Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Sometime after "Harmonic Divergence." Before "Retreat."
Warning: The bigger spoilers will be written in black text. Simply highlight to read. As this is a review, there will be some minor "spoilers" sprinkled throughout the text that don't warrant being hidden. If you have not read the issue and don't want to know anything about the plot, don't read this. Spoilers for previous issues will obviously not be covered.
REVIEW: This sounds like a fantastic idea. I was at the Dark Horse panel when Scott Allie announced this one-shot, so it was pretty cool to actually have the book in my hands after a few months of anticipation. Also, I loved the original Tales of the Vampires miniseries, so it couldn't really go wrong. The badass cover by Jo Chen, really stylized art that separated this from everything else in Season Eight, and the fact that, thanks to this issue, we wouldn't go yet another month without a Buffyverse tale from Dark Horse... well all that was just the whipped cream, cherry, and sprinkles on what already seemed to be a delicious sundae.
Unfortunately, the issue was just plain boring.
Conceptually, it's sound. You've got a boy who seems to be right out of a undergraduate's one-act play. He's just looking for something to feel. Which isn't bad, as contrived as it sounds. You can spin a good story from that jumping point, no doubt about that. Plus, writer Becky Cloonan has a rich setting for her tale; a post-HARMONY BITES! world, where vampires are the public darlings. The story is also fairly moody, and the feel for the Buffyverse is certainly there. It's just the pacing and lack of emotional connection in the story that left me wanting. I didn't care what happened to any of these characters, not in the slightest. And that isn't due to lack of page space, because Whedon and co. crafted some fantastic stories with considerably less pages in the previous Tales installments. It's just... all of this feels shoehorned to fit inside of the story, and all of the beats seem really false. Cloonan is obviously a decent writer, and she has a good feel for dialogue. She just didn't bring anything new to the table here. It's a story that could have taken place in three pages, and still have the same emotional weight it has here. Zilch.
In parts, it is sexy, and it's quirky throughout. The style seems like sort of a marriage between Juno and Buffy, with a lot more darkness liberally applied. If the characters had been fleshed out, and if the situation surrounding them had been a lot less painfully straight forward, there could have been something cool here. I didn't hate the book, and I'll definitely read it again. I enjoyed it considerably more than the lesser Season Eight issues, like The Chain and the aforementioned Harmonic Divergence. But in the Buffyverse, stories just can't be this simple. There has to be more at work, and there just isn't in this one-shot.
Art: As I said before, very stylized. It's crisp and clear, and distinctly different from anything I've seen before. Flipping through it, it's great. Each panel taken individually, it's great. BUT. For telling a story, it doesn't work. None of the main characters look the same from panel to panel. In every single panel, the main character Jacob has an entirely different face. Other than that, the art is pretty good. There are some weird panels, such as the one where Jacob asks Alex out in class and he stands up for no reason and what seems to be the outline of a couch (yeah, what?) appears behind him.
Covers: Jo Chen's is phenomenal. Her covers to this, #25, and #26 have just beaten the respective asses of all her other covers put together. Her painting for this issue, which features Jacob being bitten by May, is nothing short of beautiful. She adds a goth flavor to the cover with the washed out browns and the blood-reds, which is appropriate given the subject matter of the issue. Simply stunning. The other cover is... weird. I don't get the reasoning behind making one image take up 3/4 of the cover and then making another considerably less dynamic drawing take up the remaining space. I'm not a fan of it at all, but the Chen cover is more than enough to make up for it.
Characters We Know: No one.