Timing: BTVS, Season Eight. Directly after "Wolves at the Gate Part I."
REVIEW: Pretty much awesome on all counts. This, as I suspected, it clearly going to be a very comedic arc, though the villainous vamps we're dealing with here seem to pose a huge threat. As far as "monsters of the week," they're easily the most threatening we've seen, and that's really saying a lot. Amy and Warren messed Willow's mug up pretty bad (for a minute, at least) and the Gigi/Roden team nearly ended Faith. But these guys? This new team of vamps (Toru, Raidon, and Kumiko) not only duped Dracula, they also have a pretty effective plan to put any Slayeriffic enemies out of commission.
This issue is basically set up for things to come, but it does its job very well. We've pretty much got three things going on at once:
+ Xander and Renee try to enlist Dracula's help. Not only do we get some insight into why "Antique" happened (as well as confirmation that it is canonical, we also get great Xander/Dracula banter, hilariously pretentious angry Dracula moments, and even a scene where Andrew explains (with a chalk board and all!) what's the dealio with Dracula and Xander. Loved this.
+ We've also got stuff going on back at Slayer Central, though admittedly not much. Satsu is dealing with the night she spent with Buffy, but Buffy is pretty much not dealing at all. We get some emotional and hilarious stuff from Willow, and the characterization for all the leads in this section of the story is spot-on. Willow's voice has been very weak this season, but this is the issue where I felt it getting stronger.
+ Finally, a few pieces of the story deal with Toru and his vamps. Not going to reveal much, because the scheme they have cooked up is spoileriffic, but it's a really inventive idea.
This issue of Buffy has me once again waiting with bated breath for the next part of the story, because each of these twenty-two pages burst with laughs and shocks. If you don't laugh at loud at a few moments in this issue, you might want to check your pulse, friend.
Art: Art is consistently good, at this point. Jeanty seemed to struggle with Toru in Issue #12 (as I mentioned) but here things are much better. And really... this man draws Dracula perfectly. I'd almost go as far as to say that his depiction of Dracula is his best likeness so far. As far as the characters he's been drawing, I'd say he's improved most with Andrew's likeness. I mean, compare his Andrew in this issue to the almost unrecognizable Andrew from #12. Hell, compare any of this to his work in the earlier issues. Jeanty keeps getting better and better.
Covers (New Cateogory!): Oh God, I miss Jo Chen. Thank everything Holy and Good that she is back for #16. Jon Foster's cover for this one shows someone who is supposed to be Xander sitting on... I don't even know, maybe a mushroom? A cliff with pimples. In the background, we see castle and Buffy (whose feet are apparently a size 26) and Willow, who is attending the goth prom. Come on. What is with this cover? Jeanty offers up a variant that is a big improvement over his cover for #12. His covers for this arc (well, at least 12-14) has a very colorful and bright look, which is cool. I don't *love* it, but I don't mind it at all. The Xander/Dracula riding thing is cool, as are the marching vamps.
Characters We Know: Xander, Dracula, Andrew, Buffy, Willow
Season Eight Recurring Characters We Know: Renee, Satsu, Toru, Raidon, Kumiko
Rating: 9/10 *
*In retrospect, I should have rated #12 as a 8/10. I was a bit excited after reading, and it's always best to wait a while before giving it a rating. This issue was considerably better than #12, but it also wasn't as good as #11, #10, or the other issues I've given 10/10s. #12 is now rated 8/10. This sort of 'retcon' of ratings will not happen again, but I think it was important in this case.