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:
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.