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Buffy...Season Eight TPBs

All Buffy GNs/TPB published by Dark Horse Comics

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season Eight, vol. 3): Wolves at the Gate 2008 (HC & SC TPB) 136 pgs.

coverWritten by Drew Goddard, with Joss Whedon. Pencils by Georges Jeanty. Inks by Andy Owens.
Colours: Michelle Madsen. Letters: Richard Starkings & Jimmy.

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #11-15 (2008)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

The third TPB in the Buffy "season eight" series -- overseen by Buffy creator Joss Whedon and meant to be regarded as the unofficially "official" eighth season of the TV series -- follows the format of the previous TPBs of a single issue tale paired with a four parter.

The single issue tale is written by Whedon himself and has Buffy having her first encounter with Twilight -- the recurring villain that's being set up as the "big bad" for this season; she also has a heart-to-heart with one of her Slayerettes, Satsu, who Buffy has deduced has a crush on her.

The four parter -- Wolves at the Gate -- is written by Drew Goddard, the first of what will be a few of the actual Buffy TV scriptwriters joining Whedon in chronicling Buffy's comic book adventures. The story puts the Twilight stuff on the back burner as Buffy's group is attacked by some Japanese vampires with abilities to turn into fog and wolves -- abilities Buffy had only encountered in one other vampire from the TV series: Dracula. It's more than a coincidence, and soon Buffy has sent Xander to recruit the help of Dracula, while learning the Japanese vamps have a plan to destroy all the Slayers. Plus some character threads come to climaxes.

These five issues are witty and funny, there's some hilarious quips and ideas, and a wonderful apropo use of the still giant-size Dawn (and a great line where nerd Andrew remarks that he's been preparing for something all his life) and there are some unexpected ideas...and yet this was the tipping point that started me feeling ambivalent toward the Buffy, Season Eight comics.

It isn't that there isn't some entertainment to these issues, but there is a sense that maybe, after all is said and done, the well is starting to run dry. Bear in mind I was a huge fan of the Buffy TV series for a long time, but I did think it started to feel like it was running on fumes in the last two seasons. Actually, re-watching the whole series more recently, I liked season six a lot more, appreciating the subtleties and sub-texts I may've glossed over the first time -- but season seven I still regard as uneven and the series' weakest. Not that it wasn't capable of throwing out the brilliant episode, the surprising episode -- sometimes all at once -- and not that Buffy off its boil still wasn't better than a lot of shows at their peak. But there was a sense it was losing its energy. Where once the series offered great, stand alone episodes amid cleverly plotted, compelling story arcs and character development, by the last couple of seasons it seemed to fall into the trap of putting less and less effort into the stand alone episodes in favour of the on going arcs...even as the on going arcs weren't really being developed that well, or that consistently, making for a lot of repetition and place holders. (I wonder if the fact that Whedon was working on two other series at the time meant he just wasn't devoting enough attention to Buffy).

So here, the one-issue story is a decent character issue, but as a plot is basically just there to further continuity...even as it doesn't further it much, or really offer any new insight into Twilight or his plans.

Wolves at the Gate, as mentioned, is more stand alone, and the villains hint at some interesting character dynamics, including the vamps having their own Willow-like sorceress -- even if they are more hints of character dynamics than fully realized (and some of it may just be design choices by the artist, such as giving the lady vamp a top hat!) As an adventure-plot, it's tightly paced. But like a lot of the season eight comics, it seems a bit top heavy with continuity (bringing back Dracula from the series, and hinging the story on Buffy's slayer ax). The plot certainly goes for the big in execution -- a climax with hundreds of Slayers battling hundreds of vampires in the streets of Tokyo. But doesn't quite generate that sense of grandeur viscerally.

And then we get to the character stuff.

Wolves at the Gate begins with a "shock" scene...of Buffy in bed with Satsu! Sure, there's a titilation factor, but it's also a twist that can make you sit up, thinking "I bet the networks wouldn't have okayed their heroine hopping into bed with another woman!" Edgy, challenging. Good stuff (even though I have a certain skepticism about the way writers will take heterosexual -- female -- characters and casually make them gay in the name of plot ideas -- like Willow). And Goddard gets a truly funny farcical sequence out of it (as well as another funny exchange between Willow and Buffy about how they wouldn't sleep with each other). However, Buffy keeps insisting that she's not "gay". And by the end of the Wolves arc...Buffy and Satsu are no longer together.

And one kind of says: huh? what?

They lay a hint of this idea in the very first story arc, finally drag it out of the closest (so to speak), milk it for its titilation factor...and then just toss it away? The titilation idea becomes more obvious when Buffy and Satsu decide to have one more role in the hay before they part -- but if Buffy wasn't "gay", then surely the impedement to their relationship was a lack of physical attraction. Worse, the break up doesn't really have any connection to the main story. Sure, there's some awkwardness between Buffy and Satsu, but it's not like their tyrst negatively affects the mission (thereby justifying the break up) -- had it been left out, the story would've unfolded the exact same way. It's as if Goddard had his story already plotted...then was told, "oh, by the way, can you toss in and wrap up the Buffy-Satsu idea while you're at it?"

Now maybe I should be more welcoming of that, as I'm often the first to decry the way TPBs no longer seem to tell self-contained stories. So, here, despite the (slight) foreshadowing of it earlier, the Buffy-Satsu arc basically begins in these pages (as Buffy confronts Satsu about it in #11), climaxes (ah...ahem) and then resolves also in these pages.

But it just seems anti-climactic...and cheap. Exploitive in a way the Willow-lesbian suff in the TV series never was. For that matter, considering Buffy in the TV series, and her initial surprise when Willow comes out...does Buffy seem like someone prone to that kind of experimention? Okay, I realize one could conversely argue it's a continuation of the TV series' long running theme of Buffy embarking on doomed relationships. Though maybe that brings up another problem: the abruptness. There's little foreshadowing (despite the editor later telling a critical letter writer that there was!) -- there's foreshadowing of Satsu's interest in Buffy, but not that Buffy would respond. Looking at the TV series, consider how much build up there was to the Buffy/Spike stuff...or even Buffy/Angel and Buffy/Riley (or Willow/Oz and Willow/Tara...and even Willow/Kennedy). Clearly the editorial thinking in the comic was to go for the "surprise!" scene, which certainly set fans a-buzzing. But it means we weren't following Buffy's emotional and psychological journey.

Another romantic sub-plot is also resolved in these pages, between Xander and Renee -- again, hints of it beginning as far back as issue #1 but, unlike the Buffy-Satsu thread, this one doesn't even surprise -- or, at least, it only surprises in that you're thinking: "surely Whedon and company aren't going to go that same trite route...yet again!" But they are and they do.

And the result also, is that after more than a year of comics (albeit only six actual stories), there's a sense season eight is idling, desperately hoping for inspiration to strike. Now I'm the first to say a series doesn't have to be constantly moving and changing, not at all...except when so much time is being devoted to these sub-plots and arcs, and then they just seem to peter out.

And there's also a few ethical problems that the TV series had as well and, likewise, seemed to get worse as the years went by. As a series that is part comedy it's hard to decide where to draw the line between the gag and the serious. But isn't there a problem with a vampire slayer...who gives Dracula a free ride, when we are told he keeps peasants on hand to hunt?'s a joke scene. I'm just saying... Likewise, would Xander -- the guy who never forgave Angel or Spike for their vampiric pasts -- really be chummy with the unrepentant Dracula? But the comic/series also has problems with its ethics in other ways, such as a scene where Buffy immolates a vampire after he gives her info. Sure, it's fantasy. And when Buffy kills demons, is she killing them...or simply sending them back to their hell dimension? But metaphorically, Buffy just slaughtered a POW in cold blood.

I dunno, seems to me if you're gonna talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. I don't see how Whedon can publicly campaign against George W. Bush (as he did) and then have his characters behave in such ways. (Now, maybe Whedon's objection to Bush had nothing to do with his violation of human rights and the Geneva Convention and more to do with, I dunno, his tax policies).

Again, I'm just saying...

So...I'm left with mixed feelings about this collection. I'm not saying it isn't eminently readable, or that it can't get you turning pages, or that Whedon and Goddard both aren't more than capable of eliciting a few laughs. I'm not saying the characters aren't "in" character (excepting, perhaps, Buffy being bi-curious) -- actually, they're maybe too in character, as given that they're in their mid-twenties by this point, they still act and talk like teenagers. Jeatty's art remains a little too cartoony in spots, but is generally effective enough.

The fact is, re-reading this, I was enjoying it more than I remembered -- it is a fairly exciting adventure, and busy enough to justify multiple issues. But once again, it started to lose me part way through. Strangely, "Wolves at the Gate" actually leaves a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, largely for the above mentioned reasons, whether it be the trivial use of the lesbian thing, and the treatment of the character, to the more disturbing ethical problems. This is also arguably one of the goriest of the comic book stories.

And there's a sense that, overall, the sub-plots are taking too long to go anywhere...and when they do, the "where" doesn't seem to be much of anything. I'll admit, my enthusiasm for season eight is starting to wane.

This is a review of the original comics.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $15.95 USA. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season Eight, vol. 4): The Time of Your Life 2009 (HC & SC TPB) 136 pgs.

coverWritten by Joss Whedon, with Jeph Loeb. Illustrated by Karl Moline, with others. Inked by Andy Owens.
Colours: Michelle Madsen, with Lee Loughridge. Letters: Richard Starkings, Jimmy Betancourt.

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #16-20 (2008)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

The fourth "season eight" TPB collects the four-part "Time of Your Life" story, wherein while investigating some cryptic portents of a temporal disruption, Buffy gets catapulted into the distant future where she comes face-to-face with the future Slayer, Fray -- with a mysterious foe manipulating things behind the scenes. Also included is the one shot tale "After These Messages...".

I'd commented that this "season" of Buffy seemed to be relying a little too heavily -- for my tastes -- on trotting out the old toys. Getting a bit too mired in rehashing continuity like a, well, like a comic book. And this continues that with Buffy meeting Fray. Fray was Joss Whedon's first foray into comics, back when the Buffy TV series was still on going, chronicling the adventures of this far future Slayer in a world where no one even remembered what vampires were -- calling them Lurks. It was essentially Buffy meets "Blade Runner". And it was the first example of Whedon treating a comic book as part of official canon, as it marked the first appearance of Buffy's axe, The Scythe, before it was used in the TV series! I had read Fray, and liked it, but I suspect this story will be a mite confusing if you haven't read it. Even I found Whedon's plunging us back into the milieu of Fray, her friends and foes, and the future slang, a bit confusing, as there's little effort to re-aquaint us with a character and milieu that first saw print some six years earlier (with only one other apprearance in the Tales of the Slayers anthology in between). Still, to further cement the Fray reunion vibe, the art chores are handled, not by season eight regular artist Georges Jeanty, but original Fray artist Karl Moline.

This arc also sees the return of Kennedy to the fold, after only being alluded to previously (and seen in a brief flashback in issue #10). Kennedy wasn't perhaps the most popular character introduced in the TV series (not really a fault of the actress) but she is part of the mythos, so it's nice to have her brought back (and not get killed off in a pointless scene!)

Since the "season eight" has been heavy on the cryptic hints and vaguely teased sub-plots, reading "Time of Your Life" can seem a bit frustrating, as the villainess behind Buffy's displacement seems to be playing all sides, offering different explanations to each, so that you suspect it's going to build to a non ending question mark. But it doesn't -- sort of. Well, there are big questions, but not necessarily of the kind that make you assume this all is just a set up for a future story arc, so much as questions that you suspect are meant to remain cryptically unanswered (kind of like the origin of Anya's fear of bunnies in the TV series). Though I'm writing this before season eight has concluded, so who knows? So after a reasonably diverting romp of Buffy and Fray running about in the future, with the requisite amusing quips -- while we cut back to an unrelated attack on Buffy's modern day Scottish stronghold by the forces of this season's Big Bad, Twilight -- the story does build to a strangely poignant climax.

Though as a Fray story, it's more just a reminder the character exists, and to satisfy fans who had long clamoured for a Buffy/Fray crossover, rather than as a true showcase for the character.

The problem with doing a comic that is so heavy on tying into the continuity of a TV series is sometimes the comic wants "revelation" scenes which can be a bit vaguer than intended simply because you aren't quite sure who the person is supposed to be -- because the artist doesn't quite capture the actor's likeness. I'll admit, when the villainess is revealed at the end of the second still took me a bit to realize who it was! Likewise, in a cutaway to a (unresolved) sub-plot, another character emerges from the shadows who left me kind of sure I knew who it was supposed to be, rather than sure-sure.

The one off issue also pays homage to past continuity -- sort of. There had been talk of a Buffy animated TV series a few years back that never managed to hit the airwaves. So "After These Messages -- We'll be Right Back!" tips its hat to that in a story where Buffy has a dream, flashing back to her high school days (when the animated series was intended to be set) and drawn in a cartoon manner. Written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by artists who had been involved in developing the aborted series, it also acts as a nice "flashback" to the milieu of the early seasons of the TV series. Some reviews I read took exception to the sub-text of the story, which seemed to be suggesting this was a more simple, innocent time for Buffy -- when it wasn't. But I don't think the intent was to be pejorative, so much as just to contrast a time when Slaying was a part of her life...with "season eight" where it's now her entire life. And in light of the changes to the Buffy "reality" in the very next issue (collected in the TPB Predators and Prey) it perhaps takes on added resonance. It's actually kind of enjoyable for its nostalgic tone...

..though I would argue it draws attention to precisely what's wrong with the season eight concept.

Like with too many modern super hero comics, Buffy "season eight" is losing touch with the notion of a "real" foundation. With Buffy living in rural Scotland, surrounded by Slayers and Wiccans, there's none of that grounding normalacy of Buffy and her friends dealing with school and jobs and relationships. And physically removed from society, there's less opportunity to tell stories, as the TV series did, of Buffy investigating occurrences and crimes that aren't directly related to her. Which is why there's so much emphasis on villains targeting her and on referencing past continuity. In a way, it's the season eight continuity that's simpler, more innocent, and the earlier era that was more messy and complicated!

I find myself ping ponging back and forth on "Time of Your Life" more than I have for most of the other arcs. In my initially posted review, I had commented that I was mixed about it reading it in monthly instalments, but enjoyed it more re-read all together. Yet re-reading it now -- yet again! -- in the context of re-reading all my "season eight" comics, I find it slipping down in my estimation once again. "Time of Your Life" is fast paced, to be sure, but to the point where it can just seem...busy. Lots of running about, jumping, fighting, but all in service of a rather nebulous plot. As mentioned, the orchestrator of the action is playing all sides, so you're not really sure what is true -- or even if -- making the whole saga a bit of red herring...or even a shaggy dog story. There are some funny, Whedon-esque quips, most certainly, but as a whole it can seem kind of muddled.

The problem, overall with season eight, is just a sense that there's too much emphasis on the story arc, the cryptic foreshadowing and such, without enough sense they really are taking us anywhere (or anywhere soon). Some revelations seem to come out of nowhere, instead of being carefully foreshadowed (such as the bank robbery in issue #10) whereas others seem to get resolved rather anti-climactically (such as the romantic sub-plots in the previous arc, Wolves at the Gate). Heck, this story arc begins with the characters following up on a scene from the previous arc...yet re-reading that earlier scene, it didn't actually present the clues the characters start out with here!

This is a review of the original comics.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $15.95 USA. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season Eight, vol. 5): Predators and Prey 2009 (HC & SC TPB) 136 pgs.

coverWritten by Jane Espenson, Steve S. DeKnight, Drew Greenberg, Jim Kreuger, Doug Petrie. Pencils by Georges Jeanty, with Cliff Richards. Inks by Andy Owens.
Colour: Michelle Madsen. Letters: Richard Starkings. Editor: Scott Allie.

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #21-25 (2009)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 3

Reviewed: March 27, 2010

Buffy Season Eight in comics has kind of left me mixed as it unfolds -- sort of liking it, sort of losing interest and only sticking with it just till it reaches the season "finale". This fifth TPB marks a bit of a stylistic departure, and a major twist in the narrative direction.

Stylistically, so far the comics have been a four issue story, preceded, or followed, by a one off story. That formula has been mixed, because -- as you might expect -- some of the four parters haven't necessarily warranted four issues to tell. But here, for the first time, is a five issue collection featuring five different stories. And creator/writer Joss Whedon has got around to recruiting some of the writers who worked on the Buffy TV series to join him in comics, with four of the five issues here written by old Buffy TV veterans (actually, this is the first TPB collection in which Whedon himself hasn't written at least one issue).

Another stylistic quirk is how the five (shorter) stories are used to explore the Buffy "universe", with Buffy featured in a couple of the stories, but barely appearing in a few of the others, as the focus shifts to Faith & Giles (already featured in an earlier story arc -- No Future For You), Kennedy, or characters original to the season eight comic book world, as we look in on Satsu.

And the opening issue features...Harmony. Yeah, Harmony, from the TV series -- high school diva who was turned into one of the undead. Harmony persuades a TV crew to follow her around for a new reality series about vampires -- Paris Hilton with fangs, essentially. Although initially no more than a cultural blip, much to Buffy and the gang's consternation something happens to turn Harmony into a media star. Which becomes a bit of what you'd call a game changer, as Buffy and her Slayers find that if it isn't bad enough fighting the forces of darkness, and being at odds with the militaries of most they've even lost the war for public perception. Vampires are suddenly trendy and cool...and Slayers are perceived as the bad guys. As a story, it's a decent tale, weaving threads involving Harmony, with a newly empowered rogue Slayer, as well as Buffy and her gang. The handling of the new Slayer and her motivation is nicely done. The concept is both an obvious satire of the reality TV trend, but also maybe a dig at the vampire-lite genre, novels and TV shows where vampires instead of being the creepy undead are embraced as cool and sexy by fandom.

Where the story is a bit problematic, I'll admit, is in the rather major way it changes the "reality" of the franchise. Okay, it's hard to say what the reality was. Even in Buffy's Sunnydale days on TV, there was always the coy question about how much "normal" people knew or suspected about what was going on regarding vampires and demons. But it seems like such a sudden shift to abruptly have it be that the whole world knows about (let alone accepts) the existence of vampires. It probably warranted a few more issues to develop the idea. Essentially, Buffy goes from a series set in, more or less, "our" reality, to a series set in a fantasy/sci-fi parallel reality. In a way, it just cements my feeling that Season Eight isn't just a Buffy TV season presented in comics...but is Buff re-imagined as a comic book property with the emphasis on outrageous special effects, giants, flying, etc., and now basically taking Slayers, vampires, and the whole supernatural reality public, borrowing the whole X-Men milieu of heroes "feared and hated by the world they've sworn to protect".

The tell-it-in-one format of these stories allows the comic to indulge in a little house cleaning, or at least touching on some on going story threads, and looking in on wayward cast members. So we have a couple of almost completely Buffy-less issues. One looking in on Satsu being visited by Willow's girlfriend, Kennedy, in Japan, and they and their cell of Slayers investigate some sinister new Japanese toys (in a story with a not inappropriate but somewhat heavy handed feminist sub-text) -- neither Kennedy or Satsu are among the series' best characters, but successfully carry a 23 page story. Another looks in on Faith and Giles (neither seen since issue #9) investigating a mysterious town that supposedly offers sanctuary to Slayers who no longer wish to be Slayers. As well there's an issue where Buffy -- teamed with Andrew -- gets into an altercation with Simone -- a Slayer gone rogue and who had been referenced in a few earlier issues. And another Buffy-heavy issue is perhaps the most significant continuity-wise (other than the Harmony issue) -- wrapping up the long running Dawn-under-a-cursed-spell sub-plot that had started out clever but, frankly, had long since seemed like an idea in need of a point.

If one wants to poke around for deeper meaning, in the context of the Slayers-as-pariahs theme, a number of the stories here revolve around safety and sanctuary, and the notion that although there might be comfort in hiding, it's not necessarily the right thing to do.

As you can probably guess, this isn't the best volume to just sample if you haven't been following Season Eight, as you won't really know who some of these people are, or what the significance of the stories may be in the larger context. At the same time, because you get five stories, as opposed to the usual two-per-collection, it makes for more-for-your-money and an agreeable anthology. None of the stories are perhaps exceptional, but all are enjoyable page turners. The Harmony and the Faith episodes are arguably the best but they all happily weather subsequent reads. All boast the requisite mix of Buffy-esque quips, character examination, deeper themes, and action. And, by virtue of being shorter, the plots don't over stay their welcome.

Regular artist Georges Jeanty draws most of the issues, and as the Buffy Season Eight wears on, I find myself getting increasingly mixed on him. Not so much because there's any change in his style, or drop in quality, merely that I just find myself more conscious of the things I'm less fond of, the cartooniness, the big heads. But I admire his eye for, and attention to, detail. Though why his depiction of Dawn as a wooden doll actually evokes actress Michelle Trachtenberg more than his depiction of a flesh and blood Dawn I'm not sure! Cliff Richards pinch hits on the Faith/Giles issue and though his style is similar enough to Jeanty that there's not a glaring shift, I kind of like him more, his work a little more realist -- actually moreso than some of his work I'd seen on the earlier era of Buffy comics (the non-canon comics). He also evokes actress Eliza Dushku quite well. Jeanty or Richards, the art remains, as always, perfectly okay.

I said that I'm not sure this is a good one to start with if you haven't been following the Season Eight run. But conversely, the five-for-five (or five-by-five if you like Buffy references) story format maybe makes it a nice sampler. The other Buffy TPBs you basically like -- or dislike -- for the primary story collected. Here, you can enjoy it as just a little collection of Buffy (Universe) tales to keep on the shelf, and to revisit from time to time. And even if someone might wonder "Who's Satsu and why does she warrant an issue?", conversely, the basic plots are reasonably self-contained, and many offered up by veteran chroniclers of Buffy's TV exploits.

So, viewed that way -- maybe it is as good a one to try as any. And just because it is a collection of tales, is actually one of my favourite of the season eight TPBs.

This is a review of the original comics.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $15.95 USA. 

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