Writer: Mariko Tamaki, Artwork: Natacha Bustos & Eleonora Bruni, Lettering: Jodi Wynne
Cover: Jen Bartel
Page 01: We open with Willow sitting up in bed, where Willow is feeling the after-effects of her orgiastic whirlagig the night before. She wonders briefly if she may've been drugged, but also wonders if it's just the sugar-high of the marshmallow brownies she ate (vegan, of course).
Page 02: When she's gotten herself dressed and left her room, she finds the entire vibe of the community around her different. Where before, the residents of Abhainn were cold toward her presence, today everyone is all smiles and warm greetings. Almost effusively so.
Page 03: Willow wanders through the town square, and where before it was always practically empty, this morning it's full of smiling, happy people crowding about. Willow does find this 180-degree turn in things suspicious. She decides that she needs to ask her patroness, Aelara, some questions about what exactly is going on with this village.
Commentary: I like that Willow isn't being written as completely swept up in the atmosphere of Abhainn, despite her loving being there. There is definitely the overwhelming sense of woman-power about the place, so it'd be easy to have Willow entranced by the place, and then have a deus-ex-truth-spiller wander in. But Mariko makes sure that we know that Willow's mind is still working, and she's not blinding herself to the fact that something isn't quite right with the people's polar-opposite moods from before the bonfire to after. I'm not thrilled with some of her little asides to herself, though. Keeping things visual, rather than being a party to Willow's thoughts would've been better.
Page 04: She finds Aelara at the site of the bonfire, just outside of her property cleaning up. Willow appears to lose her drive to ask questions briefly, when the chemistry between her and Aelara intervenes in her brain.
Page 05: But she refocuses by telling herself to dial back her nerdgasm from level 7 to level 3, as she works her way up to asking straight out if she's wandered into a cult.
Page 06: "This seems like a same-minded group of individuals living together in remote geographic location. With religious or spiritual goals. And there's sweaters and it looks like someone's always making jam and... like six people said hello to me today whereas yesterday there was just one person who sold me a sweater."
Aelara asks Willow if she's suggesting a cult, because they're witches. Willow acts indignant at the suggestion, as she's a witch herself. Something that Aelara acknowledges.
Commentary: I quoted, so you know I was amused by Willow's stream of consciousness 'evidence' for cult activity. Obsessive Jam Making is surely a sign of cult activity, after all. And don't get me started on the mountains of evidence for sweater-selling in cult compounds.
Page 07: Aelara shares with Willow that she understands the cult mentality, but points out that cults are about people taking power from others in order to feel powerful. She tells Willow that isn't what they do in Abhainn, and taking from others isn't who they are as a community.
Page 08: She leads Willow into a nearby park, to a large apple tree. She tells Willow that they don't take power, because they are powerful - together. She tells Willow further, that Abhainn is a powerful place. She suggests Willow has already felt it at the diner where they met, and at the bonfire the night before. She shares that Willow is powerful, too.
Page 09: Aelara asks Willow to trust her, and reaches out to take her hand. Willow does so.
Page 10 & 11: Aelara and Willow are suddenly surrounded in a mystic force that she likens to the rush of water over her hand from a waterfall. Energy surrounds them from the apple tree, and Willow is taken with the wonder of it.
Page 12: Willow feels energy playing across her hands, and sees pinkish shimmers of light around her. She asks Aelara if this is her or herself. Aelara responds that it is both of them... and herself.
Page 13: Around Willow, the park seems effused with growth, as Aelara watches Willow's glee with a gentle smile.
Page 14: Willow twirls around with a giant grin, and starts to tell Aelara how wonderful the magic feels, but suddenly there is a deep darkness surrounding her that takes her offguard.
Page 15: The darkness is a memory intruding on her mystic-joyride. It's of Xander - lying in Giles' bed, just before they took a piece of Willow's soul to imbed in Xan and keep him from being souless. Aelara asks what this place is, and Willow shares a small part of her Xan-trauma. She asks her why they're there, and Aelara tells her that she's sharing her heart with her, and this is what is in Willow's heart.
Commentary: Oh, thank goodness for a bit of reality intruding. Willow's mystic jauntabout had Disney drowning in it, and I was getting a little sugar-sick. Plus, I like that whatever hinkiness may be going on in Abhainn, it isn't just mind control so Willow's trauma can't simply be ignored and forgotten like it didn't happen. Although, I do wonder if maybe there isn't anything shady happening here, and it's Willow herself who may be bringing the darkness into a place of light herself. That may be an interesting twist.
Page 16: As Willow and Aelara transition back from Giles' room, to the parkland, Aelara points out that Xander is in her heart. Willow explains about giving her a piece of her soul, but Aelara has sensed enough to understand that he gave it back. And this has left Willow emotionally scarred.
Page 17: Willow asks her if this is why she's felt so lost, and like nothing - presumably even in such a magical place as Abhainn - feels right to her.
Aelara offers that she isn't lost, now. She points out that the Fates moved her toward their community, and the Fates usually know what they're doing.
Page 18: Willow is offered dinner at Aelara's later that evening, where the older woman offers that she has some books for her to read to help her develop her magic.
Page 19: As Willow is walking on a wooded path from the park, the very sky over her gets darker. In the trees, she notices large blackbirds congregating in the branches. She wonders at how she's never seen birds of any sort in Abhainn.
From off-panel, a voice calls her name, startling her.
Page 20: She's confronted by four girls on the path. They ask her if she's lost [a theme emerged]. Willow points out that she's headed back to the Inn, but that she noticed the weird way the birds are lined up over their heads, seemingly watching them. She starts to ask if that isn't a bit weird, but the group leader interrupts to ask if she needs help getting back.
Willow offers that she's good, and the four girls spin on their heels. The speaker tells Willow that they'll see her around.
The encounter is ... off-putting, and not done with the cheerfulness that Willow experienced in the rest of the village that morning.
Page 21: Willow thinks to herself, that sometimes when somebody asks if you're lost, they're actually stating it rather than asking a legitimate question.
As she watches the girls' backs, one of them... someone with the general look of our shadowed, running girl from issue 01... glances back at her. The girl has a look in her eyes of someone afraid.
Page 22: Willow stands in the growing shadows, surrounded by the black birds in the trees staring at her. She tells herself that despite feeling the warm embrace of this witchy world, the feeling that something is wrong hasn't dissipated.
She tells herself that she's going to need her to focus on finding out what is happening in this place.
The Good: I do like that the fact that Willow isn't able to ignore the odd-vibes around Abhainn, so everytime it seems like she's buying into Aelara - something happens that bothers her enough not to take everything as presented.
I really liked some of Willow's more geeky dialogue.
I'm also really liking that I can't pin Aelara down. I find myself liking her, and she seems entirely genuine - - but there is just something about the commune that is off, and she's obviously the entire source of the community - even as she keeps trying to explain that this is about a collective. But I like how she's accepting of Willow's trauma, and doesn't immediately try to pressure her to let go of her past to embrace the Abhainn way.
The fact that there are those three girls (and probable fourth girl there against her will) on the outskirts of Abhainn, and definitely not in the cheer-mode of the rest is an interesting development.
The Bad: Nothing.
Other Thoughts: Hmmm. Again, I think pacing is just a little too leisurely. Y'know, I think if this series was one issue less so things could've been tightened in the storytelling, it would've been a plus. But I'm not disliking the story, characters, or the building mystery.
At the end of Boom!Buffy issue 16, Willow made a secret appearance at Rose's bedside. That had to have happened after this series, because there isn't an indication that Willow leaves Abhainn or even knows what is happening in Sunnydale. [Or its one of the alternate-Willows, because we've seen alternate-panel characters that remain unexplained at this time.]
The Score: 3.25 out of 5