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Available this week, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow #5 brings the limited series to an end. Writer Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Natacha Bustos end their run with letterer Jodi Wynne and colorist Eleonora Bruni. Sadly, after four exciting, tension-filled issues, the series ends with a whimper instead of a bang.
If you’ve been keeping up with each issue up to this point, you’ve been waiting for a dramatic conclusion to what’s been an exciting mystery. But, to put it plainly, this ain’t it. Tamaki has undone everything she so carefully set up from the beginning of the limited series.
As soon as Willow set foot in Abhainn, she was unsettled and experienced strange things such as once standoffish witches turning warm and welcoming, watchful crows, and dreams. The fun of the series was trying to unpack the symbolism and mystery behind Aelara and Abhainn. I looked forward to how these symbols would be explained, thinking that perhaps it all tied into how Aelara was manipulating Willow.
To answer the mystery of the crows, the specter of Xander makes a deus ex machina appearance. He explains that he sent the crows to watch her and the dreams to warn her. In one of two action sequences of the issue, Xander’s crows attack Aelara, who has spent most of the issue trying verbally to convince Willow to stay. The wolves she brought with her aren’t put to work.
Willow then easily dispatches with the useless wolves by breaking open a chasm in the ground for them to fall into. Once they’re out of the way, the Tara look-alike who set this confrontation in motion makes her escape. Then, Willow and Aelara talk while magically dueling until Aelara falls back.
The two women negotiate diplomatically and flashback to their first meeting. They come up with an agreement: if Aelara lets Willow go back to her friends in Sunnydale, then Willow will return to help defend the women of Abhainn whenever they need. It’s here where the issue falls apart for me.
Despite being built up as a potential antagonist, Aelara is forgiven, and her tendency to entrap witches in Abhainn isn’t dealt with. I see Tamaki’s intent here as perhaps remedying the long-standing trope of pitting women against each other. While I support that in principle, it just feels like a let-down in terms of storytelling. If there aren’t any consequences for this morally grey antagonist, then what was the point of the previous four issues? Aelara’s attempt to hold Willow hostage is a huge betrayal when considering how much Willow genuinely felt at home in Abhainn and friendly with the other witches.
Furthermore, it’s unclear what or whom Aelara believes would be a threat to Abhainn. We know from issue one that at least one guy from a nearby town dislikes witches, but nothing else in their environment seems to justify Aelara’s attitude. From my perspective, Aelara has made up a vague threat against witches to justify the need for Abhainn and keep them there.
Writing aside, artistically this issue is as strong as the previous four. Given the use of magic in the issue, Bustos had an opportunity to get bold and big with her expressions and backgrounds. Letterer Jodi Wynne also obviously had fun creating dynamic special effects. The art satisfies and excites where the writing lacks. Nonetheless, we can look forward to the possibility of some of the story threads in this limited series showing up in the main Buffy series.