BTVS, Season 11, Issue 06
"Back to the Wall"
Writer: Christos Gage, Artwork: Rebekah Isaacs & Dan Jackson, Letters: Richard Starkings & [Comicraft's] Jimmy Betancourt
Cover: Steve Morris
Blurb: Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been saving the world from the forces of darkness since she was a teenager. Alongside her vampire boyfriend Spike; her best friends, Wiccan Willow Rosenberg and normal guy Xander Harris; her sister Dawn; and her formerly old but now magically reborn as a thirteen-year-old mentor Giles, Buffy has found nohting they can't face together... until now.
After a supernatural attack decimated San Francisco, the government cracked down on magical beings, forcing them (including Buffy, Willow, and Spike) into an internment camp. To get Spike extra blood, Buffy agreed to be a trustee. But her new job has shown her hints that there is a sinister master plan behind the workings of the camp.
Page 01: We open with Buffy kissing Spike on the cheek as she heads out to her job for the day.
Outside of their trailer, Buffy meets up with Willow briefly, as Wills is catching some air before she turns to draining her coven members of their magic so they can get out of the encampment. Willow is deeply worried about doing the right thing, still.
Buffy sympathizes with her, but assures her that she's doing the right thing - even if it isn't the easy thing. And in fact, it being hard is practically the definition of the right thing.
In the meantime, the Ogre has an eye in the sky... literally an Eyeball-Demon with wings. It informs the Ogre that Buffy is headed alone on her usual route, as Wills returns to her trailer for the unpleasant task ahead.
Page 02: With this report, Ogre has his gangmembers get into position for an ambush. But as Buffy walks through the canyon of trailers, it seems a bit too quiet and The Slayer is alert. She spots a gray-green demon up on one of the trailer roofs, just as he whips tail spikes down at her.
Page 03: Buffy is able to deflect three of the spines with her Scythe, but one of these strikes her in the thigh. She immediately drops to one knee, woozy from the poison in the spine.
As the gang members close in, Ogre triumphantly tells them that they'll have Slayer meat on the grill.
Page 04: Which, of course, is relatively stupid, since Quill-Man didn't bother to fire into her again.
Buffy swings out with her Scythe and two demon members are instantly killed -- one chopped in half at the torso, and the other beheaded.
The others are ordered to pile onto Buffy by the Ogre.
Commentary: Yeah. For knowing who she is, they don't seem to wonder at how long she's been doing this.
It's almost unforgivable that Quill-Man wouldn't follow up with more poison before they all move in. In fact, I'm surprised that SOMEBODY in the Ogre's group wouldn't bring up that Buffy has lasted way longer than normal, and therefore be extra reticent about getting within swinging distance at all.
But then, I guess, we wouldn't have a cool-Buffy-power moment....
Page 05: Buffy is buried under demonic bodies for a moment, but the Scythe comes up through the dust kicked up by the fighting and impales a Goat-Demon. A Slayer fist sends Multi-Eyed Land Octopus and Cat Face flying.
Buffy stands up with a roar of anger, scattering demons.
Commentary: Very nice touch by Rebekah and Dan in making sure that we see some empty holes on Quill-Man's reptile tail, where he would've launched his spikes from. Rebekah is always very conscious of making sure she doesn't skip on details, as I've mentioned about her artwork before.
She's great about that, even with things that you'd probably not notice ordinarily without careful studying of the panels. And I love when her and Dan are working together.
Page 06: Ogre is also pissed and frustrated with Buffy's refusal to stay down. He punches her hard in the face, and yells at her for not dying.
Buffy replies that it'll take more than a poisoning and an ambush. As she relates, she calls that her eighteeth birthday.
She ducks under another attempt at a punch, and kicks him in the gut.
In the meantime, the others have had enough of an obviously failed attempt and run off, leaving Ogre to his fate.
Commentary: It wouldn't been funny if Quill-Man fired another spike on his way out, and Buffy ducked it to impale Ogre. That seems like it would've been just desserts. But apparently he's too busy fleeing to waste 'ammo'.
Page 07: The Ogre is able to slap the Scythe out of Buffy's hands, which allows him to wrap his large, meaty hands around her (in relation) tiny throat. She glares, he strangles. She grabs his wrists and digs her finger nails into his skin, he squeezes tighter.
They mutually staredown.
Page 08: It turns out that "limber" trumps "brute strength" when it comes to Slayer vs. Ogre. She's able to use his broad chest as a launch for her feet, doing a somersault out of his grip, while at the same time twisting his wrists, snapping both of them!
[Uh, okay... I'm gonna let the exact physics of this one slide, just because rule of cool applies.]
With Ogre face down in the dust, and no working hands, Buffy quickly has him under her complete control. He manages to gasp out that she's a traitor, but she tells him that line has gotten stale. She also points out that he never attacks the other guards, and that when there is talk of a real mass revolt, he seems to be the big mouth that runs and hides out until the whole thing is over.
Buffy suspects there is more going on than just demon vs. Slayer, when it comes to his motives. She demands the truth, since they're alone.
Ogre, tears flowing now, admits that he's been working for The Authorities secretly!
Commentary: And this is the sort of crap that makes everyone distrust the government and the people supposedly in control of the situation. But it also explains why there is so much divisiveness in the camp... it's being stoked exactly so the inmates can't work together. Which is probably smart, but it stinks to high heaven.
Page 09: Buffy tells The Ogre that she started to suspect he was doing their dirty work, but tells him she'll keep it mum, if he stops informing on the rest of them AND she wants to know everything about that project that the work crews are engaged in, unknowingly.
The Ogre knows what she's talking about, but being an inmate himself, the details weren't shared. He knows that they're trying to combine High Tech and Magic, and that when he picks out the demons that "he allows" to work outside, they were specific about none of them being too smart or curious to start putting the pieces together.
The Authorities promised him a way out of the camp, but he suspects that they're hiding something more behind their backs and doesn't trust them for a moment.
Buffy takes this as all that he probably knows, and leaves him crying in the dirt with one last warning to stay out of everybody else's way.
Commentary: Which, duh, of course they're up to something underhanded -- they're afraid about another San Francisco.
Of course, considering that attack seemed to come from outside of the country, you'd think they'd be far more interested in cultivating resources, rather than locking everybody in a detainment camp and make enemies. Especially from the Slayer Contingent! I can't understand what they thought they were getting out of making Buffy an enemy after they'd finally seemed to have the S8 debacle in the rearview mirror.
But more, it just annoys me more that only Buffy can see that this is dangerous for all of them. What the hell is wrong with Amazonia?! And where is Buffy's supporters like Leah and Satsu, damn it?!
Page 10: Meanwhile, Willow asks her last two students (besides Calliope who doesn't seem ready to go anywhere) if they're sure. Both are... they can't take it being locked in the camp, anymore.
Wills drains their magical energy, leaving them listless but able to be freed. Calliope tells Willow that she doesn't think she could stand to lose what she's just discovered. But she also knows that she isn't strong enough to survive the camp experience without her protection. She leans in and kisses her.
Page 11: Willow gently pushes her away, and tells her they can't because a) Calliope has a girlfriend who is waiting for her, and b) because Wills is now buzzing high on the magic she just absorbed and if she loses control of herself, for even a moment, things could quickly turn dangerous. She urges Calliope to leave the trailer until she is sure she can cope with the extra energy.
Which is convenient, because Buffy stops by then, looking like ground hamburger and she could use a bit of a super charge to help her heal before returning to Spike.
Page 12: Willow sets to work on patching up Buffy and charging up her healing factor. Buffy worries about Spike hearing what happened and going on a rampage, when they need to keep a low profile for the time being.
Wills offers that she'll have one of her remaining students drop by their trailer and tell Spike that there was a usual fight, but Buffy is fine.
Buffy tells Wills that'll work, because while she's also healing enough to hide out bad the fight really was, she can also tell Willow about what she learned from the ogre.
Page 13: A short time later, and Willow considers what little they now know. She tells Buffy that tech and magic aren't good playmates together, but they need to know more about what the government is trying to accomplish.
Buffy offers she could really use Wills expertise, but Willow reminds her that she's not able to leave the forcefield without them knowing, and none of her spells can make it past the anti-magic barrier.
Commentary: I keep wondering, though, if Dawn would be affected. With her new access to her "open any door" powers, I wonder if she could bypass it. I don't think Buffy would 'allow' her to risk it, and probably for good reasoning, but it kinda bugs me that Christos isn't thinking through the other characters abilities and at least having a panel where Rupert and Dawn are arguing about trying SOMETHING to get their family out.
It'd be more interesting if Dawn could teleport in, but then Buffy orders her to get out and not try that stunt again, before she does get detected. And if Dawn then used the fact that she got away with it to start forming a breakout plan with Faith and Andrew, should it look like Buffy and the others aren't ever going to be released.
[The parallels to Gitmo are uncomfortably clear with this storyline.]
Page 14: That evening at dusk, Spike joins Buffy and Willow behind a huge rock, studying the gate. Wills repeats that her magic is blocked, including teleporting. And she mentions there is a separate spell interfering with any gateways opening within the shield [Okay, so maybe Gage did consider Dawn's now operational powers and this is the answer: Yes, she's impacted from opening doorways past the barriers, as well. I still wish a simple half-page had addressed this with Dawn at some point].
As they study the setup, Willow notes the sensors at the physical gate and [Somehow, Willow has an awful lot of detail about exactly what the camp's security setup is... was Lake issuing a very detailed dossier to Wills to protect her? Because you'd think that magic spells designed to point out the strengths - and ergo the weaknesses - in security would also be tightly blocked...] is able to tell Buffy and Spike that they're sensing magical levels of everyone moving through it. They'd note if somebody as powerful as a witch were to attempt to somehow go through, as the magical levels being monitored would suddenly shoot up.
Spike offers that he has a way around that, without arousing too much undue suspicion.
Page 15: The next morning, Spike is accompanying Buffy, despite her complaints about his exposure if his hoodie gets knocked loose. Buffy is sure to argue with him nice and loudly, as he complains that he doesn't like her going to work, only to walk into ambushes.
As they approach the gate, Buffy tells him that she can a) take care of herself, and b) has arrived at the gateway with her fellow Slayers standing there, so he can go home before he bursts into flame.
As Buffy starts to walk out though, Spike grabs a random passerby and accuses him of being in The Ogre's gang and trying to kill the Slayer.
Meanwhile, Willow watches close by for her moment.
Page 16: Spike throws the poor guy, who of course wasn't part of the attack on Buffy, into one of the magical sensors, snapping it off.
Amazonia responds immediately, but before the forcefield can be closed, Buffy marches back into the camp to berate Spike about his stupid overprotectivity and inability to control himself. She 'angrily' shouts at him that he's going to get her fired.
In the meantime, Amazonia shouts to Buffy to just go to the work detail currently on shift and tell them that they'll be delayed in being released for the next shift, while they clean up after her boyfriend's mess.
Page 17: Amazonia then yells at Spike to get away from the gate, and stay away or she'll yank Buffy's trustee priviliges from her, and ergo the extra blood ration. Spike snots at her and storms away.
At the same time, Buffy - holding the Scythe in a somewhat awkward way - whispers to the now invisible Willow. Wills tells her that cloaking is a "low energy" spell, and shouldn't be much more distiguishable from the natural energy of the Slayers Scythe to the damaged sensor.
This allows Wills to accompany Buffy as she makes the rounds to tell the workers about the delay in the next shift.
Page 18: Buffy and Willow return to the gate as a pair of demons work on the sensor array that was damaged. With some fortuitous timing, as the demons are just about completed.
Jordan orders the forcefield down to return the demons inside.
Page 19: Wills gets back in, but the sensor detects her. However, it's assumed to be a recalibration issue, allowing her to get away with her short excursion.
Page 20: That night, Willow meets up with Buffy and Spike to tell them what she was able to figure out by seeing the coding and components the work crews are working on. The answer is worrying.
The government is working on a giant machine to drain and store magical energies. Buffy's first thought is worrying about being altered into a non-Slayer, again.
But Wills is thinking to the big picture....
Page 21: She tells Buffy that if they're allowed to activate the thing on a grand scale, anyone contacted by its field would be drained. For her and Buffy it'd be painful, but they would learn how to cope. But for anyone whose survival is dependent on innate magic, like the undead, for instance - it'd be fatal.
Page 22: Buffy determines that they have to stop this plan in its tracks, before genocide results. But Spike and Wills both point out the practicalities making that a hard sell.
Buffy tells them that draining their energy is bad enough, but she doesn't trust whoever is behind this plot with the energy they're collecting. Whatever they want it for, and clearly storing it isn't necessary unless somebody is planning on using it, it's going to be far worse than being an ex-witch, ex-Slayer and suddenly dead-dead vampire.
The Good: I, naturally, love the big fight scene (with a small caveat in Other Thoughts) and especially how it finally sidelines The Ogre which needed to happen. And I like how this entire time, he was actually causing trouble on behalf of the camp authorities to sow division in the residents. I also liked how he wasn't an oaf... he recognized that there was a catch somewhere in the deal he supposedly had.
I really had fun with Spike's plan, and could easily see James Marsters deliberately chewing the scenery to make it work. Man, I really wish James Marsters was there deliberately chewing the scenery to make the plan work.
The Bad: Nothing irked, annoyed, or angered.
Other Thoughts: Okay, the flying eyeball was cute, what being a spy and named "Peeper"... if a bit too on the nose to actually be clever.
My only caveat with the fight scene was one that is easily handwaved... naturally, once you use one form of attack - like poison - you must never, ever simply repeat it. Because... uh... that's how that works. The other one, I'm also able to overlook, though not quite as easily: The physics of Buffy's flip, while being throttled and snapping the ogre's wrists seems, hmmm, awkward and questionable.
Calliope bugs me. There, I said it. I don't think I've liked any of Willow's girlfriends, in fact, except Tara and even she, I had to warm up to over time. They really need to introduce a character that can spend a half season for us to get to know, and then have Wills start dating her.
I also have a small problem, easily shrugged off again, that curving light around Willow to make her invisible would be a "low energy" spell... that she nevertheless never used in all of those times when it would've been supremely helpful. It would've helped me a lot, if she'd at least have mentioned that the real problem is concentration enough to keep the spell in place. She could've even added that the current Seed's magic is a bit too unstable to risk, but that they don't have any other good options.
I do really miss checking in with the other characters, too, but again it's not a dealbreaker or anything.
The Score: I feel in general like we're having developments trickle in a bit slowly... like we're an issue late on where some of these things should've happened to make the pacing right. But this issue was fun, especially the beginning with the fight against the ogre's gang and I appreciate that we have something concrete for Buffy and Wills to be scared about.
But having the perspective expanded outward to the other characters we really know and would have concerns about all of this would really also really help in filling out the arc, I think.
3.50 out of 5 stars