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Buffy...Season Eight TPBs

All Buffy GNs/TPB published by Dark Horse Comics
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season Eight, vol. 1): The Long Way Home 2007 (HC & SC TPB) 136 pgs.

coverWritten by Joss Whedon. Illustrated by Georges Jeanty with Paul Lee. Inked by Andy Owens.
Colours: Dave Stewart. Letters: Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Jimmy. Editor: Scott Allie.

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #1-5 (2007)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

The TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a property with an obvious link to comic book super heroes -- being about a super powered teen who secretly fought the forcess of darkness. Creator Joss Whedon even acknowledged his comic book fanboy roots in interviews. And like a lot of TV properties -- particularly sci-fi/fantasy flavoured -- it enjoyed a previous run of comics...of varying quality. But when the TV series was cancelled, the comic too was shortly after put to pasture.

But when Dark Horse Comics began a new comic book series a few years after the TV series had been cancelled, restarting from #1, it was with a slightly unusual change. First off, Whedon himself would be hands on, writing many issues, supervising the rest, as he had with the TV series itself, and in a way that comic books based on TV or movies rarely are (one suspects George Lucas has barely even glanced at a Star Wars comic, let alone supervises the stories in any kind of day-to-day way). The other change was that the new series is billing itself as "season eight" -- literally selling itself not just as tales to be inserted inbetween the existing Buffy TV episodes, or an apocryphal romp for those so interested in reading more stories about the characters -- but as the official, canonical, unfilmed eighth season (albeit with slightly more than a summer long hiatus inbetween). Not that we are to infer these are literally scripts written up for TV episodes (some of the concepts and scenes clearly would exceed a TV show's budget) -- although, even then, the claim is some of the stories were indeed ones that were initially toyed with as possible filmable scripts.

Anyway, so the hook is, this isn't just a comic book spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer...this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Whedon firmly at the helm.

This TPB collects the first four issue story arc, plus a stand alone, single issue story. The premise, following on the events of the Buffy series' finale (and things alluded to in episodes of the companion TV series, Angel), is that Buffy is no longer the lone Slayer, but fields a vast network of Slayers. The branch -- or cell -- Buffy oversees (along with friends Xander, Willow, etc.) alone comprising 50 or so Slayer-ettes. And perhaps borrowing another page from comics, and their theme of heroes being persecuted, Whedon also sets up tension between Buffy and global authorities who see a few hundred organized Slayers as something leaning towards being a terrorist organization.

Whedon kicks things off, as he would in each season of the TV seres, by hinting at a bigger story arc, as Buffy and the gang find evidence of a strange symbol that they can't identify. The main story, though, has a reactionary U.S. general planning an operation to strike at Buffy and her people. Plus there are hints of soap opera-y sub-plots and character elements...such as Dawn having accidentally transformed into a giant (told ya they were operating outside a TV budget).

The first story arc is, by and large, pretty good. I liked it the first time through, with quibbles, but enjoyed it more on subsequent readings. It's briskly paced and has a lot going on in terms of plot threads and twists and turns -- as mentioned, Whedon seems to be reveling in the budget freedom of a comic book. The characters are generally in character, the humour and idiosyncratic dialogue reminiscent of the series (occasionally with problematic effects, as the quirky dialogue, all about how a line is said, can take a couple of readings to sound properly in a comic). The downside is, of course, that it is treated as the first story of an on going series/story arc. So though the basic plot has a beginning, middle and end, a lot is left dangling, hinting at the greater dangers to come. Though re-read again after having read later issues, there can be fun in recognizing subtle foreshadowings that don't detract from this story, but nonetheless show they were thinking ahead, such as depicting a pink-haired mohawked Slayer in a crowd scene who will play a bigger part in later issues.

Another aspect that I had mixed feelings about is Whedon maybe playing the "nostalgia" card a bit too heavily, bringing back a bunch of (non-major) characters from the series -- basically borrowing too much from comics and their tendency to rely on rehashing existing ideas, and recycling villains, rather than coming up with something new. Given that this is meant to kick start a brand "new" season, there's a bit too much familiarity at work, as the villainous general teams up with some familiar, returning antagonists in his plot to get Buffy.

It also means that this is best read by those familiar with the series, rather than seen as a jumping on point for those unfamiliar with Buffy and her world.

The art by Georges Jeanty is quite good -- he maybe slides a bit to caricature in long shots (drawing eyes as dots, or something), but generally has an effectively realist style that manages to evoke the actors well enough, and he has an eye for hyper-detail in terms of clothing and hair styles -- you get the feeling he really puts thought into what the characters are wearing and why. And maybe the occasional lean towards cartooniness is not inappropriate in a series that, itself, veers between comedy and drama. Though, strangely, I realize his style puts me in mind a little of a more realistic Herge of Tintin fame!

Like with the dialogue, there were a few panels that needed re-reading to clarify the action, but in general, the art is well presented. Jeanty is also one of those artists who likes to dress up his art with a few in-jokes here and there, like a scene where Buffy's having a dream and there's a painting on her wall of a little boy that might be intended to reference the classic comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland. Jeanty can generally evoke the principal actors of the show, without capturing uncanny likenesses. This is always a hitch for me with media-based comics -- ideally I'd like to read a comic where the drawings look like the actors, so you really do feel like you're "watching" a lost episode. But that so rarely happens, and rarely with any consistency (even if the artist manages it for a panel or two) that it's hard to complain...particularly as the flip side is in comics where the pictures do look like the actors, the art can often be stiff and too obviously photoreferenced. As the "season eight" run continued, I developed some ambivalence toward Jeanty's style, but re-reading this opening arc yet again...I still like his work here. Though I will comment on something that didn't bother me originally, but I did come to notice as the series went on -- that what's missing from the art (and, indeed, the storytelling) is much in the way of spookiness. It's easy to forget with Buffy that in among the comedy, the drama, the action, the fantasy...that there was also an element of spookiness. And that's something Jeanty's open, bright art doesn't really evoke -- even when drawing monsters and zombies. As I say: that didn't bother me for this opening arc, but I'm in the process of re-reading these issues, and so also reviewing them with a certain hindsight (or is that foresight?).

Anyway...

Joss Whedon's contemporaneous work on The Astonishing X-Men was marked by the focus on multi-part stories -- even in cases where the story didn't warrant it. Here the four part tale does justify four issues, but it can also make you worry: is Whedon going to slide too much into the hubris of "decompressed" storylines? (And with that hindsight/foresight I mentioned, the answer, unfortunately, is yes!)

As such, though, it's a pleasant surprise when the fifth and final issue in this collection -- "The Chain"-- is a self-contained one shot. What's more, it reflects the (again comic book-inspired) tone of this season eight by clearly approaching the Buffy series as a kind of Buffy Universe, where tales can be told peripheral to the main characters.

Here the story focuses entirely on an unnamed Slayer who has been operating as Buffy's double (a concept alluded to in the earlier issues and presumably inspired by rumours that sometimes high target politicians, like Winston Churchill during World War II, used impersonators to confuse the enemy as to where he was at any given time). The comic tells the tale of this pseudo-Buffy, jumping back and forth in time, from a climactic confrontation with a demon, to showing her recruitment, first as a Slayer, and then, as Buffy's double. Whedon proves that he can, indeed, tell a tale concisely, in one issue -- and it's a particularly strong tale, off-beat, entertaining, and ultimately touching. It's drawn by Paul Lee, who also demonstrates a nice, straightforward style.

The problem with focusing on multi-part issues -- particularly ones as long as four issues -- is that even though the series has so far managed to hit the stands with an applaudable punctuality (unlike Whedon's Astonishing X-Men which seemed to get published once every blue moon), it still means that it takes four months to tell what amounts to one episode -- at best, a two-part episode. In otherr words, four months to tell a tale that would've been viewed in a week or two on TV. That's a speed that could test the patience of a lot of loyal fans, particularly if that means the unfolding of his "season long" story arc will take place over years, rather than months.

Still, that quibble aside, and despite my initial concern about Whedon relying on dragging out too many old toys (the next story arc, focusing on Faith, is more original in plot), the first few issues of Buffy Season Eight do seem to make good on their promise -- it's Buffy, it's Whedon, it's well drawn. It's...it's...

..well, it's season eight. And it's looking good.

This is a review of the original comics.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $15.95 USA. 


Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season Eight, vol. 2): No Future For You 2008 (HC & SC TPB) 136 pgs.

coverWritten by Brian K. Vaughan, with Joss Whedon. Pencils by Georges Jeanty, with Cliff Richards. Inks by Andy Owens.
Colours: Dave Stewart. Letters: Richard Starkings.

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #6-10 (2007)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

The second TPB collecting Dark Horse's Buffy, Season Eight -- not just a comic book spin off, but essentially the official continuing adventures of Buffy and her pals as overseen, and sometimes written, by Buffy creator Joss Whedon -- collects a four part saga, along with a one off issue (which seems to be the formula the comics series is following).

The four parter is the first of the new stories not written by Whedon (though with him still acting as "executive producer") and it approaches the Buffy comics as a kind of Buffy universe, shifting the focus to rogue Slayer, and reformed villain, Faith. It's a curious choice for the second major arc, to this early tell a multi-issue tale where Buffy is a supporting player. It maybe also reflects my concern raised in the first TPB collection, of the comics relying a bit too much on trotting out all the old toys and rehashing previous continuity -- not only making this more aimed at Buffy fans then newcomers, but the problem is that it can maybe take a bit to connect the dots even for fans because though artist Jeanty does a decent job of evoking the actors from the series, they aren't necessarily dead ringers. (At least the main villains are original to this story).

With that being said, focusing on Faith for the second major arc of "season eight" takes on a significance I hadn't been aware of the first time I read it. And that is -- Faith had only had limited comic book appearances previously. So to some fans, a Faith-centric story might've been seen as long overdue.

The plot is an interesting idea, with Faith recruited by Giles for a black ops mission even Buffy isn't told about -- to assassinate a rogue Slayer who is, herself, killing other Slayers. The hook is that the street bred American Faith has to infiltrate the evil Slayer's uppercrust British world requiring a bit of a Pygmalion job. A decent enough "concept" plot -- so much so that Vaughan and Whedon had apparently considered it as the plot for a Faith TV movie at a point when there was some hope the Buffy universe might continue in TV movies and assorted spin offs. Though whether Vaughan (and Whedon) are accurately portraying upper crust -- and contemporary -- British mores is, of course, debatable. Of course Faith finds her simple seek and destroy mission becoming complicated as she ends up getting rather chummy with her target.

And this also ties into the overall arc involving this season's Big Bad, the mysterious Twilight.

The result is a decent tale...but not quite a great one. The problem with the seeming rigid idea of telling stories either as four parters or one-shots is that you can end up with a story like this which doesn't quite justify its length. It lacks much in the way of twists and turns and plot complications that would fully justify the 80-plus pages -- nor is the "undercover agent finds him/herself growing to like his/her target" an especially novel plot. Even the basic motivation of the villainess seems ill-defined, as she sometimes talks about taking over the Slayers...and other times as if her goal is to kill them all.

Even on an emotional level, and despite some strong character driven elements involving Faith, and her own inner demons of bitterness, guilt, and sense of alienation, it remains more a nice idea than one that fully hits us in the heart, with the villainess, Genevieve, not really developing into someone we can care about as much as Faith, however grudgingly, finds herself caring. Although I'll repeat: there is some good stuff involving Faith, her inner demons, her sub-conscious resentments of Buffy, etc.

Don't get me wrong -- it definitely warranted more than one issue. But two or three issues probably could've told it as well. (I tend to think two comics probably equals about one hour-long TV episode).

Jeanty's art is a mixed bag, though more strength than weakness. Like a lot of modern artists, though essentially realist, there's a strong streak of caricature, with big heads and big hands and feet, that can maybe take away from the seriousness at times, even as it maybe plays to the series' comedic elements. He does a decent job evoking the actors, but falls short of entirely capturing them, his Faith often seeming more like just Buffy with dark hair (there's a close up in the first issue, when Faith comes home and stabs a stake into her wall, where she does look like actress Eliza Dushku -- but mostly it's just a general impression). Though sci-fi fans got a kick out of his inclusion of a joke cameo of Doctor Who and companion, Rose, on the second to last page of the first chapter. Re-reading this arc again, in the context of later issues when I developed some ambivalence for Jeanty's style, this may well be the beginning of that ambivalence -- although it's still clearly the same artist as drew the previous issues, it does seem a little more stylized and cartoony.

Whedon himself scripts the single issue tale, "Anywhere but Here", teaming with guest artist Cliff Richards who drew a long run of issues of the previous Dark Horse Buffy comics series (y'know, the one that wasn't necessarily canonical). It's basically a character interlude -- with some demon fighting -- as Buffy and Willow enter another plane to seek some clue as to their mysterious nemesis, Twilight. There's some good dialogue, some nice character/motivation revelations, not just for Buffy and Willow, but Dawn as well in a cutaway. At the same time, doing a "character interlude" maybe seems a bit excessive given how early we are in the series' run...it's not like we desperately need a breather after a string of non-stop action stories. As well, it's a reflection of the problems I'm beginning to sense with the comics, and that they remind me, not in a good way, of the final season of the TV series. A feeling that clever, stand alone stories are being sacrificed in the name of the "arc"...even as the arc isn't really being developed that much, with this story ending with a few cryptic hints and foreshadowing, but nothing particularly revelatory about the big bad.

For that matter, there's a revelation about a past act of Buffy's, that supposedly precipitated some of the crisis they're now dealing with -- but it feels kind of tacked on and out-of-nowhere. It also seems a bit out of character for the Buffy Summers we'd been following for seven TV seasons. (Though re-reading the comics closer together, I realize at least that it is set up a bit by a throw away line in the main story arc in this TPB).

Richards art is pretty good and he actually does a better job of evoking the actresses than Jeanty does -- but then, he's had more experience drawing them. Another character depicted is apparently modelled after a real life fan of the series who won a contest.

As an aside, the writers and artists seem to use the comic book format to be more salacious than the series, with the regulars depicted rather reveallingly at times. You kind of wonder if Eliza Dushku (Faith) or Allyson Hannigan (Willow) feel sufficiently divorced from these versions of the characters...or whether they might raise a few eyebrows at the way characters who are essentially supposed to be them are being drawn. (Though given Dushku's participation in Whedon's "Dollhouse" TV series, perhaps she's kind of used to the sexploitation).

Anyway, No Future for You and Anywhere but Here are both decent "episodes", but as a collection it can seem a tad thin.

This is a review of the original comics.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $15.95 USA. 


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