Thursday, March 27, 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Volume 1 Review

By: Nicole D'Andria

Inspired by the Buffy Challenge, I’ve been enjoying some of the Buffy comics. Specifically, the very first season after Buffy went off the air and into the comic book panels.

For those not in the know, when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was called off after season 7 on TV because Sara Michelle Gellar was done with the role of Buffy and talked to writer Joss Whedon about it, the story continued with an eighth and ninth season in comic books. Issue one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 just came out on March 19th. Now, let’s take a look back at the first volume of Buffy, which, in total, collects the first ten issues, over three hundred pages, of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight and has a cover gallery, sketches and creator biographies.
The Long Way Home

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #1 - #4 cover the first story arc “The Long Way Home” and feature Buffy leading her army of slayers – now up to 500 – on a mission to stop some demons. Unfortunately, Buffy is being hunted down by the military and a couple of other familiar faces thought long dead.

This comic is definitely something hardcore Buffy and Angel fans will enjoy. Right off the bat Buffy makes a reference to an episode of Angel (Season 5, episode 20, titled “The Girl in Question” to be specific).

This arc is written by the TV show’s writer Joss Whedon (who also directed The Avengers movie). His best strength in his TV scripts is the same here: his characters.

Those two “familiar faces” I mentioned are extremely enjoyable to see return for fans of the show since they’ll know who they are when they see them. Another plus for fans is how much Xander has grown as a character. Sporting his eye patch and keeping his wit, this self-proclaimed “Nick Fury” is always enjoyable to watch. Then there’s Willow, who continues to impress with her magic and funny lines. Andrew also makes brief appearances, always displaying his nerdy quirks which can bring a smile to your face. Especially since he’s training a house full of slayers (Seriously? Who put that guy in charge?).

Of course, then there’s our main attraction, Buffy. She’s just as spirited before, and constantly complains about how she isn’t getting any, which can get annoying real quickly, but she counterbalances with an array of fun banter. I also like how her enemies are the government. They’re the government, so of course they bring tension by being a real threat, especially since they’re working with those familiar faces (who happen to be a powerful witch and a guy straight out of Hellraiser, hint hint, nudge nudge).

Then there’s Dawn with her annoying lines… and that leads us to the oddest choice Joss made in this volume.

Dawn is a giant now.

Yeah, her ex-boyfriend turned her into a giant. It sounds really stupid, but when I thought about it there really aren’t any downsides with making her giant. It gets some laughs, makes the tension mount between her and her sister, and… well, the laughs. What’s even odder, when Joss Whedon was being interviewed by Entertainment Weekly, he was asked what his favorite “We could never do this on the TV show” moment was and he chose giant Dawn. Which, he admitted, he loved more than the readers.

What I didn’t like about this bizarre choice (and what the issue I think was for most other readers) was throwing giant Dawn at us right away and explaining how she got that way through dialogue. I think people would be more accepted of the choice if it wasn’t just thrown at us.

One problem with the characters is there are a lot. The main cast is memorable but the hordes of other slayers are given no characterization because there are just too many of them. The only one that gets a lot of panel time is Satsu, and while she has a good hair-do she doesn’t really have much else going for her.

Something else that is weaker than the characters is the story. Usually, I don’t care about why the characters are doing what they’re doing. Half the time I forget what their goal is. I just enjoy reading their back-and-forth banter and watching them fight, which is seamlessly added in around their personal lives (well, the little time for personal lives they have).

One interesting element of the story is when Buffy is put under a sleep spell. She can only be awoken by true love’s kiss and Willow tells every slayer to close their eyes so the person who truly loves Buffy can kiss her… meaning one of the girls has a crush on Buffy. But unfortunately for readers, just as all the slayers close their eyes, Whedon closes ours so we can’t get a look at who is in love with Buffy. Also, while Buffy’s asleep she explores her dreamspace and she has some… interesting dreams, to say the least.

The other elements of the plot are great when they tie into the characters. Whedon does a fantastic job with the dialogue. It sounds like how real people would talk and is characteristic of how every character from the show would act.

The pencils by George Jeanty and inks by Andy Owens fulfill their function, but I don’t really enjoy it much. All the characters look like their TV counterparts. The action flows somewhat abruptly from panel to panel. Even something that I usually see as a negative artistic quirk, reducing the amount of detail to get a panel out of the way, fits the comedic tone this series has on and off again.

This was a great way to go from television to comic books. You have all your favorite characters (with the exceptions of Angel and Spike, but their absence, while sad, makes sense), including the return of a couple characters that weren’t seen in the TV show for a while. The story is grand even if it has some weak spots and it was a bright start to a volume that went… slightly downhill.


The Chain

In the second story, “The Chain,” we get to spend time with a Buffy imposter who has to go underground and fight a demon. Like the first arc, it is written by Buffy the Vampire scriptwriter Joss Whedon. He dedicated this issue to the late Janie Kleinman, a network executive he worked with.

This story, out of all the arcs in the first volume, felt the most rushed and unnecessary, which makes sense since its only one issue long (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #5), unlike the previous arc which was four. There’s not a lot to it. We get to see how this particular slayer discovered her powers but we never really get to know too much about her. The story isn’t really memorable when compared to any of the others, and in a way that makes the ending even more impactful on the reader by prophesizing that forgetability.  

A big downside is almost no other characters from the Buffyverse make big appearances  in this issue. Andrew makes a short appearance in a funny commercial for recruiting slayers. But we mostly rely on one Buffy imposter. We never get to see the other Buffy imposter that was mentioned in the last issue. That may be because she appeared briefly in an episode of Angel, but I would’ve liked to see her as well if they were going to show us the imposter Buffy’s.

Ironically, this issue is a lot easier to follow than the last arc because it has fewer Buffy references and instead focuses on a young slayer. Her fate at the end is the quintessential moment of this issue and makes it a solid issue but not really what I think hardcore Buffy fans were expecting after the first arc.

The artwork felt very similar to the first arc and I was surprised it wasn’t the same penciler. In this issue the pencils are done by Paul Lee. Andy Owens returns as the inker. The drawings are solid and the fights are illustrated well, but sometimes splash pages could use better backgrounds, including the one on the very last page.

This may be a bit of a downer after the first arc, but it’s still a solid issue. The ending is great but the lack of recognizable characters will be a turn off for many readers.


No Future for You

The second story arc is “No Future for You” and is the first in the series not written by Joss Whedon.  Spanning four issues (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #6 - #9), this arc mostly features Faith, who is asked to kill a dangerous slayer by Giles. Unfortunately, this slayer has phenomenal power.

If you’re a fan of Faith, this is the perfect arc for you! There are a couple of flashbacks to the TV show, such as “Graduation Day,” featuring Faith and the mayor. Faith is her normally spunky self and you also feel for her and respect her, since it’s made clear from the get-go that she gets the jobs no one else is willing to take. It’s also pretty fun to see Giles try to turn her into a “proper” lady so she can go undercover at a ball where her target, Lady Genevieve, is located. 
Lady Genevieve herself is a great target. She is a spoiled rotten princess who has the powers of a slayer. Almost instantly, her physical prowess is established. Her interactions with Faith also show how much the two have in common even if the upcoming twists and turns in the arc are pretty obvious. They also involve an annoying miscommunication, which always gets on my nerves since if people could just get two seconds to explain themselves…

Buffy and the gang also make appearances. Xander says one of my favorite lines in the entire volume when he’s in the training room with Buffy trying to, and I quote, “reacquaint my body with non-dance dance revolution-related moves first.” Every arc makes me love Xander more and more.

The ultimate villain, Twilight, is revealed and his goals aren’t really clear, and other than being curious about his true identity, I don’t care much about him or his evil plan for world domination… or he could be enslaving puppies, I seriously don’t remember… Plus, not only are his clothes not intimidating, his name is Twilight. I can’t not picture Edward sparkling every time I see him, and I really hope there’s a joke being made here. He is established as a pretty formidable foe, since he suggests that Faith and Giles have played right into his hands… he also flies, which is always a plus.

The penciler and inker from the first arc return. George Jeanty and Andy Owens do another good job of making the character recognizable. However, it also has the same quirks that I didn’t enjoy, like characters that have too many lines and shadows on their faces. When they have faces. Sometimes they’re minimalized to the point where they look like faceless phantoms. The design for Genevieve is perfect. She really looks like a spoiler princess thanks to her fancy clothes. Also, as I suggested before, Twilight doesn’t look that intimidating. He’s just a guy in a ski mask and trench coat. There’s not really anything interesting going on with him visually.   

This arc is perfect if you’ve been missing Faith and Giles. Both of them are in this arc arguably more than Buffy is, which can be a disappointment for hardcore fans of the Buff.


Anywhere But Here

“Anywhere But Here” is only one issue long (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 #10) and is written by Joss Whedon. In this arc, intimidated by Twilight (snicker), Buffy and Willow travel to find one of the demon elite, Sephrilian, to find out more about him. Along the way, they have to fight for their lives and talk about their fantasies.   

The sexual fantasies Buffy and Willow share with each other are a little awkward and immature... but some readers may enjoy them. They don’t really feel integrated with the rest of the story, which isn’t really that great. It’s just one big bad who isn’t very interesting. It also feels a lot longer than “The Chain” despite being the same length and it felt like it was dragging most of the way through. Twilight’s motivations are also made more obvious (and, shocker, he doesn’t want to enslave puppies).

Xander and Dawn also have a nice moment in this series in which Dawn reveals more about her history with her boyfriend Kenny with a surprising twist. There’s also another character, Robin, who seems to have some sexual tension with Willow but doesn’t make much of an impact on the reader, especially since Willow already has Kennedy, but she doesn’t really have much of a role in the series so far.

Again, the art looks very similar to all of the previous arcs. The inker is still Andy Owens but the writer is Cliff Richards. The design of the villain is good. Sephrilian’s size is enough to make him intimidating. The characters, as usual, look like themselves but have the usual unenjoyable quirks.


Always Darkest

“Always Darkest” is a two-page one-shot. This is a nonsensical one-shot that will literally take ten seconds to read but I wanted to mention it because of a few key things. One, it’s scripted by Joss Whedon. Two, Spike and Angel make-out off panel (sorry yaoi fangirls, but this isn't real). Three, Caleb makes a short appearance, which makes me think of fangir,  just because in the TV show he was played by Nathan Fillion (aka Castle). And four, the artwork by Jo Chen is amazing and I wish this was the artwork for the entire series. I get how it could be difficult but it has such fantastic illustrations I would love to see Jo Chen do a full issue.


If you're not a fan of Buffy or haven't seen the show yet... watch the show first or you will probably be lost. If you are a fan of Buffy, season 7 was not the end. Read this and you get to see your favorite characters, some of which have grown into charming Nick Fury figures while others have, unfortunately, some catching up to do. The story is not much to write home about but produces a wondrous blend of drama and comedy that feels like the old TV show. I wouldn’t say it surpasses the show, but it’s a great start in a new medium.

Overall: 6.5

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