Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vampy Cats Attack

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #22: Swell (written by Steven S. DeKnight).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Short while after "Harmonic Divergence."

REVIEW: Best issue since #19. Still not near the level it should be, considering what it is, but it was a good read with funny, quotable dialogue and some fairly decent emotional stuff. As you know by now, the issue is about Kennedy evaluating Satsu's performance as head of the Japan branch, which is a fun pair-up to say the least. Some of the best stuff in the issue is the way these characters interact, which always seems to be working on two levels. First, it entertains, using a lot of clever plays on words and neologisms that have become the norm for Whedonesque comics. DeKnight, however, gives his all to each line, and none of it sounds at all clunky like that of Espenson's #19. He has a great feel for the way the characters speak, as well as the way comics work.

The story is mostly standalone, in that it centers on Satsu and co. (yup, there's nary a Buffy or Scoob until the final two pages) dealing with a new problem: Vampy Cats. They're adorable "stuffed" toys that climb into girls' mouths and possess them while simultaneously drying out their skin. Also, they're a Hello Kitty parody, which is amazing. Satsu gets tricked into taking a prototype back to her base thanks to a four armed monster who was the highlight of the issue. Before one of his arms are severed, we get some of his internal monologue ("Oh crap... Oh crap oh crap oh -- crap!"). I loved the guy, and he reminds me how much Buffy the Vampire Slayer can do in this format.

What reminded me how little Buffy the Vampire Slayer can sometimes do in the format is the final battle scene. A whole lot of too much happens all at one time, and--as you'll see some people on Whedonesque saying--it's a bit hard to swallow (no pun intended, as you'll find out). Satsu and Kennedy fight an army of Vampy Cats, which eventually going together into one body... yeah, it's true. If that wasn't enough to be too much, Satsu orders the vampy cats to be (SPOILER:) blown up by a missile from a submarine. Yeah, it's true. I never really wondered if the show was losing something when it went into this format, because I knew Joss could do it right. But I'm starting to wonder if the fascination with "Look what we can do" is actually limiting the story more than it's adding to it. Because this, this was too much. Mecha Dawn was justified, because of the "blue jeans and irony" line, and because they were in Tokyo so it was expected. The gargoyle fight was justified because it's plausible, within the 'verse. But this? Couldn't they come up with a more creative way to dispose of these guys?

There's definitely a lot of sexuality behind the Swell--that's what the vampy cats call themselves when they join forces--and it's beyond thinly veiled. First of all, something that is called the swell violates women through their mouths? This isn't the metaphor of early Buffy, this is the metaphor of porn DVD titles. Still interesting, though, and the bluntness of the vampy cats dialogue sort of excuses the lack of finesse with the metaphor. The straight-forwardness of their misogyny and homophobia is used for gags through dialogue, so I guess it's understandable. The lines about Satsu's "furisode" were especially funny, and managed to also give a bit of insight into the character's past, which I liked. Also loved how the vampy cats referred to their brethren as "My brothers!" All their dialogue, except for the obvious clunker of "Eat their #%&@ing ovaries!" is hilarious.
Overall, a lot better than the last two issues. I gave the last two, especially #20, higher grades than they deserved, but that isn't the case with this one. #22 is good, and very much deserves its 8/10. But it's Buffy, so we're used to this stuff being better. I hope it gets there again. It was a terrible choice to put an arc like this directly after #20, which really got away from the main arc. Especially seeing how #16-19 took Buffy away from the Scoobs for many months, it just adds to the feeling that this series is no longer a coherent story that builds on what was set up before, like with #1-15. The next issue can hopefully bring that feeling back. The preview looks very promising.

Art: Jeanty is great. He has a nice handle on the main characters, as usually, and does well with Kennedy. There was some "who is who?" confusion in some of the scene changes, but subsequent reads were very clear. His demons rock, and his Vampy Cat should be an actual toy. I've reviewed his art over and over, so there's not much to say. Love 'im.

Covers: Finally we get a Jo Chen cover with Satsu on the front. I wish she didn't make her look so boring, in fairly simple black and blue armor. Well, boring for Satus, because she still looks awesome, but it just doesn't mesh with the style of the character we've seen so far. Her flair should have made the cover. Kennedy is behind her on the cover, and it's a great likeness. Not the best Chen cover, but better than most comic covers because mediocre Chen is great mostly-everybody-else. The Jeanty cover is really good, one of his best. In it, Buffy is attacked by a group of vampy cats over a red background. Simple, to the point, funny. Love it.

Characters We Know: Satsu, Kennedy, Buffy, Xander, Harmony.

Rating: 8/10


George Mori said...

Just a note on the vampy cats combining to kill Satsu and Kennedy. That is a fairly obvious homage to a famous scene in the Japanese animated film Akira. I'm kinda surprised that more people haven't jumped onto that yet. It's a pretty famous scene.

Glen Lamb said...

Just wanted to say, remember on facebook when you flamed me for saying I had a bad feeling about how we were getting 6 issues of what will feel like a branch off of the main story?

I guess we are in agreement now kinda. We both know it's still good but I think my worry was certainly justified.

PatShand said...

GEORGE: Never saw Akira. It's actually not exclusive to that anime, though, as Saturday morning campy children cartoons have been doing it for years. Maybe it started with Akira, though, I'm not big on anime so I wouldn't know how old that film is.

GLEN: Yeah, not the way it happened. I explained the concept of the arc after you a) panicked that Jane Espenson is signed on as writer and b) said that the issues were all standalones. They are definitely tied together as an arc with a common theme--the outing of vampires--so I don't take back what I said. The arc could still be well done, so again, not going back on what I said. The issue I'm having is that it's getting so far away from the Scoobs that the mood of Season Eight is getting fuzzy.

And "flame," really? Nah.

George Mori said...

Yeah, Akira came out in 1988, jesus that was long ago. If you haven't seen it I recommend it, Jeanty has given a couple of small shout outs to it. (The other was the alt/cover of #17)

Glen Lamb said...

Akira isn't that great, people go on about how fundamental it is in shaping all of the stuff we now love, and maybe it is, but truth is everything that followed it was just better. and it's been a while, but I don't remember there being a scene when lots of little things come to together? I thought there was just some kind of blod thing, and lots of shoutng about canada.

Pat i know you don't flame, that words used to often, I wasn't trying to say you should take it back I just meant to say that my fears weren't entirely unjustified as it does feel like it's leaving the plot somewhat, though not anywhere near as bad as i thought it would.