Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jeph Loebs Takes a Stab At Buffy

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #20: After These Messages-- We'll Be Right Back (written by Jeph Loeb).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Some time, presumably more than a week, after "Time of Your Life."

REVIEW: I honestly thought this issue would be terrible. Jeph Loeb, who was once known as one of comic's brightest, hasn't been that popular recently. While he's certainly a solid dude who makes a great effort to talk to the fans and give his opinions on popular culture, his writing just hasn't been impressing recently. He was one of the driving forces behind the plot-centric nature of Heroes, which some believe to be the show's downfall. Also, the preview of the issue left a lot to be desired. So, needless to say, I was worried.

But Loeb didn't do bad. He delivered one of the best Heroes episodes in a while this Monday, and this week's Buffy issue didn't completely suck like I thought it would. It wasn't good, nor was it anywhere near worth all the hype that lead up to it, but it was--for the most part--better than the preview lead me to believe it would be.

Does Loeb have a feel for Buffy's voice? No. There are moments where it reads as horrid fanfic (The opening line "You come one more inch and... things are going to get all blechy"), and other moments where it sort of works ("Look at you, Will! You're all magicky and gay now!"), but it's a lot more of the latter than it is of the former. I don't know why this made it past the script stage, because the issue would have been a lot better if the dialogue had been redone.

How's the plot? Not bad. It's cool to see present-Buffy interact with the old cast, and the scene with her mom reads a lot better with the comic in front of you than it did in the preview. Things are rushed, yeah, and you don't really get a good idea of how Buffy feels during the whole thing, but that was to be expected. Loeb had less than twenty two pages for the in-the-past section of the comic, and I think he utilized it pretty well. The best little detail is that he actually gave Xander's skateboard the proper send-off it never got on the show. While it really didn't read like Season Eight level material, it also wasn't awful, and convinced me that if an animated series ever happens, I'll follow it.

And the framing scenes? Oh no. "It was all a dream." Yup. He did it. I liked the beginning of the issue, and that the Scoobs were shown to be living in a new place... but the end could have tied things up a hell of a lot better. So Buffy had an in depth dream that allowed her to take a small piece of advice away from it and, maybe, apply it to her current life. Interesting... but enough to warrant an issue like this? No. There should have been a deeper reason behind it, and if a few pages or panels were sacrificed, there could have been.

What Buffy said. So, everyone's talking about the crass Cordelia comment Buffy made to Willow. After Cordelia torments Willow in school, Buffy slyly says to her, "Maybe someday she'll be dead and you'll be a sorceress supreme." Yup. So not only does Loeb not have a grip on Buffy's speech patterns, he also struggles with the fact that Buffy isn't the leader of the Mean Girls. You don't make fun of your dead friends, and the argument that Buffy and Cordelia hadn't become friends by the end of Cordy's time in Sunnydale doesn't work for me. It was a small moment, but it does bring to light the other flaws in the writing that really stood out for me.

Again, the issue wasn't at all as bad as I expected, after reading the preview. The "mystery of the week" with the vampires and the dragon was cool, and really did feel like a throw-back to the past, and I thought the scene where Buffy imagines Angel saying "You look very beautiful" was laugh out loud hilarious. So there were enough gems in this issue to keep it from being the weakest issue of the series, but... I'm just ready to move past it an onto #21.

Art: It's great to have Georges back, to say the least. I loved Moline and he might even be a better artist, but Georges' art feels like I'm coming home at last. Eric Wight and his team provide the cartoony sections, and they're great. They're lively and bright, but still manage to capture the likenesses of the characters and the overall tone of the series nicely. The panel where Giles pretends to be excited about what Harmony will wear, followed by his glare in the next panel was such a great visual gag. Very cartoony, but not cartoony enough to not look real. It's a tough balance to achieve, and Eric Wight did it skillfully.

Covers: What can you say about the Jo Chen cover? By merely looking at it, you understand that you're seeing something great. People have thought that it's a photograph. It's such a precise, beautiful painting in the way it perfectly captures the likenesses--not only the facial features, but the postures and the feel of the characters--and the whole idea behind it, of the Scoobs watching Buffy: Animated on television, is fantastic. Utterly perfect cover. The variant is done by Georges Jeanty, but he attempts to match the style of Wight's animation. It's awesome to see Angel, Cordy, and Giles on a cover with the rest of the gang, and the layout of it all is very dynamic.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Xander, Joyce, Dawn, Willow, Harmony, Cordelia, Snyder, Giles, Angel.

Rating: 5/10


Mike said...

I don't know how you could consider this NOT the worst issue of Season 8. I hated it; the dialogue was so off. And I agree about the Cordelia crack. Insensitive much? Thank God they didn't give him more than one issue.

PatShand said...

Issue #20, for me, is the second worst of the series. It was pretty bad.

But "The Chain" was bad AND pretentious about it. So that, in my sometimes-humble opinion, is worse.

Matt said...

I haven't read the issue yet, but the preview bugged me solely because of that Cordelia crack. "Hey, no worries Willow - sure she's picking on you NOW, but within a decade you'll be a witch and she'll be DEAD!"

It's just such an...out of character thing to say. Buffy and Cordelia were never friends, but they weren't really enemies either, especially by the time Cordy moved on to Los Angeles. Regardless, they were never adversarial enough that Buffy would take any kind of joy in her death. If anything, I would think that Buffy would be a little taken aback to find someone she knows to be dead alive and kicking again (sort of like her mom).

I also didn't like how Loeb decided to reuse the joke within six or seven pages - "Hey, Xander! Sure, the principal is mean, but one day you'll be Slayer general and he'll be SNAKE FOOD!" I kinda felt the same way about Buffy and Snyder as I did about Cordelia - sure they were DEFINITELY enemies, but for Buffy to joke so flippantly about a casualty of her war seems out of character.

Loeb...really, just isn't very good anymore. He got lucky with a couple of decent Batman stories in the day, but that's it. His comics work lately is awful, and he may have written an astounding episode of Heroes, but...well, frankly, that's not that difficult to do these days (and obviously he was doing something wrong since he ended up canned).

Not really looking forward to reading this one.

Loki said...

I liked the issue a lot. I see your concerns - some of them I even agree on (notably Buffy's two tasteless jokes, though I feel they can be described away by her still believing herself to be dreaming and/or trying too hard to sound like a callous teenager again) - but as a whole, I must say I enjoyed this. The "is was all a dream"-thing is left very open - it is to me as a reader easy to see how this could be an actual time-travel of sorts, a residual effect from Buffy's timeshift earlier that day. Sort of like a rubber band smacking back a little the opposite way after being pulled. Dreams have been important to the real life events before in Season 8, and I don't see why this one couldn't have been "more" than just a dream too. Especially considering that Buffy, being a Slayer, has pretty magically empowered dreams as is.