As the plans of villains Anya and Xander clash, a greater magic force threatens to upend everything. From Boom! Studios, Buffy the Vampire Slayer #23 is written by Jeremy Lambert and illustrated by Ramon Bachs. Two other frequent Boom! contributors, Raul Angulo and Ed Dukeshire, provide colors and lettering respectively.
By this point, so much has happened to the Scooby Gang, one wonders how things could get worse. But if you remember the TV series as well as the comic series team does, then you know there’s one more trick to pull.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
The Ring of Fire arc has turned multiple friends into foes. Anya, the former Watcher, continues her secret plot against the Watcher Council. Meanwhile, Xander’s a vampire hell-bent on trapping Willow with him. Now, through the magic of a mysterious gift from issue #20, Willow has been taken over by an eerie sort of doppelganger.
So, yes, we now have our very own comic book ret-con of Dark Willow. Lambert’s choice of ret-con feels earned instead of arbitrary, perhaps making it more agreeable for long-term fans of both the show and comic book series. Willow’s struggle to understand her powers has been able to develop over twenty-two issues and a spin-off full of introspection and growing self-awareness.
Giving Willow an evil doppelganger means real Willow doesn’t shoulder all the blame. Besides, it’s Anya pulling the strings. Overall, Lambert’s choices have successfully condensed and simplified the Dark Willow story arc while maintaining Willow’s likeability. As a fan of both the show and comics, I must admit I didn’t like the show’s take on Dark Willow.
While I understood the how and why of her magic addiction, it was heartbreaking to see Willow become the bully. Once it happened, I felt I could no longer relate to my favorite character. So far, the approach to a Dark Willow arc in the comics has been more relatable, due in part to the fact that vampire Xander is the one who lured Willow into the underworld. But, again, it’s not exactly his fault that she’s gone dark.
On the art side of things, Bachs has adapted Dark Willow’s look from the show as well. Bachs’ style seems to pay homage to pop art and early comics by using dot shading and severe action lines. There’s even a striking extreme close-up panel that could have been drawn by Roy Lichtenstein himself. All this to say that Bachs’ Pop Art-inspired inking and character design a la Bob Montana (Archie Comics) betrays a deep love for comics while supporting the playful campiness inherent in the Buffyverse. His choices here lend a sense of familiarity to the art.
Moreover, Angulo’s tendency to wash (or fill) colors lends a neo-noir, cinematic mood to this issue. Each color also corresponds to a place or character. For example, Dark Willow’s parts of the issue are awash in a deep shade of purple, a color of mystery and royalty. This color helps emphasize Dark Willow’s power and momentary control over the Scoobies in the latter half of the issue. On a baser level, she just looks so imposing and badass.
On a final note, Dukeshire’s lettering is pretty consistent except for a minor problem on the second to last page. On a previous page, Dukeshire outlined Willow’s telepathic dialogue with her Dark Self in blue. Then on page 23, he outlined what appear to be Dark Willow’s response to Willow in the same shade of blue. But that dialogue could also be Willow’s own inner monologue. It’s only a little confusing given that Dark Willow’s other speech bubbles have been colored black and outlined in purple. Adding to the confusion is the fact that what Willow “says” in the thought bubbles sounds more like Dark Willow.
Regardless, such a small flaw is forgivable with an issue so satisfying. With each new tantalizing twist and obstacle, the Ring of Fire arc challenges the Scooby Gang in ways we’ve never seen before. Now the question is how will Buffy take on two changed versions of her best friends? Not to mention Anya. It is on that delicate thread that our hope for the future of the Scooby Gang hangs.