Created and Written by: The Esteemed Joss
Pencilled: Karl Moline
Inker: Andy Owens
Colorists: Dave Stewart and Michelle Madsen
Letterer: Michelle Madsen
Page 01: Little Loo is running down the warren of alleys in 'poor-town', screaming for her little-Loo life. But, it's alright - the only thing chasing her is another neighborhood boy. They're playing "Lurk", with he as the aggressor. When the boy trips and falls, Loo jumps onto his back and yells that she's now Mel and no lurk can take her down....
Page 02: Loo breathlessly recounts Mel's latest fight with a Lurk and the big, demon guy that Loo herself had gotten to come out and help her. Boy tells Loo he heard a different story, but she puts him straight. As the light fades, he warns her that the Lurks will probably get her, but she confidently yells that they wouldn't dare touch her.
When she's alone, she repeats that Lurks wouldn't... but she sounds a lot less bravado about it.
Commentary: Foreshadowing? It feels like there is a bad ending being written for Little Loo.
Page 03: Loo runs off shouting for Mel.
But our newest Slayer has her own problem. She's been captured by Icarus and delivered to the "evil lair". When she meets the brains behind the bad guys, she is more shocked than I am - it is Harth, the dead brother that Icarus had bitten oh-so-long ago. Only he doesn't look too dead. Rest assured, he isn't alive either. And he has nothing but a wide grin for Melaka as he tells her he has missed her.
Page 04: Melaka is in shock, 'natch. Her brother has been dead for four years. In her old life, that generally meant that they don't arrange to abduct you to their secret lairs using vampires. But, there is something different about this Harth, we can tell. For one, everytime he speaks he has a funny dialogue balloon and letters - all dark and rough edged. But also, he tends to say things in a tone that makes us thinks he's being a little sarcastic about it.
Page 05: Harth relates to his sister what happened after her swan dive off of the roof. In flashback, we see Harth get bit by Icarus. Harth tells her how much it hurt, how the vampire had been so eager to eat, that it had scraped it's teeth against his bone. He tells her he just wanted it to stop - and then it did. Things started to fade away, and in a split moment it came to him; exactly what he needed to do.
He tilted his head and, taking Icarus by surprise, bit deeply into his cheek and suckled. It wasn't for long - Icarus pushed him away, shocked, but it was enough.
Commentary: What is interesting about this flashback is in context with our finding out that Harth was a twin to Melaka. Is this where the "perfect, rigid, clarity" came from that allowed him to just know that he needed to take blood from the vampire? Of course, you'd wonder why any residue Slayer-thing wouldn't have driven him to NOT get exposed to any of the lurks blood. But I think that is explained by the general situation around them - clearly there is Prophecy at work.
Page 06: In flashback still, Icarus wonders the same thing as I, though he doesn't suspect the Slayer-twin thing. He brought Harth's body to the old building that the lurks call home. Staring down at him he wonders aloud how he knew that he needed to feed from them to be changed.
When Harth awoke, he knew much more than to bite a vampire to be a vampire....
Commentary: Okay, I have to admit it here, even though it is seriously warped: Icarus is kinda hot. I mean, yeah - the purple skin, the bad attitude, the vampire-violence ... all good reasons to find him to be a repulsive monster, but I still think he's studly.
Page 07: But back to things that are relevant: Harth tells Melaka that he knows she doesn't dream. He reveals the kicker: He has always dreamed of "The Girl", sometimes feeling like he was her. Hundreds of girls from worlds they had forgotten, always different but always the same.
Commentary: This is when everything comes together - why Mel has no connection to the Slayer heritage, how Harth knew to bite the vampire, his knowledge of Melaka being special, the uniqueness of having been a twin to a Slayer... I love this development.
The only negative thing, to me, is how easily it could be used to justify the "Male Slayer" fanfic, a condition of which, Xander or male OCs usually suffer.
Page 08: Harth goes on to tell Melaka that in each of the dreams, he killed "The Girl". Mel puts the two and two together.
She insists that he can't be like the other lurks, though, because he doesn't look abnormal like them. At this he pulls out the vampire face and fangs.
Page 09: He explains to her that any vampire can look human, if they'd only try, but most of them embrace the beast. Harth is different. He knows that he isn't just a lurk, instinctively, but is the "One Who will Lead".
As Melaka cries for them, Harth explains to her that he dreamed of one of her predecessors banishing the demons from the world (I believe he's talking about Buffy and not the First Slayer) and while he can't explain why they're back in small number, he does know what to do about it. He's going to open one of those world destroying gates that sit around waiting and give Earth back over to the old ones.
He tells Mel that everyone is going to die screaming.
When she tries to convince him that her brother would never have hurt anyone, he twists the knife a little further by stating that he guesses she shouldn't have gotten him killed, then.
Commentary: We can see this as a real low psychological blow to throw her off, because as mentioned before Harth really got himself killed by not running when Mel screamed repeatedly for him to do so. But, I'm also comfortable with the idea that Prophecy got Harth killed. This is his destiny, and while Buffy and Angel have thwarted Prophecy before - you really can't fight against something you're ignorant of.
Page 10: Now that Harth has spilled everything in typical bad guy fashion, he proceeds to the warped vampire sense of love: He punches her as hard as he can to her abdomen and when she's on the ground trying to catch her breath, he grinds her face into the ground with his boot. But, he does tell her that he loves her and has never felt closer to her - so he isn't all bad (that would be sarcasm).
Page 11: Harth hauls her to her knees and she sees one of the statuettes that she had grabbed for Gunther in an alcove. Harth explicates that he recognized what she was before she knew and used her to grab the trinkets that he needed to open the Gateway o' Old-One Doom. Mel tries to convince him not to hurt anyone, but he punches her out and throws her away like so much refuse.
Commentary: The thing that bothers me about this scene is that it doesn't serve the purpose it was set up to serve. In Ch 4, Icarus complained that she didn't put up much of a fight and that she was "nothing" after he escaped from Urkonn's counter attack. Harth told him that they needed her - that she was more than Icarus realized.
Now logically, that would indicate that Melaka wasn't done in Harth's overall plans. I saw two possibilities up until this particular page (1) He needed her to grab something for him to complete the ritual and was going to use Loo as the bargaining chip - having her escorted in. (2) He required her Slayer blood.
Here though, he doesn't appear to need her for anything except his own psychological need to hurt her. I'm a bit disappointed (just a bit) that such an obvious set up was then not followed through on. Actually, I just thought of a third "need" the story could have introduced: What if Buffy's voluntarily banishing herself and the demons could only be counteracted by another Slayer's anguished complicity...?
Page 12: Anyway, enough of the story's hinting at a greater role in Harth needing Mel than what we actually get. He throws her away like refuse, and she slams hard into the improvised tower that Harth had used to sit above and gaze down at his minion and her. This tower collapses, breaking through the old flooring and down into a massive water pipe/sewer, taking Mel with it.
"Oh. Okay. Oops," Harth amusingly says.
Page 13: Icarus tries to console him that she can't have lived, but he counters that. He claims that if she were dead, he would just know it. Icarus tries to object that she knows to much. Again, Harth is unworried. He claims that she knows just enough to be crippled into inaction which makes her complicit in their taking apart the world, proving worthy of his new, twisted idea of love for her.
Commentary: (Hey, is this a call out to my plot set up theory #3, after all?!) Since Mel is lying face down in the water, I'm going to steadfastly believe this is a giant water pipe. Just a water pipe.
Page 14: We join Erin coming home to her apartment. She's been pretty beat up by the earlier raid to capture Mel, but she's alive. She finds her door creaking open when she goes to unlock it, and draws her blaster.
Page 15: In the apartment is a soaken, despondant Melaka. She apologizes non-specifically and collapses sobbing into Erin.
Page 16: Sometime later, the waterworks have stopped and Mel has spilled everything to Erin, who is reluctant to believe her. She's able to accept that Harth is infected with the Lurk Virus, but that he's a vampire - a demon possessing the shell and memories of Harth, but not actually Harth - is too far for her. In addition, she's having trouble believing in Mel's tales of Slayerhood. Whether this is because the tale is ridiculous on the face of it, or because of the history lying thick between them is up for debate.
Page 17: Melaka and Erin clash a bit more over their cop/crook relationship, but when Mel tells her she has to go and asks if Erin is going to try to stop her, her big sis tells her she can go.
Page 18: As Mel heads out for her own home and Urkonn, she tells Erin to think about the Lurk-policy the police have in place and to start questioning why they can't seem to control their population. She tells Erin that she thinks a war is coming and further confesses she doesn't think she can win it.
Erin stops her from leaving just long enough to tell her that she can't trust Gunther, he's the one that set her up to be arrested (which wasn't a necessary three panels, since Mel could have deduced that all on her own).
Page 19: Back at the dock that leads to her neighborhood, she finds Urkonn awaiting her. He tells her that he feared for her safety and she responds he was right to.
They return to the apartment, only to find it trashed. Mel guesses that Harth sent a contingent of lurks to re-grab her after her tumbled into the water pipe (water pipe, damn it, it wasn't a sewer system!).
Page 20: Mel's day gets worse. Little Loo fulfills her destiny by inspiring Melaka to fight back, by dying. Her little body is contorted and there is a tear pooled in the corner of her eye.
Commentary: And you should really think about this scene and about lurks/vampires, because I completely missed it and it pissed me off that I was duped. Not angry at Joss - just at myself for not realizing... but I'll explain it at the more appropriate time. I will say that Loo's demise got me emotionally more than I thought it would fully because of the artwork. Her little body, with that tear and her blind eye staring at nothing... well, it is a heart-cracking image.
Page 21: Mel walks away to the hole in her wall (left earlier during a sparring match between her and Urkonn) while he covers Little Loo's body with a blanket. Urkonn points out to her that they didn't even feed on her.
Melaka tells him that was on purpose - Harth told her she couldn't protect anyone, and this proves the point. But, she also tells him it's time she starts fighting back.
Page 22: "Let's make some war."
The Good: I like the writing and the flow of the story much more than the last issue where things just seemed to drag out a bit.
I like Harth's explanation for why Mel doesn't have a connection to her Slayer heritage and the fact that he has the other major half of her abilities.
I thought it was cool when he turned things on Icarus by biting him in the face (but I do have a very minor caveat in Other Thoughts).
I like how things are coming together - Mel assuming her duties, Harth being behind the action, recruiting Erin's help - it's not just a demon plot, it's a family affair.
I really like really like some of these panels, art-wise, a lot: Page 2 - last panel with little Loo sitting alone. Page 5 panels with Harth and Icarus. And, of course, page 20 top panel of Loo's corpse.
The Bad: Nothing bad, but there is a caveat in other thoughts that may end up as a bad in plotting.
Other Thoughts: First my very minor issue involves Icarus and Harth. I buy their whole scene where Harth realizes that he needs to draw blood from Icarus. I'm just worried about the precedent it sets for just how little blood it takes to be changed into a vampire. Harth could not have drawn more than a tiny amount - surely not even a half of a mouth full - and it was enough. Just how easy is it to be infected and turned?
My other caveat is the plot-point of Harth stating explicitly to Icarus that they need Melaka. Not "I" need her, which would make sense if his vampire self just needed to make her suffer out of vengeance for his death or out of his "love", but "WE" need her: That indicates there should be a plot point reasoning for why she's still needed her at this point in the story. Before, it was because she was the best 'grab' in 'Haddyn'... but by this time in the arc, Harth has everything he needs for the gateway ritual. It is still possible that Mel is needed for this ritual in some way - but it is really ambiguous here as to whether this is true or not. If not, then it doesn't make sense for Harth to have insisted to Icarus that Mel was so much more than Icarus thought and that "they" need her.
Little Loo's fate was pretty much foreshadowed throughout, but the artwork of her little body really sold the emotional impact of her death. So much so, that I accepted the dialog scenes without thinking things through and completely missed the logical flaw apparent in the scene. Mel will figure it out and in retrospect, I'll give myself a "duh!" slap to the forehead.
The Score: This issue has far more momentum and some really great scenes, especially in flashback and in Mel's tore-up apartment. I really like this one and found the writing less lackadaisacal and more focused on driving the narrative than last issue. And we get the information we need on why Harth was turned, why Mel doesn't have the Slayer dreams and what the overall 'bad guy plot' is.
4.0 out of 5