Thursday, September 4, 2008

Not Joss Level Material, But Still Entertaining

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #18: Time of Your Life Part III (written by Joss Whedon).

Timing: Directly after "Time of Your Life Part II."

REVIEW: I was let down considerably by #17, which felt really phoned in by Joss. You can't blame the guy, because he's got a lot of Horrible and Dollhousey things on his plate that he's eating in some Cabin in the Woods at the moment, but this story arc seems to be suffering a bit from it. While this issue is definitely a step about the previous installment, it's also not at the level it should be. Nope, it's sad for me to admit that the best part of "Time of Your Life" was the beginning... and our only hope is that Joss ends it really, really nicely.

Don't get me wrong, I liked this issue quite a lot. There were some really great scenes, and it does a good job in continuing the story that the previous two issues set up. Nothing at all that major happens, nor are there any great or truly memorable scenes we've come to expect from things Joss Whedon personally writes, but it never made me scratch my head in puzzlement like #17 did. The Buffy/Fray team-up is definitely being taken in an interested and unexpected direction... and the Xander/Dawn storyline is... I don't know. Not what I expected? I think the woodland fire creatures they run into in this issue were definitely funny and made for a good chuckle, but couldn't more interesting things be happening to them? Couldn't Xander show a bit more vulnerablity at the fact that his castle, his home, was just destroyed by the man who killed his best friend's lover? Nah, he's cracking endless jokes. It would be great if the jokes were to cover up for his vulnerability or if the jokes are used to show how calloused he's become when it comes to losing people... but I'm pretty sure they're just for laughs. Though, I gotta say, cheap as they may be, the laughs are quite laughworthy.

There's a great scene with Gunther, and both Harth and Future Willow continue to entertain and intrigue... but I can't help but be distracted by the linguistically hip Fray, who talks absolutely nothing like the character from her mini-series. It's been said that the original "Fray" series can be retconned as a translation so we can understand, but the thing is, some of the slang Fray uses was employed there as well. But it was a sprinkling to add flavor. This? Whenever Fray talks in this, it's not a sprinking... it's basically a plate full of pepper. Not so good. On the bright side, the back and forth stuff from Future Willow to Present Willow rocks, and there is a very...revealling scene with Willow and Saga Vasuki.

Overall, it's definitely a better written comic than #17, but it's not going to that Joss level like I thought it would.

Art: Karl Moline continues to stun. His characters are vulnerable, sexy, and move with such a fluid, page-to-page motion that brings Joss's words to life. The coloring, which I have come to appreciate, is really lush and truly masterfully done. I miss Jeanty like I'd miss a limb, but Moline makes me swoon like a.... swoony... thing.

Covers: Jo Chen provides one of her best covers ever, providing a perfect Dawn likeness, adding another dimension of reality to the cool "centaur" plot. Jo Chen continues to show how she's pretty much the best artist out there, and Jeanty manages to hold his own with his variant. Jeanty's work here is nice and detailed, but the idea itself is just a bit boring.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Fray, Erin, Harth, Willow, Gunther, Kennedy, Dawn, Xander, Saga Vasuki.

Rating: 8/10


Loki said...

I quite loved this issue. A big step up from the previous one (which I thought was decent plus), and all things considered, almost on level with the first one of the arc. Seeing as that's a level it's difficult to reach again with a middle-chapter that has to progress plot without getting any of the big payoffs, I'm very happy with what we got. In fact, if your review hadn't started out so critcial, it wouldn't even have occured to me to say anything bad about the issue.

You're right on the account of Xander's quips, though. Hopefully we'll get to see him break down in #19.

Fray's language isn't bothering me. Buffy is hilariously like her old, less-burdened self now that she's on her own discovering the future, with the darker sides of her personality constantly pushing in to try taking over. Playing up the difference between Buffy the General and Fray the Hero is a very clever ploy that I'm very drawn in by, and it's making me wish we'd have another five issues set in this arc to give it full justice. Gunther's scene is simply awesome, and the Willow-stuff is walking a very fine line between explaining everything and nothing, which is as it should be.

Hoping that Gunther survived, he's just about my favourite Fray-character. (Hopefully not by being vamped, though...)

All in all, I'm very, very happy with this. I think it might be among the best five issues the series have had. Which is pretty impressive for the number three issue in a four-parter.

Matt said...

My biggest beef with this arc is the language. I mean, I GET it - a thousand or so years have passed (if not more, I forget the gap), and as time passes, language evolves (or devolves, depending). I GET that, as our "POV" character in the future, Buffy is privy to all of the confusion that would follow after being dumped into this strange world with a strange dialect.

I still can't get behind it, though. At it's best it's irritating; at worst it feels as though Whedon forgot whether he was writing for Melaka Fray or Malcolm Reynolds. It's taken beyond the realm of plausibility. It stopped being amusing or interesting after the first page of last issue.

As far as Xander goes, I've always fan-wanked that his humor is, among other things, a big coping mechanism. His introduction to the world he now lives in was to witness the death (and transformation, and re-death - at his own hands) of his childhood best friend - an event that was never really mentioned again. His response to Anya's death was to crack a dumb joke. Xander is a guy who protects himself with puns and jokes (of course, that's not an excuse for poor characterization - I haven't read the issue yet so I don't know if that's what this is).

I would LOVE to see a one-off focusing on Xander - and not in the Zeppo or Replacement way, played for laughs - and addressing this, and it seems like right around now, with the death of Renee, would be the right time for it. Unfortunately with the "plan" for the rest of this volume already mapped out, I fear that there's not much room for it...and there should be.


Matt said...

Forgot to point out in my "beef" rant - I really am enjoying this arc, for the most part. The language is a big thing at times, but for the most part I think this is a solid story.


Loki said...

I see how the language could be annoying, but I feel like honestly, it's just a matter of not letting it bother you. If someone has a weird accent on a TV-show, I don't let that annoy me, if someone chooses odd words I don't let that annoy me either. While I agree that Fray sounds neither amusing nor interesting to me in the way she talks, I don't see why she has to, either. She just talks, and I just read it. I understand everything, but it seems strange and different, so I'm both getting the easy way out AND the feeling of strangeness I'm supposed to get. Why does it need to entertain as well?

PatShand said...

You're missing the point of why Fray's dialogue is irking us. It's not that we expect her to entertain and be quirky... we're simply expecting her dialogue to be consistent and in character. It's not a matter of us not enjoying what she's saying--which, by the way, YES dialogue should certainly entertain, it's not just an exposition too--but it's that this new speech has become such an issue because its simply not the way Fray, as a character, talks.

It would be as if Spike suddenly adopted a new way of speaking, of Betta George decided to speak in leet. It's just not in-character. Much like Rowena lost her accent, Fray has been taken over by this neo-slang.

BarryShaft said...

I'll agree with you on this on some points here Pat, the language does bug me and last issue it was simply too much but Mel toned it down in this issue and for the most part I thought it flowed better. However, there were times in this issue when the dialogue was damned near incomprehensible and a lot of that seems to rest on Whedon's need for every sentence to have some sort of quirk or off-kilter quality to it. It's something I've noticed a lot over the comics he's written this season.

I really disagree with the Xander point though. I may be biased in that he's still one of my favourite characters but there was absolutely nowhere in this issue where his writing seemed out of tune. If in their four pages of story he'd started breaking down and woe-as-meing about their current circumstances it would absolutely be out of character. Xander's going through a lot right now, but he's never necessarily been a character who wears everything on his sleeve.

Apart from that it was a good issue, nothing specacular but still a fun read. The one big plot point to me was showing how Willow reaches Saga Vasuki's dimension... Very original and when you break it down, fairly dark as well.

Great reviews as always this week man, keep writin' and I'll keep reading.

Loki said...

Ah, I see your point, then, patshand. I kind of agree, too. I still feel it's okay, though.

First off, this is how Fray WOULD talk. Her language is much, much more "futuristic" than that of her sister, her boss or her brother. Why? Because she's virtually a lowlife street-girl, and she embraces this fact. Her language would be less "proper" and more heavily peppered with slang than that of a police detective travelling in a somewhat higher social strata, her rich mob boss, or an eternal boy who fancies himself an intellectual man. In "Fray", I never really noticed it as being such, but here, it clearly is. Thus, while it is indeed a little jarring from how I've come to expect the character to sound, it still FEELS like the character, as the way her voice is differnt from the other characters make perfect sense and helps paint a clearer picture of who she is in comparison to them.

BarryShaft said...

You'd have a point Loki, if that was how Fray had talked before. Yes there are reasons why Fray would talk using so much slang, but being that we've already an entire series to get to know her and she didn't talk like that I think it's fair to say that we already have an idea how Fray would speak...and clearly this is not it

Loki said...

As I remember it she did use more slang in the original story than the other people did - didn't her sister and Gunther both speak for the most part almost normal English there? The way I saw it, they just boosted the amount of futuristic slang for all the future-characters, and Fray happened to be the one who had the most from before.

But I haven't fine-read "Fray" looking for differences between Fray and the other characters' language, so I might be deluded.

Matt said...

Loki, I think perhaps you misunderstand my intention when I say "entertaining." I don't mean that I expect Fray's language to entertain me - rather, the book itself must entertain me or otherwise engage me, especially considering the high cost of comics these days. Fray's constant shortening of words and sentences ("Follow." What?) have, particularly in #18, caused a detriment to my overall enjoyment of the individual issues, however minutely.

Like I said, I get where Whedon is coming from with all of the language. And Loki, you do make good points. But I think that for the sake of the overall flow of the story, the slang could have (and should have) been toned down a tad - ESPECIALLY last issue - without losing anything. I felt this issue flowed much better, and I think that a good deal of that comes from the fact that all of the crazy future-speak was toned down a bit.

And, having read the issue now, I think this Xander fits in with my previous analysis (although you wouldn't be able to tell if this were your first issue, and that's the point).


Loki said...

I agree with you - it DOES hurt the flow of the story - I just think it hurts it much less than it seems a lot of other people feel. I also agree it was worse in 17 than in this one. What I'm trying to say is only that it's got some positive sides to it as well, and that since it's there anyway and there's nothing I can do about that, I'm trying to focus on what it brings to the comic that's positive instead of being annoyed about it. Because to me, it's not an exclusively bad thing, even if it is annoying, and that's all I've been trying to say. :)