Willow fights the monster (which is, according to the characters, the mother of the one from last issue, not the same creature respawned), saving Marrak by making the monster explode while he's in its mouth. The caterpillar offers her some of his magic water to take along but insists that she and Marrak leave, and they continue on their journey. They argue about their opposing values until they're attacked by a flock of literal nightmares that give Willow a vision of faceless Buffy, Dawn, Xander, and a whole town of other faceless people running headlong into a pit in the street. It makes Willow realize that the loss of magic has affected other realms as well as her own.
She goes over her plan to bring back magic through whatever hotspot she can find on this world, and then the two are discovered by Aluwyn, who greets Willow with a kiss. She introduces her to her friends, a few other fantasy-critter women, and Willow introduces Marrak, calling him "okay". The group heads to Aluwyn's home, which is indeed a magical wellspring, and is full of sorceresses who all treat Willow as a hero and idol. They perform a ceremony which fixes the Scythe and turns the blade solid red. Willow immediately tries it out with the spell she's had in mind, but only succeeds in seeing her friends at home through a rift. They talk about whether Buffy's dating Dowling, and then Dawn turns toward Willow with a blank face before the rift closes up again. Aluwyn explains that for this to work, there has to be magic at the other end, in the magicless Earth. If Willow can't do it, it can't be done.
In the next issue, Willow slashes recklessly around with the Scythe until Marrak grabs it out of her hands and says some misogynist crap, prompting Aluwyn and her coven to punt him out of their sanctuary. Later, Aluwyn assures Willow that they'll keep trying, and that she's in a good place in the meantime. The ladies show her a "goddess gem" that gives her a vision of her teacher, who she's surprised to see is Marrak. A fish woman takes her underwater to get another vision that shows her the universe and her place in it, but she can't fully remember it afterward. She takes a walk out on the surface of the ocean and talks to Aluwyn about how she's starting to feel less sure that her world and friends really need her or the return of magic as the two of them follow some tiny flying octopi, which then fuse together into one giant octopus, which attacks. They use their combined magic to fend it off, then rest on land and talk about what an awesome team they are.
Marrak has possessed one of the wild dreams, and he uses it to visit Willow in her sleep and tell her she needs to get back on task. He says she's living out a constant high from being in the supercoven, and she stopped caring about her friends back in her world. She wakes up next to Aluwyn and the Scythe, saying Marrak was lying but clearly having doubts.
I hate to start by repeating my gripes from previous reviews, but the one big problem I'm having with this series is the way Willow is drawn. It doesn't seem like it should matter as much as it does, but it's not Alyson Hannigan I'm looking for, just the personality in Willow's cute facial expressions, and it's hard to get involved in the story when I don't have that as a springboard. I'm sure there are other great comics out there about magical women on quests; I haven't sought them out because that concept in itself doesn't interest me.
That little thorn in my side almost makes it frustrating that the art is otherwise really good. The scenery is luscious and uplifting and the original characters are creatively designed and consistent. (Allow me to flavor that part of the praise with a brief complaint about the viral difficulty that comic artists seem to have with drawing animals, or animal parts such as feathered wings. Look at an avian anatomical diagram, dammit!) I particularly like the way Aluwyn is drawn. Her classic feminine-ideal face and hair in combination with her coloration and, you know, the snake tail, make her fun to look at as both a part of the Wonderland environment and a person interacting with normal-human-shaped Willow. There are a few panels where she or Willow is shown as a silhouette in the foreground, and for a dramatic shortcut, that looks fairly awesome. Check 'em out, there's some nifty tricks with lighting, too.
In Season 8 I was never really a fan of Aluwyn - I don't think anyone was - and I'm still not offering any kind of approval for her relationship with Willow. She's had some great lines in this run, though, and between that and the art, it's becoming much easier to understand Willow's feelings for her. Chemistry? Sure, I guess. More than that, it's a natural reaction on Willow's part to associate magic, which is her real love and real self, with this otherworldly being full of power and feminine energy, especially since she lost her at the same time that she lost her magic and is now regaining both at once. And of course the sexy snake lady is being all alluring and flattering, but also showing signs of genuine tenderness and regard for Willow. Obviously there's a betrayal of some kind coming up (which might be as mellow as a refusal to help any further), but I'm glad Aluwyn was given a chance to become more of a character and not just a plot point.
It's interesting to see Willow happy. Not necessarily gratifying, what with the doubt about her motivations and really what kind of person has she become over the last few seasons anyway, but interesting. At first, it seemed like we were being led to believe that her quest was essentially selfish; she wanted magic back for her own sake and was projecting her depression onto the rest of the world. If that were truly the case, the right thing for her to do really is to stay with the supercoven forever. They're not particularly doing any good there, but they aren't doing any harm either, and being depressed and bitchy in her tech job isn't exactly a better option for Willow. But now we're getting hints that her people back home really do need her, though I can't say I know what to make of her visions. I guess the most we've got to go on is that Marrak has a convincing argument, enough to haunt her conscience, and she's been given a sign that he's her teacher. (Is he really a character we've seen before? I honestly can't think of a single one he could be.) So it looks like the conclusion we'll reach is that Willow can't give up on what she believes just because she's found a way to be at peace with herself. Actually, that's kind of a dilemma worth examining. When we have a mission, do we want to complete it because it needs to be done, or because we can't deal with the way we feel if we don't try?
One way or another, nice to see the other canon characters getting their cameo (though looking more themselves when they don't have faces than when they do...cough cough), and it looks like the conversation about Dowling was legit, in spite of faceless Dawn at the end. Stab in the dark, there's a real danger creeping up on the Scoobies, and Dawn's the only one who senses it at all? But she's not showing any sign of it in Buffy's title, so maybe it's more that the danger is starting with her. If there's anything to be said about how the friends need each other and Willow needs a revelation to that effect, I can't really say as I care that much. If there's one theme in the Buffyverse that's been battered to the ground, that's it.
Final thing of interest, the Scythe. It wasn't until a second reading that I noticed the change of color. And then I went "hey!" and did an image search for Fray, and yup, that's what hers looks like. So that's the bridge to a change between the timelines, and it's either been in the works for a long time, or Fray's weapon was just incidentally colored differently than the prop in the show, and they finally found a reasonable opportunity to explain it away. Either way, it's pretty cool, and I hope it's meaningful. The characters didn't say anything about it, but Willow did say it's perfect - more perfect than it was originally? Did anything change other than its appearance?
So, here we are with Willow. Not quite captivating, not quite integral to the season. But it's quirky, inoffensive, and pleasant on the eyes. The last issue still has a shot at astonishing us, and I'm pretty sure I'm looking forward to it.