Preview pages: Angel gets the upper hand and attacks Whistler with the orb itself. He punctures it on the tip of Whistler's horn and explains that he's releasing the pressure to stop the explosion. Whistler "plugs the hole", but the effort makes him revert to his human form, and Angel says that getting a dose of concentrated magic has given his need for balance a fix. Angel implores him to look at the damage again, now that his eyes aren't clouded by his own craving. Amidst the carnage, they see Faith discovering Nadira's charred body, only what the hell, she's still alive. Faith tells her she's avenged her sisters, and Nadira responds that all the hate wasn't really worth it.
Meanwhile, Whistler's convinced, but he says the orb is still going to blow unless he uses all of the magic inside him to contain it, which would leave him jonesing again. Instead, he wraps his entire body around it, saying he's been a selfish bastard so far, but this is where balance comes in. It works; the explosion dissipates harmlessly and Angel discovers Whistler's charred body, only what do you know, he's still alive. He says that Angel has saved him from himself and shown him how to stop serving the balance and just do what's right, which is much what he originally did for Angel. He finishes his dying monologue by saying "You gotta find the balance in yourself before you can balance the world," and telling Angel he believes he can do it. Angel takes just a panel for his own grief, and then stands up and leads Giles, Alasdair, and Faith holding Nadira to go help people.
Hours later, Alasdair finds Angel in a medical tent advising doctors on how to remove snakes from a Medusa. He says there's no sign of Pearl, though we get a panel of her hand pulling herself from the river. Alasdair asks Angel who will maintain the universal balance now that Whistler is gone, and pointedly hands him Whistler's hat. Angel hands it back, saying "We're gonna have to do it for ourselves." Angel covers up with a blanket and runs out through the breaking dawn, past Sophronia and Lavinia, who are being interviewed as heroes of the hour and loving it. He finds Faith and Giles at Nadira's bedside in another tent; they explain that she should be dead, but instead the magic is transforming her and it's too soon to say into what. Also, they've been arguing about who keeps Giles' house.
Giles leaves so Angel and Faith can have a talk of their own - Faith is leaving, not because she's mad at Angel but because she needs to concentrate on her own life or she's going to end up like Nadira. She says she might join Kennedy's organization. They confirm their enduring friendship, Angel saying he'll always be there. When Faith rejoins Giles, he asks if he can accompany her, since he doesn't want to be in London with his aunts. Faith looks touched and happy until it turns out that he just wants a ride to get to Buffy, since he felt that he was at his best with her. She storms out and Giles turns to Angel, who says he hopes that Giles will tell him when it's a good time, if ever, for him to see Buffy again.
Giles asks what Angel will do know, and Angel talks about everything he's learned and says that he thinks he's got a shot now at living his philosophy of meaningful small acts of kindness. London, which is now being called "Magic Town" is going to need someone looking out for the people who were changed, so Angel's staying there.
So, what did everyone think? I was kind of counting on having some other fan reactions to ponder before I recorded mine, but here I am with a couple hours to myself on Wednesday and it looks like I'm the one who's going to have to start the conversation.
Last things first: what does this tell us about how the series will be divided for Season 10? Angel's in London, and so are the aunts, Alasdair, and (presumably) Faerie Nadira, but if they're allowing him to keep his own title, they've got to give him someone else from the shows. Doesn't look like it's going to be Buffy, since she'll be with Giles and Giles is saying he doesn't want to be in London, so there's one dream crushed. My guess is that Faith isn't going to be a regular character in either series, though she'll appear in both and maybe have a mini of her own. Buffy and Giles will probably keep whoever is left alive out of Willow, Xander, and Dawn, unless Willow does some more traveling. And the interesting thing about the climax happening in Buffy's comic right now is that anyone's who's gathered in the Deeper Well could easily fall through it into England (we're not exactly operating on realism there, natch). If Illyria reverts to Fred, I could see her rocking Angel's series, or perhaps Gunn and/or Connor could show up and be real characters again.
And that accounts for most of the major players, except for the little black dress himself, Spike. Despite how weak his own mini was in Season 9, I believe he's still got a lot of oomph, and he could balance out almost any premise that needs one more familiar face. I know Joss loves Angel and Spike together, but it doesn't really feel like the story has been set up for that. If he somehow takes up with Kennedy's girls, I could still have my Faith/Spike wish fulfilled, and that could make a whole series worth reading, but would there really be three Buffyverse titles? And if not, who's eliminated, Buffy or Angel? Nah. On the other hand, it was interesting to read in the editor's note that Joss wasn't originally sure if Angel would get his own book - so maybe that's where he's headed now, a sideline character to reunite with a larger team at some point in the future.
I do like where he is right now, though. He seems like he's made peace with everyone who matters to him except for Buffy, and he's even made peace with himself. He saved the world, he brought back Giles, and he's no longer obsessed with giving himself a mission - and that's what the whole series was about, wasn't it? On the last page the conversation was a suitably explicit summary; Angel's actually talking about the lessons he's learned and why it's taken him until now to implement the "all that matters is what we do" philosophy. He sees people who need help and registers that he's qualified to help them. He doesn't ask anyone else for their forgiveness or support. He needed inner balance before he could really be any good on his own, and now he has it.
After a few hours' break I'm back to writing this and now there's a bit more about the comic online for me to browse. Most seem to like it, but one quote from a reviewer - that Dark Horse itself posted on Facebook - which struck me was "...it’s all fairly uplifting and mildly cliché in Buffyverse fashion." And that's true, isn't it? Buffyverse uses clichés well, but it does use them often. When we say that Joss Whedon's work is revolutionary and unique, it's because of the masterful use of the creative tools and the way the characters are so real to us, but I can't say any of the underlying messages have ever surprised me or changed my mind about anything I had previously believed. It's good to see Whistler face his mistakes and finish with one selfless act of sacrifice to make up for prioritizing his own needs for so long, but it's not like I hadn't already known that that's what he should do. My biggest complaint for this issue is that Angel's solution, though handy, was lacking a twist. "Needs to stop Whistler" went straight to "stops Whistler".
Also, our two deaths? Whistler and Nash! Holy cow, here we were thinking villains wouldn't even count toward the death toll! I thought Nadira was dead two issues ago! (Sidebar on that - first I thought "How is she going to go on living like that?" then I remembered a Cracked article that called out that mentality, then we found out she's going to be a Manic Pixie Girl and now I'm not sure how I feel except that next time we see her I'll probably like her a lot more than I used to.) Angel and Whistler had their talk about the big moments, but in narrative terms, there actually weren't any. That's okay, I like small moments better anyway, but if I had to point to why I'm still not sure if I loved the issue, it's probably because the exciting stuff wasn't about this story; it was set-up for the next one.
Possible exception made for the moment that Alasdair essentially told Angel that he could be the next balance demon. Given the alternate cover and the classic trope of killing a foe and then taking his place, for a moment I honestly thought that Angel was going to go for it, and even that he should. It wasn't a letdown that he didn't, or that he made the decision so easily. It's right in keeping with the theme of the arc that we all need to do the balancing for ourselves. Hopefully this will be returned to at some point - the world lost its magic and now it's lost its balancing agent. What will change?
You all know how highly I regard the artist so there's not much I'll say about the art, though unlike Georges Jeanty, I'm not sure Isaacs saves her best work for the end. There were a few character faces in some panels that looked a little bit off - but maybe I was scrutinizing them a little too hard looking for secrets. Overall, the point got across in every scene and it was a pleasure to look at as always.
If I have observations or thoughts about the series in its entirety I think they'll come later - and of course, we've got the last issue of Buffy coming, so the bulk of the speculation about Season 10 has to follow that. But if anyone has anything to say here, I'd love to hear it!
G'bye, Angel and Faith.