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Saturday, 27 June 2009

Buffy Season Eight: A Parson's Egg...

To date four paperback collections have been produced from the individual issues of Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Eight, the official continuation of the TV series overseen and, in part, written by Joss Whedon.

Like the TV show it is a mixed bag of the good and the not-so-good with the good often coming when you least expect it and vice versa.

Volume 1, The Long Way Home is pure Buffy, but writ large, unleashed from the constraints of a televisual budget.

Following on from the empowerment of all potential Slayers at the end of Season Seven, Buffy is now heading up a global army of Slayers for her battle against the forces of evil - but has caught the attention of the US military who fear she and her colleagues are a terrorist organisation.

If you can cope the idea of Buffy heading up a large scale, international demon-fighting force from a castle in Scotland, then you'll probably have no problems with this first story arc.

Oh, and Dawn's been turned into a giant (due to a romantic entanglement with a "thricewise", whatever that may turn out to be)! Something, again, that could never have worked on television.

Volume two, No Future For You, is where things start to go seriously wrong as Joss hands over writing duties to the usually reliable Brian K Vaughan for a Faith-centric story that sees the rogue Slayer dispatched to England to assassinate a fellow rogue Slayer, who turns out to be a tool of the season's Big Bad, the enigmatic Twilight.

Vaughan pulls out every cliche in the book to present a hideously stereotyped view of the British aristocracy and Britain in general.

It takes more to write Buffyesque dialogue than throwing in random "hip" references to band names or topical personalities (not that Princess Diana is that topical anyway... and the reference to her is the most tortuous and contrived I have possibly ever read).

But then the killing blow to verisimilitude is delivered by none other than Joss Whedon in the final issue of the collection when Buffy is revealed to be funding her organisation by moonlighting as an international jewel thief!

When I was reading the individual floppies, it was this curve ball that drove the final nail (stake?) in the coffin and made me drop the title from my regular pull list.

It just seemed so out of character and her justification that it's "a victimless crime" is so weak.

However the strangeness didn't end there.

Volume Three, Wolves At The Gate is a slight improvement, being more on target, but the main story of this collection, written by Drew Goddard, is filled with several massive WTF moments.

Not only are Xander and Dracula revealed to be pen pals but when the Slayers teleport in giant Dawn to Tokyo to aid in their fight versus the evil Japanese vampires (which was a brilliant stroke of kaiju-inspired genius) the vampires suddenly have not just a giant robot on their side, but a giant robot Dawn!

If this was supposed to have been conjured by magic, then it wasn't very clear.

We also see a bit more of the season's Big Bad, Twilight - who appears to be a mainstream comic book supervillain! A bit odd, but again, it's early days and Big Bads rarely reveal their full hand until the last act.

Of course, this story arc gained enormous online publicity because of Buffy's flexuality experiment with lesbian Slayer Satsu.

To be honest, I'm in two minds about this sudden, dramatic shift in the character of formerly man-hungry Buffy Summers. If it was a cheap, attention-seeking gimmick by Goddard (which I doubt) then shame on him, but if it's a serious, possibly life-changing, piece of character development then I'm intrigued to see where they go with it.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer has always been about reflecting the issues and troubles of "growing up" and, of course, it has already tackled the issue of uncertain sexuality through Willow, so I can't see the need for a second main character to go through the same arc.

To be honest, the way it was written, I was half-expecting Xander's bromance with Dracula to suddenly turn physical as well!

Then in Volume Four, Time Of Your Life, you realise that your patience has paid off and the best has been saved for last (so far...)

Buffy is magically transported several centuries in to the future where there is only one Slayer again, Melaka Fray (introduced in Joss' earlier comic book series Fray), and they team up to take on a mysterious mad woman from the past.

Illustrated by Karl Moline, who drew the original Fray comics, the big, full-page reveal of this Big Bad's identity was slightly undone by the fact that I couldn't immediately tell who it was supposed to be. Perhaps I had just got too used to main series artist Georges Jeanty's semi-manga style.

This collection rounds out with a one-off story penned by Jeph Loeb (which got me slightly worried), which turns out to be a very clever dream story.

Buffy dreams herself back at Sunnydale High, but as it would have been in the sadly aborted Buffy animated series that was planned to recount school-era adventures in a world where Dawn had existed all along.

It is very funny and touching to see "real world" Buffy interacting with the dream version of her life (illustrated in the style of the animation).

Time Of Your Life has fueled my expectations for the next volume, Predators And Prey, which is due out in early September, according to Amazon.

I just hope there are less out-of-character and WTF? moments and more "pure Buffy". Just because the writers are unfettered by the limitations of budget and effects doesn't mean to say everything has to be whistles and bells, the joy of Buffy has always been - aside from the kick-ass fights - the small character moments and the humour.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Eight certainly isn't the runaway success that some corners of the Internet have proclaimed it, but neither is the train-wreck I feared it was heading towards when I stopped reading the individual issues.

I still have big problems with Buffy being a jewel thief and hope there is some karmic pay-off to this unconvincing quirk in her character. This isn't Medieval England and she certainly isn't Robin Hood!

But all the time Joss Whedon is involved in the comic book series it's canon as far as I'm concerned, so I'm back onboard and in for the long haul. I just hope my reestablished trust in Joss pays off.

10 comments:

  1. Flexuality. Huh. Good word.

    Great review. This is one of the few comic books you talk about that I've actually read.

    Joss Whedon lives for the WTF moment, and I'm sure all of them are intentional here. But I had a lot of problems with the first collection myself. Comics are a different medium then film, and I don't think Whedon has mastered them yet. This led to a lot of 'Did I miss a page? Did I miss a whole issue?' moments for me. I hope that as Joss gets more familiar with the medium we'll start to see smoother presentation.

    As for Buffy the jewel thief; yeah, I have problems with that. But Buffy has never been presented as a perfect person. I can only wonder if Giles knows where the money is coming from. He must have some ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I can't claim credit for "flexuality", I saw it in the latest issue of the Offical Torchwood Magazine (the adults-only Doctor Who spin-off where "flexuality" is part of the job description!)

    As to Joss' comic book credentials, I think you do him a bit of a disservice. He's been writing comics - and not just tie-ins to his shows - for several years now (including his superb 24-issue run of the Astonishing X-Men).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joss_Whedon#Comic_books

    That said, while I'm all for a bit of Eisenstein montage in my comics (that is a series of separate images through which we build a story by making connections between the images) I do have to agree that sometimes in this Buffy series a bit too much of a gap might be left between panels that the brain's natural ability to "join the dots" might, sometimes, be left hanging a bit in the wind.

    Considering this is a switch from television (where a story has to be told in three acts in under 50 minutes) you would think that the writers would be inclined to put more detail in their stories, not less!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Astonishing X-Men, was very good, at least the 8 or 10 issues I read (living in smalltown Canada makes it hard to keep up with comic books - thank god for trade paperbacks).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Forgive my ignorance, Sean, but what's the situation with mail-ordering comics to where you live?

    My monthly shipment still comes from the store I found near my university town of Bournemouth over a decade ago - because we simply don't have comic shops (or games shops for that matter) anywhere near us in Tonbridge.

    The nearest are in booming coast towns like Brighton, but I have a good rapport with Paradox Comics in Poole and like to stick with a small business I know well(they were very helpful when I was hospitalised several years ago and I charged Rachel with sorting out my monthly orders... even a near-death-experience couldn't stop me getting my regular comic book fix!)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I can order comics from various comicshops in Canada, but I don't. I usually order trade paperbacks from my local bookstore. Ordering from the States is a bit of a pain, since there are taxes and duty to be paid, and the freight companies sometimes tack on a huge brokerage fee (and sometimes they don't).

    The Comicshop I grew up with is long out of business (my college days are now more then two decades gone by), so I don't really have a connection with anyone in the loop. I find out what's going on by stumbling across what people are talking about on the net - mostly on this blog actually.

    As my connection to what's happening has gotten distant, I've kind of lost interest in the big cross-title storylines. I just don't bother with the Marvel/DC universe stuff - too much to keep track of. I prefer discrete, complete storylines like Bone or Promethea.

    Having said that, your review of JSA has got me interested in that title, since I used to love Infinity Inc and still have it in my basement. Also I figure the JSA won't have too many crossovers with other titles.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for your kind words about HeroPress, however I suspect the review of JSA wasn't here as I haven't read that title for years (although am now considering adding it when Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges take over with issue 27).

    ReplyDelete
  7. OK, sorry. Now I have no idea where I read that.

    ReplyDelete
  8. No problems; the very fact that you thought such an obviously well-written and persuasive review must have been on HeroPress is flattering in itself :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I can heartily recommend JSA. I haven't read any of the very recent stuff, but the last series and the start of the current run (both by Geoff Johns) were wonderfully superheroic and refreshingly four-colour-in-a-21st-century way. And, yes, the crossovers were reasonably rare (though big events like Infinite Crisis still made their impact).
    Strangely enough, I posted my thoughts on JSA: The Next Age just a few days ago. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks, Nimbus. Perhaps it was your review that Sean (above) read!

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for your interest in HeroPress.

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Black Widow (2021) + Shangi-Chi (2021) + Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) + The Batman (2022)

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