Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Great Tie-In Material, Decent Comic

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #21: Harmonic Divergence (written by Jane Espenson).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Short while after "After These Messages... We'll Be Right Back."

REVIEW: I gotta hand it to Dark Horse, they truly went all out with the promotion. There were awesome articles on MTV about the comic and a nice effort was made to keep the public aware that this is a big event without making it as extreme as the press stuff with #12. Also, Myspace Dark Horse Presents put out a tie-in webcomic called Harmony Bites, written by Jane Espenson with art by Karl Moline. Fantastic little comic, which I enjoyed to the fullest. If all that weren't enough, Jane Espenson also dropped by MTV to do a little guest blog, in character as Harmony Kendall titled Tune In. If that's not enough, all the other Dark Horse comics that were released today feature more little Harmony tidbits. I hope Dark Horse learns, this time around, that they now have ample material for a special features section in the TPB that includes this issue, because they did an astounding job with the tie-in material and I wouldn't want to see any of these quirky little works forgotten.

Now onto the issue. I wish I could say I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed all of the surrounding stuff, but I didn't. There are a few gaping flaws in the issue, and though the problems are less apparent later in the book, the overall effect of the comic is damaged. Previous Buffy: Season Eight writers all seemed familiar with the medium of comics. Joss Whedon's written many a funny book, they're Brian K. Vaughan's biggest passion, and Jeph Loeb is one of the most well known comic writers there are. Drew Goddard and Jane Espenson have about the same experience in comics, both of them being featured as writers in previous non-canonical Dark Horse Buffy books as well as the canonical Tales of the Vampires/Slayers series... but Drew Goddard is definitely more skilled at crafting a story in this medium, because Espenson's story just doesn't flow very well. But that confuses me. I enjoyed some of her short comic stories in the past, as well as her three issue Buffy: Haunted book, which was a cool bridge between seasons three and four. So maybe it's the fact that this is a one-shot and she tried to cram so much into it that it felt stilted. But I think it's a bit more than that. The placement of the internal thought captions doesn't really make sense to me, nor do the actual words sound like Harmony. This is most evident in the opening pages, when Harmony tries to get into a club. Her first internal thought is in a panel where she isn't even visible (maybe they should have at least had her looking over her shoulder), and says the following: "Ooh. Someone famous! I've got urine running down my leg!" The next few captions read like this: "Here's the thing about fame. It's good to touch. I'm gonna touch some fame." To me, that sounds nothing like Harmony Kendall. Which is so, so strange, because all of the dialogue that Harmony actually says out loud and some of the internal thoughts later in the issue are so her. However, she uses the word "zeitgeist" twice. Do we really think Harmony knows what zeitgeist means?

The issue definitely picks up when Harmony pitches her show to MTV. Focus, however, is then shifted away from the lovable bloodsucker to a young Latina slayer who wants out of her gang, Las Chucuillas. When she's free of that gang, however, she naturally resists Buffy's urge for her to join another "family" of sisters, leading to the girl waging her own solo war against vampires. This is an awesome bit, because it sets up the conflict in the issue (Harmony/Latina slayer) and also speaks for what's going on with Buffy, about how she can't really connect with any of the slayers that she's empowered. She's lost her ability to speak effectively to these girls, and I'm thinking all those speeches she gave in the seventh season took all the speech-giving-ability out of her.

Andrew gets a lot of screen time here, as does... wait for it... Clem, which is one of the high points of this issue. Jane handles him nicely, as she does with Harmony and the majority of the rest of the issue. Most of the problems--which are pretty big--are all focused on the first seven pages (another issue is why isn't there a bigger reaction when the world realizes that vampires are real?), so the rest of the issue is pretty much smooth sailing. I did enjoy it for the most part, but to say I'm also let down is an understatement. The issue had enormous potential and should have been among the best of the series so far, but strange storytelling choices in the beginning took away major points. What saves this book from being as bad as The Chain or last month's abysmal After These Messages is the attention to detail. There is always something else going on in panels, such as the scene where Buffy calls the Latina slayer... in the background, you can see a horse charge at Dawn (still a centaur) while Xander tries to hold it back. Also, after Harmony bites the star who made "urine (run) down her leg" (Andy Dick), TMZ reports that "Hot Vamp Gets Taste of A. Dick." If nothing else, the issue is good for the expected laughs it gives.

Art: It's great to have Jeanty back as the main artist again. He excells in drawing the main characters (Buffy, Dawn, Xander, Willow, Andrew) and is especially talented at crafting meticulously detailed backgrounds. Clem's likeness is also perfect, and the medium of comics gives a lot of opportunities with a character that looks like that. The panel where he stretches his skin out to look for a tattoo is hilarious. Who Jeanty is not that good at drawing here is Ms. Harmony herself... who looks just like Buffy. In a few panels, she looks quite a bit like Mercedes McNab, but in most others she looks just like Buffy, especially in the panel where she's sitting at her computer desk. The only way to tell them apart is her surroundings, that she's always smiling (even when she's being rejected at a club on the opening page, which was odd), and her dialogue. I'm glad the two didn't have any scenes together, otherwise it would have been a bit difficult to follow who is who. The coloring here is fantastic, giving the right tone to all of the scenes. Michelle Madsen, whose style I was unsure about when she first joined the team, is a realllly skilled colorist.

Covers: Jo Chen's cover, as usual, is a perfect likeness. It features Harmony holding two of her dogs with a drained corpse in the background. Her smile and the "perky pair" of dogs are gothically juxtaposed to the corpse, which really sets up the mood of the issue... and the whole series. Funny and light on the surface with dark stuff moving underneath. Jeanty's cover, which features Harmony holding a pomeranian over a while background, seemed dry at first... until the full version was released. It's set up like a fashion magazine cover with hilarious headlines and is just one example of how much great work was put into making this issue stand out.

Characters We Know: Harmony, Andy Dick (the celeb), Buffy, Willow, Xander, Dawn, Andrew, Vi (only on a TV screen), Clem.

Rating: 7/10


Anonymous said...

I think you might've missed a joke. After the urine comment, she looks to the little dog she's holding and says "bad girl" -- the joke was a mislead that Harmony pee'd herself, when the culpret was the little dog.

PatShand said...

That wouldn't be a bad joke. But... I can't find it.

This is how the dialogue on the pages is laid out.


Pane1 1: Sorry, ma'am, can't help you.

Panel 2: Oh, can you really say no to this perky pair?

Panel 3: No animals in the club.

Panel 4. C'mon girls.

Panel 5. Ooh. Someone famous! I've got urine running down my leg.


Page Three

Panel 1. Who is he?

Panel 2. Here's the thing about fame. It's good to touch.

Panel 3. No dialogue

Panel 4. No dialogue

Panel 5. It's Lindsay Lohan's mother!

Panel 6-8: No dialogue

Where does Harmony say "Bad girl"? Help me out here, because if you have a copy that has that extra dialogue, I'd like you to scan so I can make this joke stop sucking in my head.

Loki said...

The "zeitgeist"-thing - I felt Harmony used the term very awkwardly, and that the entire point was that she didn't quite know what it meant but had heard other people around Hollywood use it a lot. But hey.

I agree that the issue felt a little over-packed and confusing, but I disagree on the general negativity, as I felt it was an entertaining issue, especially if you include the excellent Moline-tie-in as part of the story (and I don't see why not, as it is also written by Espenson and freely available to anyone with access to the tubes). What's more important, while reading it I actually felt like it progressed the plot some. Which is important in a "season" that takes several years to get done. Also, it was somewhat funny, and very much a cliffhanger for further issues. I liked it. I didn't love it, but I liked it. I'm really enjoying season 8 at this point - unlike the variable After the Fall they really haven't disappointed me at all since way back with the second half of the very first arc and "The Chain".

PatShand said...

Good point on that, that line might go over better now.

About Season Eight, though... I felt it got really strong from #6-16. Never topping "After the Fall," but still very strong. However, the middle two issues in the "Time of Your Life" arc were a let down... but then Joss brought it back with the awesome #19. But #20 was bad, and #21 was another major letdown. The preview for #22 looks like the best we've got in a while, so I'm putting my hope for the series in that issue. I just want them to get back on track a-sap.

Loki said...

I felt the preview of 22 was just bland dialogue, so I'll be more cautiously optimistic than you. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed both 20 and 21 - they're not as strong as most of the arc-issues, but for stand-alones, they're fun. Only stand-alone that's by far better in my book is 11. (I know that technically 21 is part of an arc, but really, it is structured and functions like a stand-alone even so)

As for the respective quality of AtF and S8, I agree that S8 has never quite hit the high notes of AtF, but it hasn't needed to because it has avoided all the low notes of AtF as well, creating an average level of quality more consistent and a little higher than what AtF has had. Admittedly, AtF has been picking up its pace a lot in recent issues, pouring out several new ones that all top everything including the very best in S8, so this isn't as big a difference as it used to be. But I still prefer S8 a little - there are too many unnecessary little problems with AtF, S8 feels more finished and better planned out. (I'm very glad we get both, though. Just wish a couple of AtF's biggest blemishes hadn't happened so I could love its entirety as unconditionally as its best issues warrant)

Matt said...

This wasn't a terrible issue, but the problem is that it was missing a lot of context.

I feel as though this was a poor set up for what I assume is the new status quo - the world knows about the mystical and hates the slayers. The only lens through which we viewed this (major) change in landscape was the overall vapidity of popular culture; I feel as though in their effort to pull off a done-in-one, a lot of necessary story beats were left out in the cold. It feels very, very rushed.