Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Year With Buffy

I started this blog as a place strictly for reviews of Buffyverse comics. However, as exciting news of recent developments in BtVS/AtS/Joss Whedon projects came from pretty much all over the place, I had to report all that here as well. See, so many people—yes, even Internet savvy people—had no idea about what was going on in the ‘verse. Being that I often search the net for new bits of info about the Buffster as a means of procrastinating my term papers [pictured below], I decided to use this site as a review/news/blog place. Recently, what with the polls and funny pictures and all, it feels like it’s becoming more of a blog. Ironically, I’m going to kick it old school by giving you the year in review in the bloggiest entry this year.

2007: A Year With Buffy


When I picked up a BtVS/Angel magazine early this year, I found out that Joss Whedon would be writing the eighth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Dark Horse comics. Then, I wasn’t even sure if I’d read it. It was ironic, because that same day I’d picked up Nancy Holder’s continuation of Buffy (“Queen of the Slayers,” which turned out to be awful) which was a novel. Novels, I could do. Comics? Not so much. I’d never read a comic before. I mean, comics? I’d *just* gotten back into television because of Buffy. For years, I hadn’t watched the box. Writing my own novel about vampires is what lead me to, in Summer 2006, to check out other vampire stories. I read so much. Watched some vampy movies. Then one day, during a trip to Game Stop, I picked up a used copy of the first season of Buffy. I’d seen most of it before. During the first run of the series (I was in middle school) I watched up until about Season Three. Angel’s resurrection confused me (yuck it up), and I pretty much had other things to do on Tuesday nights. But that day in Game Stop, I remembered that I enjoyed the show, and since it was just research material for my novel, why not give it a try?

(My novel in its different stages)

Needless to say, I fell in love. BtVS not only re-opened the entire Buffyverse to me, it also made me fall in love with the medium of television again. So, getting back on topic, I figured that if Joss Whedon could reintroduce me to the art of serial television, why the hell shouldn’t I trust him to write a good comic book? So, from then on, I knew I’d buy into the series. “Buffy: Season Eight.” It sounded like a dream come true. I even warmed myself up for it by going to my local comic shop and buying some of IDW’s early Angel comics (the entire “Old Friends” miniseries). While I can’t say it was a good miniseries, seeing the characters again sure was something. Reading those issues helped me understand how to read comics and it also encouraged me. If I can even enjoy a non-canonical Angel comic with iffy art a little tiny bit, imagine how much I will love an in-continuity Buffy comic written Joss Whedon!

I waited for the day. It was to be released on March 7th, but—to my dismay—it was delayed a week. I’d ordered it from http://www.tfaw.com/, thinking it would ship on release date (the fourteenth), but I was sorely disappointed to realize that they wouldn’t ship me the book for another week. The 21st. Anger.

(Buffy: Season Eight 1-9, and "The Long Way Home" TPB. Cover art by Jo Chen)

But then, finally, I got it. And the rest was pretty much history. I really enjoyed #1, liked #2 a lot but was a bit confused until I read the issue over, loved #3, and liked #4. The first arc “The Long Way Home” was one of the best season premieres that BtVS has ever had, and I knew without a doubt that I was hooked. All of the major Scoobs were reintroduced over the course of these four issues, some of them in quite different situations than we last saw them in. Dawn has become a giant—literally—and is too embarrassed to tell Buffy what she feel may have caused her sudden transformation, though everyone around her has a nagging suspicion that it could have been a sexual encounter with a thricewise named Kenny, who we have yet to see. Xander is playing Dixon to Buffy’s Sidney Bristow at the BHC (Big Honkin’ Castle, a name for Buffy’s base that forumites have taken a liking to), and he’s still eye patchin’ it up. Willow, perhaps most mysteriously of all, can (1) fly, (2) chill with elemental spirits on different plains, and (3) instantly heal from mortal wounds. She is using major magic and still gets to the point where her hair goes dark, letting the audience know that she isn’t all pure yet. Though we haven’t seen Kennedy yet, we know through Willow’s dialogue that she died and was brought back. Andrew and Giles both had minor parts in the first arc, pretty much just watching over some slayers. Giles had a conference with a Slayer-hating Demon, but we didn’t see much from him (more on what Giles and Faith are up to later on). The most interesting development here is Buffy herself. For the first time since Season Five, I find myself liking this character. She is funny, sympathetic, and a much better character than the hardened and harsh Buffy Summers we saw in Seasons Six and Seven. Buffy, like many of the other Scoobies, is redeeming herself.

(Season Eight 1-9, the variant covers)

Also, we got a few new characters and some guest spots from some old villains. As far as newbies, “The Long Way Home” introduced Renee (who has a crush on Xander), Leah (awesome hair), Rowena (eek), Satsu (a slayer who often fights by Buffy’s side… oh yeah, and she is secretly in love with Buffy), and General Voll (a member of Twilight’s organization, which I will elaborate on later). Now, getting to the old baddies coming back for blood: We’re first reintroduced to Amy Madison, former rat, on the final page of the first issue. She and her boyfriend—a skinless Warren sustained by Amy’s magic—are pissed at Buffy, whose actions in Season Seven left them trapped them in the collapsed Hellmouth. So far, they provided some cool scenes, but amounted to nothing nearly as interesting as the next Buffy baddie ever did: Ethan Rayne. Rayne, worshipper of chaos, comes back in this arc, appearing in Buffy’s dreamscape to apparently help Buffy. Just when Buffy starts to follow his lead, she opens a door and finds out that General Voll has shot Rayne in the head.

(Unabashed shock)

And that was all only in the first four issues.
After a long wait with no comic (Dark Horse took a month off) it was time for “The Chain,” the first one-shot of the series. I have to be honest, I believe I gave the comic a higher mark than it deserved. It centered around one of Buffy’s doubles. Remember when Angel and Spike discovered in the fifth season of “Angel” that Buffy was dating the Immortal? Turns out, she wasn’t. The gang decided that Buffy was a target, so they set up two girls to pretend to be Buffy. One was the girl dating the Immortal in Rome and the other was the star of this issue. Joss tells a non-linear and awkward story here, aiming for artsy but landing on ineffectual. The last few pages packed a punch and the page with Andrew and Vi’s commercial was classic, but this comic wasn’t really worth of anything above a 4/10.

(The hulking Panel to Panel dwarfing a regular Buffy comic)

Comics fans rejoiced when Brian K. Vaughan signed on to write the next four issues in the series. The acclaimed writer of Runaways, Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Pride of Baghdad was going to change things up a bit and focus this arc (the second full-length “episode” of season eight) on Faith, the slayer gone bad gone good. I love Joss and his writing, but BKV really set the standard high with issues 6, 7, 8, and 9. While “The Long Way Home” was a great season premiere, it did have a few blunders… not so with “No Future for You.” It is by far the best Faith-centric episode of the Buffyverse canon, throwing Faith into a situation where she has to come face-to-face with another slayer gone bad. Giles, unbeknownst to Buffy, assigned Faith to this case. But Gigi Savidge, the slayer in question, is not going to be saved. Giles feels that it is too late to bring Gigi back to the good side, as she has been corrupted by the influence of Roden, an Irish wizard affiliated with Twilight.

(A novel I'm currently editing; I include this just as a nod to Joss and the other Buffy writers, who I have learned so much from by watching their shows and reading their comics.)

Faith is great here. Her dilemma with Gigi, who she actually grows to care for, is something that only Joss and Brian could have cooked up. At once, Faith copes with her issues with father figures as she compares her relationship with the Mayor to Gigi’s relationship with Roden and--more subtly--Faith’s newfound relationship with Giles. The arc ends with Gigi and Roden both dead, Faith heartbroken, and Giles on a new path. See, Giles did his best to keep Buffy out of the loop on this one, and when the Head Slayer inevitably found out, the rift between her and Giles that began in “Lies My Parents Told Me” widened tenfold. At the end of this arc, Giles and Faith set out together to locate slayers on the brink and pull them back to the side of good so that there would never be another Gigi situation.

(The continuation of the Buffyverse. The best Christmas gift a writer could give a fan.)

The ninth issue of Season Eight, the conclusion to “No Future For You,” was the last issue we’ll be getting in 2007, but I wouldn’t worry. We’re left with a lot more to ponder on. Robin Wood, the badass principal from Season Seven, was reintroduced here. He’s heading a squad of slayers much like Andrew and Buffy/Xander are. His relationship with Faith seems strained from the phone call they shared in Issue 6. From his “Are you still—” before Faith hangs up on him, it seems that the two of them may have had a baby scare or something like that. Also, most excitingly, the last few pages of #9 gave us a scene with the new Big Bad of the season.

(Buffy and Ethan going through Buffy's dreamscape)
The new Big Bad is a big hulking masked guy named Twilight. He has big plans, including the destruction of magic as well as all magic creatures (wizards, slayers, watchers, etc.) which he plans to execute by using his big group of followers like Roden (RIP) and General Voll (MIA?). This is odd, coming from a guy who can fly, but who are we to judge, right? He seems badass enough, but only time will tell if he’ll live up to the Big Bads of the past. I don’t doubt that Joss will deliver, seeing as he gave us a new and interesting Big Bad each season: The Master, Angelus, The Mayor, Adam, Glory, Dark Willow, and The First Evil.

(General Voll describing his interpretation of Twilight's plan)
Other than the blunder that was “The Chain,” Season Eight has been a solid story. The character interaction is great, ranging from hilarious to heart breaking. As far as the interior art of the series, I couldn’t be happier. Georges Jeanty started off as competent but every issue he vastly improves, getting closer and closer to “great.” There have been complaints that he draws the characters too child-like, but if he has, I truly haven’t noticed. From the script, to the pencils, to the vibrant colors, everything is going great with this season. It makes me sad that people are complaining about these comics, as it is truly a gift from Joss Whedon to us. He’s continuing our favorite series and, because of that, it’s been a great year for Buffy fans.

(Buffy vs. Twilight on the cover to Buffy #11)
What everyone always agrees on, however, is the cover art. Jo Chen is a phenomenal artist who also gets better with each issue. Her first cover featured Buffy and it was good enough, but from issues #3 and on, each of her covers have been perfection. Her talent in capturing the character’s likenesses is literally unrivalled. Counting the beautiful cover for the two trade paperbacks, we’ve seen twelve cover pieces from Chen this year (#1-10). We also got to see the covers for Buffy #11 and 12, which were done by Jon Foster, while Jo Chen is on a sort of break as she does other stuff. She’ll be back by the end of the #12-15 arc (Wolves at the Gate, by Drew Goddard), but Foster is doing a great job, especially on #12.

("Panel to Panel" was so big I couldn't fit it on any shelf. Here it is in my closet with a few other closeted books and my doubles of Buffy comics I ordered in case of a mishap)
Other than the canonical Season Eight comics this year, we also got a load of “companion” books from Dark Horse. This includes two omnibuses (omnibi?) that collect all of the old (non-canonical) Buffy comics in chronological order. Some of the stories were great but a lot of them sucked major, but it’s always decent to have all of the works compiled into one place. Most awesome of all, the latter quarter of this year saw the publication of “Panel to Panel” a ginormous book that reprinted all of the best art from the first run of Buffy, plus a little insight on the most interesting pieces.

(The first two Buffy Omnibus books)

This has been the biggest Buffy year since 2003. We’ve also got the new canonical Angel comics, which my next entry will be dedicated to. I’m truly glad to be a fan of this series, especially at this time, and I couldn’t be happier to add these comics to my collection. In the “CANON” section.

(My "Joss" shelf. First, there are two Buffy script books. Then is the "Canonical Comics" section: Tales of the Slayers, Talkes of the Vampires, Spike: Asylum, Buffy: The Long Way Home, Fray. Then is the non-canonical comics section. The four IDW Angel TPBs come first, followed by the "Spike" TPB and "Spike vs. Dracula" and the two Buffy omnibus books. In there somewhere is "Those Left Behind," only because it is the same size as the omnibuses. Then we're back to canon with Buffy Seasons 1-7 slim set and all five seasons of Angel. The full-set for season three has since been replaced by the slim set. Lastly, I have--of course--Firefly and Serenty: the Special Edition.)

Merry Christmas.

-Pat Shand

1 comment:

Kat! said...

Aww, sad day. Don't worry. I enjoyed your first very bloggy blog. Happy 2008! And don't be grumpy. It'll be OK. =P