Issue 4 of 5
Writers: Jordie Bellaire & Jeremy Lambert, Artwork: Eleonora Carlini & Mattia Iacono, Lettering: Ed Dukeshire
Cover: Steve Morris
Note: Alas, I must report that Xander does not kneel before Drusilla, while she's in leather. Dammit.
Page 01: We open on a demon tearing apart another to eat, as other various hellspawn go about their own businesses. A VO reminds us of the famous poem about reigning in Hell, rather than serving in Heaven.
Page 02: But our VO, belonging to the Hellmother, tells us that reigning in Hell is the goal of noone.
We find out now that none of what has been happening: the Hellmouth, the evil influences impacting Sunnydale, turning Dru's quest against her... none of it has been The First Evil. This has been the Hellmouther and an orcish vampire on a throne has been orchestrating and driving Buffy away from her ally and toward him, presumably to draw her blood. The First Evil, who should hold sway here, has obsconded on a quest of Its own, leaving a vacuum.
Commentary: I like this twist. I thought that bringing the First into things was way too soon (I still think the Hellmouth opening is too soon), and I like that It's being held back for something bigger later. And I also like that it is a vampire, Buffy's actual true enemy, that has somehow managed to gain physical control over this Hell. (Although, presumably he was chosen for this task by the disembodied voice.)
Page 03: Back with Buffy, she confirms - a bit shaken - that her 'ally' is actually a vampire.
Commentary: Back to our bad-guy(s) for a moment: At this point in the issue, I was still confused over this orc-pire sitting on a throne and how that relates to the Hellmother invading Earth plot. I thought maybe that the VO would end up being his rambling, and that maybe he was trying to use Buffy in a plot of his own against the Hellmother's plan for her. But no, Orc-pire King is involved in trying to free the Hellmother, too. He's the physical power to compliment and do the things that the Hellmouther can't, because she has only limited powers as a non-corporeal presence.
Page 04: Buffy stands confronting Angel and Drusilla over Angel's having not revealed until now that he was undead.
Buffy accuses Angel of being on Dru's side, as the reason he wanted her to be free and running around loose, instead of dusted. But Angel tells her about hating being what he is, but he's on her side against the greater threat.
Page 05: Buffy feels betrayed, but an argument over what she's going to do about it now is forestalled by the dismembered limbs of the demons they've been hacking up animating on their own to continue the assault on them.
Commentary: (Whew) I really thought we were about to get a datadump about Angel's soul-having and such-and-such, so I was very happy that we have a continued assault to get back to. This is a bad place to stop and have a heart to heart chat.
Page 06: While Angel, Buffy and Drusilla are again fighting for their lives, our Hellmother VO continues to wax on about Buffy's special blood.
[She sure does share The First's penchant for blather....]
Page 07: Angel tries to get Buffy to cooperate with him and deal with their sudden-issue later, but Buffy throws at him that she can't trust him now to make the right decisions in this place. She offers that she thinks she'll be better off on her own.
Page 08: Buffy asks Dru where to find "her", still after the Hellmother. But Dru admits now that she doesn't have a clue, after her own attempt to reach what was supposed to be her powerful ally went bust. She suggests in Hell, going downward is the most likely bet.
Buffy's miffed that Dru has been leading them around with no clue as to where to actually go, and that she didn't dust her right off.
Dru admits to Buffy that she was lucky that Angel was there to intervene. Angel -- her wonderful sire and teacher. Which is, of course, another revelation to stoke the distrust between Angel and Buffy, for her own amusement.
Page 09: In the meantime, Augie, the "helpful" demon Angel had met is spying on the Buffy-Angel partnership fracturing. He begs a disembodied voice to leave him be. But - presumably the Hellmother - isn't done. She commands Augie to add that final bit of pain to shove the Slayer into leaving behind her allies.
He is forced to comply.
Commentary: At least this makes Augie's knowledge of how Angel can supposedly become human and just happening to data dump this to our vampire far more sensible in retrospect. I like this part. And I like this dance between the Hellmother, Drusilla, Augie and Orc-pire King all driving Buffy to lose her blood by playing on her sense of distrust and isolation.
I would like to get more information about Orc-pire King, though. This part isn't being well clarified. Is he a willing participant to help the Hellmother escape Hell, or is he a minion being dominated like Augie? What promises or goals does he have, if he's a willing participant? How did he end up on The First's throne? Did the Hellmother choose him for this role, or did he manage it on his own and then draw her interest?
What is his interest or what does he hope to get out of the Hellmother's escape?
Page 10: The Hellmother uses Augie to offer a vague reminder to Angelus about what he learned, leaving it sound vaguely like a deal might've been struck between them.
Buffy is naturally curious about what Augie is talking about, but Dru immediately realizes that her original goal - The Hellmother - is with them.
But the disembodied power has no interest in Dru, and now that It's done what It set out to do through Augie, It departs in a blaze of hellfirey-light.
Page 11: The energy streak of the unbodied Hellmother flashes off deeper into Hell. Buffy turns on her ally and warns him that if he follows her, she'll kill him. She takes off after the streaking energy stream.
Augie, now free of the Hellmother again, tries to warn Buffy she can't just fight the Hellmother but Buffy is already gone. And when Angel tries to follow her anyway, a blast of hellfire guards the way, blocking he, Dru and Augie from continuing on.
Page 12: The Hellmother, however, is not in the light that Buffy is following but in the fire blocking Angel. She tells Angelus that he is but the afterthought in this plan. She accuses Angelus of being alone now, and forgotten.
Hellmother tells Angelus that she shares the burden of the lonely, but she has a solution.
Commentary: I'm actually kinda digging how Buffy is being so easily led astray. This is beyond anything that she's had to face before, and she doesn't have her Watcher to moderate her impulsiveness. And she's being so easily directed deeper and deeper toward - presumably - our Orc-pire King to take her blood for the final part of the ritual to release the Hellmother. Buffy is being moved like a chess-piece.
Page 13: Both Augie and Dru complain about the Hellmother's penchant for talking and talking and talking.
Angel asks how he can get through the hellfire wall, but Augie poo-poos that idea. As he's warning that the Hellmother would use his pain as her entryway to take over his body, another physical demon comes through that very fire, but he speaks the Hellmother's words.
She tells Angel/Angelus that she will consume his memories and they'll become one... relieving their mutual loneliness.
Page 14: She tells Angel/Angelus that he will be her vessel. And that this will allow them both to stop being alone. She uses her link with Dru and Augie to render them unconscious with a painful brain blast.
And then turns her attention to possessing Angel.
Commentary: I'm really loving the artwork in this issue with the fire and the shadows and the gnarly demons. As those who've followed my other comic series reviews know, artwork doesn't affect scoring, but I do kudo our art team on this issue.
And I like that at the base of the Hellmother's evil is actually just wanting to not be alone and immaterial anymore. This gives the big bad more depth than the usual crush-kill-destroy, even though she undoubtedly wants that, too.
I'm really hoping some other time, we'll get some flashback to this whole thing and find out how the entity relates to The First Evil or some sort of historical tidbits on what led up to this grand plan to escape the Hellmouth.
Page 15: Angel's body reacts with horrible pain as the Hellmother invades him, and she laughs and laughs.
Page 16: In the meantime, Buffy has lost "her", since the lightshow she was chasing was only an illusion designed to draw her away. She comes to a cavern with a lake.
From offpanel, a flying kick suddenly comes from the darkness, that she's barely able to dodge.
It's the form of another Buffy.
Page 17: At first Buffy is thinking another vision or shapeshifter, but this appears to actually be Buffy Summers... another version who in another time and place became trapped in the Hellmouth.
She warns Buffy that she isn't alone like she had been, and she doesn't have to end up trapped in the lake like she was.
Page 18: Other-Buffy impresses on our Buffy that she did exactly what Buffy is currently doing. She rushed off alone to stop the great evil from escaping. And because she thought she had to do it all on her own, SHE LOST.
Page 19: Other-Buffy tells our Buffy that she lost Sunnydale, and everyone that they love. She asks if Buffy came down there alone, and Buffy says no, but tries to explain about Angel not being the ally she thought. She's cut off by Other-Buffy, who tells her at least it won't be the same again this time. That her not being alone may be enough to change things.
She sighs that she has to go, she has to return to the only thing left: the lake/death/damnation. [Other-Buffy is a bit unclear and unfocused, but it's hard to blame her.]
She warns Buffy that the day will come when she knows exactly what Other-Buffy means.
Page 20: Buffy tries to get clarification from Other-Buffy how everything went wrong for her, but the other-her slips beneath the placid waters of the hell-lake again.
From the cavern comes a voice calling her name.
Page 21: It's the Hellmother, and she's speaking through the body of the Orc-pire King.
The Hellmother/Orc-pire asks Buffy why she left her behind, but Buffy thinks that she's talking to Angel.
This allows the Orc-pire/Hellmother combo to get close enough that Buffy can't just retreat.
Buffy, in thinking she was talking to Angel, and with the new insight she can't win alone, starts to apologize to him. She's interrupted by the figure coming into clearer view that he/she doesn't need The Slayer's sorrow...
Page 22: ... only her blood!
The Good: Okay, I kid a bit about the rambling, but I like the Hellmother's observations about her situation and her plans.
I liked the way that Angel being a vampire was revealed, without dwelling on it, or taking this inopportune time to give a whole spiel about his backstory.
The Hellmother becoming much more of a direct threat was welcome, as Buffy is being moved toward the end-fight.
I really liked how Buffy's inexperience, distrust (justified in this case - Angel shouldn't have hidden who he was this long), and impulsiveness is being used against her so easily. The best characters aren't the paragons, they're the flawed. I like Buffy's flaws making the situation worse for everyone.
The Bad: Just some minor confusion happening at the beginning of the issue, and some unclear motivations, still.
Other Thoughts: I started a bit confused about the Hellmother and the apparent King of Hell... the Orc-pire sitting on the throne threw me off. And I would still like to know if he's a King in Hell, or just another pawn put there by the Hellmother to face Buffy physically.
I liked the idea of the other-Buffy giving the current-Buffy a glimpse of what will happen if she tries to do this battle on her own, but it was also a bit confusingly written. I wish that we'd gotten more pages of this convo to flesh out what exactly happened that caused other-Buffy to lose, and why she's condemned to a lake, rather than dead or possessed. It feels like this was a scene included because it was a cool idea, but it wasn't really fleshed out as to what exactly happened to her.
I am a little bummed that our Orc-pire suddenly looks less Orcish in his confrontation with Buffy on the last page, than he did when he was sitting on his throne. And he's lost the badass sword, too. Instead we get bad guy action pose with threatening smile, which we've seen a trillion times to denote "powerful". I wanted an Orc-pire, armored, sword-wielding Conan the Barbarian facing Buffy, instead. Ah, well.
The Score: 4.0 out of 5 stars
I liked this one.