Available now, writer Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Natacha Bustos begin to unravel their magical web in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow #4. Featuring colors by Eleanora Bruni and lettering by Jodi Wynne, this penultimate issue in the limited series gives us the action we’ve all been waiting for.
One might think issue four is the perfect time to jump into some climactic action immediately. But again, mirroring Willow’s experience, we’re lulled into a false sense of security. The creative team does this by providing more interiority through narration, using more dialogue, and emphasizing moments.
In previous issues, Tamaki and Bustos have subtly manipulated us in the same way Aelara has manipulated Willow. I felt quite foolish when I reread the previous issues and realized just how much of the story had already been foreshadowed from the first issue. For example, when Aelara and Willow first met, Willow had a flashback to the Hellmouth events as soon as Aelara approached. If you’re like me, you may not have thought Aelara the cause of the flashback. After all, at this time, Willow didn’t know the extent of her power and struggled to control it. The flashback could have been a surge of power or simply psychological.
However, there have been multiple moments like this first encounter. Recall in issue three when Aelara demonstrated how power flows through everything in Abhainn. She took Willow’s hand and touched it to the tree. Willow then transported herself and Aelara to a memory of Xander. This moment of touch directly mirrors their first encounter in composition.
In issue four, the hand touching recurs inside a visual metaphor. The comfortable sweater Willow bought in the first issue has a loose thread. Aelara takes Willow’s hand and offers to fix the loose thread. Given Willow’s growing suspicion of Abhainn from the previous issue, the loose thread in this scene stands in for that suspicion which Aelara must rein in. It’s here where the manipulation became clear to me—and the moment when I felt betrayed by Aelara, whom I, like Willow, had trusted despite the red flags.
Moreover, Jodi Wynne’s FX lettering lends a sense of alarm to the issue. Every little noise is pointed out, seemingly disrupting the comfortable, delusional silence Willow has been enjoying up until now.
Overall, there’s more urgency to this issue. In the first half of the issue, Bruni’s colors were warm and almost no shadow in terms of inks. Then, in the latter half, as Willow and the character who is probably Tara planned their escape, the colors got colder and the shadows harsh. These choices, paired with the sound effects, contribute to the dread and increasingly urgent need to escape Abhainn.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow #4 is the most exciting issue yet. Tamaki and her collaborators have taken us down a magical yellow brick road. Now all that’s left is facing the woman behind the curtain.