I always feel weird about talking about a single issue in a larger arc. In the modern age of comics, and especially with Buffy, it seems more and more like the stories are meant to be told in terms of arcs with individual issues being just smaller pieces. In that sense, I feel like the arcs have been equivalent to episodes of the show, while the issues have been acts in those episodes.
With that in mind, I am going to put forth my two cents about the latest issue.
Obviously, spoilers follow for anything and everything in Season 8 so far.
It is clear that Buffy has been through quite a bit this season. I think her story has been mostly a story of having trouble dealing with a changed world. She misses a lot of things from her old life. Despite the fact that there are many slayers with her, she feels as alone as ever. I think that is why she is so obsessed with sex in this issue, as well as in previous issues. I am unclear as to her relationship with Angel. Are they "back together?" Or will things settle down when the effects of the space-frak leave? It is clear that she still has feelings for Spike here, considering her distracting level of attraction towards him in their scene together. My question is: where is all of this coming from? Is Buffy still under the influence of the crazy-universe-stuff from the previous arc, or is she acting of her own volition now? I will reserve judgment on Buffy until the story is finished and everything is (hopefully) put into better perspective.
Hmm. Lots of issues here. Many fans feel as though Angel has been "ruined" by his presence in this story. I don't know about that, but I do think his character isn't as consistent as maybe he should be. Angel had always been a puppet of some higher power; something was always controlling Angel: Darla, Buffy, The Powers that Be, and ultimately Wolfram & Hart. In Not Fade Away (AtS 5x22), Angel took a very clear stand against the things controlling his life. By taking out the Circle of the Black Thorn, Angel took control over his own life and his own destiny for really the first time in his life. Of course, this didn't end the best, and Angel ended up regretting his actions when LA was sent to hell as a result. However, he came to the conclusion that he is not defined by the bad choices he has made: he is defined by what he does about them. So at the end of After the Fall, we have a very clear-cut version of Angel: someone who has done bad things, but has control over his own destiny and the desire to do good. I have a hard time believing that this same Angel would fall in line with this "baby-universe" and do everything it tells him, especially if that meant hurting Buffy, killing hundreds of innocent people, and dressing up like a complete tool. Angel at the end of Season Five was done playing by everyone else's rules, and I don't think he would do all the things he has done in Season Eight.
However, it is definitely possible, and Angel has made mistakes before. This issue shows Angel attempting to make up for the horrible things he has done recently, and I think it does a fine job of it. Of course, it's not exactly new ground for Angel. In a lot of ways, this is the exact same story as After the Fall: Angel making a choice and regretting it. Except we don't know how this one ends. I, for my part, doubt that Angel is going to listen to the Griffin thing (what the hell?).
I had a hard time warming up to these two, but I'll admit that they are cute in this issue. It is clear that both of them just want to get away. They are tired of all the horrible things they have to see everyday and just want to find some peace. Xander has been through a lot of pain. Anya's death, then Renee's death. I can sympathize with him just wanting to be happy. At the same time, I am still struggling to understand why Xander and Dawn are together at all. It seems like not enough time has been devoted to them to really give us a reason. Their relationship really happened behind the scenes. I'm interested to see where it goes, and I think it has a lot of potential, but I'm not quite ready to get behind it just yet. However, it very well might be cut short considering the apocolypsey nature of the story and the ample amount of foreshadowing of Dawn's death.
I have to say that I love this pairing. Giles and Faith make such a great team, and I really wish we had gotten to see more of them this season. Their scene together was one of the most genuine parts of the issue. It was just a moment, but it seemed as though Giles was very sorry that Faith had to be put back into a situation where she has to be violent. I really hope neither of these characters die, because I really want to see their relationship explored further in Season 9.
Overall, I think it was a solid issue. I think the rest of the arc needs to happen before I judge, though. There are definitely a few flaws: Xander and Dawns relationship being poorly justified, Angel's inconsistent character, and Buffy's lack of solid characterization, but these problems may all be rectified in the final issues.
- I really like the panel with Faith's reflection in the window and the panel with Xander and Dawn's forehead's touching.
- I appreciate Xander's insistence on being a part of this whole thing: "It's Sunnydale. You can't leave me out of this. Take us home."
- The Master didn't get a whole lot of page time, which is frustrating. Unless he does something uber-important next issue, I am going to chalk up his appearance to fanservice, and nonsensical fanservice at that, considering he is supposed to be dead.
- It really seems to me that they are setting up Willow as the betrayer, considering the whole death-of-magic thing. I think it would be very interesting to see Willow choose to destroy magic, and I hope she ends up not being the betrayer.