Buffy, the Vampire Slayer
Season 10, Issue 20
Writing: Christos Gage, Artwork: Megan Levens, Colors: Dan Jackson, Lettering: Richard Starkings, [Comicraft's] Jimmy Betancourt, Cover Art: Steve Morris
Blurb: Buffy and the gang put aside their awkward past and fought together to beat back the Big Bad, Archaeus. After they shattered his powerful portal-creating artifact and sent him packing, a trio of rival demons - the Soul Glutton, the Sculptor and the Mistress - got their hands on the artifact's remains and are now hoping to use it to place themselves in a position of great power on [E]arth. But a quiet moment isn't too much to ask for, is it? Probably...
Page 01: We open on Buffy and Spike, he doing the hunched down in his jacket thing to avoid the sunlight, arriving at the Mission Women's Center. They're being escorted by Robert Dowling because the SVU squad called in the new Supernatural Crimes Division on a sexual assault case.
One of the councilors at the center called in an assault, but the reason for Dowling's team being involved is both because the encounter wasn't consensual, but also because the guy didn't force himself on her either. Buffy wonders about garden variety drugging, but the victim reported her attacker as someone who is in a photograph from the Center's opening 40 years ago. And the man in the picture hasn't aged a day.
Spike and Buffy both turn to each other and simultaneously reason an incubus is their culprit.
Page 02: Our victim reports that right after the assault she'd actually asked when she could see him again. It wasn't until five minutes after he left that she'd realized what she'd said and was disgusted and horrified. Buffy asks about flu like symptoms, and she confirms that she could barely get out of bed the next day.
Spike confirms that incubus drain life force from their victims.
Jean Anthony, our Councilor, asks to speak to Buffy alone for a moment.
In the hallway, Robert surprises Spike by noticing immediately that he and Buffy have hooked up recently just by the way they're interacting.
Page 03: Spike worries for a moment that this could put a strain on his and Robert's relationship since he'd been interested in dating Buffy, but Robert blows this off. He and Spike broach why it took so long.
Meantime, Buffy and Jean discuss what happened to the latter. Jean is bothered by how she acted as if this was a consensual encounter. Despite knowing about and counciling women blaming themselves for the attack, she feels like this was different because she wasn't disagreeing with the encounter while it was taking place, despite her body screaming that it was wrong.
Buffy assures her that her freedom to choose was taken from her, explaining her feelings of being compelled to agree with him. She also promises that the demon is going to pay for it.
Commentary: So, since next page we enter the b-plot, let's address what our primary story is about. I'll admit that I'm cringing here, because I can tell that this is going to be a way to revisit the Spike attack on Buffy in Season 6 and it's uncomfortable. There is a real problem when it comes to trying to reconcile Buffy and Spike's relationship now vs. what it was like in that Season Of Gloom and I'm not sure that it's possible to go there without it ending up feeling too pat in order to put Buffy/Spike on solid footing - or using it as drama to put a strain on Spuffy just when the two of them are finally together.
On the other hand, I can see the sense in having to address it in some way. Or having it just be something that happened that is "forgotten" or only obliquely mentioned in passing in some panels... perhaps via character thoughts. I'm conflicted about dragging up The Attempt and having a conversation about it, so this issue is already making me feel a bit queasy.
I guess character wise, this is important for Buffy and Spike to address. Reader wise, I'd just as soon as they dealt with it off-panel, which I suppose is cowardly, but there it is.
Page 04: Meanwhile, back at Xan and Spike's apartment, Xander has holed up in his room. Anya-Ghost is complaining at him that he hasn't even bothered to shower in days. She worries about the kitten's sense of smell being assaulted.
Xander realizes that the kittens can actually see and react to Anya's presence which means that she's not just a figment of his imagination after all. This is something that Anya professes makes her feel better about being there... although she's still bummed out that she can't have sex without a body.
Page 05: Buffy and Spike barge into Xander's room, and he yells that they could've caught him doing naked, private things. Buffy tells him that she heard him talking to the cats. She points out that he hasn't left his room in days to socialize and complains that he stinks. She tells him that he can't allow the current problems with him and Dawn make him wallow, and Spike shares that Dowling has a job that needs a consultant.
When Xander mentions that Buffy and Spike are supposed to have that covered, they beg off over being busy with the other case. Instead, they suggest that he and Giles should deal with a case of needed exorcism.
Xander isn't so sure that's a good idea. The last time he and Giles went fighting, he nearly lost more body parts but Buffy counters that Giles was nearly depowered at that point. Now, he's returned to adolescence and his powers have returned to current-normal. Plus it should be a relatively easy case.
Ghost-Anya urges Xander to do it. She excited about the possibility of a Ghost Hunter/Invisible Sidekick, real-life cop show. Anya's giddiness at partnering up with Xan, fighting supernatural crime has him agreeing.
Commentary: Wow, gang. I noticed during this issue that Anya had been shoved far into the background because of the crossover shenanigans and I went back to take a look at the last issue she appeared in just to remind myself about what the status is for her Ghost character... it was all the way back in Issue 10!?! Is that right? Did I miss a reference after that?
I'm kind of glad that we're getting back to that mystery, but at the same time I have the problem that I have with the return of Fred/Illyria over in Angel & Faith. Why was it necessary to bring back the dead characters? What is their point?
In Anya's case, I think it's easier to accept because she hasn't been brought back to life [unlike Fred and Rupert], but the principle is the same: If you kill a character, leave 'em dead and gone.
But since she's back, I'm also on the fence about the way she's being used for some sort of comedy relief/is Xan cracking up.
I'm hoping that Archaeus being Angel's problem in London will allow us to stay focused on this side plot with Anya now.
Page 06: Later, Xan, Giles, Robert and Ghost-Anya drop in on a "psychic", who everyone is pretty sure is a fraud. But there are reports that after a "seance" she was conducting, she started acting weird and speaking in voices that weren't her own.
This is what Robert wanted some assistance with... just to speak with Ms. Pasternak and see if something is up, or if it's just more of her con-woman games being played.
It turns out that Lana isn't faking this time. Apparently, the fact that she isn't really psychic meant that she didn't have much resistance against actual spiritual invaders. Now, she's undergone a physical tranmutation and is levitating. Plus the dark energies swirling around her kind of suggests that she really is possessed.
Page 07: Back at Buffy's, she's in the shower when Spike comes in. He goes on about believing that the demon they're after has been preying on the Mission District for decades at least. He also suggests that they get a move on because while incubus don't need to operate at night, it's a preference.
Buffy says she's just about ready and Spike offers that he'd like to get into the shower for a washdown before they go. He opens the shower curtain and Buffy -- caught off guard -- lashes out with a side kick that sends Spike flying into the bathroom sink.
Page 08: Buffy comes to Spike's aid and apologizes for reacting out of instinct, but Spike mentions how he notices that before rushing to his aid, she made sure to put her robe on. He tells her that it's fine, only natural with this case bringing up painful memories.
But Buffy is annoyed with herself anyway because "that -- what happened in Sunnydale --" wasn't Spike, at least it wasn't ensouled Spike. And they'd already dealt with that trauma, so it shouldn't still be a lingering thing between them. But Spike offers that dealing with the past doesn't make it go away.
Page 09: As Rupert gets ready to perform a quick exorcism on Lana, the demon inside of her sends out tendrils of ectoplasm and shouts at them to die. Ghost Anya shouts at Xan to use the holy water to dissolve the slime. The Spiritual Intruder tells Anya that nobody invited her to this party.
Anya is surprised that the demon can see her as a tendril is wrapped around her wrist.
Commentary: I smiled when the Possessing Demon called Giles "tidbit". And I liked that Anya was able to be seen by the demon, and that being a ghost doesn't necessarily protect her. Something that should actually be obvious to her, considering her knowledge of the supernatural, actually. [Future-Harsens here: However, this assumption is shot at the end of the issue, so never mind.]
Page 10: As Anya shouts for help from Xan and he's responding with Holy Water, Giles warns the others that there is another spiritual being present. But he mistakenly believes he's sensing Lana's soul having been ejected from her body by the possessor.
He uses the time Xan gave him to start the exorcism chant. The demon responds with knocking Robert to the ground, before he can taze Lana's body. Anya meantime shouts some more as she finds herself being dragged toward the possessed Lana!
Page 11: Thankfully, some more splashes of Holy Water gets her released, while at the same time Rupert is able to finish the dispossession.
Lana Pasternak begins to fall and Rupert and Xan rush catch her before she hits the floor and brains herself. Giles tells Xan that he needn't have panicked because the demon was drawing the victim's astral form back toward her body, where it belonged anyway. Xan blows it off as just making sure she wasn't in danger.
In the meantime though, Lana is whispering in Xander's ear that the presence who believes she's Anya Jenkins, isn't - to his shock.
Commentary: Oh, man. Not again with Xander being emotionally crushed! He just cannot catch a break when it comes to the loves in his life, even after those loves have already died and put him through the wringer once. I gotta say, though, that even though I felt really bad for him in this moment [I completely buy what she's saying here because she's just too out of it to be lying for some reason], I'm also okay with this Ghost Anya being a fake. Now... who or what is she, and why is she there?
Page 12: Xander asks her to repeat what she just said, but Lana has come around from her possession. She asks who he is, and asks why he's touching her boob. Xan panics at the fact that when he caught her, he was holding her around the chest and drops her. Giles yells at him for doing so, while Lana picks herself up off the floor and promises them and Dowling that they're all so sued.
Commentary: That was a pretty funny moment too, but it's placement in this issue is weird. I have to think that the juxtaposition between accidental boob touchage and the incubus' victimizing Jean was deliberate. But it seems a very odd thing to do, since there isn't anything funny about what happened to Jean, nor about what almost happened to Buffy in Season 6 in that bathroom.
It feels... jarring... to make Xan's accidentally and amusingly cupping Lana's boob a scene right in the middle of Buffy and Jean's story about trying to deal with their respective sexual assaults.
Page 13: At The Women's Center, Jean and Buffy talk about the incubus some more. Jean asks where Spike is, and Buffy tells her he's out canvassing, hoping to find the demon before he can hurt anyone else. But she's staying there with her because he may decide to come back.
Some research suggested that the incubus likes to take longer to kill women who help women, for some reason.
Buffy brings up who strong a person Jean seems to her, what with her being a prior victim and now this happening. She tells her it must be bringing up a lot of bad memories. [Of course, we can tell that Buffy is thinking about how investigating this case has brought up the feelings she thought she'd dealt with in regards to Spike in S6.]
Page 14: Jean admits that it's triggering some feelings but she also says that this isn't knew. Despite having dealt with the past assaults by her very ex-fiance, sometimes a man walking past wearing the same cologne can call back those feelings. She tells Buffy that pretending the trauma just disappears because you've dealt with things emotionally doesn't work. You just have to allow yourself to feel those things, admit that the fallout lingers but knowing that you're moving forward with your life anyway gives you strength.
The conversation is interrupted by a knock at the center's glass doors.
Page 15: It is, of course, their incubus. He tells the girls "little pigs" and tells them to let him in, like he's the big bad wolf.
Buffy tries to tell Jean to go to her office and lock the door, but before she can move, the incubus tells them to stop trying to ignore him. He demands to be let in now, and Buffy and Jean freeze, enthralled.
Page 16: Buffy, unable to stop herself, lets the incubus inside. He berates Buffy for thinking that she could fight him and his powers. He warns her that if her vampire friend was around, she may've been able to best him because he has a hard time influencing men - especially undead men, but she was so sure of her superiority, that she sent him away. He tells her that he knows she's the Slayer as he's been watching her and he's annoyed that she would think that made her better than him.
He then teases that maybe Buffy secretly wanted him to get her in this position. He begins to feed on her life force.
But before he can really get into it, a voice off-panel tells him that she really did want him to come to her this way...
Page 17: ... It's Spike! And he comes smashing through the center's glass door.
Buffy tells the incubus that maybe he should've considered that she wanted him to get the drop on her, because it was a trap against him.
As the incubus tries to focus his powers on convincing Spike to stay away from him, he leaves his back open to the Slayer Scythe. With Buffy's swing, it easily decapitates the "sleazoid".
Commentary: That was pretty awesome. I was just a tiny bit annoyed at Buffy for leaving herself so vulnerable when she knew the guy had those mind control powers, and Slayers aren't markedly more resistant to influence abilities than anyone else. Something that she should know by now.
So it was very satisfying to realize that it was a set up, with Buffy as bait, playing on the incubus' need to hurt strong women.
Page 18: Jean mentions that she thought things like them dusted when killed, but Spike points out that's only things like him. He offers though that she shouldn't feel bad, since he wasn't human. Jean understands that, though and she's okay - despite the mess.
She also says that she thought he was a big boogeyman, but in the end when they were ready for him, he turned out to not be all that tough.
Buffy says that a lot of the monsters are like that. They were always dependent on no one believing in them while they stalked people from the shadows. She repeats that the theme this season that the rules have changed.
Page 19: Back at Xan and Spike's, Xander is in his bedroom worrying over what post-possessed, but loopy Lana said about Anya.
He tries to bring it up with whatever is in the room with him, but backs out. Anya - or whatever is taking her form - goes on with excitement about this new demon fighting partnership.
Page 20: Over in Buffy, Dawn and Willow's, Spike and Buffy still have to deal with all of those feelings and memories that have been brought up from dealing with this case at the Center.
Spike starts to apologize to Buffy, but she stops him cold. She tells him that his overwrought apologies for what he did when he was soulless is more about alleviating his own guilt than about her being comforted. She also says that what happened then was bad, but there have been a lot of bad things that have happened to her.
She tells him that they have really dealt with the past, but tells him that sometimes it's going to come rushing back on her. She can't put it back into perspective for herself if she has to constantly reassure him that she doesn't hold a grudge against him for what he wasn't responsible for doing because he wasn't a person then.
Buffy tells Spike that if he really wants to help her, he'll let her deal with these feelings in her own way for herself.
Page 21: Buffy goes on to tell him that sometimes that is going to mean that she just needs some space away from him, without being made to feel guilty about it. And sometimes... like right now... she needs him to be there with a reassuring hug.
Commentary: Hmmm. Okay. Let's see, how can I phrase this so it doesn't sound especially douchey?
I get everything that Buffy just said. I do. I like the sentiment of Buffy saying, basically, it's sometimes about Buffy making it okay for Buffy.
BUT, I also think that the way it was written was pretty dismissive of what William would be going through with the past being so present, again. I mean this is the event that (if you accept canon, and I do have problems with the interpretation) drove Spike out of Sunnydale to get his soul back or be destroyed in the attempt. It's the event that, in no small measure, drove him out of guilt to drape himself onto a cross and burn for absolution. It's the event that kept Spike feeling weak, small and unworthy throughout Season 7 until Buffy herself had to tell him to stop obsessing over it.
It's hard to reconcile that Buffy/Spike interaction where she was concerned with what souled Spike was doing to himself over soulless Spike's actions with this one where Buffy is basically saying "you're only telling me how guilty you still feel because you want me to make you feel better" rather than "this is hard on both of us, because that horrible thing will always be in our collective past, but we both know that demon wasn't this person in front of me now".
I really wish this was phrased more as "We don't have to rehash this everytime something reminds us of the bad old days... our relationship now is more solid than the past. But sometimes that past is going to come rushing back on me, and I'll just need a moment for myself to deal with it, sometimes I'll need a hug. But I don't need or want you to flog yourself over what pure-vampire Spike tried to do. You're better than that. And we're stronger than that."
I feel like this is the main point that Christos was trying to have Buffy state here, but it came across as kind of cold and accusatory as though Spike couldn't possibly be feeling his own guilt and horror still over what "he" tried to do to her when he wasn't ensouled. And it gave the first impression of Buffy saying that the only reason Spike would say he felt guilt-ridden about it was because he's an attention-whore who is trying to make her feel bad that she wasn't reassuring him about their relationship now, rather than that he actually does carry around a lot of guilt that is still there.
Page 22: Meanwhile, in a dark tunnel somewhere Ghost Anya, or whoever she is, greets a crystal ball. A voice tells her that she's doing well and that Xander is appearing vulnerable and ready for manipulation. Ghost Faux-Anya asks why she can't remember when she leaves this tunnel that she's communicating with whoever this voice belongs to -- she's told it makes it less likely she'll betray whoever the voice belongs to, or blunder her assumed identity.
She guesses for herself that she's not the real Anya Jenkins, which the voice confirms for her before telling her that it doesn't matter. By the time that they're done together, she'll be as real as the actual Anya ever was....
I didn't like Anya coming back, but I hate the thought of what Xander is going to be put through coming up even more. Poor Xan deserves a love life, finally, that doesn't involve betrayal, death and mental and emotional anguish.
The Good: I liked how quickly both Buffy and Spike realized who their demonic antagonist was.
I did, before we come to know the truth, enjoy Anya's enthusiasm for living out a 1980's buddy cop picture with Xan. That was really cute.
I do like how the past is never actually forgotten in this series, and how bad things that happened still have an impact on our characters years later. The continuity is always appreciated by yours truly.
I loved the possession victim's "You people are all so sued", after she was saved but has no memory of being possessed.
I really liked Buffy's "botched tactics" of confronting the incubus, knowing being the Slayer doesn't make her immune to his seduction powers - only for that to be a total trap for the demon.
The Bad: I really didn't like the way that Christos scripted Buffy and Spike's conversation about Buffy's dealing with soulless Spike's attempted rape of S6. I felt like the way it was scripted obscured the point that I feel Buffy was actually making and I don't like the way it completely ignored that Spike could have genuine guilt of his own, rather than having a selfish motive for expressing guilt.
Other Thoughts: I did find the way the b-plot was inserted between a-plot scenes to be weirdly clumsy... but only because of Xan's accidental feeling up of the formerly possessed psychic when catching her from falling. Since the a-plot is dealing with rape, both present and the past attempt of demonic Spike on Buffy, the comedic take on the accidental boob grab just struck me as plainly inappropriate.
It also felt out-of-left-field for Xander to suddenly be turning into a unbathed hermit in his dark room. It feels like it would've worked better if the Anya subplot hadn't been interrupted for so many issues in a row, because it feels like her return as a ghost could've had this effect on Xan. But since the last time we saw Xander, he wasn't hiding out in his room, and nothing in particular seemed to happen that would've driven him to hide away, it just didn't seem sensible to me that he was suddenly avoiding everybody.
The Score: This one was a bit difficult, since it was dealing with heavy themes. And at the same time, it felt clumsily scripted.
3.25 out of 5 stars