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Angel and Faith #15, Season 9, Review
A&F 15, my final review.

Strangely enough because I spent so much time first anticipating this issue then discussing its preview, and finally discussing it online, when it came to actually writing something about it I almost ran out of steam. And not because I have nothing to say , but because I am now cautious of getting over my head with this review. It is a controversial issue, and maybe because of controversy it also ends up (so far) being the best single installment out of entire S9 story, for both main titles and the miniseries. And that with Rebekah Issacs exquisitely detailed art being absent from this comic, and the guest artist for the Part I of the installment being so far the weakest of the pencilers - when it comes to character likenesses - to work on DH Buffy/Angel series. This fact alone actually is a great compliment to the writer and the script - as well as a gentle reminder not to give the permanent artist too much of the creative freedom. To put it blunt - sometimes less is more. Seriously, I withdraw all my objections to RI's imperfections when drawing character likenesses. Issue #15 taught me a lesson - a tight, dynamic script and well written dialog in a comic book beats sexy outfits and pretty faces over the head with a Thor's hammer, then gives them a run for their money.
But going back to our sheep, since everybody and their aunt already reviewed this issue - let's get over the basic character dynamics at first, then have some fun with tv tropes related to the issue. Basically , this issue is a stand-alone episode that stems from the single scene in one of the issue of the previous arc -Whistler and his crew ransacking Giles' apartment, then living a message with magical aunts to pass to Angel : Whistler wants to meet and treat on their 'anniversary' - the day when he first found Angel in the NY sewers, hunting rodents for meals, and generally feeling sorry for himself. First , I have to give a belated tip of the hat to the aunt Vinny's (?) line regarding Angel not hitting on her - because he is obviously gay. Would be interesting to see if she remembers this 'discovery' of hers down the line - and maybe mention this to Faith. Would also be fun to see Faith reaction too, especially in the light of the aunts already assuming that Faith received her inheritance as Giles' former mistress.

Part I

The first part of issue 15 takes place in a little dingy pizzeria in London. And since I know from personal experience exactly how bad cheap pizza can be in London ( nothing nearly as bad as London hotdogs though, but still awful), I can appreciate Whistler's making sure to pick up a place that serves special 'American' style pizza. I mention all of this because our first ever encounter with Whistler in Buffy S2 starts with him buying a hotdog from a street vendor in NY ("Dog me!"), and continues with him making snide remarks regarding destitute Angel's diet and appearance. I absolutely loved Whistler's character from that scene one - and was very upset with him loosing much of his debonair personality in S9, acting like a regular psychotically evil (?), moustache twirling type of a villain. Issue 15 fixed that. I mean, sure enough, the next thing after introducing his pizza preferences that Whistler does, is breaking Angel's wrist like a toothpick, when the vampire goes all indignant and tries to force the information on Pearl and Nash whereabouts out of him - thus giving us the audience quite a shock, as well as reminder that 'this is not the balance demon we were looking for'. Somehow, that sudden change of atmosphere from comedic to quietly menacing - when coupled with flashbacks to Angel and Whistler's first encounter - gives the whole scene sufficiently disturbing tone, while remaining authentic. As such our later discovery of Whistler's current insanity does not come out of nowhere - as the tension between the two interlocutors rises with every panel, making it almost a relief when Whistler finally explodes in a fit of elemental rage - giving Angel significant pause, and paralyzing the rest of the pizzeria clients. I do not want to go into panel by panel discussion of art or dialog, but suffice to say that I was impressed with how the level of tension between the two main characters in this conversation rises to the nines, while at the same time staying true to the basic nature of their relationship of former mentor and student. How Angels' initial anger and impatient desire to set things straight, quickly turned into horror and then calm conviction of Whistler's present insanity - eventually followed by bout of compassion. And all of that with minimal bells and whistles from the artist, and rather bland backgrounds.

The entire Whistler rant and Angel's doleful retorts about Twilight part of the story comes out on a single breath - and all sorts of small inconsistencies with that can be forgiven for the richness of the emotional context. Gosh, I so wish this could have been issue #1 of A&F S9. All of this context was severely missing and it does make sense - down to Gage making Whistler mention Darwinism and evolution. As much as the 'evolutionary theory of Universes evolving ' did not make sense in S8 Giles/Willow explanation of Twilight - the Uber Prophecy that ends it all - it actually makes sense here, especially in the light of Part II of issue 15. Maybe it makes sense to me because it comes out of the mouth of somebody driven mad by the failure of that same evolution? Maybe I just like the hilarity of Darwinism being to blame for the failed Rapture ? Or maybe I just like my stories being told with the tongue-in-cheek approach. In any case , lets list some of the facts from #15 and the follow up Q/A with CG that are now confirmed to be true about the whole Twilight business.

• According to Gage Whistler never lied to Angel. Meaning that his 'too bad this is the only way to save the world from not having a future' line was also not a lie - at the time.

• Angel signed up with the plan never thinking about the amount of casualties - but from his perspective it was either some casualties or all the world will have no future.

• Whistler counted on Buffy and Angel being so drunk on power and finally having each other that he thought they would forget about how many would they lose before their spanking new Universe was ready.

See these tv tropes for more ideas :

• Angel is very steadfast in putting Buffy first as the decision maker and savior of the world - while admitting his own guilt and culpability for believing 'they could save everybody' - while in reality Buffy was right and they probably could not.

• According to Whistler destiny is indeed 'universe using you' - which clicks very well with 'it is a burden , not a reward' line from the Destiny episode of Angel.

We are then treated to a sequence of images and text that give us Whistler's origin story - a rare and gorgeous treat, that is close in style of execution to the best of the Tales of the Slayers parts. Here, the minimalistic approach of the artist pays off - delivering a powerful message with series of sketchy, engraving-looking panels, reminiscent of the best of the S8 Chain sequences. Little in the way of elaborate details - the pencils are ascetic, yet the play of light and shadow gives us all the impressions we need. The sequence starts with the gorgeous shot of the male Celestial and female Demon mating, thus giving life to the first of its kind hybrid half-breed, the being of both light and darkness - the Power of Balance. As I mentioned in my other notes on issue 15, the closes reference I can come with is Brian Vaughun's Saga series ( that needs to be promoted at every opportunity.) I know some have mentioned the Preacher comic series, but I looked it up and the themes/style of that story does not match Whistler origin story in neither tone, nor message. So, I stick with my original nod to Saga.

Here are the related tv tropes , that relate to both Saga comics and S9 #15 PI:

And now some that are unique to #15 PI :

I need to mention that I find the fact that a few pages story can contain so many rich and powerful tropes is remarkable and encouraging, rather than disconcerting. The origin story is so rich in cultural and historical annotations that it dares to refer to King Arthurs story, and the Nero's Burning of Rome - while not losing sight of the theme of Balance - while keeping it light enough to be enjoyable for every type of audience. See Balance between Good and Evil ref for more amusing details.

So, it turns out that Whistler is a child of two antagonistic Elder Entities - the purebred Demoness and Agent of the Powers that Be, making him a being akin to Angel ,( with a foothold in both world according to him), thus explaining his unique connection with the souled vampire and his destiny. His true ability to see into the *possible futures* was confirmed by CG as an trait granted by PtBs , thus making him a unique agent of fate - not powerful enough to create a destiny if it does not have a high probability, but gifted with ability to sift through the probabilities and select the ones that will come to fruition with some minimal push and shove. Whistler claims to always have worked for the 'greater good', even when helping evil on the local scale - until he lost his vision due to the Seed being shattered by Buffy during the final confrontation of S8. All of this actually makes sense - as much as the fantasy series can make sense. The icing on the cake of this part however is Whistler claiming to have received one last vision right before he was cut from the PtBs and his talent forever - that of the world that cunningly resembles Fray future down to us seeing the little one armed mutant girl Loo. This world however, completely lacks magic - at least according to Chris Gage Q/A's. While the Fray world has some magic gradually trickling back into it.

And this revelation finally reveals the mystery behind Whistler's recent Face Heel Turn and getting 'in bed' with Pearl and Nash - the infamous S9 Team Rocket Duo of half-breed demons that has haunted the A&F series since issue 1, and caused much of my disdainful sarcasm. To put it short, Whistler's new 'plan' , founded by his current trauma of losing his visions and his sense of 'balance' - a condition unbearable for the being for whom balance is 'in his blood' is to poison the entire world with magical mutagens causing massive mutations. His hope is to produce new evolutionary breed of humans with magic being an intrinsic ability while possibly killing about 30% of the Earth entire population in the process. The suggested way of producing the mutagens ? Collect all of the remaining magic items that still have any charge left and grind them into fine powder, then spread the resulting dust through the environment. I guess adding a dab or two of Mohra blood to the mixture will make it even more potent. Truthfully - this is where the story lost me again for a while with the lack of the inner logic. How does the dust of the destroyed item retains it magical potency ? Gem of Amara did not, nor did other tv series artifacts. But judging by the amount of the crack-fic inconsistencies in the rest of the series ( 7 soul pieces cough-cough) this is minor.

Angel immediately agrees to help Whistler with... getting his hear clear again, thus clearly separating himself from yet another world-changing plan that might save the humanity from the eventual slow death, while killing billions. I am not sure I like the way this part was thought out - the implications seems rather straightforward and black and white, and I still don't get it how we are supposed to compare this harebrained plan of Whistler's with the urgency of the original Twilight. It seems the contrast is being set as too didactic and spelled out in big bold letters - 'Angel is a new guy now , cautious and humble. Let's see him go into saving the little puppies business, while ignoring any global issue like the death of magic and possible death of the world.' Maybe this newly found humility will stick, or maybe - and hopefully - it won't. Still, I liked the scene where Angel seemed to genuinely care for Whistler - and the contrast of Whistler brutal and unexpected final attack set up the final stretch of their confrontation, that will likely last till the end of the current series.

Part II

The second part of the issue deals entirely with Granny Finney - and her evil offspring. To get you started on the Susan Finney story I would like to use some more tv tropes references here

As opposed to Whistler, who is portrayed on some level as a sympathetic character messed up by his personal history and the recent catastrophe of loosing magic , Granny Finney is portrayed as a character who can hardly be sympathized with - despite some personally painful moments of her story like losing all of her human children and other family to hunger, poverty and disease. Being as tough as they make them in rural Oklahoma, the lady in question turns to dark arts and summons a demon whose only task turns out to be impregnating her with half-breed children ( see appropriate trope). But because the text deliberately sets the old witch as an example of

it is hard to identify with her, or her plan. Unlike Whistler, who intends to mutate and evolve the whole of humanity while losing a 'mere' few billions , Granny Finney is content with promoting the evolutionary change and advantage only of her own genetic offspring - and that sets her as unsympathetic and evil from the start, regardless of her reasons. Unlike that of Twilight, her plan is simple - making her babies make more half-demon babies with every demon willing to breed out there.

Frankly, this puts her out of the league of a simple Evil Matriarch, and somewhere into the league of a sex trafficker of her own children, and that is beyond creepy and obscene. Yet, the story told in PII is making me not only take more nuanced perspective on the motivations of Pearl and Nash - and after this issue I finally accepted them as canon Buffyverse characters - but also take another look at the whole Twilight evolution business. The way the story is presented, it is almost laughably speciesist. Take a look at the

trope again without feeling uncomfortable for the Watchers wiping out Pearl/Nash's entire kindergarten of half breed children. It is hard to feel for them , and still they come out more as victims of their screwed up upbringing and traumatic experience after that scene. The saving grace is Alastair Coames, who is likely set up to play some role in later confrontation with them.

The final scene of Granny's death is almost grotesque - yet I would like to notice the continuity porn bits here. On her death bead Granny Finney is supported by magic of a giant insect that serves a s life support - see AtF for Angel using the same kind of creatures on himself to heal.


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