Writer: Mariko Tamaki, Artwork: Natacha Bustos & Eleonora Bruni, Lettering: Jodi Wynne
Cover: Jen Bartel
Page 01: We open on Willow sitting at a table in the library with Buffy, Rose and Xander. She and Xan are having a friendly disagreement about something.
It turns out to be about movies. Willow is of the opinion that it's important to know WHO made the movie, to give it more context, while Xander isn't interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff. Willow tries to argue that knowing the production details gives more context to a film. Xan counters that she's only trying to tell him that 'Night of the Killer Squid' is a bad movie, which she insists that of course, it is.
Willow notices that Buffy and Rose have been oddly silent... and still... during this whole exchange. She looks at Buffy's frozen wide-eyed stare and twigs that something isn't right here.
Page 02: Willow, Buffy, Rose and Xander are suddenly at the diner in Abhainn. She asks the oddly-mannequin like posables Buffy and Rose what is happening. Xan answers that she's having a dream and calls her a dummy.
Buffy and Rose vanish with this realization, leaving Willow sitting with Xander at the diner across from one another. Xan asks Willow where she's gotten to. Willow tries to explain how she just needed some space. She assures Xander that she's coming back.
Page 03: Suddenly, Xan and Willow are walking through a blue voidspace on stepping stones. Xander is walking away from Willow. He shouts after her, wondering where she's gone. She tries to get his attention, but Xander turns into a humanoid crow, and takes off into the air. He's still shouting after her where she's gone.
Page 04: Willow wakes up with a start, slightly disoriented, before remembering where she's ended up.
Page 05: Willow leaves her room, but offers herself that something feels off about Abhainn. She offers a friendly 'morning' to the front desk staff, and receives a chilly 'morning' in return. Out on the street, she notices two women look directly at her, before turning on their heel and walking in the opposite direction, sharing meaningful glances with one another.
It gives the impression that the insular Abhainn isn't for others. In addition, though Willow doesn't seem to notice, there aren't any men visible.
Page 06: Willow walks around the small village, still getting silence from the locals. She also notes that it's gotten chilly, temperature wise. From a porch at a local shop, she's called out to by a proprietess, wondering if she could use a sweater. Willow is guided inside.
Still, there aren't any men visible on the street.
Commentary: Hmmm. Okay. This feels a bit slow and wandering, but I think that is deliberate. It's giving us the chance to notice things - like how nobody is greeting Willow as she walks around, and the lack of any obvious menfolk. But, her thoughts about the village aren't really adding anything. I kinda wish she'd just walked in silence, and left it to us to start noticing how odd things seem only through visuals.
Page 07: The shopkeeper directs Willow exactly to a sweater on a rack in a corner that she'll enjoy. But when Willow tries to engage in small talk, the overall impression is again - chilly, distant, direct.
Page 08: When Willow leaves the shop, she slips on the sweater and is amazed that it may be the best sweater she's ever worn. And she notes to herself that it seems to smell of lavender and hot fudge. And somehow, the combination is the exact perfect scent. Willow feels her entire mood lift from the doldroms she's been suffering.
Page 09: Willow strolls through the hills around the village. She realizes that she's feeling good, but something is also niggling the back of her mind. She asks herself if she's just feeling like something must be not-right, because she's been so traumatized recently, and she's finally feeling something good, again.
Commentary: I mentioned it last issue already, but I really like that this mini-series [though I'm not sure it was necessary to drain my wallet for this, when it could've been dealt with in the main series] is focused on Willow's trying to deal with her loss of Xander, and all of the supernatural shit that has gone down lately. It's interesting that she's not dealt with anything directly involving Buffy - except for that dream-reference. It'd be interesting if somewhere in this interlude, Willow expressed some anger at Buffy for things that happened since she came to Sunnydale and got involved in her, Xander and Rose's lives.
It wouldn't be Buffy's fault, let me be clear. But, it would be normal if Willow blamed Buffy and/or Giles for pulling her and Xander into Slayer affairs [even though they didn't -- Willow jumped in with both feet all on her own], that cost her the death of her best friend, and destroyed her relationship with Rose. Right now, it feels like Willow is so stuck in a grey-space, that she's actually not dealing with anything, really. That's the impression that I'm getting, anyway, but I'm not sure if I'm just reading into it.
Page 10: In a bush, Willow spots a single flower... a tiny bud of rose. She picks it and cups it in her hand, blowing off the feelings that something is odd about Abhainn. As she stares at the tea rose flower in her hand, she thinks of the woman in the diner, Aelara. A voice asks her what she's found.
Page 11: And lo and behold: It's Aelara standing there, as if summoned. Or that her approach called Willow to think of her.
Willow offers that she's never seen a plant like the one that sprouted the single flower (that she ruthlessly snapped off), and Aelara calls it a Gatiaux, and offers it only grows there. She wonders if Willow has decided to stay in their village at least until the celebration that night. This is something Willow has, in fact, decided to check out. She also thanks Aelara for suggesting the lovely inn.
Aelara tells Willow she was just out for a stroll, and asks if she'd like to join her - after complimenting her sweater, and placing a warm and friendly hand on her shoulder.
Commentary: Yeah. In addition to the weird village isolated in the hilly woods, this chilly reception toward strangers, the weird way Aelara just appeared in the diner and made conversation with Willow and her now showing up suddenly from nowhere, I think we can assume that something magical is taking place in Abhainn. And though it would be interesting if this ended with Willow permanently staying and leaving Buffy and Sunnydale behind -- I think we know that there is something hinky about this whole thing. Which Willow kinda-knows in the back of her mind, and which she'd realize fully if she noticed that there are NO MEN anywhere to be seen.
In fact, I'm starting to be suspicious that all of the women may've started out as travelers like Willow, who ended up being unable to leave?
Or - y'know - I'm just a Dude, and so can't comprehend the beauty and power of a commune of women and am stuck in my patriarchal thought pattern that this village would need some men around. 'Cause I'm evil.
Page 12: On the walk through the woods, something in Aelara allows Willow to voice the weight that she's been carrying in the aftermath of facing down the end of the world. She realizes that she's able to tell this woman all of the things that she couldn't find a way to explain to Buffy, and why she needed to flee Sunnydale's horror show.
Page 13: Aelara presents a sympathetic ear for all of Willow's angst. She tells her that she understands how much she's gone through, but that she's safe and welcomed in Abhainn. She may have passed a bit of magic over Willow's face, before she tells her that she needs to run.
Page 14: Aelara offers that she'll see Willow that evening. As she walks away, Willow notes that it feels a little colder the farther the woman walks from her.
But she puts that aside, because now that the dam has broken, she suddenly feels like maybe she can talk to Buffy about what happened and why she hasn't come home. Except that she can't get cell reception. She shrugs and offers to herself that the important thing is that she feels good, now.
Page 15: Willow walks back toward the village. She is aware of the fact that Abhainn is coming across as a women's commune. And she's aware of the queer-vibe from Aelara, and maybe the rest of the commune's women. And she feels nice about being there with them.
But as she treads a path back toward the village, in the trees, black birds gather behind her....
Commentary: I liked this little bit here -- tying into the dream of Xander becoming a giant black bird trying to find her. It gives her dream a touch of the prophetic. But since it involves Xander, and considering his current status, the birds either be a warning to her, or a threat to her. Time will tell, I suppose.
Page 16: Willow smiles to herself. The first genuine smile, probably, since the Hellmouth business. She jogs her way back to the village, feeling lighter of heart. The crows gather.
Page 17: As she reaches the square, she wonders if Abhainn could be the place for her.
Commentary: I wondered about the village name, so did a quickie Google. It doesn't seem to have much relevance, being 'river', which there isn't one associated with this location. Now, I'm a little disappointed -- they couldn't of given a semi-meaningful name to where Willow finds herself? Something that ties into the ambiguity of whether this place is as safe as Willow is starting to believe?
Page 18: That evening, Willow makes her way to the center of the village, where the crowd of women have gathered. As she goes, she wonders if it's really possible to belong to a new place so quickly and effortlessly. As she reaches the village square, she sees a huge bonfire.
Page 19: Around this, women are gathered in concentric circles and writhing and dancing in celebration.
Page 20: Willow suddenly intuits that the place that she's found herself is magical. In fact, she's been surrounded by magic since her arrival. A magic that is so familiar somehow, that she feels like she's come home. Willow joins in on a circle and starts to whirl in celebration, as well. She's also pinned the single flower she found onto her sweater [which I'm so very suspicious of - as I am of everything happening here... 'cause I'm a guy - and evil].
Page 21: As Willow twirls and dances, she thinks that she can feel Aelara's arrival. And she's correct. The woman greets Willow, as our red head breaks into a huge smile.
Page 22: They greet each other by name, and Willow thinks that with Aelara's arrival, there is suddenly nothing else.
The Good: I like the dream sequence more as I think on it. I could see Buffy and Rose's being off to one side and not interacting with Willow in any way as her pushing them away emotionally, so she doesn't have to think about Sunnydale. While her focus remains on Xander, and somehow having him back in her life before he was turned into a vampire. And then, with his turning into a crow and searching for her, her subconscious reminding her that he's lost/she's lost from each other. It could also play into 'magic' warning her that Xander isn't as gone as he should be, with the crow imagery acting as a signal or warning.
I am glad that Willow acknowledged that this is a woman's only village, in there, because it was striking me that she was being extremely unobservant. But, no, she did get it. She just accepts it at face value.
I also like the ambiguity around Aelara. I don't trust her, or the affect she's having on Willow, but I can also see how Willow would be seduced by the woman. Especially with everyone else giving her a cold shoulder. And so far, Aelara could be every bit as warm and welcoming as she appears, and I could just be expecting a shoe to drop because this is a comic series and surely Willow has to be in danger at some point?
The Bad: Bad? Hmmm. Nothing here, I think.
Other Thoughts: I do have a bit of an issue with pacing. This issue feels really slow, mostly because Willow thinks a lot of things to herself, but not about how weird it is that she found herself in this isolated commune in the middle of nowhere due to an odd stranger that just appeared before her in a random diner. Her observations feel random and wandering, which makes the issue feel meandering to me. But I believe it is deliberate and it isn't 'Bad' material. A little too much of the issue left me with the impression that Willow was being completely unobservant to her surroundings, so I wish that there had been an acknowledgement of the strangeness of the village sooner. Willow could've still accepted it, but it would've let me stop questioning her on why she wasn't noticing the things that I was.
The Score: This one is slow. It does feel like there is a method to it, and that it is moving Willow's arc forward, but at a deliberately sedate pace. I do wish we'd gotten more of Willow's thoughts and feelings about Buffy, Rose, Xander and the Hellmouth in the first half, like with last issue, so that by the end of the issue her turn toward letting it all go for Abhainn would've been more dramatic a change.
3.25 out of 5 stars