Writer: Brian Lynch, Artist: Stephen Mooney, Colorist: Andrea Priorini, Letterer: Neil Uyetake
Blurb: Now that Team Spike is officially in over their heads, a certain red-haired witch showed up in a shower of kittens for hugs and help. But can Willow really solve all of Spike's problems, including his psycho ex Drusilla and the ever more mad killer, John? And what's up with Wolfram & Hart?
Page 01: So, with Willow having been brought to Vegas, and with John not yet more than a psychological threat hovering in the background, Willow's first task to save Team Spike is to start with Jeremy Johns. He's been possessed.
She power-spells the spirit of the demon into a zombie-snake carcass.
Commentary: Nice first panel... very 'dark power' vibe, though.
Page 02: With the swap made, it falls to Willow to counter her dark magic use with being sympathetic to the demonic-telepathic-snake. He's less than receptive to her attempts to make him feel better about it.
Page 03: As Willow is attempting to get the demon to see everything isn't all bad with his new body, Spike is filling in the confused Jeremy on the current plot.
Jeremy is ready to help out to save the rest of Spike's friends, the pyrokinetic Beck and the telepathic-levitating-fish George. Spike tries to put him off, but since Illyria isn't present, Jeremy insists on helping -- even though his association with Spike tends to lead to nothing good for him.
Commentary: Jeremy's concern about Illyria being there is a callback to Spike: After the Fall, where Illyria shockingly put her fist through his chest, killing him. Since all of the memories of After the Fall weren't wiped clean, even though the events themselves were retrograded into not happening, it's understandable that Jeremy would wish to avoid Illyria.
Page 04: Willow in introduced to Jeremy, which she equates to Team Spike having its own Xander. She finds this cute. But she also argues that she isn't coming.
Spike takes this as a reference to Buffy not coming, which is what he wanted as he isn't ready to meet her after the Sunnydale dying-words thing. But, Willow is referring to Drusilla in this instance.
He tells Wills not to worry, he can handle Dru. He does this with threats... clarifying for Dru that he isn't speaking of sex, but actual pain coming her way if she doesn't keep a leash on her evilness.
Page 05: Drusilla is amendable. Mostly, this is because she just killed the demon possessed zombie snake and its telepathic pleading while she did so has given her a happy. Bodes really well.
Meanwhile, across town, Wolfram and Hart is meeting in their executive board where the mood is not happy. Their reestablishment in North America in Las Vegas has gone less than to plan. While they were supposed to come in quiet, subtle and lowkey, instead they've managed to have the place torched and trashed.
What is really galling is that their operation was taken down by John and Beck, mostly. That would be their own inside hire and Spike's sidekick, which is like the sidekick of the sidekick since W & H's main concern has always been Angel.
I see no bonuses being paid this quarter.
Page 06: The board head makes it clear that the other executives are in deep. She demands that each of them bring their client portfolio and argue as to why they should be allowed to continue existing, as W & H plans how they're going to recover from this latest debacle.
Oh, that board head? One Ms. Lilah Morgan.
As we saw in AtS: "Home", Lilah remains bound by contract to W & H due to a Standard Perpetuity Clause. It's nice to see that she's still moving up in the organization... I guess.
Page 07: Meanwhile, in John's hideaway: He's complaining to Beck and Betta George that his vicious murder of demon-guy didn't give him any satisfaction, whatsoever. In the good ol' days, his soul would make him feel a bit of frisson over what he'd done, which would add to his joy in doing it, but now he's just so numbed to it all.
He double checks with Betta that Spike received the message he'd sent about where he was for their confrontation. He also mentions to Beck that if Spike doesn't storm the battlements in the next five minutes, he's going to torture her to death next. She's unconcerned with her complete faith being in Spike not only stepping into the obvious trap, but doing so by unravelling the loon's best-laid plans, to boot.
Page 08: Beck's defiance riles John up and he decides the five minute threat was too generous. He wants to show her how wrong she is right this minute. He punches her in the face.
But, from behind him comes a mystic glow from the floor.
Betta George mentions that he may have warned Spike not to come in through the door in order to bypass the obvious trap of the demon goons John has working for him.
There is much smirking at the serial killer to be had.
Page 09: Conveniently, the soul swap, the mystic transport and the delivery of her cargo up through the fortified floor of John's hideout has tapped Willow out for the moment, so that this whole thing isn't wrapped up instantly.
Spike has Jeremy and Drusilla play defensive shield, while he faces off against John.
Commentary: I like how Spike offers John a way out, half-facetiously to be sure, by mentioning that he's been in his place with Drusilla simply walking away. Clearly John is much more invested in his pairing with Drusilla than she ever was.
Page 10: John has a minor meltdown now, what with Spike successfully evading being easily killed and now Drusilla not even acknowledging his presence, added to his belief that Spike has already stolen his soul due to W & H's tale.
He launches himself at Spike, who... uh... handsprings into a face kick at him. Okay.
In the meanwhile, Betta trips through Spike's memories some more as he is still trying to deal with the Spike that he was through Dru's memories when he brain scanned her.
Commentary: Which. WTH, to the timing? Not only is this a really bizarre time for Betta to do in story, but it's a really clumsy way for the writing to deal with Betta's angst as well.
Page 11: Spike asks Betta what the hell, and George explains what he saw of Spike's past from Dru. Spike acknowledges that he'd done some awful things, but offers his own skull for full access so George will have a complete picture of who he is now... if he could just wait until after John's defeat.
Betta saves Spike from stepping into a ruin-trap on the floor.
Commentary: Which. WTH, to the timing? Not only is this a really bizarre time for Spike to have this conversation in story, but it's a really clumsy way for the writing to deal with the Spike/Betta friendship angst as well.
And what is John doing... posing during this and kindly waiting for Spike to return his attention to their life and death fight?
This is just an entirely clumsy sequence.
Page 12: With Betta tipping Spike off to the ruin-trap, John goes on heavy offensive... only to be instantly punched unconcious by Spike. A human serial killer is simply no match for a vampire in a head to head fight.
He quickly releases Beck from her power dampening restraints.
Page 13: While Jeremy and Willow are fighting minion-demons in the background, Spike instructs Beck to find a corner to hide out in until her powers are back. She responds with a grateful kiss.
Unfortunately, there is another "ally" in the room for whom that kiss means something. Drusilla does not like seeing Beck's display.
Page 14: Spike and Beck share a moment where she understands that he isn't going to feel for her what she very obviously wants, which she does understand. They separate to get back to the battle... but it's a bit late to be worrying about the fisticuffs about them.
John has come to, and he uses Spike's distraction with Beck to run a sword through the vampire's chest. With Spike disabled on the floor, John tells him he's now getting into that ruin-trap, where the soul he 'stole' will be 'returned' to its 'rightful place'. [Quotes because I'm not buying Spike has John's soul to begin with]
Page 15: In the meantime, Willow is holding off the minions and sends Drusilla to stop John from delivering Spike to the floor-symbol.
Except, then she notices that Drusilla has plans of her own. She's bitten Jeremy!
Drusilla explains that she wants John to succeed. She wants the soul inside Spike removed....
Page 16: With Willow distracted, Jeremy down for the count, Beck retreated, Betta still hanging on the wall and Drusilla now on John's side, Spike is left with a nasty case of soul extraction.
Page 17: John stands over Spike, triumphant as Spike admits to feeling empty inside.
But, it is also Spike's moment as well. He realizes that he was a good man, even before his soul was returned, while he was fighting the evil inside of him while in Sunnydale.
Commentary: I really like this moment, as it really brings into focus for Spike the changes he went through during Season 5 of Buffy and the struggles he went through in Season 6, pre-Africa trip. I don't really buy that he was "good" before the soul-receiving, but that is a nitpit. The important thing is that he sees himself as struggling to be better during those tumultuous years. He recognizes that there was always a choice between choosing between the evil and the good, despite his basic demonic nature and that the Sunnydale crew (embodied in Buffy) allowed him to recognize that basic fact.
Page 18: Spike struggles to his feet. To Willow's pride, he informs John that he can keep the soul energy ball. Spike has grown into a good man independent of needing the crutch that it provided.
Commentary: I really love this power moment for Spike. It's terrific in that it allows Spike to stand on his own, seperate from Angel [who does require the soul in order to avoid being Angelus], while still being the vampire fighting for Buffy's ideas and for those he's come to respect and care for. It also better defines why Spike can be better, while someone like John can remain murderous even when he had a soul to guide him. The soul can't force you to be good or bad... it's all choices. It can certainly 'prick the conscience', but it isn't that conscience in and of itself.
Which will be further clarified... and confused... in the next page.
Page 19: Willow steps forward and tell Spike that he is free to choose, which Spike realized and ergo the speech. But, Willow tells him she's speaking of literally choosing. Even he doesn't need the soul that is fine, but she's offering him the choice of who will receive it, instead.
John has grabbed Beck from whatever corner she was ducked into in the meantime. He now holds a sword to her throat and insists that Spike give him the soul ball to "make me whole" or he'll kill Beck. She points out that John will kill her anyway, soul or no soul, so Spike should keep it for himself.
Commentary: So, the soul is one of the most frustrating metaphysical things in the Buffyverse. Everyone talks about having "his/her soul", but this page makes it seem that a soul is a sort of moral center or spark of divine goodness but it is easily transposed from one place to another. Ergo, logically, it isn't a ball of personality traits or human conscience with a sense of self. They're more like impersonal batteries, but they don't each 'belong' to an individual, which is what I would think when considering a soul.
So, if it is just a battery that can be inserted and removed from anybody and swapped to anybody else, then what is it doing? Why is it of value? What will it allow or its absence disallow in an individual? Spike admits that its removal leaves him feeling empty, and John certainly feels that he's lost something... a zest for existing by losing the soul. It would seem that the soul helps in establishing a sense of connectedness... perhaps in the way that demon spirits feel connected to a greater purpose in darkness but to the opposite polarity.
It can't impose a sense of goodness, obviously, but for those who embrace a goodness toward their fellow humanity/good beings, the soul facilitates a deeper and more meaningful connection between individuals of common purpose. Evil has its social internet between individuals, the soul acts as the same for the Good.
Which would seem fine, except that in previous episodes dealing with souls, it was always spoken of as containing more than this. It has always been spoken of in an individual sense. People don't 'lose a soul', they 'lose my/his/her' soul. There is a sense of ownership and individualism assigned to a particular soul.
Now, this could be semantics, though. For instance, I'm wearing 'my sweater'... but the sweater itself doesn't have any portion of 'me' in it. The soul could be an entirely neutral-personality conduit... in fact... with the examples that are coming to mind right now, I can't think of anything that would contradict that notion.
Having a soul allows an expression toward connection with others who are also ensouled and guides, but doesn't force, one toward a sense of 'goodness' toward fellow soul-bearers. But, at the bottom line, it is only a ball of energy that is easily utilized for a variety of purposes and is separate from a beings' personality, conscience, memories and basic individuality.
But, does this explanation work? Can Buffy still be Buffy if she has no soul? Can Angel (see Angel & Faith) really bring back Giles, if there isn't a soul to give him and have it still be Giles?
Is Spike ultimately correct after all, or over the long term would being "empty" undo all of the changes in Spike gleaned from first the chip and then later the soul? Can Spike 'be good' based completely on the moral changes of view he's incorporated, or will he again become evil who can do good works when it is convenient to a greater goal (which is what I'd argue describes Buffy S4 Spike).
Spike claims that before the 'goddamned voodoo, I was good'... but is this true, and if so, would everyone in the Buffyverse go on just fine as they are even if there was a sudden mass lack of souls? Or, is the soul connecting everyone to a greater 'humanity' necessary for our 'people' to remain 'people' toward one another and, probably more relevant, to strangers at large?
And if the soul is irrelevent to an individual, then doesn't that mean that Fred does exist as a collection of personality traits and memories within Illyria and that she could, in fact, be 'reconstituted' despite "her" soul being destroyed by Illyria's growth and assumption of her body. And, how would a soul or not soul affect the greater metaphysical existence of those who are dead in the Buffyverse? Can a ghost exist without a soul and still have all of the personality attributes of the person that was... or does the soul act as a temporary storage device for these traits when the physical brain is no longer capable of doing so due to a case of existence failure? What is Lilah Morgan and Wesley and Tara?
Are they ghosts because they have a soul still and would they simply disappear if their souls were transported into a new vessel, like a hard drive being overwritten with new data? Is the soul just a metaphysical flash drive with a powerful independent power supply onboard?
If that is all that it is, then why is so much made of it? Why does everyone seem to place such weight on being ensouled vs. not having a soul within the Buffyverse? Why is Angel so completely opposite in his moral viewpoint when he loses his? Why can Spike be Spike without it, but Angel becomes Angelus?
Scene 20: Spike chooses not to reclaim the soul, nor to give it to John. He has Willow place the soul within Drusilla instead.
Commentary: Need I even mention how curious I am as to how this will impact her?
Scene 21: Back at W & H's disarrayed Vegas office, Lila is interviewing a Mr. Clifton who on the surface appears to be not long for continued... existence. Lila has already killed all of his associates for having a substandard array of clients and not interviewing impressively enough for her to spare them.
Scene 22: Lila tells Mr. Clifton that she's impressed not by his portfolio, which he correctly described as 'unimpressive', but by his specialty in cross-dimensional communications, alternate lifeforms.
She shares with Mr. Clifton that W & H has decided that with the level of damage bad decisions they've made has done to this particular universe, it has been decided that they need to make a graceful and orderly exit from this dimension.
More interestingly... and probably rather shocking to W & H's senior partners, they've discovered that they weren't exactly "the big show" this entire time. It turns out that W & H was nothing more than a tool being used by something much bigger with its own plans, and to be blunt, the law firm of evil isn't to be a part of it.
Lilah wants Mr. Clifton on board to help W & H in its exit strategy.
Commentary: And that big change coming...? Again, the meta is delicious.
Lilah could easily be referring to what is happening in the IDW Angel title at this time: Myr's plans
She could be referring to Angel's involvement in the Buffy title: Twilight's plans
Or she could be slyly referring to IDW's losing the Angel license to Dark Horse.
Or any combination of these....
Heh-heh, I like it.
The Good: I liked most of the artwork... most of it.
I loved Willow in this, especially her trying to buck up the demon's spirits after transferring him to roadkill and her argument with Spike over Drusilla accompanying them.
I liked that Drusilla did in fact turn on the team, and I like her motivations for doing so.
The Bad: The conversation between Betta George and Spike is something that should happen, but this particular place to drop it was exceptionally badly timed.
Other Thoughts: I wish there had been a little refinement for Lilah Morgan's power suit moment in the artwork. There is something missing from the facial features that failed to capture Stephanie Romanov. Maybe because the actress would have included a sense of dark humor in this shot... a twinkle in her eye at her associates' discomfort, and that sense of menacing fun is missing in the drawing.
The whole soul-thing is interesting/frustrating and I'm just as torn about whether I wish they'd make up some clear rules about what it is or whether I like the ongoing ambiguity. A Drusilla-focused limited series that would be all about how she changes or doesn't with her new acquisition would be fascinating and hopefully would help me to better understand how this works ... Dark Horse, are you listening?
The Score: 3.50 out of 5 stars
Next Up: IDW's Spike #7, Angel #43, Spike #8 and Angel #44