Writer: Mariko Tamaki, Artwork: Natacha Bustos & Eleonora Bruni, Lettering: Jodi Wynne
Page 01: In the woods leading to an exit from Abhain, Willow and whats-her-name are confronted by Aelara and her girl-squad, plus some magical wolves. Willow warns Aelara that not many people ever expect her to fight back, but she's never been one to back down. Aelara isn't there to fight Willow, but she tells her that this is bigger than just what she wants.
Page 02: Willow sends blonde girl off running, while she prepares counter-magic to cover her escape. Aelara orders her found and detained.
Page 03: Willow comments on how they were all just so friendly the day before, but that right now they're really being jerks.
Commentary: But, apparently they're very slow magic-wolves, because Willow has time to monologue at her foes without them just running past her rambling. I'm also finding it difficult to believe that the group of forest witches along with Aelara weren't able to instantly stop runaway-blonde in her tracks with some simple spellwork. But, whatever, the show is on the road now.
Page 04: Willow summons magic through the ground, creating a mini-quake that rushes toward the magic-wolves.
Page 05: It's enough to knock the energy-canine's off of their feets, allowing the escapee some leeway. Willow thanks the coven for teaching her that bit of magic.
Page 06: The forest witches, in the meantime, have been able to flank Willow while she was dealing with the wolves. They start a webbing spell to snatch at her arms, but she's able to dispel the ribbons wrapping around her arm. She decides it's time for her to run, as well.
Commentary: I don't know. I think the idea here is that Aelara is deliberately trying to stop Willow, without overwhelming/harming her which is giving the young witch more of a shot at resistance than she would ordinarily have. That may be my interpretation, however. It's also possible that for the magic in this place, it is also very limited in scope. There seems to be a natural component at work here, so that manipulation of the environment is possible but things like magic stunning blasters aren't?
Page 07: Aelara next summons winding branches to entrap the fleeing Willow, holding her. She explains to Willow that when she accepted their mystic gifts, she became a part of the web of magic of Abhainn. She offers that she cannot allow that web to be weakened by having her leave.
Page 08: Willow is able to dispel the warping wood trap around her, pointing out that she's been studying up on her agricultural incantations while there. Aelara compliments her on her natural skills, but that she still hasn't learned everything.
Page 09: Aelara tells Willow that the nature of being a witch is that they're stronger together, implying that Willow can't win because she is working as an individual. Willow points out that staying or leaving is still her choice to make for herself, but Aelara tells her that actually it isn't. She offers that maybe one day she'll be allowed to leave again, but not until Aelara is assured that their collective is strong enough to survive against the outsiders who would threaten them all.
Page 10-11: With Willow on one side and Aelara on the other [presumably pumped up by her acolytes who are hanging around], the two witches faces off against one another with a swirling globe of combining mystic energy between them.
Page 12: Willow finds that for her natural aptitude with magic, now that she's in a one-on-one supremacy battle, Aelara's skills and experience are more than enough to start overwhelming her defenses. Aelara's energy has completely subsumed Willow's own, and is encroaching on her physically, leaving her only moments before she's defeated.
And hears a voice: Xander Harris'.
Page 13: Xander appears above her, teasing her for being about to lose to her crush. She offers that she has wished him to be there with her so much since his death, but he calls her a dummy and points out that he is with her. In fact, he has been long enough to send her warnings about Abhainn being a trap, but she ignored them. He offers that the lack of birds should've been a huge clue that she was inside of a trap, because birds avoid traps. But now that they're able to talk, he's sending her reinforcements - but she has to wield them, so needs to get her crap together.
Commentary: Hm. How to take this? Xan could be a figment, or he could be a ghost, or he could be the part of him that returned within the soul-tie to her, or this could be Vampire-Xander manipulating her to return to Sunnydale because he's obsessed with his former bestie. We don't know, but I like that the black birds are making some sort of return here. And I like the snark being layed on Willow pretty thick for her not paying attention due to her crush on the older woman.
Page 14: With the admonition that Willow needs to fight her way home, the black birds who've been gathering in the woods launch themselves at Aelara. She loses concentration, giving Willow a last minute save. But there is something far more about black birds, because Aelara completely collapses with their presence.
Page 15: Willow dashes over to her side, while the sycophants stand around in shock at her sudden loss.
Page 16: Aelara explains to Willow that she always knew who she was, even before their first meeting. She foresaw her arrival, and that she would be their strength when something horrible finally arrives for them.
She reached out and touches Willow's face...
Page 17: ... and both are transported mentally to the diner. Aelara asks Willow about what had happened - she's been so used to the witches that came to her being content to stay, and she can't grasp that anyone would want to leave her community. Even Willow can't explain exactly why she can't be content to stay in the safest place that she's ever felt, but also reminds Aelara that even being a witch at all was a choice to make. If witches are 'running away' from Abhainn, it's only because Aelara herself forced them to make that decision by not allowing them to come and go freely. As witchcraft is supposed to be about personal choices, what did she expect when she denied that very thing?
Page 18: Willow shows Aelara her friends back home, and explains that they needed her too - but they understood when she needed to leave, and they let her go. But now Willow feels it's time to return to her family.
The scene has shift to Aelara's home, where Willow continues to explain that just because she's leaving for a time, doesn't mean she won't be there when they need her. Aelara continues to worry, but Willow offers that she's giving her her word, in exchange for her freedom that she'll be there when it's time.
Page 19: Willow is slightly nonplussed by the change of venue, but only slightly and Aelara points her toward a door - if she's really sure about leaving.
Page 20: We don't hear what this last lesson is, however, because Willow has caught a bus to Sunnydale with only pocket change left of her walkabout money. As she's surrounded by chaos and noise and people, she offers that at least she's getting more comfortable with herself after far too long.
Page 21: On the bus, she realizes that her backpack feels heavy, and when she checks she finds a large book. It's the book of agricultural incantations from Aelara's. Inside is a note that she'll need to prepare herself for her battles both at home and away.
Page 22: Willow promises herself she'll be ready for whatever is coming next.
[And this is where we'd find her over comatose-Rose in BTVS 16, as she returns to town]
The Good: Uh. Well, I like that the issue ended with Aelara not being such a bad guy after all -- maybe too controlling, but it becomes obvious that it's coming from a place of fear and visions of threats coming down the pike.
The Bad: The side characters here are painfully underused. We didn't actually need blonde-runaway at all, and the acolytes were completely superfluous when it came to the battle of wills. It would've been better if they'd just been left out it in the village, rather than to try to suggest they're going to do something.
Other Thoughts: I was underwhelmed by this whole series, and that carries over here as well. I feel like the magic battle was only included because an action scene was expected, but that wasn't the focus of interest to the writer. This feels like it would've been much stronger if the entire confrontation had been handled in the mindscape between Willow and Aelara where both would rely on argument, personal philosophy and intellectual viewpoints on magic. There, Aelara could also have been given more panel-time to describe this darkness that she is so sure/has foreseen coming down on their heads and Willow could bring up her own fears about what the Hellmouth is doing and whether vampire Xander is still a threat to her other friends.
The Score: 3.0 out of 5 stars