What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #16: Time of Your Life Part I (written by Joss Whedon)
Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Short time, presumably a week or so, after "Wolves at the Gate Part IV."
REVIEW: Best start to an arc, best art in a Buffy issue, and best writing in a Buffy issue. Altogether, the best issue in Season Eight and the best issue in the larger Buffyverse since "After the Fall" #5. The overall arc of the season is driven along fantastically, the plot of this episode is set up nicely, and there are some pretty devastating moments.
Overall, it's certainly not what I expected. We barely get any Fray action at all, which actually was good, as it gave the story a chance to really build up before Buffy was inevitably shipped off to Fray's time. There was a lot of Kennedy and Vi stuff (though Vi is now going by Violet, because since the lettering is all caps, "Vi" would look like the Roman Numeral Six) which was awesome, and Xander's greif over Renee was handled very, very well. And we get appearances from Twilights and the villains (oh you know who they are) from the first arc that everyone and their complainy mother has been Whedonesque-ing (sorry, I meant complaining...) about not seeing again since #4.
Those that were happy with the Buffy, Xander, Willow reunion in Issue #3 will have multiple fangasms while reading this. Most of the issue is banter between the trio, then banter between Buffy/Willow, then meetingy banter between Buffy, Willow, Vi, and Kennedy, followed by more banter between Dawn and Xander. It all serves to drive the story forward and reads like some of the best Jossian dialogue you can find, but again OH does it drive the story forward. Dawn's thricewise curse goes into its second stage, which really answers the "Why is Dawn a centaur?" question people we asking when they saw the cover to #18. There are great Willow/Kennedy moments, as well as an awesome exchange between Buffy and Kennedy where Kennedy makes it all too clear to Buffy that Willow is off limits. I thought all of this was great, because this issue left me enjoying two characters that I haven't enjoyed in a long time. Kennedy and Willow. Well, I never really enjoyed Kennedy that much until now, and how great is she here? Very. Thing about Willow this season, though... she's been so powerful, so flighty, so healy, that it seems she hasn't really been a character as much as a plot device. But in this issue, she is very much a character. And I love it.
One thing that I loved was that this entire issue was like a huge nod to continuity. Many people have said, and not without reason, that Joss Whedon sacrifices continuity when he sees great story and character moments, citing the case of "Warren never died" as the prime example. However, he seems to be trying to develop Buffy into a more tight-knit mythology with this issue, because of both obvious and more subtle reasons. Most obviously, the entire Buffy/Fray cross-over and, at a larger scale, Season Eight itself is functioning to clear up the discrepancy between "Chosen" and "Fray." On a much smaller scale, there are references to past happenings and demonic breeds that gives the Buffyverse a greater feeling of continuity. Fyarl demons are mentioned, and the "trade" that happens when someone goes through a portal (from Season Seven) happens again in this issue. It just gives me the feeling that Joss is really trying to give his story a more solid structure to fall back on and, as a fan, I truly appreciate this.
After reading this, I'm more excited about Season Eight that I've ever been. Ever. And that is saying so much, because holy BHC was I excited before.
Art: Again, the best we've seen. I love Georges Jeanty and I love how he's made the characters his own, but penciller Karl Moline (who was behind the art of the original "Fray" series) is just better. I feel like I'm cheating on Georges by just saying that, but it's true. Moline's Dawn is simply fantastic, as he makes her look at once 100% like Michelle Trachtenberg and 100% like his own design. He captures the subtle expressions of the character's faces, allowing this Joss-banter heavy issue to pop across the page, each panel completely registering. His depiction of Buffy is also great, and ties with Jeanty's Buffy.... but Moline's Willow completely beats out Jeanty's. He does a great job with Kennedy and Vi(olet), and pretty much just gives us an all around stellar performance. His artwork in "Fray" was already great... but he's come miles since then.
Covers: The glorious return of Jo Chen. After Jon Foster's really-not-that-good-at-all-and-that's-a-laughable-understatement run, it's like a breath of oxygen to a drowning person to see Jo Chen strut her painty stuff all over this page. Buffy and Fray are going at it--more with the violent than sexual connotation, there, by the by--and it's an overall awesome image. Not iconic like the way she's kicked off the first two arcs, but still a really, really nice cover. The second cover is from our boy Jeanty, who gives us a really cool image of Buffy, Willow, Vi(olet), and Kennedy hanging out in Manhattan. It's really reminiscent of his cover to #6, which was the start of the "No Future for You" arc and had a very similar image with Buffy and Faith. It's nothing to wow you, but it's a great image with really deep colors that set a really cool tone for the contents inside. Well, most contents ARE inside something, but.... you know what I mean.
Characters We Know: Buffy, Fray, Dawn, Xander, Willow, Leah, Twilight, Warren, Amy, Kennedy, Vi(olet).
Rating: 10/10. An easy, easy 10/10.