Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Well Deserved Rating

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #24: Sage (written by Jim Krueger).

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.

Rating: 8/10


Tom said...

Interesting stuff. I found this issue very hard to judge.

I quite liked the idea of having the first vampire that got away from Faith return in illusory form. I thought the key line was when he said "you reek of failure and laziness" -- it makes total sense to me that she'd feel guilt and regret now about her lackadaisical approach to slaying and the number of people who must have died as an indirect response. (Or maybe I'm just overidentifying -- laziness and guilt are important themes in my life, although lives don't hang in the balance when I get lazy.)

Not sure what I thought about Courtney. I didn't feel like I had a clear sense of her personality. Which is OK, she's a minor character, but she didn't do much for me.

It seemed pretty obvious to me that the library was a trap. The whole feeling hanging over that town, and in particular the old woman who was bringing the slayers to the library, must have seemed wrong to Faith. So I had no trouble with Faith recognizing the trap -- and of course it's her style to just go on in anyway.

What made the least sense to me was the monster -- although I liked how it worked as a thematic device to talk about childhood, adulthood, regret, and resentment. But we are supposed to believe that an entire town has sacrificed its children to the tentacle demon living in their library, rather than, for instance, just getting out of town? The only way that makes any sense is if the demon had all the adults in town under some very serious mind control. I mean, that's one of the most basic human instincts: protect your babies!

Also, how did the monster actually work? Why could Faith and Courtney both get caught by it, but remain unkilled, and Faith somehow get free of it by the time Giles and Duncan showed up at the library -- and yet, pretty much as soon as Duncan gets caught by the monster, he gets eaten? And why did the monster burst into flames when Faith thwacked it in the head with a crossbow?

Still, this would be far from the first Buffy episode/issue that I found emotionally compelling but logically sketchy. And I love the show/comic regardless.

Loki said...

I disagree, I found the trap to be obvious too - the old woman kept smirking, there were no children in the town, and the "Slayer Sanctuary" with its "army of slayers" greeted Faith and Giles with a big festive meal and gathering where not a single slayer was to be seen. I'm not a fifth as intelligent as Giles nor as skeptical as Faith, and yet I was convinced someone, somewhere was doing something dreadfully wrong with the exact same hints as Faith had gotten.

You make a good point about Kakistos instead of "The Third", but there is something to be said for her nightmare that her newbie mistake went on and caused a world of misery. I imagine that the first slaying is quite etched into your mind, and her putting many half-rational fears on the basis of it isn't really a stretch. For the reader, though? Kakistos would have been way, way better.

Except that I feel it thematically has been done to death, I have no problem with the initial joke of Coco thinking Faith is Buffy. There is no reason she would have seen a lot of pictures of either, much more likely she simply hear of them by larger-than-life word-of-mouth rumours and stories.

I'm not sure if I agree this issue deserves a clear 8, but it was a solid 7.5 that could potentially warrant an 8 if it holds up on repeated re-reads. However, I'd sa the exact same ting about 23, and I'd put 22 a notch above them both. I think that I on the whole would give lower grades to most of the entire season 8 run than you do, but contrarywise also have much less disappointment with the weaker ones - I'm quite enjoying this arc and I don't find it uneven at all. 21 I'd probably give a 7, 22 I'd give an 8, 23 and 24 somewhere in between. None of them has in any way disappointed me, but none of them has really impressed me either.

Thanks for the review, by the way, always fun to read.

Elijah said...

I'm sorry, but I have to agree with the other two comments. I too saw the trap coming and actually loved that Faith called it out. It almost felt like a fourth wall moment for me, as if she was saying it to me as I was thinking, "You can't be this gullible?"

I completely agree with the rest of your article and believe that this was the best of the arc.

Kit said...

I'm not going to lie - I'm actually marginally confused about who "the third" refers to - when did this vampire get away from Faith? On the show, or pre-show? I don't remember that character at all.

I liked it in concept, of the vamp that she didn't chase down, but I didn't get it because I don't remember the character.

I agree that for us, Kakistos would've worked better - and even for Faith, I think it would've been even more compelling. he was the vamp that got "away" long enough to kill her watcher because she wasn't a good enough slayer... Unless of course, the emotional point was she was too much of an evil slayer, in which case, the vamp that got away because she was lazy and didn't do her job makes sense...

Loki said...

"The Third" was not supposed to be recognised by us, it was just the third vampire in the gang she attacked on her first slay-outing, and the one that got away. He's clearly grown to mythical proportions in her head due to her guilt and worry over what evil he can have brought on the world since she wasn't good enough to get him. So I felt it worked, but as we all seem to agree, Kakistos would have been oodles better.

Jaclyn said...

This was a great story and I really do think the 8/10 was well deserved. I've been waiting a while for the Faith/Giles story to pick up again and it did not disappoint. Anyway here's my thoughts on your review:

Sign me up with the others, cause I agree that the trap was pretty obvious in the story. No need to dwell on that since the others made the point.

Now the "Third" I think actually worked better than Kakistos. Yes Kakistos was seen in the show and the audience would have understood Faith's issue with him, but the problem is she had already confronted her fear of him and killed him. By killing him she ended her inner conflict over letting him get away and her Watcher's death. So storywise I think that Faith being haunted by the first vamp she let get away worked. The Third represented her past careless attitude toward slaying and the drastic consequences that occured because of it.

For me the reason this story gets an 8 instead of 10 is because some of the story elements didn't make sense. For starters I have a hard time believing every member of the town would willing sacrifice all their children for the sake of feeding this horrible demon & scaring away all the vampires. The slayers I understand, but their own thats just low. And then there is the moment when Faith kills the demon. What the heck did she do to kill it and make it burst into flames? It's like there was a page missing. Not even one line to explain how she killed it. To be honest that was a real disappointment in the story. Thankfully it was the only thing to really leave me at a loss.

Just want to end this by saying while I don't always agree with your opinions, I do always enjoy reading your reviews. I come away with a new perspective and more importantly you make me more critical of the comics I read. Thanks!

panelhopper said...

It's great to be able to see a review which, fore me personally at least, addresses some of the nagging doubts I've had about the current "season" since issue #10. It seems to me that there's less and less effort(or, if not, less consistantcy) going into the writing as the arcs drag on. I wish I could blame the difficulties of the medium, but the first two arcs were written so well that I know this isn't true...When this first started we had a clear path and even a villain who posed a realistic threat, but now we seem to have become bogged down in one-shot and it's all very hit and miss...