Writer: Jordie Bellaire & Jeremy Lambert, Artwork: Eleonora Carlini & Cris Peter, Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover: Jenny Frison
Page 01: We open deep in the Hellmouth, where a werewolf demon howls, while brandishing a sword.
VO lets us know that It is everywhere, in every corner of the world, both public and hidden. It is legend (it is also probably The First, and we know how It likes to drone on).
Page 02: VO continues to let us know that our unstable emotions are how it feeds and endures.
On Earth, we see evidence of what it wants, likes and needs: Conflict.
A student fistfight, an arguing family, a jealous boy watching possibly-Buffy & Robin making out.
Page 03: From the small things to a man tied to a chair, having been tortured. A soldier ignoring the desperate pleas of people locked in cages and through all of this is It.
Comparing Itself to a wolf, ravenous.
Page 04: Also within the Hellmouth is Buffy and Angel. They're fighting demons and bickering. Angel wants Buffy to ignore the random demons making their way toward the entrance in order to focus on finding Drusilla. Buffy tells him there is no way she's allowing rampaging monsters to crossover to Earth.
Page 05: Angel tries to impress on Buffy that the physical demons aren't the ones they need to worry about right now. It's the ones that invade your heart and mind.
Buffy mildly mocks him. She reminds him that as The Slayer, this is what she does after all. But he counters he's been at it a lot longer than she has.
She mocks this too, as his having made it all the way to college, not picking up on his being a vampire (and like with her primary universe counterpart, she can't hone worth crap and Angel has a blindspot around him; unlike in the prime-verse, you could justify this here as Lilith protecting him from a quick slaying when she needs him, if you need to).
Commentary: I've been thinking on this since Angel, issue one, and I would be absolutely fine if Buffy/Angel did not turn into a thing in this universe. Let's unstatus that quo! Do something different with the relationships. Let's have a Cordelia/Spike. Let's have an Angel/Gunn.
Let's throw caution to the wind.
Page 06: After Buffy's latest brawl with the Randomites, things are a bit too quiet for a moment. Buffy senses something, when a voice comes out of the red darkness. It's a large demon, happy to have such willing sacrifices join it in the caverns.
It introduces itself as Ulfreth, and promises less pain if they willingly kneel before it for the Hellmother's sake.
Buffy is not pleased to find either it, or that there is a presumably bigger Hellmother somewhere in the chasms. She's also a bit nonplussed by the demon going through introductions, when she expected immediate attack.
Of course she uses this to goad Angel again, after he had just insisted that the real monsters in this place aren't going to just come up and introduce themselves or make random attacks, like the wimpy horde.
Ulfreth, however, has now completed the niceties. It reaches out with tentacles that wrap around Angel's legs. Before he or The Slayer can react, Angel and Ulfreth disappear down another lightly hole, into another layer of the Hellmouth.
Commentary: I like Ulfreth's design... reminds me strongly of Biollante, a Godzilla foe from the 90's. What I'm less impressed with is the nearly random bickering between Angel and Buffy and all of the wandering, which is also feeling more random than it should. Buffy's Slayer-sense or Angel's information from Lilith, or Angel's siring of Dru should be more front and center, in order to make it clearer that they're headed in the right direction toward a goal, rather than just walking and hoping to run into something useful.
The banter isn't as sparkling with clever writing as it should be for all of the panels it's taking up, either.
Page 07: With Buffy unwilling to simply jump down into a pit of darkness with no idea what is waiting, how far the drop might be, or able to see any possible traps, she takes off running down a path to look for an alternate way down to the layer below.
Page 08: Buffy runs around a corner, only to leave the red glow of the Hellmouth, and enter a region of comforting blue. It's also clearly a street in Sunnydale, though dark and with an air of abandonment.
In the distance, heading toward her, is a solitary figure.
Page 09: This turns out to be Joyce, shocking Buffy.
Joyce claims to Buffy that she doesn't have a lot of time there and needs to urgently share some information.
Buffy insists that this vision of Joyce isn't real, but her mother insists that she needs her daughter to listen. She asks Buffy what she's doing there, when she needs her to be home.
And despite Buffy's knowing where she is, and how improbable Joyce being there would be, she nevertheless starts falling for this Joyce's act.
Page 10: Elsewhere, Ulfreth is dragging Angel and asking him if he knows who he is, because the demon is doubting it.
Angel struggles against both the physical tentacles dragging him along the ground, and the demon's psionics peering into Angel's mind.
Despite Ulfreth's insistence that Angel belongs to him now, the vampire manages to bust free of both the telepathic assault and the physical restraints. Ulfreth vanishes to an even deeper level of the Hellmouth.
Page 11: Angel runs the opposite way, trying to find a path back toward where he left Buffy.
But, it turns out that Ulfreth's telepathic presence isn't muted by not having Angel in its physical grip. The demon taunts Angel with spectors of those he lost, including his ward and his Sunnydale friend recently killed.
But Ulfreth, as with so many demons, lets slip a bit too much. He thought projects to Angel that the vampire is there to be the vessel for the Mother. While "her" blood will complete things. Angel shouts whose blood is the key, but there isn't a definite answer for him [though, he thinks it's Dru, but it's probably Buffy's].
From a side tunnel, he hears a cry of 'no!', that he recognizes as The Slayer's voice. He dashes off to find her.
Commentary: I had a lot of trouble getting into this issue, even on repeated reads looking to be invested in it. There is just too much wandering and random encounters. It feels ... I don't know, not unfocused, but it's lacking a sharp edge or an actual strategy in where Angel and/or Buffy are heading/being herded toward.
It feels like a filler issue, which seems really wrong considering we're in a Hellscape. I do like the mental attack on Angel, but it doesn't amount to anything, really. He easily fights off the assault, so it feels like wasted potential. Plus, as per my previous opinion, this is all taking place too soon in the new series so Angel doesn't have many figures for us to recognize to emotionally batter him.
Page 12: Back with Buffy, Joyce is asking her daughter if it's too late for her to put her family and friends first?
From a window, Xander and Willow shout down to Buffy that they're scared. From behind them dark, shadowy arms reach out to snatch them away, with Willow shouting for Buffy's help.
Buffy makes the mistake of turning her back on Joyce, who creepily asks why Buffy won't stop their suffering with her blood sacrifice, before physically launching an attack.
Page 13: While faux-Joyce gets in a few solid hits on the disoriented Slayer, Buffy quickly rallies and gets the upper-hand. She flips her mother over her shoulder and slams her into the street, rendering her unconscious or dead instantly.
Buffy looks at Joyce lying on the street, and insists quietly to herself that it isn't really her mom.
Commentary: Why she's acting like she is still feeling guilty about defending herself from an obvious imposter, I don't know, though. I guess there is some emotional manipulation that is clinging from this encounter with the fake.
Page 14: From off-panel, Angel pulls the put your hand on someone's shoulder without announcing your presence thing.
This gets him a Slayer-swing, but he's able to catch Buffy's fist and block her instinctive attack until she realizes it's him.
Sunnydale's street has vanished, but Joyce is still lying on the ground. Angel assures Buffy that it's just a "change demon" and whatever just happened was a trick, and nothing else.
She asks what happened to him, which he blows off. This pisses her off, as she accuses him of knowing more than he's sharing about what is going on, and she's sick of his being all standoffish-guy.
Page 15: [Despite my belief that Buffy is overreacting,] Angel apologizes that he hasn't been sharing. He tells Buffy about his emotional attack from Ulreth using visions of his dead friends.
Buffy points out that they're both being manipulated to distract them from finding Drusilla.
Page 16: Buffy repeats the theme of communication, but Angel tells her that he's more of a suffer in silence sort.
He urges Buffy to focus on getting Dru, whatever Key she's holding and themselves out of hell.
As they pass out of a set of tunnels, they come to a large cavern which contains a replica of the whole of Sunnydale.
Page 17: Buffy asks Angel to remind her that none of this is real. He tells her they're going to be fine, just before they're spotted by another, larger horde of demons.
Buffy warns Angel not to get surrounded, as they prepare for a wave attack.
Commentary: There is this other weakness in the writing that is sapping the sense of urgency Buffy and Angel should have preying on them: The irrelevent small-talk!
It's awful. It's dull. And it's inappropriate to the circumstances being faced, especially by Buffy, who has a real mother up in the town under direct threat. I do not understand the attempt to build up some kind of rapport between these two right now, in this place, with this threat-level.
It just comes across as tone-deaf to the circumstances.
Page 18: Angel exclaims that Dru must already have control of the demonic cadres of the Hellmouth. He warns Buffy that they can't take them all, and she reminds him they just have to break through enough to get to her to stop her.
In short order, they find themselves surrounded [mostly because they stand perfectly still and talk, rather than taking action]. Buffy shouts at Angel to start punching, now.
Page 19: While they try to keep themselves back to back, so they can't be overwhelmed, Angel takes a shoulder slash wound. But as things look relatively hopeless, there is a large krakoooom that echoes throughout the chamber.
Whatever caused it, forces the horde into a retreat.
Buffy shouts to Angel that they're running away, but he contradicts her...
Page 20: ... that they're running toward something.
Buffy asks after Angel's wound, but he blows this off as nothing. They come through another chamber, where a figure surrounded by orange and yellow light is in the distance.
Buffy immediately rushes off to confront who she recognizes is finally Dru. Angel tries to caution her, but she points out that if Drusilla regroups the horde, they won't have a chance.
Page 21: Buffy rushes down a set of stairs, with Angel close behind.
A VO follows them, asking if they're sure that everything is as it seems.
Buffy comes up short in shock when she reaches Dru.
Page 22: They find the mastermind of opening the Hellmouth bound in chains. A pyre burns at her feet, running fire up her legs.
Drusilla doesn't seem fully aware, rambling that the walls want a hug, and that her skin is burning, but only on the inside where it hurts the parts you can't see.
She rambles that the Key wasn't to open, but to lock. Everything is locks.
Our VO tells the unhearing Buffy and Angel that all of the pretenders will be killed....
Commentary: This was the only panel in the issue that suddenly grabbed my attention. I loved the fire burning away at Drusilla's sanity, rather than her body and that she marched in thinking she was going to be a Mistress, only to turn into a victim to something far greater and more evil than she.
The artwork is striking as well.
The Good: I did like the immediate opening, and the VO of probably-the-First-Evil.
I also liked the tentacled-monstrosity of Ulfreth, art-wise.
The last image of Drusilla not being the big bad that Buffy and Angel need to fight/stop, but instead being a victim of her own success in entering the Hellmouth was a nice twist. Where she may've thought she was some sort of herald, she ends up a sacrificial pawn.
The Bad: The 'quietly come up on someone and put your hand on their shoulder in a tense situation without announcing your presence' thing always, always irritates me. It's done here by Angel to a post-fight Slayer. Which is suicidally stupid.
It's also annoying that Buffy and Angel are clearly going to be overwhelmed and captured by a cadre of demons, but then the demons are conveniently called away by some sort of earth shaking boom in the caverns. And then just as conveniently vanish. If presumably-the-First needs Angel and Buffy to complete the ritual, as is very strongly implied, then not continuing the attack until they're captured makes zero sense, except plot-armor purposes.
Other Thoughts: This issue's real weakness is the wandering and the useless bickering/bonding going on between Buffy and Angel. It reads to me as time-wasting and empty, considering the current stakes and the fact that Buffy has no idea what may be happening to her mother.
I liked Ulfreth's questioning Angel's sense of self and prodding at him with visions of his failures to save his friends, but not enough was done with this.
There is a deep sense of lack of urgency from page to page in getting anything done, which harms the pace.
The Score: I don't really like this issue, even though it isn't necessarily bad. I'm just not emotionally invested in Buffy, Angel, their relationship-building or anything happening from one random bad guy encounter to the next.
3.0 out of 5 stars