using a reputation to sow peace for others, and she knows that she and Angel could both feel better about themselves (and hence work more efficiently) if they knew they were making real improvements in people's lives.
For Angel, letting go of his guilt must feel, above all else, like a lie, and I think that's the major theme of this issue, and one of the major themes of Angel's entire series: can we accept harmony at the expense of the truth? Angel will always say no, though it drags him down a little further each time. There's also his other major theme in play - he's terrified of himself, and embracing the lie of happiness could instantly flip him into the former truth of Angelus. His guilt is not a symbolic punishment; it's a necessity of safety.
You know I actually always thought that Twilight and Harmony were working together in some capacity. It seems odd to me that this would be the first time Angel is really faced with the potential utility of well-behaved vampires. Maybe this is one of the parts of his memory that got cut out?
Other than that, I thought the characterization was done well, not only for Angel and Faith but for Harmony and Clem. One of the reviews pointed out that Harmony seemed too intelligent here and I agree (she should not have known those quotes no matter who fed them to her), but it's refreshing that Clem remains so consistent. He's not good, he's not smart, and he's not ambitious, but he does make one smile.
I didn't love the art. You know I didn't, and I don't want to dwell on it, so I'd rather pick out a couple positive things I can say about it. The outdoor scenes look a lot smoother and easier on the eyes than the indoor ones, and I like the way the demons are drawn. There are also a few really good panels of both Angel and Faith. I'm glad we're getting Isaacs right back again, but I don't think the art ruined the issue or anything.
Okay, I gotta go get some food going, but for those who haven't read the issue, here is my thumb being up, and hopefully I can jump in on some good discussions later on.