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.