Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Not Even The Season Eight Haters Can Dislike This

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.


Kenictionary said...

I thinks it's interesting that you didnt seem to have much of anopinion on the attack on the castle anfter Xander and Dawn talked. It seemed sorta pivotal. haha

PatShand said...

No, no I do. Just thought I'd tackle the basics of the issue, not go into really big spoilers. But here, in the comments, we can do that.

Pretty much, we have to wait and see what said bomb does. All we saw was green light. Might be a regular boom. Might be... something else.

Thomas said...

Yeah. Seems like Whedonesque's commentariat is assuming it's your basic mass-murder-bomb, but that was a very funky missile so who knows what it actually did?

Unbelievably good issue. Still kinda floored by it. Need to read it over and over and over a few more times.

Loki said...

The art in this is the best in anything ever. End of story.

The writing is probably the best the season's been, too, though I'd need to do a re-read of the entire season so far to say that for sure - it's a closer race than the art. Still, pretty darn awesome writing all around in this.

Unlike you, I wasn't surprised by the small amount of Fray we saw in the issue. I assumed it would be done as a cliffhanger-meeting, using this issue to get Buffy timeshifted and set up the arc, and was actually pleasantly surprised to get the additional pages in the opening on top of the ending that I more or less expected.

As you, however, I love that they're taking their continuity seriously. (Speaking of good continuity - I suddenly started wondering... somebody else MUST have asked this before somewhere on the Net, but... is the snake-lady of Willow's in any way related to (or even identical to) the snake-lady from Joss' co-authored Angel-comic "Long Night's Journey" from way back?) I mean, they're not just following up "Fray" here, but the mini-story on her in "Tales of the Slayers" as well, which is good, as that story would make no sense AFTER an encounter with Buffy and thus needs to happen first. Heck, we even see the demon-monkey! Toy!

Kennedy and Willow have an awesome chemistry in this comic, which took me a little by surprise as I thought they were having problems. But I guess we'll learn more as the arc progresses. Willow being back in both lover and teacher-mode in the same issue was a very smart move to humanize the super-character of the gang again. And Buffy's reaction to New York is just priceless in general.

Dawn as a centaur - I have no idea what I think of the plot-twist that is, but she makes such a stunningly beautiful centaur (thank you, Moline) that I can't really even consider to have issues with it.

I'm in love with this issue. The almost unfailingly steadily increasing curve of the quality and awesomeness of Season 8 amazes me, but with this arc, I think we might finally have reached the top. There's no way they can top the Whedon-Moline-combination once this arc is done.

Jonathan said...

Really? I thought the art was fairly weak and the plot was incomprehensible. I've really loved season 8 up to this point, so I'm not worried. Are you sure you're not getting overexcited because the stuff with Dawny was very cool?

PatShand said...

Jonathan: Not at all. Why would something cool happening with Dawn get me "over excited"? The plot was by far the easiest to follow. I don't know how you can describe it as "incomprehensible" when it was as simple and straight forward as "Buffy goes to New York, then gets sent to the future" and "Xander tries to comfort Dawn, then Twilight launches a missile at the castle." What about it was incomprehensible? The art is, of course, a matter of opinion, but I really can't see what about it makes you dislike it.


But yeah, I don't think you can marginalize my fairly in-depth review as a product of "over excited(ness)." What I'd say is give the comic another read. You might find that you like it better than you did during your initial attempt.

Loki said...

I must agree with patshand. Most easily followable plot since #10, which was also super-straight-forward, and best art in a Buffy-book ever. (With the exception of "Fray", 'course, but that's only because of the magnificent colouring job)

Jonathan said...

Hi PatsHand - I think you're misreading my comment as ultra-negative when it was more flippant than anything else. I certainly don't agree that the art team is better than Jeanty, and I found the reasons for the trip to New York difficult to pick up - a swift reread of the earlier arc will solve that, but Whedon is usually so good at reminding us, it was a disappointment. I thought that the latest twist in the Dawn story *was* very cool and it made *me* over-excited and judge the story as better than, on 2nd read, I actually think it is. I thought that might have happened to you, as I've found your blog reliably in synch with me until now.

PatShand said...

Jonathan, I didn't think it was ultra negative at all. I was just seeking to understand why you think the plot is "incomprehensible" or if you were just exaggerating a bit with that.

But yeah, not ultra negative at all. I was just clearing it up that the Dawn thing hadn't gotten be "over-excited" lol. There were way more exciting things in the issue, IMO. Glad to see that you agree with some of the other stuff I've said though, I always like when people read the blog!

Matt said...

I haven't read this issue yet, but having read "Fray," I have the utmost faith in the Whedon/Moline team.