What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #27: Retreat part II (written by Jane Espenson; art by Georges Jeanty).
Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Right after "Retreat part I."
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: Okay, here we go. For the first time in a while, I can say that the writing is where is should be. I definitely enjoyed #24-26 a lot, mostly because they were better than what came before. But the series has definitely been missing something for a while. I don't think the writing has been Buffy quality since #19, and there hasn't been a stretch of great issues since #6-15... but I think things are about to change. For the first time in too long, I was left yearning for more after the last page. The epicness is back, the funny is back... and Oz is back.
Oz is a changed man, but he's still recognizable as the character we've been invested in for a long time. His dialogue rocks, which really makes this issue good, as a lot of it is a monologue by Oz, as he updates Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, and Dawn on his life. And, like his wolfy situation, it's changed. A lot. One of the most interesting things in the issue is seeing Willow deal with the fact that (SPOILERS:) Oz is in love with another woman named Bay and has a kid. It's not the angsty stuff you'd expect, but a really mature and subtle sadness that Willow experiences. I really like the way that was handled. Also handled nicely is Oz's backstory. The issue could have easily been cramped with the backstory, but instead it lets the story naturally unfold, gives the characters the space to react appropriately, and also shows what's going on with the bad guys. While #26 was a cool read, the pacing was way too fast, leaving a lot of the interactions (the Andrew/Warren confrontation; the battle of the Slayers vs. the demons) feeling rushed, too short. This, however, is just right.
Espenson also does really well with the Twilight stuff. We spend more time on him here than we have since #11, and we get a look at the interplay between him, Riley, Amy, and Warren. Some pretty juicy stuff is revealed about the dynamics of the group. Riley's behavior will definitely bring up some interesting theories, and Twilight's comment that he (SPOILERS:) "...know(s) Buffy too well to believe she'll be silent when she dies..." The best scenes are definitely the ones with the villains, but I can safely say that there wasn't a scene in the book that I didn't like.
I'm glad to say that I can't wait until Buffy #28.
Art: Now this takes away some points. Check out my old reviews for the Buffy comics. I loved Jeanty's style. His art from #1-4, 6-9, and 11-15 was amazing. Some of my favorite comic art. But ever since his pages in #20, something has been different. His lines haven't been as sharp. His Buffy, Willow, and Xander started to look very loose, and at times lazy. It would be jarring to have a different artist take over at this point, but it's nearly as jarring to open the book and realize that the dude who has been nailing these characters (har har) since #1 is now the same dude botching their likenesses. And it's utterly strange, because Jeanty's landscapes are beautiful. But he just seems to have given up on drawing people. Sure, there are panels that rock, such as the Oz "Run" flashback panel. But then... Twilight smacks a bowl out of Amy's hand, and the moment should be threatening, explosive... but it's not. Oz looks like Andrew in nearly every panel that doesn't solely focus on Oz. Oz's hair color keeps going back and forth from red to reddish brown to Andrew's straight brown. And Jeanty is probably only going to get once chance to draw Tara, and it's a shame that he made her look like that. I get that these are incredibly busy panels, but still... if you're going to shaft something, shaft the backgrounds. And that's hard for me to say, because Jeanty's strongest art at this point comes from his backgrounds. But I come here for the characters, and since the writing has gotten back up to where it should be, the art should deliver in a way we've come to expect from Jeanty. And this does not.
Covers: Jo Chen's cover is good, definitely. It's not my favorite of her works, but it's really peaceful, really cool. I love the Xander/Dawn relationship, and from the cover, as well as their interaction in the issue... I do think it's going somewhere. But lovey-predictions aside, the cover is nice. Not epic like the last one, but it suits the issue. Jeanty's cover is sort of a traditional horror cover with a werewolf attacking Oz. It's a lot of red and black, and I do like it. It's way, way better than his interiors, and also better than most of his other recent covers. If he can bring this caliber of art to the inside, I'll be a happy camper.
Characters We Know: Amy, Twilight, Riley, Warren, Willow, Buffy, Oz, Giles, Dawn, Xander, Tara (flashback), Faith, Andrew.