BTVS: S8, I27
"Retreat, Part II"
Script: Jane Espenson, Pencils: George Jeanty, Inks: Andy Owens, Colors: Michelle Madsen, Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Executive Producer: Joss Whedon
Cover: Jo Chen
Blurb: Despite Willow's best magical efforts, Buffy and the Slayer army are on the run as Twilight and his closest allies- Amy, Warren, and Buffy's former main squeeze, Riley Finn- continue to monitor their every move. Vampires and humans have found a way to live side by side while Slayers- the chosen protectors of humanity- are forced further and further into hiding. Over the course of just a few months, the Scotland castle and high-tech base of Slayer operations was destroyed, and their musty cabin in the woods discovered and abandoned. The most powerful Wiccans and Slayers are unable to defend themselves against the forces of evil, and Buffy must lead her troops to safety. But at what cost?
Page 01: We open a twinkle-lights dancing around over a blue background, with the shape of corpses' shadows over it all. A voice says, "They drowned".
Page 02: The speaker is Amy Madison, looking into a magic bowl. Twilight tells Amy that her magic is lying, and smashes her bowl. He tells her that he knows Buffy too well to believe she'd die silently.
Riley tries to tell Twilight that there are enough magical creatures in the world that Buffy and her Slayers are effectively hidden by hiding among so many. Twilight doesn't have the patience for this and warns them that he can always go on a mass killing spree to make it easier.
Commentary: I want to mention Riley Finn, here, because his joining the Twilight cause was the most disappointing thing to me. Angel's and Spike's stories were the most confusing, but a lot of that may be directly related to the problem with using them in a major Buffy arc, when they're both already being featured in Angel's Season 6 title. I'm still determined to come up with some sort of fanon-wank to reconcile these differing story arcs, but for now, let me just get back to Riley before a spin off and I get lost in a tangent.
Riley Finn's story and how he became involved with Twilight is told in a Riley one-shot comic title. There are hints as to the revelations in that title throughout the arc of Twilight and his one-superman-war on Buffy. I've decided to wait until further along in the Twilight-arc, until after Riley's secrets are revealed to Buffy's team (and us) before I review it. So, for those who've already read the whole saga... I'm aware of Riley's role in all of this, the identity of Twilight, where Spike is in all this and what Twilight wants.
We're not that far yet, though, so let's be mindful of spoilers.
Page 03: In Tibet, Willow and the mystics have used one huge teleporting surge to carry the "destroyed" submarine into the Himilayas. They're dropping in on Oz and his Buddist family in an attempt to find help.
Page 04: Oz introduces the gang to his wife, Bay and his baby.
Giles apologetically pushes Oz to tell them if he can help, because if not, they need to keep moving. Buffy pleads with Oz for his assistance in helping them suppress the magic that they're in tune with. It is the magic of Willow, the witches and the Slayers that are allowing Twilight to track them.
Commentary: I feel the need to mention Dawnie in this, too. There has never been any hard confirmation about what Dawn's status is. We know that she was meant to open a portal for Glory at a specified time via a particular ritual. After that point, Dawn has always considered herself an ex-Key, who is just a baseline human now. We don't have an independent authority on this however, to confirm it. But, Twilight and his gang never seem to include looking for Dawn in their magic scans and Dawn herself has never been shown to have any ability to tap into her own energy. Unless some new arc begins in Season 9, I'm going with the theory that as far as Joss' Buffy is concerned, Dawn is now strictly human. I mention this here, because we're going to be talking a lot about supressing the Slayer's magic and the witches resisting any spellworks. Dawn, herself, won't get much mention, and I'm not going to keep bringing her into the discussion -- the reason is above. Do I particularly like Dawnie's inhuman start being swept under the rug since Glory's death/banishment... not personally, but I am accepting that in the mainline Buffyverse (for now), Dawn doesn't have any magical powers anymore.
Page 05: We get a flashback, as Oz considers how, or if, he can/should help Buffy's Most Wanted.
We're a few years in the past, after S4, when Oz left Willow following "Wild at Heart". Oz has turned to the Buddhist monks to help him suppress the wolf.
Page 06: At first, it doesn't go well and there are nights spent in a cage. But through it all Bay was there to meditate with him.
Page 07: Oz relates what he went through after he left Sunnydale, before he returned in "New Moon Rising" and explained to Willow his use of charms and herbs.
Oz explains that he had thought he'd conquered the wolf... that was why he thought he was ready to return to Sunnydale. But a few months wasn't enough time to learn what he had to learn (leading into those events with his werewolfing at Tara and being taken into the Initiative and finally leaving Sunnydale for good).
Page 08: After his release, he returned to Tibet. Oz explains that after his return, even the herbs and charms and chants weren't working. There were times when he just wanted to give in.
For some reason, this sparks an idea in Buffy.
Page 09: Back at Twilight HQ, random army guy tells them that he's located a large energy spike (Riley says, "Spike?" and you can see he misheard the guy referring to a certain vampire... it's cute). In the meantime, Amy and Warren are arguing over who screwed up the biggest in not routing Buffy's forces.
Commentary: We've also received some clues throughout the Twilight arc regarding his identity. In this very issue, we've heard him refer to 'knowing Buffy', and here, he repeats the word "Spike?" like he also at first thought the army dude was referring to a certain vampire... so he knows both Buffy & Spike, apparently.
Riley tries to tell Twilight that the scan detected an artifact and isn't real. Twilight chooses to take a look, anyway.
Page 09: Oz continues his story. He wanted to just give in, but he didn't. Bay told him that before the Buddhists came, Tibet had an indigenous tradition called Bon. These two's identities merged and the original tenets of Bon were obscured, but there were still documents in the temple that referred to the time before Buddism.
Oz, with Bay, began to dive into this earlier belief structure... growing closer as they worked day by day on his control.
Commentary: Bon is generally referred to as an earlier form of modern Buddism and can be found on the WIKI (naturally), if you want to get an overview.
Page 10: Oz reports that with Bon, it isn't about suppression, but about acceptance. He found a way to "bleed" his energy into the surrounding field of nature... to allow the wolf to escape from him, but in a way that doesn't force it to come out and attack in rage.
He further tells them that using this discipline, they were able to help other werewolves to find the peace that kept the wolf from running rampant, as well.
Page 11: Oz explains that it isn't about trying to bottle up the wolf, because that just makes it fight that much harder to take over. It's about accepting the wolf, allowing the transformation, and then returning the energy to the Earth... letting the rage of the werewolf bleed away.
Willow looks off into the distance with a distubed look on her face, as Oz tells Buffy that his secret to maintaining control has been to "have a life".
Page 12: Giles is doubtful that it is as easy as Oz makes out. Dawn doubts that Willow could let go of her power and Buffy doubts that she could meditate with the intensity and stillness necessary.
Oz however, insists that it works. When the moon is full, he's been able to allow himself to transform and then transfer that energy into the Earth itself to allow him to return to human.
Page 13: The problem that Oz admits to is that it can take up to a year to get the balance necessary, which they obviously don't have.
Page 14: Bay and Oz also tell them that there is another danger, though. They don't exactly have the safe haven that the gang were looking for. It turns out that one of the followers that had learned how to control the wolf was so impressed that he went back out into the world to spread the word. But, like Oz returning too soon to Sunnydale, Monroe wasn't ready. He lost his way and now, like Veruca, he believes that the wolf is the best part of himself and the human is the weakness. He's returned to Tibet with his own followers to impose their way of thinking, violently, upon the followers of Bon philosophy.
Dawn, however, makes the connection between what the Slayers go through... their demon-originating powers threatening to overwhelm their humanity... to what the werewolves go through.
Commentary: Sort of, anyway. I think this is the gist, but to tell the truth, the concept is pretty muddled. I think the explanation was stretched out beyond the fraying point in order to fill enough story pages.
Page 15: Oz and Bay relate that they've already suffered attacks during the full moon by this rival group of Monroe's, and lost many members of the temple's monkhood.
Commentary: The artwork for this issue is really nice, and the werewolves look really good. So, just want to give a kudo for that, especially this page.
Page 16: Oz continues his story about their own worries. Monroe and his group slaughtered the monks during the last full moon. Oz had been in human-form, because he'd bled his wolf-spirit back into the Earth, which left him and Bay vulnerable....
During this explanation, we see behind Dawn a werewolf spying on them... presumably one of Monroe's.
Commentary: Again, apparently. And again, exactly what the sequence of events were is muddled by the storytelling.
Page 17: At Twilight HQ, to the protest of the army guy, Amy uses magic and human bones to locate the spike of spellwork Willow used.
Commentary: Twilight and his group are also muddled in their viewpoints. I believe though, that this may be more a matter of Twilight using the army to carry out his own agenda, rather than being anti-Slayer, specifically and anti-magic in general. Through the recruiting of Amy and Warren and the magic missile attack, it seems obvious to me that the army grunt may be anti-magic, but that Twilight isn't necessarily.
But again, the writing has tended to be muddled from issue to issue and there has been contradictory evidence of what exactly Twilight wants.
Page 18: Back to Oz' story: Fortunately for Oz, his wife isn't as dominated by her wolf-form as he is. She was able to transform, tear the throat out of Monroe and cause the others to retreat, without also turning on Oz himself. Oz & Bay have started carrying daggers around (one would hope silver) in order to protect themselves.
Page 19: Bay tells them that she thinks she made a mistake, now, turning Monroe into a martyr for his belief that the werewolf is natural and humanity the impediment.
Meanwhile, Oz pulls Willow aside and apologizes for not writing her and telling her about meeting and marrying Bayarmaa. Willow tells him she doesn't begrudge him moving on, she's just disturbed to find he has a baby. She's feeling petty and jealous that he's built this whole domestic life that she wants, but is too busy doing the 'fighting evil' thing to have.
In the meanwhile, Buffy tells Bay that Twilight has been tracking them down through their ties to magic and the Slayers need to learn to be less magical. Bay points out that not teleporting whole submarines might be a positive start.
Giles asks Oz if he can help the Slayers learn to 'bleed' their powers back to the Earth, and thereby reduce their magical imprint. It's a question because Slayers are magical all of the time, unlike werewolves or spellcasters, who can simply stop weaving spells.
Oz believes he can help, but only if they truly want to let go of their power. Bay also warns that starting their meditations techniques and then not seeing them through could end up more dangerous than not trying at all.
Page 20: The gang are interrupted by a werewolf attack, but Bay drives it off with a knife slash.
It's an unpleasant reminder of the violence that Oz already has in his life and he reminds Buffy that if she and her Slayers fail to control themselves, they've just drawn Twilight onto his and his family's heads.
Commentary: I think. The way this page is written, the werewolf attack was random and ... dumb and unnecessary to make the point. It also seems like Oz is stating that she's just drawn a big target on his home, because of the werewolf attack. This can't be though, because his flashback story has already made it clear that his home is already a target of the former-Monroe's faction. He's already in a warzone of sorts, even though right now its confined to werewolf on werewolf.
Scene 21: As Buffy is considering the future of her Slayers, Willow is dealing with her conflicted feelings at seeing what Oz has built without her and Oz is conflicted over getting involved in Buffy's fight with the world, Twilight has teleported to where the energy spike was detected.
They're in Mongolia, though, and not where Buffy's group retreated. Warren throws this into Amy's face with glee. Riley tells Twilight that he tried to tell him that there is too much interference because of the mountainous topography of this part of the world. Twilight is unhappy and vows that this will not stand.
Scene 22: In Tibet, the Slayers are started on their way to learning how to give up their power, even in circumstances where they'll be tempted to use their enhanced strength or dexterity. The first step is physical exertion to exhaust their mental resistance... which means starting with burying the huge flippin' submarine before it's spotted.
Meanwhile, Twilight tells the others that Buffy's Slayers won't be able to help themselves but to reveal where they are eventually. He orders the execution of the random army guy who located the energy spike they followed.
The Good: I like the idea that the way to escape Twilight isn't by using more magic to cloak them, but to stop using magic completely. I don't expect it to work, but it is a good plot development.
I like that Oz has gone on with his life and that he has a wife and baby.
I like the hints we're getting that Riley may be trying to throw Twilight off; it gives me hope he isn't a bad guy joining the anti-Buffy bandwagon.
The Bad: The story development requires a lot of reading between the lines. The storytelling seems too muddled.
Although I liked the Oz-flashbacks, it seemed to take too long to reveal that the Slayers just need to stop using their powers to make them less detectable.
That werewolf attack was so random and out of place, and the response to it was... well, there wasn't really a response.
Other Thoughts: I like the idea of Oz having a life divorced from the supernatural fighting, but I'm more ambivalent about Bay. In some panels I like her and in others I'm more "oh, shut up".
I find the continued tensions between Amy and Warren interesting... especially since Warren should be more careful. It is only because of Amy that he's not having a screaming in agony death at any second.
The ongoing story with Twilight wobbles for me between interesting and dull. In this issue, its mostly dull... especially the whole tracking down the Slayers, just to end up in the wrong place thing. Were those panels really needed, when we could have had more heart to heart talking between Oz and Willow? or Hell -- between Kennedy and Oz would have been far more welcomed.
The Score: I found this one a bit dull, alas. The flashbacks explaining everything from Oz' viewpoint were the best part of the issue, but the point of the lessons he's learned were unclear. There was too much randomness in the rambling dialog and the single werewolf stalking and attacking were wastes of panel space.
2.75 out of 5