Anyway, this one's super long (because I LOVED THIS ISSUE), so beware.
The three pages of preview are actually the first three pages, that's nice. Willow and Angel argue about their respective projects; Willow says she needs Connor to bring magic back to Earth.
At the page turn, Faith is the one who asks, "His son Connor?", and Willow explains that she needs to go to a dimension that still has magic, and Quor'Toth is the only one that you don't reach by using a portal (all of which are now closed). Connor, of course, grew up in Quor'Toth. Angel responds to this news with a bug-eyed, unfocused stare.
Willow continues, saying she found a 'shortcut' ritual that requires the magical energy still left in the Scythe, plus something "steeped in the essence of Quor'Toth". Angel understands that this could be a boy who spent the first seventeen years of his life there. Willow says that she needs Angel to help her convince Connor. Faith cuts in again to tell her how things have been between Angel and Connor - against Faith's advice, Angel kept dodging Connor's calls, until finally he stopped trying. "We don't even know where he is," she finishes.
Angel contradicts this immediately by saying Connor's in school, happy, with a girlfriend, and Angel has someone keeping an eye on him. Faith is not happy to hear that this is another thing Angel's been keeping from her, but Angel tells her that it's a family matter, and the point is that Connor is better off without him. To Willow, he says that she wants him to ruin his son's life "for some wild-goose chase. Something that's not even possible. Here I was ashamed to see you."
She slaps him. Over the rest of the page she raves at him, first grabbing his shirt and then clutching the broken Scythe and crying. She says that she's not like him; this is all his fault. He blindly runs down any road that might lead to redemption, never worrying about consequences. He ruined everything. He can't see how empty the world is: there hasn't been any decent art since the Seed was broken, suicide rates are spiking, and people are losing hope all over the world.
Willow believes that the world is dying and she needs to save it. She asks why nobody understands. Angel puts his hand on her shoulder as she sobs and tells her that they'll go to see Connor and she can talk to him, but it's going to be Connor's choice. She agrees. He also warns her about what kind of place Quor'Toth is; she'll be fighting for her life every second. She says she won't stay long, but she was hoping that he'd come along to keep her alive. If he does, she'll give him the Scythe to help him resurrect Giles. They both need help, and they both think the other is crazy for what they're doing, but they can't do it alone. They can resent each other later.
Angel says they'll leave in the morning, and he goes to make arrangements. Faith asks Willow to come see someone with her in the meantime. On the next page we see Nadira fighting a pack of zompires, yelling at them to say something. Faith pops in to help, explaining about zompires and also apologizing for the previous arc when she suggested Nadira go to the Lorophage demon. Willow peeks out and says hi, asking if Faith is sure they know each other, but Nadira recognizes her instantly and runs over.
It turns out Willow healed her and saved her life after the slaughter of her squad. With this reminder, Willow hugs her and promises that things will get better. After giving them a little space, Faith tells Nadira that she's going away for a while, but isn't giving up on finding Pearl and Nash. Nadira says it's okay, but warns her that the baddies are planning something big, and she won't stop searching. They part peaceably.
Faith and Willow talk as they board a double-decker bus. The conversation about Nadira and her issues leads into one about Giles, and how he told Faith that you can't bring someone back from a natural death. She asks Willow, the expert, for confirmation. Willow says that the plan works on paper, and that Angel would have a chance if there was still magic in the world, though it would be more likely to end in disaster. Without magic, he'll probably just fail, but Faith still needs to stop him if it looks like things are going bad. Does Faith think he can do it?
Faith says she goes back and forth. She's bothered by the way Angel keeps hiding things, and also that he brushes off her questions about the risk of turning Giles into a horrible monster. She thinks he's doing it for his own sake, not for Giles. Willow catches the passive aggression in this statement, and defends herself from the same accusation. She knows she's been irresponsible with magic in the past, but this is different. The world is missing something, and she's trying to fix it before it's too late: she's not in this for herself.
Back at the Giles estate, Angel is talking to Faith and Willow about preparations for their trip. Sophronia and Lavinia are also there, lounging around, and he asks if they're okay with house-sitting. They wave him off. The moment the door closes, Lavinia sees on her phone that Morrissey's playing Prague that night, and the two of them instantly decide to sod house-sitting and leave.
Angel, Faith, and Willow arrive at the Los Angeles airport. Willow's asking Angel about Twilight, accusing him of creating a new universe and leaving everyone to die, including his son. He protests that his plan was to give the Twilight universe form and then bring everyone over. The reason Buffy never mentioned that part is that he couldn't finish a sentence when Buffy was worked up. Willow laughs and they both look embarrassed. Faith sees who came to pick them up.
It's Gunn. He greets the ladies and makes fun of Angel's ridiculous hoodie and baseball cap, which Angel explains is to keep the sun off. Gunn says his ride has tinted windows, and soon they're all in the car, Gunn driving and Faith riding shotgun. He fills them in on the whereabouts of various AtS characters, including Illyria, who's off the map, and Nina, who's married. Angel says, "Good for her." Gunn says Connor just got out of his psych class, and that moment, they all see him (though we don't). Angel pushes so close to the windshield that his hand starts smoking.
Connor's waving goodbye at a pretty girl his own age; Gunn says that's his girlfriend Natalie. They've been together three months, and they're both majoring in social work. Angel's happy and impressed to see him with his life so together, and he instantly turns to Willow, who starts arguing with him about how far they came and how he's not backing out on her now. Only Faith notices that Connor is no longer visible, and then he's suddenly on the hood of the car, peering in at them. He asks if Angel is wearing a hoodie. It's adorable.
On the next page, they're all at an outdoor market. Gunn and the girls are trying on hats (a pretty cunning orange one, to be exact), and Angel has his arms full of muffins from a nearby booth. Connor's calling him out for being so silent for so long and then showing up out of nowhere. Angel apologizes and talks about how great Connor is doing with him out of his life, and how proud of him he is. They hug, dropping muffins, as Gunn and the others covertly smile at them.
Next, they're in a bar, Connor and Angel at a table together and the other three at another. Faith gripes about parents. Connor talks about feeling rejected, even though he understands it was a guilt trip. Angel responds with more apologies and explanations, but Connor says he wasn't finished - Angel was right. Connor really is doing great; he's in the right place and Angel should be wherever is best for him, too. He's fine with it, but he doesn't want Angel to hide from him.
When Angel gets up for another round, Faith meets him at the bar, and Angel shares his pride in his son. Angel says Connor is probably more grown up than he is: "All this time I've spent trying to find redemption saving the world...when maybe I should've just been trying to be a better man." Faith not only agrees, but tells him flat out that he can't risk his son's life to get Giles back. Angel cuts in; he's already decided that they're not doing this. He also tells her to keep her parenting advice to herself, reminding her bluntly about how things went with her father.
Angel returns to the table, where Connor is now sitting with Willow and Gunn. He asks to talk to Willow, but Connor says, "She already told me about Quor'Toth. Let's do it." Angel and Willow argue about this, and then Connor and Angel do. Connor's actually noticed the effects of the loss of magic in the world by himself, and he wants to help. He isn't asking permission from Angel. Gunn won't get involved in family disputes, and Faith throws back the words "parenting voice". Angel tries again on his own, telling Connor that his happy normal life is too precious to throw away.
It seems to be sealed when Connor says he survived in Quor'Toth as a little kid, Angel points out that he had Holtz then, and Connor replies, "And now I'll have my father." He also throws in the classic jinx of "You'll see. Everything's going to be fine," which pays off nicely on the next page.
At the Hyperion, Willow's slicing symbols into Connor's bare chest with the Scythe in a circle of candles, while Gunn and Faith hold Angel back from "saving" Connor and breaking the circle. Willow looks guilty, stammering about not knowing it would be like this, but Connor says the cuts aren't deep and they're almost done. He asks her to continue so he doesn't die of suspense, and she praises him and then tells everyone to cross their fingers.
As she speaks the last incantation, there's a ripping sound and a blinding light. Everyone stares at the new hole. We don't see into it, but Willow says it worked, and that they can safely cross the circle. They have about thirty hours until the tear closes. Gunn will stand guard, and also hands them a bag of weapons - medieval ones, since Connor says technology won't work there. He insists again that he's coming, and Angel says, "I know. Here's how it's going to be. We go through. We stand right next to the tear until Willow gets her power back. Things go bad even a little, we come back through and close it. Anyone has to stay behind to cover the retreat, it's me. Those are my terms, and they're non-negotiable." Connor says he can live with that.
Willow, Angel, Connor, and Faith stand before the tear, Gunn a little behind. Willow has the Scythe; the other three have weapons of their own. "Then come on, son," says Angel. "Time I saw where you grew up."
Oh, boy. So much to say, I'm overwhelmed even after sleeping on it. Reading this issue was like watching Christos Gage throwing candy from an A&F-shaped float.
Right away we get a lot of questions answered: why Willow needs to go to Quor'Toth, how she's going to use Connor, and what exactly she's asking Angel for. She actually wants him to help her convince Connor to go with her, since she barely knows him - apparently, she barely knows Angel either. It looks like she could find Connor on her own, or thinks she can, but she wants to show up with leverage, like his father saying "I know this woman and she's trustworthy." With that as her rationale, her actions over the next few pages make a lot of sense. It doesn't matter to her if Angel wants to help; she just needs him to not interfere, and that means leaving him without any dirt on her to pass on to Connor. Naturally, the best way to do that is with the power of guilt.
Angel delivers a few seriously cutting lines himself in this issue, starting with "Here I was ashamed to see you." I love when he gets like that. No matter how low he considers himself, he won't excuse anyone else's crimes, and if he decides to call someone out, he'll do it without holding anything back.
And of course the best part of that is Willow reacting. Face-slapping is such a lovely gesture of rage, isn't it? He pissed her off THIS MUCH. We haven't seen this much emotion out of her since Season 8. It really helps the narrative, in part because she can essentially spell out the conflict that's driving the plot - hell, ALL the plots - without it sounding forced. Angel ruined everything, he's prioritizing his redemption without caring about consequences, and Willow is trying to save the world although nobody else understands.
Whatever the effect of this tirade was on Angel, I found to my own astonishment that she convinced ME. Not entirely, I'm not a total pushover, but this is the first time that I felt like I understood what Willow was about, and believed in her sincerity. The thing is, as a resident of the real world, I can ascertain that it's not as bad as all that to live without magic. My planet doesn't need to be "fixed" in that way, so the only reason I could think of for Willow to fix hers was for her own benefit - she lost a lot personally, and though I sympathize, it didn't seem fair to interpret her own situation as the entire world losing its soul, especially since nobody but her was talking about it.
But now we have new intel. There are signs of the world dying; they're just being largely ignored. The Buffyverse, whatever it now has in common with the real world, follows rules of its own. I was completely thrown by Willow saying that there haven't been any post-magic decent songs, movies, or books - at first it sounded like a funny line, but the more I think about it...can you imagine? All artists all over the world losing their inspiration? She follows this revelation with the one about suicide rates spiking and then talks about everyone losing hope, which I think actually obscures the point a little. I wouldn't want the situation to be reduced to magic = hope. Beauty, or mystery, might fit better. Willow herself represents the "spirit" of the Core Four, and by nature that's a difficult quality to define, but it's not limited to her use of magic. She's something unknown, outside of the rules.
It even makes sense to me that we haven't heard anything of this before. The characters have their own problems to keep them occupied, and a worldwide sense of apathy isn't something that would show up in the news. But now that we know about it, I wonder if any of our other plots are a symptom of this one. Maybe it really is the best thing for Willow to bring back magic, although I don't think she'll pull it off in the end. Suddenly seeing the arguments between Buffy and Willow in a new light - this is really what Willow was trying to say all along, but Buffy needed something more tangible to count as "consequences".
Alright. So it makes sense that Angel tries to throw her a bone. Connor really does deserve to at least hear about this, and Angel needs a good excuse to see him, and poor Willow's all teary-eyed and Angel is guilty. The Scythe doesn't seem to have much to do with it. Good.
I didn't expect Nadira to show up in this issue, but for once I really didn't mind her, beyond the page of angry-girl-fighting-zompires action which is getting pretty old. Figures Willow turns out to know pretty much everyone. Her reunion with Nadira really endeared me to her further. I remember this Willow, full of empathy and leadership. Plus she coaxed some actual character development out of Nadira, yay!
Pearl and Nash get a nod (everyone gets a nod, even Alasdair!), which I think is a hint that something's going to go down in London while Angel and Faith are away, particularly if you pair it with Sophronia and Lavinia leaving the house unattended. Cool! Not my favorite villains, but they might bring some Whistler with them, plus there's a lot of resolution that needs to happen there so we might as well get to work on it.
Faith and Willow kind of make a fantastic team. Their history together is almost as complex as the one that Faith has with Buffy, but they've matured so much, they're able to just rationally talk together about these painful subjects. Willow basically confirms what Faith thought about Angel's project, but she adds that Faith herself is the element that keeps the whole thing safe enough for Willow to make the deal she did - one more person trusting Faith to not let Angel make a unGiles. And then there's another straight-from-the-lips-of-the-reader exchange: are Angel and Willow really trying to help, or are they doing this for themselves?
We've gotten the vibe for a while now that Angel's blowing off the potential consequences of resurrecting Giles, but now Faith states outright that he is, right to her face. This put some gears turning in my head. I know I trust Angel more than a lot of fans think is smart, but what he's doing in this case is weird. He knows better than to risk doing something horrible to Giles through this process - heck, we already saw him give up on the Mohra blood because of what it might do. In the same panel we have Faith talking about how Angel's hiding things from her, and it could add up to this: Angel's hiding something from us too. Resurrecting Giles isn't his intent at all. Certainly, he's hell-bent on a project that is somehow related to Giles' soul, but it's not what we've been told.
I can't prove I'm right, yet, but if I am, that's something to be psyched about. Not much I love more than Angel playing me for a fool.
Willow, on the other hand, I'm seeing as a lot more straightforward, as I've already described. She adds here that she knows she's not the poster child for using magic responsibly, and I've got to tip my hat to her for owning up to that. I also liked that she picked up on Faith's passive aggression faster than I did.
If I've got one gripe about this issue it's definitely the way the sunlight rules were pushed. The hoodie and cap might be enough for the airport, but definitely not the scanty shade of the bazaar. Good thing the hoodie was so damn cute I can forget about this.
Alright, here's the big one. The audience is talking again, and the writer didn't even bother to change up the wording that much - seriously, if you've visited an online discussion of the comics since the end of Season 8, you've seen the phrase "created a whole new universe and left everyone else to die, including his son". The team had questions about it fired at them left and right, but never really answered, except for vague evasions (the comment from Joss which has now resurfaced after being inserted into Angel's dialogue). Why not? Well, they wanted the content of the story to answer it, and that's what they're doing here, at last. This is not only their right but the best course of action, since these things need to be self-contained. It took too long, but they wanted it to be natural, and I guess that meant bringing in a character from Buffy's side of things who would demand a direct explanation.
Anyway, the other half of the matter: is this sufficient? Is it a retcon? For the latter, I'd say yes, a little bit. And I absolutely do not care. Brad Meltzer gave us some fantastic, thrilling scenes, all mixed together with the utter crap he came up with as the background of Twilight and the characters' motivations. There was nothing to do with that crap but retcon it. With a vengeance. Anyway, it's easy enough to fanwank, since neither Buffy nor Angel has to be 100% in character during their otherplanar jaunt. So, they said some stupid things. Angel failed to deliver the whole entire point of his whole entire plan because he didn't want to interrupt Buffy. I can live with it, though I really have to say I prefer the pure retcon in which certain things were not said at all.
As for being sufficient - not really, but it doesn't have to be, since I doubt it's the last time it will be mentioned. Right now, what we've got is Angel trying to save everyone, and failing because Buffy wanted to save a certain few of them first. It'll do. Hopefully later it'll get more fleshed out, but let me give you the way I see it in the meantime:
Angel foresaw the destruction of the entire world, and was told that the only chance of stopping it was to assume the Twilight persona, make Buffy do the same, and transcend to a new world. For this reason he chose to go along with Whistler's plan, although he knew it would mean letting the Twilight force take him over at times and committing some fairly heinous deeds. When he and Buffy ascended, he meant to take a little time to give their new world form, and then bring all humans up to join them. Unfortunately, Buffy wouldn't go along with this plan (PROBABLY BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T EXPLAIN IT TO HER, JACKASS), so they returned to Earth, and the abandoned Twilight force turned into a green fire lion instead and possessed Angel to make him grab the Seed for it.
You can also choose to ignore my capslock up there and say that Buffy wouldn't go along with the plan because she didn't think her friends could afford the time it would take to do it Angel's way. There's also a possibility that she had considered what it would mean for her to be the new Eve/goddess of Twilight, and she didn't like the idea of not being one of them anymore - not a problem for Angel, who's never been one of anyone.
I'm not going back to check right now, but I believe in the Harmony issue, we saw a comment that implied the whole plan of bringing humanity into Twilight. That moment was kind of sketchy because it was voiced by Harmony, who said something about taking the good people and leaving the bad people, and Angel seemed to agree. Which would be horrendous. However, now it looks more like he meant all humans as the good people, and all vampires as the bad people, or something along those lines. Phew.
And then I totally lost it because Gunn is back. GUNN. GUNN IS BACK. Temporarily, to all appearances, but who cares? He's alive, healthy, still friends with Angel, keeping an eye on Connor, and please can he have a fling with Faith? It doesn't have to be a full-blown romance, I just...they're so pretty and...
Okay. Okay. Along with Gunn we get a rundown of like everyone else from AtS. See what I'm telling you? CANDY FROM A FLOAT. Illyria's missing, which means she's going to show up in Willow's mini and they're going to have a fling too. Continuity nod with the police force in California starting up a supernatural crimes unit. We could conceivably have Kate visiting San Francisco. THIS COULD HAPPEN. Lorne, well. Okay fine, I'll buy more comics from IDW. Nina's married! I love it that Nina's married. Not because I saw her as a threat or anything; it's just so nice to see her and Angel over each other and at peace with it. He looks so sincere when he says "Good for her."
And Connor is just...I can't believe I've written this much about the issue already without getting to his part. I absolutely adore the way he was written. He makes me want to rearrange my hierarchy of favorite characters to make sure he's near the top. Angel's face. Did you see Angel's face. Like all over the place, it's Connor and it's ANGEL'S FACE.
No opinion about Natalie. I ship Connor with Bethany and no I don't care that it will never happen. Also, that scarf he's wearing is ridiculous and he needs a haircut because when does he ever not, and that is the full extent about my complaints on Connor.
He's just such a kid! He's mature, and he's brave, and he's majoring in social work so he can help people, but he's still such a kid! He jumped onto the car! There's a missing panel in which he told Angel, "The first step to redemption is to buy me a truckload of chocolate chip muffins." If that isn't reason enough to utterly adore him then I don't know where your standards are.
Before I forget - Jayne hat sighting, top panel on the muffins page, Gunn and Rebekah Isaacs win everything forever.
A lot of lecturing and guilt follows, naturally, but it was not only necessary but really well-written. Connor's so well-adjusted that he can be open with Angel about how frustrating it is to be simultaneously adored and ignored, but he's also just plain intelligent, or possibly wise: he understands. He's not asking Angel to make him feel better, he just wants to let him know it's alright to do what his heart is telling him. All grown up indeed. In just one fantastic panel, we see that within this short span of time, Angel's already learned something from him - being a better man, just by living. Kind of a huge thing for Angel's story, so I don't think it's the last we'll see of it. Might even be tied to what I said before about Angel's hidden plan; perhaps he's been considering this for a while now.
Regarding that hidden plan - Angel never meant to allow Connor to be part of Willow's ritual. That didn't come as a surprise, but I also can't say I guessed it before he said it. So, what's going on here? Angel isn't planning what we, Faith included, thought he was planning. Yeah. The dude is not resurrecting Giles.
But our next item is Angel letting fly another completely vicious line, this time to Faith. Again, I sympathize with both of them. She thought it was necessary to tell him not to risk Connor; that's not her fault, and besides, everyone's been telling her it's her job to control Angel's obsession. But it's completely natural that Angel takes it so hard. He doesn't like anyone to even think that he might put his son in danger. So he lashes out, and because he's so damn good at this, he does it by using a shared memory that really, really hurts her. Soon it comes back and bites him in the ass. Who wants to be Angel?
Connor is again magnificent when the whole Quor'Toth conversation goes down. This is some prime social work for him to get started with. His agreement with Willow about the state of the post-Seed world really sealed my belief that she's for real. It's kind of a shock that these are the only two characters who have mentioned feeling this way, but maybe it makes sense for Connor to be especially sensitive to how the vulnerable people are feeling. And then he has to fight with Angel, because Angel does not go in for this "Connor makes sacrifices for other people" thing. And then they make up and heartstrings are pulled SO HARD.
But wait, Christos Gage has more candy! We're in the Hyperion! The one and only Hyperion! There's this gorgeously drawn full-page image and it's only sexy if you're really messed up. Nobody is pleased with this. Angel's panicking. Willow seems kind of upset, but honestly, I bet she's excited that she finally gets to do a spell again.
So the hole gets ripped in the world, and the issue ends with action and suspense. Gunn's got a job of his own and everyone else is going to Oz. What a dream team. Oh hey, and Angel finishes up with a beautiful, Angel-esque speech about how he gets to be the only one who takes even a little bit of risk and it's not negotiable. (This will not go well.) Final panel, classic Angel + Team pose. I love it. I've never read anything so amazingly complete. Okay, maybe that's a bit too superlative, but I just loved it so very much.
I'm gonna be late for work again. The art was fantastic too, sorry Rebekah, that's all I can give you at the moment. Now, TO QUOR'TOTH!