Again, because this issue features split stories, I'll summarize them separately rather than go page-by-page. In the book themselves, the narrative flips back and forth.
CHARMED ONES: At magic school, one of the teachers -- Bailey -- runs to Leo saying she's found the origin of the sword that gave him mysterious new powers. She's tracked a descendant of the maker of the sword to Nepal, where Leo plans on going alone, but The Charmed Ones have already shown up at magic school to intervene. They agree to all go together. When they arrive in Nepal, they're blocked by two giant doors. Phoebe knocks to open them, and they're immediately greeted by heavy artillery. Paige creates an orb shield around the four of them, and Piper uses molecular manipulation to move the air around them, flying the orb shield across a veritable battlefield. They get to the armory, where the woman there immediately recognizes the Empyreal Sword. She says it must have united with whatever part of Leo was still whitelighter, because that's who it was originally intended for. When the Elders first came up with the idea of Whitelighters they had two models: avenging angels (with swords and wings) and guides. The heavens debated which was the right path, and ultimately they decided on guides, locking away the prototype sword for the avenging angels. Now that Leo's used it, every time he uses it, it will drain some of his life force, but the woman will try and separate the wings from the sword.
COLE: Patience -- the blonde woman from Salem we met in the last issue -- is talking on the phone and finishing up at the witch house when Cole knocks on the door. She tells him they're closed and shuts the door, but he's already inside. He says he knows she's Prue, and more importantly she knows she's Prue. He explains that Patty and Grams sent him, and they want to know why she disappeared, and that he needs to do this to free his soul. She tells the story of the prophecy of the power of three, and how her death prevented the prophecy from being fulfilled. She arrived in the upper realms and was reunited with her family, and Andy, but part of her was trapped between life and death. She thought helping Paige into her powers would fulfill the prophecy but her connection to the Warren line meant they couldn't realize their full powers. She was still holding them back, so she found a body whose soul had already been collected and "sort of... took over." Reunited with a body, Prue/Patience could feel herself and her sisters getting stronger. But she can't reunite with them, because the prophecy doesn't call for a "power of four", and she could weaken them, or destroy them altogether. Prue/Patience asks Cole to keep her secret, because he's the only one who knows it. He says that's not entirely true...
CONNECTION: On the final page, the stories connect. Bailey reports the discovery of Sarah (the girl Prue/Patience was mentoring in the last issue) to Paige, who is putting together a list of new students for magic school. Paige says she'll start tracking down the kids on the list tomorrow, but first she has to take her kids home. Bailey says "Yes, family time is so very important." in a speech bubble that's shared with Rennek, who's looking on with the Seer and apparently controlling Bailey with some kind of stone.
I'm of two minds on the progress made in this story. I think if this were a TV series, and the mystery behind Patience's real identity had been revealed after just one episode, I'd be kind of upset, but with a comic, I understand the reasoning for not dragging it out longer. Plus, it wouldn't make sense to keep revisiting Patience in the comic if she wasn't Prue, so better to get that out of the way now, rather than waste our time with random Patience stories (and yes, I understand the irony of not having patience for Patience).
When it comes down to it, this issue was VERY expository. There was a lot of characters just standing around and explaining stuff to each other, which can be really fun for people who are invested into the backstories of the characters, but doesn't make for a compelling read for a casual reader. The back-and-forth layout of the narrative made things a little more interesting, in terms of building drama -- since the scene usually shifted right as something key was about to be revealed -- but the exposition of the general story made that necessary.
Also, at first when she was telling her story, it seemed like Patience/Prue was minimizing Paige's status within the Charmed Ones, which I was certainly not in favor of. However, when she gets to the part of her return to Earth, she makes it clear that ALL their powers are growing, so Paige is just as much a part of the Power of Three as she is (at least, that's how I interpreted that page -- you might feel differently). I'd honestly hate to see Paige diminished in any way, just because people are clamoring for Prue's return.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
Once again, Dean Kotz's likeness work is getting better, though admittedly on the last page of the issue, I wasn't quite sure at first whether the woman Bailey was talking to was Paige or just another generic Magic School employee. It wasn't until the family reference and Rennek's interest in her that it was clear that it was Paige.
I have a bias toward the two-page flying spread, since I own the original pencils for it, but it really shows Kotz's ability to capture a lot of action in a small space. When there's a lot of action going on, it minimizes the importance of likenesses, which in turn minimizes some of the focus on the weakest part of Kotz's art.
I do think Kotz benefits greatly from having three original characters -- Bailey, Patience and the sword forger's descendant -- play such large parts in the issue. Because there's no actor to compare the character with, all we have to go on is his consistency from page to paige, and he's good on that, particularly with Patience. I don't know if its a comfort level with the character or just what the script called for, but Paitence seemed to be the most expressive of the characters in the issue.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
The cover focuses on the Leo story, with the three sisters looking up at the avenging angel (who is casing a shadow on them) with Leo's faced superimposed over the shadow. It's been a few issues since we've had a three-sister cover, so that's a definite positive. Plus, I love Piper's expression. It screams "Oh, c'mon, now I've gotta deal with this crap too!"
Interestingly, this is the second consecutive issue without a photo cover. I wonder if Zenescope is deemphasizing those. Photo covers for tie-in series have usually been used to capture the attention of the audience for the original material, and maybe Zenescope feels like "Charmed" is strong enough to stand on its own now, without the help of old promo photos. Or maybe they're just running out of old promo photos to use.
Score: 4 out of 5
I know some people are going to get this issue and go "SQUEE! Prue is back! Yayz!" but I'm of the mindset that I don't want Prue back just for the sake of her being back. Her return needs to mean something and be important to the overall "Charmed" narrative. This issue is lays the foundation for that, but it doesn't get all the way there, which makes sense, since we're in full arc-mode now. As a bridge issue for this arc, this issue is important, but because of its role as a bridge, it suffers on its own. It's still good, but it feels like it's just the start of something better.
Score: 3.5 out of 5
Previous Issue#15, Where There's Smoke, There's A Firestarter
The Heavens Can Wait
#17, Family Shatters