Whedonverse comics roundup: Willow

by Gabby

“The Body” is the first episode I’ve ever watched of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I was in the 6th grade. I knew what the show was, having caught a few minutes here of there. But that night, I switched the TV on, and “The Body” was starting. I was transfixed by what I saw on the screen. It was like walking into a room where two people are having a very intense conversation; I knew I shouldn’t be watching, but I couldn’t look away.

I don’t remember much details from that first viewing. I didn’t watch another episode of BtVS until four years ago when I decided to start from the beginning.

The one thing I remember very vividly is Willow not knowing what to wear. I remember thinking: “I would have no idea what to wear if someone close to me died”.

And with that, Willow became my favorite character. My love for her wormed its way into my subconscious from that moment on, ensuring that when I began my BtVS marathon in earnest all my attention would be focused on her.

Through the series, Willow underwent many transformations without losing what I find makes her her: her yearning to always do the right thing.

There’s just one problem: the “right thing” is a highly subjective concept, and Willow, as we have come to know her, is a very self-centered person. The major decisions she has taken in her life have always had a self-serving purpose: tweaking Tara’s memory to make her forget their fights, bringing Buffy back to life because she couldn’t stand to live without her, always searching to absorb magic to make her more powerful… All under the guise of “doing the right thing”.

The last time we saw Willow was in the pages of Angel & Faith. She was leaving Quor’toth in a quest to bring magic back to Earth after the Seed of Wonder’s destruction by Buffy at the end of Buffy: Season 8. This is where her miniseries, that ran from November 2012 to March 2013, picks up.

I’ll proceed a little differently from my usual Whedonverse recap & reviews. I won’t be splitting this piece by issue, but by “parts”, that I feel flow better with the story.

PART 1: Marrack and the first attempt

From Quor’toth, Willow follows a magical trail that brings her to a foreign dimension. She wishes to find a source of magic so potent that, using the scythe, she will be able to shoot some magic into the Earth. In this new realm, she meets Marrack, a human turned demon-like after he got stuck following the end of magic on Earth. Immediately, it is established that Willow and Marrack have two very different objectives: she wants to bring magic back to Earth and share it with everyone, while he wants to seize it for himself, for power and vengeance.

Already, though, Willow feels the need to proclaim that she’s not doing it for herself:

This is something of a running theme in Willow’s life: magic has always been her weakness, and while she craves it, she knows to be weary of it, for Dark Willow is just around the corner. This is something that will become central in this story. We’ll get back to it.

With an incantation, a trail of fire seems to lead to a magical source. By following it, they find a pond with mystical properties, guarded by a Lewis-Carol-esque caterpillar. At first, they think they’ve found the magical reserve their looking for; however, the pond is the “Spring of memory”, and this brings us to the second central theme of the miniseries. Memory is a concept that resonates with me. I’ve always found “moments”, be they in TV shows or in real life, to be very powerful things. When I remember a specific moment, or watch one, the feelings and thoughts I had while experiencing it for the first time flood my mind. I think it’s the closest thing to time travel that we presently have. The caterpillar echoes this sentiment when he says:

“Whatever we do, wherever we go… Our memories are all we really have, you know?”

When Willow drinks from the pond, every defining moment of her life is depicted in a wonderful full page spread, and just seeing those drawings brought tears to my eyes.

The caterpillar encourages the travellers to carry a canteen of this water, and, after fighting some nasty demons, the pair is off to follow the path once more. As they explore, the dichotomy between Marrack and Willow’s philosophies increases, as Willow chastises the demon, saying that if she chooses his path (of disregard for others and roughness), she will get all “black eyed and terrifying”. But yet, the caterpillar has parting words:

“Energy is released by opposing forces. The lights casts thick shadows, and the path of righteousness employs very dark gatekeepers”.

Could it be that Willow needs this Marrack person to achieve her goal? At this point in the story, I thought so. After all, Willow overcame her darkness in Quor’toth and clearly symbolises the light, whereas Marrack embraces the dark.

But it’s about to get a lot more complex than that, as they come upon no other than Aluwyn, the Saga Vasuki.

Part 2: Aluwyn and the second attempt

After finding Aluwyn and some other mystical witches, Marrack and Willow enter the “Witches paradise”, a place surrounding a magical waterfall that house witches from all the realms. Willow is sure that the deep well of magic is here, so she wastes no time and slices through the waterfall with the scythe; but it doesn’t work. Aluwyn tells Willow that for her idea to work, there needs to be magic on the other side, too.

Willow, desperate, slashes at the waterfall until Marrack interrupts by grabbing the scythe. This move angers Aluwyn, and the witches cast out the man from their sacred place.

Now, there’s room for Willow to explore some of the things the witches can offer her to try and bring magic back to Earth. A mirror supposed to bring answers gives her a glimpse of Marrack which confuses her. A sea creature gives her snapshots of the meaning of her life, where she understands that there is good in everything, and evil, too, but the thoughts escape her as she moves away from the creature.

But as Willow involves herself more and more into this magical sisterhood, her memories start to fade. She even says that “parts of her old life are disappearing”, and a witch says that her own old life seems like a life lived by someone else. It is here that Willow faces her biggest challenge yet. She has found what she is looking for: a place with magic. Her selfish nature is brought back to the surface, as she moves further and further away from the goal of her quest. I start to wonder, was she *really* hoping to bring magic back to Earth for an altruistic purpose?

After Aluwyn and Willow spend a “magical” night together, Willow falls asleep dreaming a peaceful dream, only to be awaken by Marrack who’s wormed his way into her dream. There, he gives her the awakening that she needs: he tells her she’s doing what she swore she wouldn’t (abusing magic, though in a different way that she’s used to). He shows her the faces of the people she intended to save:

But it doesn’t have the desired effect, because she wakes up saying that he’s a liar. However, it does plant a seed of doubt.

You see, Willow has to “feel” things. Unlike me, where only thinking about or seeing a moment sends me back to that place, Willow has to experience them with her senses, submerge herself in them.

And that’s what happens when, thirsty, she reaches for her canteen containing the “Spring of memory water”. Here, I become weary of Aluwyn, as she wants to stop Willow from drinking it, after removing her scythe from her. But she drinks it anyway, and that’s when she feels, thus remembers, all of the people she meant to save.

We learn that Aluwyn, trickster god that she is, wanted Willow for herself, as well as giving her what Aluwyn thought she needed. After Willow confronts her, they somewhat make up, and she’s now ready to embark on her final journey. Having now remembered all that she needed to in order to complete her quest, she needs to settle one last thing.

Has she convinced herself that she wants to share the power? Is she fully entrenched in the “light”, and now needs to find the “dark” to bring back magic to Earth? Or is it something else entirely?

Part 3: Willow and the third attempt

So Willow heads off to find Marrack, as he’s the only person so far as motivated as herself to achieve the task they’d set out to do. They cast an incantation and reach a realm full of pure magic.

Willow sits down, ready to absorb all the magic and “become the light”. And this is where it gets interesting. Willow has been trying so hard, ever since the beginning of season 7, to keep Dark Willow at bay, suppressing every impulse she had that reminded her of “that time”, a lot like Angel does with Angelus. But Dark Willow isn’t like Angelus; she doesn’t exist outside of Willow. She *is* Willow, albeit a very dangerous and uncontrollable one. But every time Dark Willow popped up, it’s because Willow was in a very bad emotional or physical place.

Here, in this far removed realm, she finally understands that she embodies both dark and light, and none of them at the same time: she’s just Willow, and all the spectrum of herself that comes with it.

So now that we understand that Willow is the key to bringing magic back to Earth all by herself, what is Marrack’s purpose? If he doesn’t act as Willow’s foil, what is he, exactly?

As it turns out, he’s a physical manifestation of a very bad memory: Rack, the junkie that helped her feed her addiction in season 6. They get at each others throats, and as Rack slices the air with the scythe trying to harm Willow, he unveils a heart entangled in a web of veins and arteries floating in a starlit sky. They fight some more, as the heart sends forth ripples of energy, and Willow uses this to fully embrace the new-found revelation that she’s making great strides at becoming less of a selfish person:

Rack is finally defeated, but by something a little odd that looks like white blood cells. Sure enough, Willow is floating in the “embodiment of magic”. It reflects what she’s beginning to understand:

I love this. I feel like it redeems season 6’s Willow for me, as I now more fully understand the motivations behind her addiction, and her subsequent “dark magic rampage”. I always felt like it was a ploy, a bad metaphor pushed too far for drug addiction. But seen in the light of Willow as a selfish person, that can’t accept the bad parts of herself and has to feel things to really be alive and remember the important facets of her life, it changes my perspective. If anything, the miniseries exposed more sides of the Willow I always thought of as my favorite character without really knowing why, and gave me a reason to love her.

As she herself comes to these realization, the heart gives her a gift; for magic to exist on Earth, it can’t be funneled from somewhere else. It only lives where it is inherent. So the “embodiment of magic” fills Willow’s heart with magic, as she will become the vessel of magic that the Earth needs. As she gazes at our home planet from the stars, she wonders at San Francisco and proclaims that she misses her Scoobies…

Embodiment of magic: You missed them while still among them. Will that remain a problem?
Willow: … No.
Embodiment of Magic: Then the power you sought is within you.
Willow: But I don’t know what to do with it.
Embodiment of Magic: No? Now you can find out.

As Willow walks down the streets of San Francisco, she understands that, as the only person on Earth possessing magic, she needs to share it. And as she walks past a little boy, her magic floats through him, and he starts drawing something beautiful and fantastical where there was a blank slate before.

With the end of this miniseries comes the end of my Whedonverse comics roundup for Buffy: Season 9. If you haven’t been catching up on Angel & Faith or Buffy, you’re missing some real interesting guest stars, beautiful art, a gay self-made slayer and a certain englishman who is almost-resurrected.

What did you think of this miniseries? And what about that cover art, eh? David Mack is a genius.