Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lily From "How I Met Your Mother" Reunited With The Sarcastic Amish Dude From "Sex Drive"

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #26: Retreat part I (written by Jane Espenson).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Short while after "Safe."

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: The first time I read this issue, I was let down. It had a lot to live up to. Joss Whedon announced Oz's return almost two years ago at SDCC 07, and the anticipation has been gaining momentum ever since. Also, after a disjointed arc of one-shots, this was said to be the issue that would launch Season Eight toward the big shiny climax of Meltzer and Whedon's respective arcs. Stakes would be raised, everyone would be united, and the plot would go into hyperdrive. Also, from #1, to #6, to #12, to #16, all the first issues of each arc have been consistently fantastic. The arcs don't always live up to what the first chapters start, but it was almost a given that this would be a fantastic issue.

But, upon first read, I just thought it was okay. There weren't any jarring moments or awkward paneling like in Espenson's "Harmonic Divergence," which is something that I feared, but what didn't sit well with me was how over-the-top the issue was. I've never been a fan of God-Mod Willow, and having her a) immediately know that demons and friends alike were making their way towards Scotland, b) find out how the demons found them by teleporting a demon away and then apparently talking to Warren (I'm sure more will be revealed about that later), and C) having the power to glamour (or transmogrify, it's debatable) herself and Buffy to look like a seagull carrying a floppy fish. Take that, throw in the ever controversial submarine, add demons with tanks and a catapult that uses impact bombs, and sprinkle it with gigantic goatmen, and you've got the most bizarre issue of Season Eight so far. The magic stuff is slightly grounded by the fact that a Wiccan slayer gets her braid fried from magical strain and that Giles is questioning Willow's use of Magicks, but it is all still a bit too much for me. It really overwhelmed me, and made me even more worried about the fate of Season Eight than I have been for the last few months.

And then, I decided to take a deep breath and re-read. I mean, it's Jane Espenson. She wrote the best episode of Dollhouse so far, as well as some great Buffy episodes... she knows what she's doing. I had to give the issue another chance, now that I knew what to expect. The second read definitely didn't make those problems disappear, but I was able to look past the outer exterior of wonky stuff and really see what was going on with the characters. I think there had to be this outburst of crazy magic stuff, because the issue ends with Buffy saying that she's going to stop Willow's overuse of magic. It probably won't go over well, but all that is to be determined. What I'm getting at is that I enjoyed reading the issue a lot more the second time around. It still bugs me to no end that the writers are putting more stock in seeing how much they can play around with a budgetless Buffy than they are in keeping the story grounded and believable, but there are definitely some great character moments here. A lot of funny stuff, too, which is to be expected from Espenson.

One of the best moments of the issue is the surprise reunion of (SPOILERS:) Andrew and Warren. It's way to quick, but it's both funny and tense. Of course, Andrew is quick to fall into Warren's, "I want to be your friend" again trap, but I think it was smart not to let it go too far. Andrew's redemption was flimsy until recently, and throwing it all away would be a waste, but it would also be a waste not to explore his connection to Warren, which is still fresh. What I didn't like about the moment was how it ended. Warren's manipulation of Andrew is cut short by a rush of goatmen that the slayers are fighting, and Warren must have escaped... but shouldn't that have been shown? It just cuts from the fight to Andrew and his slayers, bruised and battered, heading towards Buffy. We've been waiting a long time for this moment, and we don't even get to see Andrew watch Warren escape? Don't even get to see Andrew's reaction? Sloppy choice.

Something cool about the moment, though, was Andrew hitting one of the goatmen with a bone and saying, "I bet you won't find this too humerus." Only he could get away with a line like that, and I love it. Another hilarious bit was Willow, Xander, Dawn, and Kennedy standing outside Buffy's room, now knowing that they have to knock every time they want to go in her room. It's little moments like this that really connect the different arcs and make it feel like a cohesive season. A lot of stuff like the fate of General Voll, the fact that no one (except Giles, now) knows what happened to Buffy in the "Time of Your Life" arc, and the entire "Predators vs. Prey" arc make this season feel very random. References to events like the Buffy/Satsu thing and Buffy's confession to Giles that she killed future Willow help to bring the season together.

What follows is the big magical battle, the Buffy/Giles conversation (not as volatile as I imagined... pretty much just sweet, but it works), and the submarine stuff. Some cool character moments and good dialogue (not Whedon, Goddard, or Vaughan good, but good) make the battle scene easier to swallow, and the Buffy/Giles stuff is great. There is one moment during the battle that really jumps out at me as strange. When Willow whisks one of the demons away, Faith freaks out. "No, no, no," she says, "I'm done with this kind of crap." But... huh? Why is she so angry? When does she care about using magick in a battle? I really don't think Faith would mind what Willow was doing with a demon enough to complain about it, mid-battle. Any thoughts as to why she freaked out, commenters?

The issue ends strong with, no surprise here, the Oz appearance. It leaves the big stuff for next issue, but leaves us on the edge of our seat with one big Oz reveally panel. Good ending to a good issue that had both moments of greatness and moments of blah.

Art: Really hit and miss. A lot more hit than Jeanty's been doing recently, and it wouldn't be that bad at all if we didn't know for a fact Jeanty could do better. Compare an average panel from this to an average panel from any of the first fifteen issues, and you'll see what I mean. There are utterly fantastic panels, like the first Warren panel, the Oz reveal, and a two panel sequence of Buffy's face (the "Which everyone?" one). Then, there are pages as sketchy as the one where Buffy and Willow enter the new headquarters. Wide-shots used to be Jeanty's thing, but now they're utterly lacking. Overall, way better than Jeanty's worst, but no where near his huge potential.

Covers: Jo Chen's cover is easily her best, Georges Jeanty's cover is easily his worst. Jo Chen creates perfect likenesses in this iconic image of good and evil characters. It's as good as her TPB covers, and actually sort of looks like one. Oz, Willow, Buffy, Andrew, and Twilight are perfect, and Warren is simply terrifying. What's astonishing is that he actually has the bone structure of Warren Meyers, so even when the character would look passable as a random skinless dude, Jo Chen goes all out with her likenesses. Jeanty's cover is just weak. The colors are oddly cheery, none of the likenesses really stand out, Faith and Kennedy look like each other, Dawn... take a look for yourself, and it just seems like a really awkward attempt at an iconic image of way too many people. It's like trying to mix the concept of Jo Chen's TPB #1 cover with Urru's #17 spread. Just doesn't work.

Characters We Know: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Kennedy, Dawn, Satsu, Faith, Giles, Andrew, Warren, Amy (? Was that her?), Jonathan (Andrew's mind), Oz.

Rating: 7/10


Matt said...

I'm mixed on the issue myself.

On the one hand, it was very well-written and an enjoyable read. But there were certain logistical things that bugged me.

Really, I would've liked it if the issue took place, chronologically, a little earlier. Had I not read the inside cover (which I never do, as it's generally just a recap page), I would've had no idea going in that Buffy and the Slayers were on the run. I would have liked to see the genesis of that. That's kind of been a problem this entire "season" - a lot of the larger plot developments have happened off-panel...for example, most of the public-turning-on-the-Slayers-stuff-and-oh-yeah-everyone's-cool-with-vampires-now stuff was told to the reader and not shown to the reader, which is frustrating as a reader. It seems like a second safehouse of Buffy's and the move to full-on retreat mode is something we should have seen.

As a continuity nerd, I would like to point out that Warren himself never told Andrew to kill Johnathan - that was the First. Surely Warren could have found out about that incident and used it to his advantage, but it seems like Andrew would've known the difference.

Anonymous said...

I had also been worried about the excessive use of magic, but this issue actually allays that concern -- because it's now a problem in the story. I don't mind things that are strange if they turn out to be plot points.

A correction: I don't think Willow talked to Warren. I think she skinned the demon and got information from it. That's what had Faith so upset. It's also an element in the Buffy/Giles conversation about losing Willow. Buffy's initial reaction to go with the expediency (we got the info) over the danger (Willow's torturing to get info) signals that there's not just a problem with Willow. Judging from the way Buffy fends off Giles' initial comment on this, I'd say that the Buffy/Giles rift also centered on an argument about expediency vs. larger moral concerns with Buffy and Giles having switched positions (Buffy to expediency and Giles from it). Though it's also clear that Buffy is concerned about the danger of being all about the expediency.

Lots of layers throughout the issue. Lots of layers in Joss's 3 page bit on-line. It's a Very Good Day in the Buffyverse.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure if Faith's comment was as it was in regards to her being upset over Willow's actions. I actually think she was saying, and Buffy mirrored her idea, that she is over questioning how things get done in the middle of a bloodbath. They are in a battle, if Willow has to do something morally askew to get what the Scoobies need, then she does it and faces the consequences later. The middle of a battle is no place to debate morality.

One thing I want to know was how high were the casualties? I am thinking a lot of slayers died in this issue, not to mention the previous arc.

I agree that Joss and Co could have done a better job explaining how the world has changed in the PaP arc but I am willing to take it as it is, accepting as Allie said in an interview that with the resources of the US government and other powers behind Twilight there is a bit of Magic being used to smooth the way for Vampire acceptance and Slayer disapproval. Besides, so long as Vampires don't kill, they can hide behind all the great propaganda that Twilight, True Blood, Angel saving LA from Hell, and Harmony's show brings on. Aside from the fact that Vamps like to kill, most of them like to survive more. In this new world they get to be well fed, mainstreamed, and not hunted. I think for most, their new lifestyle is worth putting a cap on their homicidal ways. I think a cool factor mixed with magics and great propaganda makes it very possible for Vamps to assimilate, but yes, it could have been done better.

I, overall, enjoyed this issue. It was really the first one since the the Fray arc that I really liked.

Willows mondo power this season does bother me some, but give the circumstances, meeting with snake-woman, a six month trip to the astral plane and her hitting bigger magics from the end of season seven, archiving something few, if any, other mystics in the buffyverse could leads me to also accept the amount of power she has in her personal arsenal, especially since she is compared with other wiccans/witches, by example, and they are shown not to be even on the same playing field as Willow.

The last and final thing I have to say is that they did show Waren's escape, he was teleported out of the catacombs by Amy, or did you miss the green light twinklies that appear in the space he was moments before?

Matt said...

"I am willing to take it as it is, accepting as Allie said in an interview that with the resources of the US government and other powers behind Twilight there is a bit of Magic being used to smooth the way for Vampire acceptance and Slayer disapproval. Besides, so long as Vampires don't kill, they can hide behind all the great propaganda that Twilight, True Blood, Angel saving LA from Hell, and Harmony's show brings on."

See, the fact that we know that from an interview and not from the actual series is my primary problem. Looking at just the twenty-six issues to be released so far, there's been little to no indication that Twilight or the government have had any hand in public outcry against Slayers (or, really, that said public response has been a major worry to Buffy and her cohorts). As a reader who is paying to be told a story, I shouldn't have to look to supplementary materials to fully understand the story I'm paying to read.

sarahww said...

I'm also mixed on this issue, like everyone. To me, even on a second read, it just seemed like there was some random progression on some of the plot points. I agree with Matt, that this should have been chronologically earlier, to really reinforce the Slayers' current situation.

I also wish that Warren and Andrew's talk had lasted just a bit longer, giving us readers some pause or surprise. I didn't really have any fear or anxiety in regards to the conversation, which made it feel tedious.

Loved the conversation between Buffy and Giles, though -- it really rang emotionally true.

Loki said...

I absolutely loved this issue, save for the continuity horror that was Warren's confession to something he never did. What is it with that guy and bad continuity?

Well, ok, so there was one other thing that could've been improved - it could've been made clearer that Willow teleported the demon away to torture him. The skinless-reference could make people think of Warren instead (as I see you did), and if you don't know she tortured the demon for information, you don't know why Faith goes "no, no", which makes the entire thing seem off. So that could've been done better. But since I actually picked up on it myself, it doesn't bother me too much. But could certainly have been made clearer.

Beyond those two things, I loved this issue. I agree with Matt that they should have shown the slayers falling out of public favour instead of telling us between issues, but that's a problem with the season, not with this particular issue, which was wonderful. I felt the characters all sounded true, I felt they finally brought everyone together which made the issue feel like it mended the somewhat fragmented feeling the series have sometimes tended to have, and I thought it was consistently funny AND exciting in the same ways the show used to be. I only wish the front page and long-told spoilers hadn't given away the Oz-reveal at the end, it would've been cooler without the "when will he show up?"-feeling the front page brought on.

To me, this was an outright awesome issue, at least if only they could fix the NEW ridiculous continuity error they heaped onto Warren.

PatShand said...

The Warren continuity error will be fixed for the TPB.

Matt said...

"I agree with Matt that they should have shown the slayers falling out of public favour instead of telling us between issues, but that's a problem with the season, not with this particular issue, which was wonderful."

A fair statement. Looking back it does look like I'm heaping a bit too much on the issue itself, which wasn't my intention. I did really enjoy the issue, which I'm very happy about, as I was mostly indifferent to the last few months of one-shots.

After thinking about it, I think the way this issue begins (as in, the reader joins the Slayers smack-dab in the middle of a full-on Twilight siege) would have played better if not for the complaints with the season I listed above. If the rising popularity of vampirism and the decline of the Slayers' popularity (as well as the reveal of their existence to the general public) had been given more weight in the past few issues, the in media res start of this issue would have made a lot more sense.

Loki said...

Agreed. I think a lot could have been solved, there, by just putting the "Living Doll"-issue at the beginning of the five one-shots rather than at the end, and ordering the other three Harmony-Faith/Giles-Simone, building up a tension centring on Slayer persecution towards this issue. As it was, they did in every way not - we haven't seen the Slayers being hated by the world in any way since Predators and Prey, and not seen them victimised since Safe, with Living Doll at the end completely buffering any remaining tension we might have been feeling for the topic. (That's not me saying some of these issues weren't weaker than they should have, but just pointing out that even their order in my opinion did the main plot a disservice).