I'm going page by page because there are a lot of little things that I want to address, even though most everyone else has already done a wonderful job addressing them in my absence (wtf is up with my absence anyway, it's not like my 3D life is all that demanding, but that's another story).
After reading the full issue, I went back to the first few pages and suddenly started really loving them. There's a lot going on here, and the Hollywood symbolism is the least of it. You want to see Angel acting in character? Here he is. This is the guy who has seen the destruction of everything he worked for and remains doggedly simple, taking the unbelievable in stride and refusing to be talked into any kind of higher purpose that involves killing. This is the guy who gets tossed through a sign which then falls on him, and then, ever courteous, props it back up.
Can we take a moment to deal with that? He hasn't even figured out what's going on or what he wants to do, but he feels the need to fix a little bit of damage which he caused through no fault of his own? Compare to his present-day actions as Twilight. Supposedly, much of the damage really is his fault, but he doesn't seem to care about fixing it-- is this a mislead, or are we meant to see how much his mentality has changed since he was spit into this reality?
Now, the dog. Someone pointed out that it could be Joss's self-insertion character, and though I'm crossing my fingers that he isn't going to pull a Stephen King on us and make that literal, the idea is giving me a lot of smiles. Joss-dog looks like a retriever (go fetch the first Big Bad, boy!), and he talks a little like we do ("I'm pretty sure it's awesome"), and then he discovers his balls-- there is no bad here.
Not that I trust the dog, of course. That was an awfully convenient time for a plane's engine to explode right overhead, for one thing. But since Angel's motivations are what interest me, I have to note that he didn't agree to anything here, or in his next dogvoice conversation. Actually, the page where he finds his own power might be my favorite in the issue, because again, this is so Angel.
(Also I'm a sucker for clever visual tricks, and those two panels depicting his first flight were terrific. Count the differences: his shadow's gone in the second one and the landscape is tightened up with the sign added, and that's all we get, and it totally works. And the split word in the voice bubbles reinforce the sense of speed! See why I love this medium?)
After everything Angel has been through, he sees that some people in a plane are going to die, and he still reacts with panic and despair, knowing that once again he can't do anything to save the ones in need. When a few seconds later it turns out he can, his first thought is, "Let's see what we've got." Sure, he spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself, but protecting the helpless is more than his job; it's who he is. In the vital moment, he doesn't care about why he has superpowers. He just wants to know how they're going to help him save more people.
Once we're back on the ground, the dogvoice asserts that the power is real, and moreover, it's a reward. This is a tricky thing to interpret. Having seen what he can do with superpowers, it's no surprise that Angel would want to keep them, but I still don't think he would see it as a reward, and certainly not a reward that would rival the Shanshu. Power means he's still in the game, and the more of it he's got, the more deeply in the game he'll stay. The only way this could possibly spell out a benefit for him is if it's assumed that he sees his good works as their own reward. Following this train of thought, could Angel be convinced that he and Buffy are going to be allowed to use their ginormous shared power to save the whole universe forever? Is this what they've been waiting for? What they earned? What they need?
I think there's a possibility. Of course, it still hinges on whether Angel listens to the dogvoice, but Whistler's input could explain a lot of that.
Moving on. Spike! Some other time ago, he pops out of a portal on a steam-powered airship with a crew of bugs that call him Your Majesty. I don't know if we'll hear anything at all in Seasons 8 or 9 to explain what he's been up to, and frankly, it's too awesome for me to care. What interests me more at this point is what's up with all these portals, man. Since Angel and Spike both started out in the same reality in IDW, maybe that reality blipped out of existence and everyone was sent back to their original timeline?
That's all kind of beyond me, especially with my limited knowledge of AtF, so I'll just hope it'll be explained later and focus on Capt. Peroxide. From what I've read on the interwebs so far, it sounds like the one thing we all agree on about this issue is that his performance was spot-on and long missed. Although I don't doubt it's true that he has an agenda, I'm pretty sure his heart's in the right place, and what he's accomplished so far is impressive and uniquely Spike. And personally, I think he looks great in those white socks.
Next up is Buffy and Angel killing demons in utterly disgusting ways and being adorable together in spite of it. Angel doesn't trust Spike: no surprise. Buffy doesn't trust Angel: no surprise. That line is probably going to continue to fuel some hot debate, but as far as I'm concerned it's par for their relationship. Buffy has said or suggested that she doesn't trust him more than once, and usually it's while her actions are proving the exact opposite. I don't think she's lying, she's just considering one kind of trust (has she ever trusted Angel to not hurt her? should she?), while living another (has she ever believed that Angel would deliberately hurt her? should she?). He has her heart.
Spike, on the other hand, has a ship. Catch that panel of him guiding everyone into it-- Willow, Xander, Faith, Dawn, Giles, and Andrew (who must have been healed by Willow or experienced a slight retcon). Every single one of them is giving him a wary look. After "Chosen", it seems like there should have been some change of heart among them during the last couple years, encouraged by Buffy: are we missing something?
After a quick resolution to the Spike conversation, Buffy lets out the most controversial line of the issue: "This is the weirdest, bestest, weirdest best day of my life." I'm fairly shameless when it comes to defending my OTP, but even I raised an eyebrow at this.
Everyone's waiting for Buffy to snap out of it, but remove a little of the apocalyptic context, and what this sounds like is that she's snapping out of it right now. Remember, Buffy's been in pretty poor shape for the entire season. In her own words, Twilight put her and the others "through f#@$ing hell". She's had to deal with crushing guilt and self-doubt, some of it quite justified. She's felt betrayed by most of her friends and made clumsy attempts at romance with the rest of them. The entire world had backed her army into a corner, and she was really, magnificently stuck.
All of that is over now. She no longer has to fear Twilight. She doesn't have all the answers, but she can face the new threats by fighting instead of running. Her doubts were just given the ultimate test by the paradise choice, and she came out of it knowing herself that much better. Throw Angel into the deal, and this new optimism seems only natural. We can't actually remove the apocalyptic context, so that's still in the air, but after all, the world ain't destroyed yet. Buffy's clearly hopeful that it can be saved-- maybe more hopeful than she was a few issues ago, before she faced Twilight.
Something's still dodgy about the way she and Angel are reacting, and the interviews support that. The 'glow' and its influence is still around, I guess, and we can't know exactly how that feels for them. It might be as simple as a heightened sensitivity to each other and decreased feeling about everything else. If it's any really potent kind of manipulation, I can't see why it would be so subtle. What kind of enemy would separate them now to send Angel to protect Slayers? That just sounds like something Buffy would do, so she did. Another fine moment for B/A-- they're always parting ways, taking care of business, putting their own desires last.
And being jealous, of course. If we can trust their dialogue here at all, Buffy's offhand dismissal of the idea that she wants something from Spike is the most explicit end to that relationship that I think we'll ever see. Hey, it surprised me too.
When we saw the actual conversation between Buffy and Spike, though, I got the dual impression that this was exactly how it should have gone down, and that there's something more to it. No matter how over him she is, it seems she would have found time to seek him out and say thank you a bit sooner. I'm guessing she's angry about something-- that he didn't find her, perhaps? I know there isn't much time for the personal stuff left, but I think they'll have a little more of the "us" talk in the next issue. Spike actually sounds pretty much over her, too, despite the remark about reeking of Angel (and after all, it's Angel).
So, Spike does know a lot. Most of it dovetails with what Giles told us. Although it's odd that everyone's insisting that Angel can't be trusted, presumably because of Twilight's influence, but nobody's talking to Buffy as if she has the same problem. Is it just their greater affection for her? Spike doesn't seem to think that there's any danger in telling her exactly what she did-- baby universe ditched at birth. (Am I wrong to still be hanging on Angel's line in #34 "They said it didn't exist, but it does. It always has."?) It's also interesting that Buffy starts looking guilty and scared only after the baby universe is brought up. For all the blame that's been laid on her for creating it, I still wonder if we know for sure that she should have left it.
And finally: at last, the red egg! I guess it doesn't signify pregnancy after all. Darn.
I really don't have much to say about the Master. There probably isn't going to be a satisfying answer to how he was brought back to life, but I can live without one. Scott Allie said that Joss needed this character specifically, which makes me want to know what's special about the Master, and all I can come up with is his descendants, and as for that, hell yeah. Vampire lore and the Darla/Angelus/Drusilla/Spike family is something I always always wanted more of, and I'll be totally psyched if it turns out to be important for the season finale. The Master even mentions his kids coming home, which is great-- maybe we'll get to see him have a talk with Spike and Angel! And Dru will come back! And everything will be awesome!
I can't make heads or tails of the voice-font connection to Twilight, but if anyone has theories I'd love to hear them. Or on anything else, of course. This was probably way too long for anyone to have read the whole thing, but I had to do it to get my thoughts all in one place so I could discuss the comic properly elsewhere. I'm this close to apologizing for making a post in my blog, so I'm going to make my exit now.
All in all, though, I give this issue an A+ and hope that everyone else enjoyed it too!