First, I have to give kudos to Dark Horse for maintaining the secrecy behind the Jo Chen cover until after Issue #36 was out, since the company has had some issues with cover-related spoilers during this season (yeah, I'm still bitter about the way "Angel is Twilight" was revealed). These are two of my favorite covers, but I have to give the edge to the Jeanty cover. Chen's Master looks damn creepy, but Jeanty's entire cover is creepy. Buffy, looking like she did in high school, surrounded by all those dead bodies is the perfect image for her return to Sunnydale. Also, the bodies look very much like the dead bodies from Miranda (in "Serenity"). I don't know if that was intentional on Jeanty's part or not, but I intend to ask him tomorrow.
THE WRITE STUFF
This was a very exposition-heavy episode, and I'm not going to try to recap all the details revealed in the issue (mostly because it'd get long, and confusing for anyone who hasn't been following along -- and honestly possibly confusing for those who have been).
Most of the exposition, from Spike (to Buffy) and Aluwyn (to Willow) centered around "the seed", specifically what it is and what it does. To sum it up, the seed is kind of the source of magic in the world (thanks to spillover from a demon dimension) and also serves as a cork keeping that magic in check. If the seed is removed (as Spike explains) things go all wonky on Earth. If the seed is destroyed in place (as Aluwyn explained) then magic on Earth goes bye-bye.
That's already more exposition-y than I wanted to get in this review, so I'll just sum it up by saying I liked the explanation of what the seed is -- and I liked that it doesn't appear to be a person (though that could obviously change in future issues).
Beyond the seed stuff, there was a beautiful scene between Xander and Dawn where they planned out their normal future, which means that one of them is destined to die. It's just like when Willow and Tara (rest in peace) finally got back together (and, hell, Warren's still around to shoot one of them, so they should probably start planning the funeral now).
As for the big confrontation with The Master, I was a little disappointed. Think back to "Prophecy Girl" and "When She Was Bad". Buffy's dealings with The Master were highly emotionally charged. Just the thought of The Master being back (in "WSWB") threw Buffy completely off her game. Sure, she's been off her game in a different, Twilight-induced way of late, but I expected more from that confrontation than some pithy lines and a pretty sweet punch to the head (more on that in a second).
THE ART STUFF
For an issue that's so heavy on story and backstory and exposition, Jeanty really gets a chance to shine. His best moments come in the Angel action scenes, where he gets to design some slick-looking demonic monsters. The two-page spread of the Slayer gang's arrival in Sunnydale, with demons emerging from multiple portals around the Sunnydale crater, is one of the cooler looking things I've seen in the series.
As for the characters, his Spike looked more consistent in this issue than he did in #36, and the Buffy dream sequences looked very good. I thought the bottom-left panel of Page 7 (the Xander-Dawn) scene, really cemented the entire interaction between the two characters.
What really stood out for me was the two pages where Willow was interacting with Aluwyn in her dimension. The color palette in the scene was different from the rest of the issue -- and the majority of the issues in the Season 8 run -- and really made the pages pop. I'd really love to have them as prints, because they're so beautiful.
Oh, and flaming winged lion guy telling Angel "You will finish what you started"... that both looked and sounded awesome.
Since there's no more need for a "Who is Twilight" or "What is Twilight" section, I created this to just share some extra thoughts on the issue.
I normally don't pay much attention to the letters section at the back of the issue, but this one was a little different. Editor Scott Allie (who's taken on some co-writing duties to help lighten Joss Whedon's load) ran a long letter about the Buffy-Angel and Buffy-Spike relationship and some comments he'd made about Spike, and responded with an apology and clarification of what he'd said. I think Allie has been unfairly criticized at times for some of the things that have happened in Season 8, but it's good of him to recognize the very vocal "Buffy" fan base and have a respect for all the characters. It would have been easy for him to dismiss the criticism as something from "crazed fanboys/fangirls", but he didn't. He took it head on, learned from his mistakes, and hopefully it'll make these last three issues of Season 8 even better.
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