Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Short while after "Predators and Prey."
REVIEW: I admit being a bit easy on the last few Buffy issues. I've been trying to pull out the good and push the bad under the carpet for the sake of optimism. Do I honestly think #21 deserved a 7/10? In retrospect, no. I'm not sure it would crack 5/10. Do I think #22 and #23 are really 8/10 comics? They were highly problematic, but enjoyable enough... but I'm rating these against the comics that came before as well as actual Buffy episodes, and looking back, those were not 8/10s. I've been too kind to the series out of loyalty to Joss, and I promise to make it a point to keep my hopes for what the issue could have been out of my reviews and give an accurate rating on the actual content of the issue. I realized that I'd been too kind to the previous issues when I read this book, #24, and realized that it is a) way better than any of the recent Buffy comics and b) an obvious 8/10.
I admit I was skeptical. This arc is turning out to be really, really uneven, and the opening of the book--a girl inexplicably mistaking Faith for Buffy (did someone give her a really, really blurry picture?)--is terribly on the nose. But the rest of the book is filled with interesting character beats, and a plot that answers some of our lesser questions about the season, such as the state of the Watchers' Council. The plot is really monster-of-the-week, but instead of tricking the audience into thinking that there would be some forward movement of the main arc the way that #23 did with the encounter with Simone, this instead focuses itself on making a statement about what it means to be a slayer and, furthermore, a human. And that's, in my opinion, what this arc should have focused on. I can't say I'm pleased that the meat and potatoes are being served so late, but I'm glad they've arrived and I'm more than ready to indulge.
For the second time in Buffy: Season Eight, we've got a noob to the 'verse. Brian K. Vaughan wrote the Faith/Giles team-up arc, "No Future for You," and now Jim Krueger, comic scribe, writes what can be considered a sequel to that arc. Much like Vaughan, this Buffy noob is fantastic at writing Whedoneseque dialogue and obviously knows the characters well, but the best thing he brought to the book was a willingness to play with the medium. Jane Espenson's "Harmonic Divergence" didn't work well because of format issues and the way she laid out dialogue and internal narration, and a lot of the other Buffy writers other than Goddard and Whedon have chosen to keep the format simple, but Kreuger plays with the relationship of the words and the images with many of the panels. He makes great use of "voice over" (balloons with no tails) to show the relationship between vampires, children, and the elderly folk of Hanselstadt, the town this takes place in.
I love when Buffy concentrates on the little moments. With the bloated scope of the season, it seems as if the little things are being kicked to the curb in favor of playing with big action scenes and weird demons, but Kreuger doesn't forget the details in his story. For example, (SPOILERS:) a demon explodes in a library, sending paper flying all over the place. The image evokes the death of the character Error from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, which is a really cool reference.
And Kreuger's original character, Courtney, is great.
Not all of the issue was wonderful, though, hence my rating. I do have two concerns about Faith's mind state... I'm not convinced she would have remembered "The Third." Even if the vampire was one of the first monsters she fought, she's fought countless vampires, and some just get away. With all Faith has been through, it is way beyond the realm of possibility that she would have remembered this one vampire, much less been so emotionally affected by (SPOILERS:) an image of this vampire that the demon would be able to use it against her the same way it used an image Courtney's parents against Courtney. But anyway, if you're going to use a vampire from Faith's past (SPOILERS:) in this capacity... why not "go for the heart" and use Kakistos? And how Faith knew she was being led into a trap, I don't know, but the text was so void of hints that it doesn't seem like Faith is being savvy, it just pulls me out of the read. In Veronica Mars, for example, when the eponymous heroine makes a discovery that the audience didn't know, the seeds that show how she came to this discovery are all there when you watch again. Veronica, and Faith, are supposed to be smarter than us when doing what they do... but the hints just simply have to be there. There were some nice hints about the plot twist but nothing that would make Faith believe she's being lead into a trap, much less an, as she puts it, "really obvious trap." It felt like Kreuger was leading us through the narrative by the hand instead of doing the work, planting the seeds, and letting us find out along with Faith.
Other than those few things, the book was really solid. The difference between this and the rest of the arc is really obvious. I really liked it, and I think you will too.
Art: Cliff Richard's best yet, by far. He seems to be changing his style up here, going more for accurate likenesses than he usually does. His art is usually more his style than anything else, but he struck a balance here that felt really comfortable. After #23, which seemed a bit rushed on Jeanty's part, I was more than glad to have Richards pencilling this book. Him and Paul Lee are definite candidates for who I'd ideally like to provide art for Season Nine, for sure.
Covers: Jo Chen. It's getting really hard to talk about her, because her work is just so consistently good. There was some talk that Faith's breasts weren't proportionate, but I think that it's a perspective thing. They are considerably bigger than usual, but Faith is a really sexual character, so I don't really think the size is that much of an issue. Her Giles likeness is perfect, working so well with the subtleties of Anthony Head's face. So, so good. Jeanty's cover, on the other hand... I don't know. He's struggled with Faith in the past, but by the end of No Future for You he was drawing her very well... not so sure about here, though. Giles looks horrible on the cover, and though it's visually striking with the glass and whatnot, I really don't like the likenesses.
Characters We Know: Faith, Giles.