Angel is at Highgate Cemetary, looking for a demon, when he smells blood across the way, leading to an insane person committing a series of gruesome murders. That leads to a flashback of Giles, going through his "final exam" at Watchers' Academy, which is taking place in Highgate Cemetary. He and his group of four other students are supposed to be hunting a vampire, but they come across a Lorophage demon instead. The demon kills Giles's four classmates, but he gets saved at the last second by his father and another watcher.
Back in the present day, Nadira and company nearly kill a human who thinks he is (and is acting like) a vampire. The human was driven insane by a vampire going by Mother Superior, who refused to sire him (per Harmony's rules). Angel and Faith realize their problems may be connected, and pay a visit to Alasdair Coames, who gives them some info on the Lorophage. Faith wants to head into action against Mother Superior, and they track her to a church. Angel and Faith bust in, bust some vampire heads, and meet Mother Superior, aka...
As if that wasn't enough, while Angel and Faith are doing that, a man shows up at a bar asking Nadira about Faith. She wants to know who's asking and he says he's...
And, as if that wasn't enough, upon seeing Angel, Drusilla launches into a monologue. Only, this isn't the typical Drusilla rambling. It seems Dru is...
As is becoming typical for this series, we've got two really great covers this month. Steve Morris has really topped himself with this one, with beautiful art of Faith and Angel surrounding the image of younger Giles emerging from a nesting doll of older Giles. The doll itself is grasped by the fingers of the Lorophage demon. It's rare for a cover to be able to tie everything together in an issue that has so much going on, but this one manages to do that.
The variant cover by series artist Rebekah Isaacs has more of an action feel to it, with Angel and Faith both armed with swords. Having Angel on the bottom half of the page facing one way and Faith on the top half facing the other gives the cover a kind of "playing card" feel to it. No Giles here, young or old, but still a quality cover.
The first issue of a new story arc is usually exposition heavy, and this issue was certainly no exception. It felt longer from a storytelling perspective, but it was only 22 pages, which is the standard. I think what helped prevent the issue feel like it was dragging was the way the Giles flashback scenes were written. There was a mix of "Giles' diary narration" over action and direct dialogue in the flashback, which gave that scene the balance it needed. I think the only time in the storytelling that I became frustrated with the pace was in the scene with Coames, and I may have just been picking up on Faith's own frustration with the typical old guy talking too much (to paraphrase Faith).
The appearances of Drusilla and Faith's dad were fully expected for anyone who's been following the news of the series, but it was still cool to see the two of them revealed. More importantly, in regards to Drusilla, her sudden sanity shows a level of respect for something that happened in an IDW spinoff series, which wasn't always a guarantee when Angel made his move back over to Dark Horse. Obviously, Christos Gage could end up telling an entirely different tale of how Drusilla regained the sanity Angel stripped from her before turning her, but just the mere respect for that bit of character development is huge.
After an issue off, Rebekah Isaacs is back on penciling duties for this issue, and once again does an outstanding job. This is the first time we've gotten to see her draw Drusilla, and the character likeness is as good as any in the series, despite Juliet Landau having one of the hardest likenesses in the Buffyverse to get right (hell, just compare this Dru to the Dru from the IDW Spike miniseries to observe the difference).
There's one panel of Faith flashback, to Season 3's "Bad Girls", where Faith and Buffy react to Faith's murder of the deputy mayor (the scene comes in reaction to Nadira almost killing the crazy human who thinks he's a vampire), and Isaacs gets to draw Buffy. She does a very nice job with the Sarah Michelle Gellar likeness, to the point that I'd love to get to see her take a shot at the Buffy Season 9 comic (and give Georges Jeanty an issue of Angel & Faith).
Lastly, eagle-eyed readers will catch another hidden Red Sox logo in the last panel of Page 21. I'm still waiting for Isaacs to give us a glimpse of Faith in a Celtics jersey. Throwback Rick Fox, maybe?
Starting with this issue, I'll just be giving a single overall score, rather than a score for each section.
It's always tough to grade the first issue of an arc, because so much of what's going on is designed to set up the key conflicts and story points for the next 3-4 issues. But this issue is an enjoyable read on its own, even without any knowledge of what's to come. I do wish that the introduction of Faith's father hadn't been so intertwined directly on-page with the intro to Drusilla, but I get what Gage was trying to do there with the dual meaning of "Daddy Issues" (really a triple meaning when you account for the Giles/his dad stuff from earlier in the issue).
Score: 4 out of 5