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Available now from Boom! Studios, Buffy the Vampire Slayer #22 is written by Jordie Bellaire and Jeremy Lambert. Ramon Bachs illustrated and Raul Angulo colored the issue. Last but not least, Ed Dukeshire contributed lettering.
Sunnydale is the Hellmouth that keeps on giving. Whenever Buffy seems to have won a boss fight with some great evil, another appears just around the corner. But sometimes, enemies are closer than anyone thinks, and friends have the potential to turn.
So it was with Xander and now Anya, although she hasn’t revealed herself to the Scooby Gang. However, Morgan Palmer, the clandestine fourth slayer, stands somewhere in the middle. Yes, she’s been secretly plotting with Anya to kill all the Watchers, but is she really a foe? Issue #22 poses that question.
Bellaire and Lambert begin by juxtaposing inner monologue with Willow wandering alone. The monologue is existential, expressing the character’s doubts about their life choices. Because the monologue is captioned alongside Willow, we assume they are the young witch’s thoughts. It’s understandable, given that she only just returned from her time abroad and has felt uncertain of her role in the Scooby Gang before. Then the scene shifts to Morgan with Anya at the magic shop, and it’s revealed these have been her thoughts all along.
Through this narration and subtle artistic choices, the issue focuses on the characters’ emotional inner lives and relationships. Each member of Buffy’s circle is privately dealing with new stresses, and this issue attends to their feelings. Willow feels out of touch with the group, drawing closer to Xander despite his evil ways; Buffy questions her role in the group with the addition of Faith; Giles also questions his role while keeping a secret from everyone else; and Morgan questions whether she truly believes in taking revenge on the Watchers.
Artistically, Bach’s simplistic backgrounds, Angulo’s soft coloring, and few close-ups allow equal attention to each character and delineate between the supernatural and the mundane. Further, letterer Dukeshire is unafraid of large blocks of monologue text and pragmatically minimizes SFX. Given that the majority of the story is framed through Morgan’s astral point of view, these artistic choices guide the reader to both empathize with Morgan and see the group differently.
Due to the emotional nature of the issue, not much happens in the way of plot, and the pacing is on the slower side. But important developments are made without much fanfare. For one, Xander’s demon slave is caught spying by Faith. She takes the demon to Wesley while Buffy updates Giles. Giles, meanwhile, has been drinking and ignoring phone calls from his mother, yet the reader isn’t told why.
Then Buffy and Giles have a heart-to-heart witnessed by Morgan, which seems to endear her to him. She’s already been questioning her commitment to carrying out Anya’s plot, so seeing Giles’ compassion might have just decided both of their futures. Yet a cliffhanger ending keeps the reader guessing whether or not Morgan will kill Giles.
Fortunately, the creative team have sympathetically and in a balanced manner carried Buffy fans through the “Ring of Fire” arc. The cliffhanger allows us some hope for a bloodless way out.