I have seen quite a few reviews of the comic by now, and the funniest thing about them that there's seem to be no prevalent opinion on anything about it but the generic complaint that it could have been better. I have seen some people who say the pace is too slow, while others say the pace is too fast. I have seen many complaining about the art ( the main issue seems to be Willow's likeness), while others like it. I have seen reviewers upset about Lewis Carroll rip-off - and I have seen a few who are delighted about it. I have seen complains about Willow's voice being off - and praise to her voice being right 'on target'. In another words - there seem to be genuine discord about the series among both the professional reviewers and the audience. Me personally - I liked the issue, but I have to admit to two mitigating circumstances : I generally adore Willow's character and can't get enough of her, and secondly I am generally pleased when I turn out to be right about something.
Willow and Season 9 of the Buffyverse
I was looking forward to seeing the continuation of Willow's story back from S8 because I suspected she is going to be central to the resolution of the post-Twilight magicless 'state of the verse' plot. Yes, I am tired and irritated with the comic season going into slow meltdown with the main characters generally focused on staring at their respective navels ( Buffy, Angel, cough , cough) whilst ignoring the 'big picture'. Yes, I am the 'big picture' girl. Sue me. I find the 'more focused on the private affairs of the characters' plots adorable - in small dozes and when spiced with 'just the right' amount of humor thrown into the mix. Yet when the story itself lacks focus - a.k.a. 'moral grounds' , a.k.a. convincing reason for the characters to do what they do , it quickly turns into a boring supernatural soap opera.
It is all fine and dandy to have 'an ongoing 'mystery of the season' : 'Who is the Big Betrayer of S8 ?' (Duh), 'Will Angel be able to bring Giles back or will it all end up in another n-tienth disaster?' (Do we really care at this point ?), 'Who is the daddy of Buffy's baby?' (Duh), 'Will Spike shag the succubus lady and loose his soul ? ( The answer is obviously -'no') , 'What's Whistler up to ?' (No good), while the audience has burning and compelling reasons to root for its eventual resolution. S9 lost its focus, because except for Willow's quest to restore magic to the verse, there is not much left there to root for, aside from the season eventually ending and, hopefully, moving the characters to somewhat more interesting places in their lives.
From this perspective , the Willow's mini (and all the arcs in other S9 books associated with it) remains the only bright spot on the S9 overall bleak horizon - so it has to be good - even if it is not perfect. I like the art. As I already mentioned, it reminds me of Karl Moline's and as such offers a good shot at continuity with Fray and Willow's S8 one-shot (Goddesses and Monsters). They even use the same logo and the little vignette of Willow studying her arcane lore at the opening page is adorable.
I don't mind the Lewis Carroll's character 'borrowing' at all - because frankly Joss did the same with Harry Potter scenery at the opening of Willow's one shot, and this adds to the continuity as well. As for the strong outcry against Willow's departure from the main series and being 'on her own'; honestly, we have seen Willow on mystical walkabouts around other dimensions for so many times already that it became somewhat of a running joke. Willow disappears from Buffy's side - only to return later changed in ways we cannot comprehend , but are supposed to believe in. This time I actually want to see her journey and enjoy every mile of it as she makes her progress.
One extra note on the fantastic creatures pantheon and the landscapes - the overall impression I am getting is not so much the Wonderland, but that of a Planescape setting. Even the flying skulls are very much resembling of Vargouilles.
Now, going to my usual format of discussing character interaction and remarkable moments.
Willow on her own
I find very compelling. She has enough magical intuition to open a portal to the world 'full of possibilities' from Quor'Toth and to stick up with her agenda bringing a little light back to the world that needs it . Yet Willow also has enough presence of mind to keep the lesson she'd learned in Quar'Toth close to her heart - and therefore refuse to follow her first instinct and use 'blood sacrifice' for her locator spell. I also find it kind of cute that they used Willow's memory of her conversations with Buffy about the loss of magic, and her recollections of the joined quest with Angel and Co, to tie the verse's main stories together. It fits well with my view of Willow's quest being the most important plot this season.
And Willow is intelligent enough to perform a seriously complicated 'net' magic locator spell as her first step towards her ultimate goal in the new verse, thus sparing the writer a need to throw her the 'convenient opportunity' bone. Of course she almost immediately encounters the first prominent trope of her series - the Beast Man.
Willow and Marrack
For all intents and purposes - and truly unfortunately - the first new character introduced in Willow's mini so far appears to be a rather straightforward ambition and betrayal type. See also the next trope -
and if you wish follow the list of related tropes .
It almost would have been more interesting to find out that Marrack was indeed a minor familiar character brought back from the tv series ( there is an indication at his first appearance that he recognizes Willow on sight but pretends that he does not know her name) and subjected to magical mutation that made him unrecognizable. Here I want to mention musingly that despite her established gay orientation ( or maybe because of it ), Willow seems to be fated to run into Beastmen and have them play prominent roles in her life ( yes I am still missing Oz). Although I wonder if Saga Vasuki qualifies as Beast-woman ? I rather suspect she falls into one of these 2 categories :
In any case , it is worth mentioning that Marrack by his own admission is indeed a man , morphed into beastly form by Dark magic - and Willow never questions his statement. Either this is quiet reference to Willow's own 'game face' - Dark Willow's features differ distinctively from her 'human form', or this is something that we are supposed to take without questioning. I would have suspected that Willow can recognize the difference between a demon and mutated human.
I don't see much wrong with the section that follows. Willow and Marrack's team up against the magical verse's monsters and follow the trail to the next Big Magical Source traced by her locator spell. On the side note, this is continuity porn - Willow likes using her little tracer spells. The Beastman is at least practical enough to recognize Willow's value as a companion - he has been stuck in this world for months by his own admission - and to stick with his plan of keeping Willow in the dark about his true agenda , while exploiting her prominent magical abilities and being sufficiently useful and flattering. So far I don't see him succeeding in corrupting Willow (turn to the Dark side Luke!)
if the extent of that foreshadowed corruption would be giving her (badly timed) cynical advice while sporting beastly visage , and at the same time make blunders like killing and eating the magical beastie in the universe that has built-in magical retribution clauses. ( I am talking of the final scene of the issue.)
Overall their plan of finding the 'that-don't-know-what' in the ' place-of-not-know-where' appears a bit lame, but I have seen lamer ideas bring fruit. And the idea thrown out in the air by Marrack - that of Willow herself becoming the sorely needed new source of magic and its conduit to Earth indeed sounds dangerous. I rather hope they won't go this way. It might - or might not contradict the continuity of the Fray future.
Willow and the Pool of Magic Water.
As it happens , the trail laid out by the locator spell leads not to the source of pure undiluted magic, but to the magical water spring that has capacity to bring forth most important memories of the person who drinks from it. Hmm, I wonder if the metaphor is so clunky because it is supposed to be blunt ? I mean, the idea of a magical quest that brings up magical trials is fine with me - this would be our coveted trope for Willow.
But the whole starting the seeker journey with cataloging the past trials, mistakes and triumphs might have been executed a bit more subtly. I still love the fact that we were treated to the whole page of images featuring the most prominent of Wilow's 'passions' ( more in a sense of 'Passions of the Christ' than Passion the episode). Yet I wonder if that particular trick was done for something more than cool recollection of her personal history. It is also important to point out that all that Marrack got from the same source was a list of his most prominent failures. Interesting, if a bit too straightforward.
Willow and the talking Caterpillar Guy
As I already mentioned, I don't find the Caterpillar character annoying or gratuitous - the writer had enough sense of humor to justify his appearance by alluding to the 'Wonderland' dimension being assessable via an extra glass of absinthe. The creature looks organic enough in the place that has Bogworms roaming around in search of flying skulls to snack on, and green chimerae sporting purple eyes that come back after being cooked and eaten. I won't be surprised if the Caterpillar follows in the steps of Muffitt - the little wheelchair-bound girl that was Joss' first prankster character that brings you to see the Goddess aka Saga Vasuki.
Overall I enjoyed this issue more than 90% of S9 individual books. So far this series has an important main plot, good dynamics and enough of good dialog lines to make one feel 'back in the Buffyverse'. If it lacks a bit in character consistency, it can be forgiven for the degree of entertaining factor. Or to put it simple - it was a fun read!