Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Things Get Less Funny

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #14: Wolves at the Gate Part III (written by Drew Goddard)

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Directly after "Wolves at the Gate Part II."

REVIEW: "Wolves at the Gate" started out as a comedy issue with vampires that seemed very Monster of the Week. There was some relationship drama, all playing out very lightly, and a lot of Dracula hilarity in the first two parts.

Well, things just got a lot less funny.

In the end of the last issue, a slayer named Aiko (we hadn't met her before that point) was robbed of her powers and killed by Toru, the leader of a gang of vampires from Tokyo. These vamps are getting to be big problemas. A) They're pretty good at stealing. They stole Buffy's scythe, and they have a witch--Kumiko--who knows how to use the scythe to de-slayerize slayers. They also stole Dracula's powers, which leads to problema B) They have the power to turn into vapor, wolves, bees, and anything else Dracula can do. Now, where were we? Ah, yes, Aiko. The issue begins with a somber sequence where Buffy finds her body and takes her back to the Tokyo version of Slayer Central. Buffy balls up in the corner and broods, not knowing what to do, until Xander shows up again with Dracula. This was probably the best part of the issue, and it's all in all one of the strongest scenes in Season Eight so far. Dark Horse was wrong to leak this as a preview, though, because you never want the preview to be the best part of the issue. It kind of gets reader's hopes up and then lets them down.

However, the issue was still good. Really good, in fact. As the covers showed, Dawn arrives in Tokyo and gets her stomp on. In an otherwise sad, and later shocking violent and even MORE sad issue, that was a great moment. There is a lot of other good stuff in this issue, such as Buffy snapping into bad-ass mode, Renee acting as bait, and a really cute scene between Xander and Renee... with Dracula being jealous in the corner. All in all, even though a lot happens, it feels like build up to Issue #15, which will conclude this arc. This issue ends on a shockingly violent and tragic beat, and I have something to say about that, but it's going to be covered in spoilery text.

(SPOILER:) Joss's decision to kill Renee kind of has me torn. One, it's a brave and ballsy move to kill another one of Xander's girlfriends, and since this is a comic medium, each issue end does have to be shocking. And this was more than shocking. It was horrifying. And captivating. But on the other hand, I feel like Joss is turning the "Happy Moment Followed Directly By Death" into a huge cliche. I don't know. I'm torn. But I hope he doesn't do it again, because it is starting to get old.

Art: Jeanty does a good job here. His depiction of Dracula, Andrew, Xander, and Buffy are perfect. His Willow is improving, and his Dawn is ten times better. The Giant Dawn pages are utterly amazing. His work with Toru's face has also improved. Overall, I'm not falling out of my chair impressed, because I already know how good Jeanty is. His art has a great consistency to it, and I will certainly miss it after #15, because we won't see him again until Issue #21. Holy crap. That's December...

Covers: Once again, Jon Foster provides a stinker. There is nothing about this cover that makes it feel like a Buffy image except for the logo. Nothing. Easily the worst cover of Season Eight. Jeanty, however, tackles the same concept--Giant Dawn stomps all over Tokyo--but churns out much better results. If you don't buy both covers, buy Jeanty's, because it's actually good.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Dawn, Andrew, Dracula, Renee, Satsu, Leah

Season Eight Recurring Characters: Aiko, Raidon, Kumiko, Toru

Rating: 8/10


Thomas said...

I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. This issue had a lot of good stuff in it, but the end left me deeply in doubt about the Happy Moment Followed by Sudden Death cliche that seems to have developed. It could be that Joss is just faking us out here, but that last page was pretty damn graphic. I'm very bothered by it, so much so that a lot of the cool things like Jeanty's great art and Dracula's great dialogue are overshadowed in my mind, at least for the moment.

Loki said...

I don't have that big a problem with the Happy Moment Followed By Death-thing as you guys seem to. It's not anywhere near frequent enough that I start expecting it just because of a nice moment - especially not when the moment is undercut by a line of humourous awkwardness from The Dark Prince - and it allows some form of closure to the Xander-Renee-arc which we wouldn't have gotten if that scene had been skipped and she'd just been killed without it.

I really liked this issue. I like how this story started out as very comedic and then suddenly half-way got very tragic instead. That's a way of telling a story that feels more Buffyesque to me than any one character-moment could do. "Wolves at the Gate" is shaping up to be my favourite season 8-"episode" yet unless the final part disappoints a lot.