Monday, October 19, 2009

The Closest "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Has Ever Come to Jumping the Shark

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #29: Retreat part IV (written by Jane Espenson; art by Georges Jeanty).

Timing: BtVS, Season Eight. Right after "Retreat part III."

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 was my first reaction to the issue, the day it came out:

"Okay.
I'm sorry. I love Joss Whedon. Out of every writer I've ever worshipped, his work has just GOTTEN to me. It's great. They played Dr. Horrible today in my New Media class, and I basically cheered. And my favorite Whedon work? The Buffyverse. It's close to my heart, and, in my opinion, one of the best stories ever told.

I've had my issues with Season Eight since #17, that's for sure. It's see-sawed from bad to really great, but it's been consistently (at least) good for a while now.

But after reading this issue, I don't know what to think. It felt like Buffy as done by Michael Bay if Bay had a slightly better ear for dialogue. It was a mess of action, melodrama, and people who resemble the characters I've come to love fighting and killing faceless humans. What was the big end to the whole getting rid of magic thing? Not showing the world that the slayers were demons. It was to start using guns and torpedoes against an army. What was the RESULT of the whole getting rid of magic thing? Colorful goddesses coming out of the ground. What? Super cartoony, and utterly non-Buffyesque. In tone, characterization, and even down to the ever changing, maybe non-existent theme, this is not the Buffy I've grown to love for seven seasons and a whole bunch of wonderful comics.

I don't know what to think. It's the same team. Is Whedon spread too thin? Maybe. Dollhouse is great. Maybe that is taking up all of his time. But what about Espenson? Her last two issues were very good, and the one before that was also decent. And "Briar Rose" was phenomenal. What is going on? I'm just left scratching my head. Are the flaws inherent in the plot? Is the story just too big?

Whatever it is, my suspension of belief was completely blown, and it's breaking my heart."

I decided that, before I posted my review, I'd let myself cool off. I read it again. I felt no better about it. Then, one night, I turned on "Surprise," one of my favorite Buffy episodes. From the dream sequence in the beginning, to the cliffhanger ending, the whole thing has a very foreboding, Gothic tone that really defined the early series for me. But here's the thing. All the way to the end of the televised series, I was never really let down. Sure, Season Six and Seven had some clunkers, but they also had incredibly strong moments that made up for the problems. These seasons were still good Buffy stories, and they were great television. And Season Eight started that way too. #1-16, excluding #5, were great Buffy stories. The season was on its way to becoming the best season since the epic fifth year. But then, things started getting messy. The plot started making no sense. Scott Allie kept having to explain things that were happening off stage, shaking his head at readers for not realizing that these things--which are essential to the plot--didn't matter for "the story." We were expected to believe that humans no only accepted vampires, but knew that vampires were killers... and that this was basically a unanimous view amongst humanity. Okay. Very strange, very un-Josslike, but sure. I trust the man, so I'll rock with it.

And then Jane Espenson started cleaning house a bit. The first installment of her game-changing arc felt way too rushed, but did set things in motion. The idea of slowly getting rid of magic was suspect, but then again, the arc had just started. The next issue was better, and the next issue--last month's #28--was actually really great. Things started to seem real again. I started to allow myself to reinvest in these characters.

So I don't know what the heck happened this month, but this is not Buffy. This isn't the same series that "Surprise" was a part of. Not even close. It's sloppily written, silly, and doesn't even take itself seriously. The scenes where the slayers and friends are handing out guns should be grave and solemn, because that is the one thing that they never wanted to do. But the scenes are played for comedy. They're long, expositiony, and outright boring. The emotion isn't there in those scenes, or any other scenes in the issue. Willow has a random breakdown, after the calm she achieved in last month's issue, and it reads like a soap-opera gone the way of comics. I really, really don't get it.

The rest of the issue is basically a war comic. None of the human life seems to matter to any of the characters or the creative team, because it isn't even a plot point that they're killing humans. All we see is guns and torpedoes firing, no reaction, just a lot of ohshittery when the slayers realize they're losing, and then yayness when they get a bit of a break. When Angel killed a human in his series, it was a major thing... but in this issue, this choppy, speedy, sloppy narrative doesn't miss a beat. It doesn't matter in the book, and that is just weird to realize that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has become this.

Can Joss Whedon save it? Yeah, obviously, he's Joss Whedon. But it's going to take a lot. Angel: Aftermath was bad, and that was a somewhat standalone arc by a writer who won't be returning. This is a key piece in the puzzle of Buffy: Season Eight and it's written by Jane Espenson. What the...?

By far the worst issue of Season Eight and the lowest point of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a whole. Boring, badly written, and damn near insulting. I don't care about what's happening to the characters because it doesn't feel like them. It's not just a bad Buffy story... it's a bad comic.

Art: Busy, busy panels. I really can't fault Jeanty in this one like I have in the past for opting to not include a lot of details, because there is so much going on in any given panel. Some emotion from the characters in the art might have made the book a slightly better read, but in this instance, Jeanty isn't really at fault. It's the story. The art isn't great, but it's passable.

Covers: The main cover, by Y: The Last Man cover artist Massimo Carnevale, is really cool. It features Twilight flying over a stretch of mountains, and it's the best cover image we've gotten of this season's Big Bad. It would have helped if Twilight was featured in this issue, but it's still a very cool cover. Jeanty's, not so much. While it attempts a #9 like effect, both in cartooniness and the pop-culture reference, the cover is just ugly. The faces are sloppy, and everyone is nearly unrecognizable besides Buffy, Xander, and Rowena. I guess the girl on the far right could be Satsu, but there is no definition to her face. The girls on either side of Xander might be Faith and Kennedy, but which is which? They both look like interchangeable, angry brunettes. Thankfully, Jeanty's cover for next month's #30 is better than this, because this is just ugly.

Characters We Know: Xander, Dawn, Oz, Giles, Faith, Andrew, Satsu, Buffy, Willow, Kennedy.

Rating: 1/10

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Pat your right about everything here. It's really upsetting to watch what is going on and not getting it. I thought Twilight was trying to hunt them so they were hiding by supressing their magic. And then suddenly theres an army and everyone is gearing for war and theres no magic anymore and they have piles and piles of guns. While I agree with you about almost everything you said i am suprised that yu seem to suggest your shock that something written by Jane Espenson could be bad. I was terrified when I heard she was going to be writing such a key arc, because to me, that woman has always been somewhat of a disaster when let loose on her own. She has wrtten good stuff under the wing of the lead writers becasue she has a really good feel for the dialouge and mannerisms of the characters (but lacks understanding of the feelings and beliefs behind that) but i think that there wasn't enough driving by Joss (becasue as you say he's busy) here and she's likely got lost again, Seriously look what the woman did to Angel and BSG.

Perhaps someone needs to sit Joss down and make him read the issues, so he can step in and sort it all out. I fear if he doesn't do something soon it's all going to hell (in a bad way)

Lots of love, puppet lover lol

Anonymous said...

Holy crap am I worried about this, now. Geeze. You've always been right on the money with your reviews, and this scares the crap out of me. I read Buffy because it's *not* like all the other comics out there.

Anonymous said...

I agree about not caring anymore. These simply aren't the characters I've grown to love. I get the impression this series is no longer a priority for Joss Whedon, and it shows. The Time of Your Life arc was the last great piece of Season 8, and that was over a year ago. Sigh.

Tom said...

Very interesting review, Pat. You've definitely provoked me to rethink my perspective on this comic, and you may well be exactly right in your diagnosis.

I thought the way Willow acted in this episode made perfect sense. It was about time someone snapped out of this whole renouncing magic thing. And I loved Buffy's line about maybe the earth is just the modern name for the local wrath goddesses.

But I definitely agree with you that the way the comic treats the killing of a bunch of humans very lightly is not really OK. And I also really don't get why Buffy or anyone thought it was a good idea to stand and fight without magic rather than escape. That was pretty much the worst possible tactic as far as I can see. And I don't think Buffy is actually supposed to be dumb or inept in this kind of way, so I don't get what's supposed to be going on with her at the moment.

So, pending thinking about it some more, I guess I'm on board with about 70% of your outrage and disgust.

Sebina C. said...

I just read it and I'm sad to say it, but I felt completely and utterly the same way as you...

ryan said...

i hope the Retreat TPB is going to be worth even buying let alone reading.

Jonathan said...

I have to agree. I haven't really been engaged with the Buffy comic since the pointless and drawn out Fray crossover (which to me, felt like standing still for 4 weeks, and an attempt to shift some Fray paperbacks) which is where my wife gave up (even bigger Buffy fan than me) but this one really took the biscuit. I realised when about 5 pages in they said there was no magic anymore that I'd completely misread or misunderstood the previous parts of the story - it felt like it came from nowhere! Bad bad bad storytelling.

Anonymous said...

I think you're being a bit harsh, Pat. It may not have been one of the best issues, but I trust Joss and co. to make sure everything works out in the end. The way the season began with all the Simone/gun drama and then the deliberate revisiting of it in "Predators and Prey" DEFINITELY suggests to me that Buffy and the Scoobies have moral issues with what they're doing. Some time around #31 or #32, Buffy's gonna break down to Xander or Giles and say that she can't believe what a hypocrite she's been and talk about how very caught up in her leadership role she got. And with all of that General Voll stuff in "The Long Way Home," how could the season's climax be anything BUT the USA declaring war on the Slayer Army? Because she was blinded by her need to do what was best, Buffy failed to do what was right. It's a very typical Buffy mistake. I think you're wrong to give up so fast. I think that by the end of Season Eight it will all make sense. And if not, then feel free to criticize and complain.....I just don't like that people who trust your opinion so much are commenting below that they will probably not read the arc or even the series simply because one issue rubbed you the wrong way. You might accidentally be abusing your power. And more importantly, you might accidentally be jumping to conclusions because you were quick to give an issue a one out of ten before even seeing how it plays into the rest of the arc--let alone the rest of the season.

I know that you're entitled to your opinions---and that they're always very informed---but I just think you were a little too quick to judge here. Rather than saying that you hope Joss can fix it somehow, assume for now that it's all part of the Seasonal arc / the grand plan. You made a lot of excellent points, but I just feel like we need to see where they all lead first. Once the season ends and it isn't all part of the big picture and Twilight turns out to be Scott Hope or Parker Abrams, then we can all get together and talk about how much it sucked and how useless it was....but for now, please don't give up! Hang in with/for the rest of us!

--Darthrosenberg9
(And I'm sorry if any of that reads as rude or bossy; It was supposed to be a "hang on" plea, not a "shut up" tirade. I only took the time to write this because I greatly respect your opinions, not because I wanted to shoot you down in any way.)

PatShand said...

Hey Darth

DARTH SAID... "I think you're being a bit harsh, Pat. It may not have been one of the best issues, but I trust Joss and co. to make sure everything works out in the end. The way the season began with all the Simone/gun drama and then the deliberate revisiting of it in "Predators and Prey" DEFINITELY suggests to me that Buffy and the Scoobies have moral issues with what they're doing. Some time around #31 or #32, Buffy's gonna break down to Xander or Giles and say that she can't believe what a hypocrite she's been and talk about how very caught up in her leadership role she got."

Okay, and that is perfectly fine for those issues, but when it comes down to it, the fact that the Scoobies aren't reacting AS it's happening is just out of character. It's not only that, it's also the way the story is being told. If the human death and the use of guns was important, SHOW the actual death in the art, concentrate it, make it a plot point through visuals instead of glossing over it.

DARTH SAID... "And with all of that General Voll stuff in "The Long Way Home," how could the season's climax be anything BUT the USA declaring war on the Slayer Army?"

I agree, it should probably be that. But not like this. This should be worked up to, and done with more reality and emotion.

DARTH SAID... "Because she was blinded by her need to do what was best, Buffy failed to do what was right. It's a very typical Buffy mistake. I think you're wrong to give up so fast."

Wait, give up? When did I say I was giving up?

DARTH SAID... "I think that by the end of Season Eight it will all make sense. And if not, then feel free to criticize and complain.....I just don't like that people who trust your opinion so much are commenting below that they will probably not read the arc or even the series simply because one issue rubbed you the wrong way."

Well, people can certainly react however they want. It's a bad comic, the way I see it, and if people won't buy it because I didn't like it, that is their choice. I just write what I feel, you know?

And it's not one issue that rubbed me the wrong way. Season Eight has been a weird and unbalanced season as a whole since #17, but this issue actually negates the increase in quality we got with the RETREAT arc by revealing the truth behind what the loss of magic means.

PatShand said...

DARTH SAID... "You might accidentally be abusing your power."

Nah, no way. I review, people read and form their own opinions. If I didn't give my honest opinion--which is that this is the worst canonical chapter in BUFFY as a whole--THEN I would be abusing my power.

DARTH SAID... "And more importantly, you might accidentally be jumping to conclusions because you were quick to give an issue a one out of ten before even seeing how it plays into the rest of the arc--let alone the rest of the season."

But it doesn't matter how it plays into the rest of the season now. If it reads better in TPBs, I'll take that into account for the review of the Retreat TPB. But as a single issue, which is what I'm reviewing, it's just awful.

DARTH SAID... "I know that you're entitled to your opinions---and that they're always very informed---but I just think you were a little too quick to judge here. Rather than saying that you hope Joss can fix it somehow, assume for now that it's all part of the Seasonal arc / the grand plan."

Oh, it might very well be part of the seasonal arc. It was just done in a very shitty way. The characters must always behave in a way that is believable... not like cartoons, which is sadly what they were in this issue.

DARTH SAID... "You made a lot of excellent points, but I just feel like we need to see where they all lead first. Once the season ends and it isn't all part of the big picture and Twilight turns out to be Scott Hope or Parker Abrams, then we can all get together and talk about how much it sucked and how useless it was....but for now, please don't give up! Hang in with/for the rest of us!"

Oh, no way I'm giving it up. I'm sticking it out until the end, whether Joss pulls a rabbit out of his hat and makes it rock, or if it stays on the same sucky path it's on right now. I'm in it for the longrun.

DARTH SAID... " (And I'm sorry if any of that reads as rude or bossy; It was supposed to be a "hang on" plea, not a "shut up" tirade. I only took the time to write this because I greatly respect your opinions, not because I wanted to shoot you down in any way.)"

Nah, you're fine. I took no offense at all.

sarahww said...

Excellent thoughts and yes, I had the same "jump the shark" feeling when I saw those cartoony goddesses at the end. I think that we're all feeling the fatigue for this series set in, especially (as you've said), in the last year with a whole bunch of strangely developed plot lines that were either rushed or just badly designed. Some of these writers have been with Buffy for over ten years! They should know this mythology a bit better and try to work within the framework, not keep outside of it (e.g., the whole killing humans thing). I'm not going to stop reading, but I wish it could live up to the potential of what it could be.

Anonymous said...

Haha...wow! I've never received so thorough a response.

I never actually disagreed with anything you said, but i much more nearly AGREE with what you are saying after seeing you break it down like that. However, I still think that it will all piece together in the end. If not, I too will be very disappointed.

And I'm sorry that I assumed that you had given up hope and were going to stop reading. That's just the next step people take after they start throwing out the phrase "jump the shark."

It was a bad issue. In a good arc. In a slow half of a good series. So there's a lot of up and down. Really, it could turn out a lot of different ways. I'm just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

--Darthrosenberg9

panelhopper said...

To be honest, I think a lot of us(ie Buffy fans) knew that season 8 might head down this path. I think it has to do with the change in medium. When your writing a comic script, you know that your story has almost no limits beyond the talents of artist your working with and that means that, inevatibly, somebody, somewhere on the season 8 creative team was always going to go a bit crazy. Hopefully this is the last time(Joss will be back in the driver's in Janurary) and we will hopefully be bought back into a tighter story...

Anonymous said...

I think season 8 is still good. But regardless of what I think, compared to season 7 it is excellent. The thought that season 7 is okay, because it had its moments, is not true. At least in S8 they have respect for the characters, which was entirely missing in S7. Maybe the characters are flat and don't come out very well, but at least they are there and a used to tell a story. Which was not the case in S7. No, compared to S7 this is excellent work.

wytchcroft said...

While it's true that this issue us indeed an epic fail; worst line Buffy history "Bayonets are cool". No. They're. not.

And if all this is a lead to some big kinda 'life lesson' where the Scoobs realise how far they've wandered and uncool they've got well, big not a deal.

Nonetheless even you state that the previous issues in the arc reinvested you in the story (i thought they were great too) - and so extrapolating out to define the whole of S8 from here seems a little off.

Sure, i have concerns, you're spot on about the lack of reaction to the situation from the slayer crew but maybe better (or decent even) art might have helped.

Talking art - isn't the cover you love also a pop culture ref - but this time to Ink-blot face from Watchmen???