Thursday, January 14, 2010

Whedon, Whedon, Whedon

What Is It?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Issue #31: Turbulence (written by Joss Whedon; art by Georges Jeanty).

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

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 hidden.

REVIEW: “Retreat” was mostly hit and miss (some BIG hits, some BIG misses). Let’s move on.

Twilight was unmasked. Most of us know who he is. Some folks are scared, some folks are mad. I’m excited. Let’s move on.

And now, we’ve come to the first regular Joss Whedon issue since #19. And man. Man, oh man. Let’s start with the probably unexpected gushing.

This is the best Buffyverse comic that has come out since Brian Lynch’s pitch-perfect conclusion to ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL. This is the best issue of BUFFY: SEASON EIGHT since #16, which was the best of the whole series. So understand what I’m saying when I say how damn good this book was.

It was epic, with how it dealt with Buffy’s newfound superpowers. It picks right up from the end of “Retreat,” and her reaction to getting these new powers is just so perfect. She hides them from her friends initially, putting all this new and confusing stuff to the back of her mind to deal with the more pressing issues: taking care of the wounded and confessing her love to Xander.


I’ll get there.

But when Buffy does reveal her superpowers—pretty much because she has to, which I loved—she delivers a super iconic line that reminded me of Angel’s epic “Cue the music” from AFTER THE FALL. As Buffy is about to take flight, she says, “Thanks for the vote of no confidence and shut your mouths and look. Up in the sky.” Anyone skeptical about Buffy’s ability to fly will likely join the “WOW, THIS IS AWESOME” crowd after this issue. Say what you will about the structure and consistency of Season Eight, but Joss has been planting the narrative seeds leading up to Buffy flying since Issue #1. And man does it pay off.

The epicness isn’t even the reason this issue kicks ass. In fact, it’s how restrained the thing is that really makes it rock. After Jane’s very, very busy arc, we needed this issue. The characters needed to have the conversations they had. And man, did Joss ever do an incredible job writing them.

+ Willow and Oz talk- This was mostly here to give a context to Willow (spoilers:) getting her powers back due to some unidentified mystical fallout, but this conversation also needed to happen. Willow apologizes for ruining Oz’s peaceful home. Oz makes everything okay. I’m glad this relationship is behind handled with such delicacy. Joss writes them with respect to their deep, connecty past, but not in a way that steps on the toes of Willow’s lesbianism. She’s a lesbian, yeah, but her love for Oz as a person will never go away. I dig that.

+ Buffy and Riley- Cute, funny, sad. Whedonesque.

+ Twilight talks all evilly. Man. Not saying anything. But man oh man. This is dire.

+ Buffy and a solider from Twilight’s army- Perhaps the saddest thing in the season since Xander’s collapse at Renee’s death. I won’t talk much about this, because I don’t want to ruin the punch this scene packs, but it’s short, surprising, sad, and so so necessary. Beautifully done.

+ And speaking of beautifully done. Buffy confronts Xander about Dawn, and also confesses her feelings to him. And he (SPOILERS:) approaches the situation from the same way I am. He doesn’t believe he. He points out that she went through trying to change her sexual orientation before she considered the option of liking him. Buffy remains adamant that she has feelings for him, and he accepts this… and, actually, I do too. Whedon writes the conversation with such tenderness that speaks volumes for how much he knows the characters and their friendship. And that dialogue. Would it be too much to say that it’s never been better? Because it’s maybe never been better.

Utterly fantastic issue. Season Eight looks like it’s back on track. Can’t wait to see what Brad Meltzer brings to the table.

Art: Jeanty’s art isn’t quite back to what it was in the first third of Season Eight, but it’s getting there. There are more standout panels than there usually are, and the only scene that jumps out as “just okay” is the scene between Oz and Willow. The rest ranges from good to… well, great. Jeanty handled the conversation pieces really, really well. The scene between Buffy and Xander just plays wonderfully. I’m not sure if it’s a case of “Uh oh, Joss is back, I have to make this one amazing” or if it’s how smaller the cast of this issue is, but Jeanty’s art here gives me a happy.

Covers: Jo Chen’s cover features Willow trying to blast back one of the Tibetan goddesses. I like the cover. It’s not one of her best, but she’s created such a catalogue of amazing covers that it’s going to be harder and harder for her covers to get that “Man, this is one of Chen’s best” reaction, because there are just so damn many great ones. Jeanty’s cover is a cheesy homage, which he’s been digging recently. And I do like this one. It works for the issue, for sure. In fact, because of the concept and its relevance to the issue, it might even be my favorite cover for the issue.

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

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How Angel Became the Mummy

What Is It?: Angel #29- Immortality for Dummies, Part Two. Written by Bill Willingham, art by Brian Denham. (Back-up story: Eddie Hope in A Devil Walks Into a Bar, Part One. Story by Bill Willingham and Bill Williams, script by Bill Williams, art by David Messina.)

Timing: Two days after #28. The issue is full of flashbacks, too. Just wanted to cover myself, because there’s always the “WELL, PAGES TWO-SIX TAKE PLACE ELEVEN DAYS BEFORE #28, AND I HATE YOU!” guy.

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 hidden.

REVIEW: Controversy! Angry blog posts! Turbulence! If you’ve come to get the scoop on the whole ‘situation’ between the writer of this comic and the team of another comic, you’ve come to exactly the… wrong place. This is about the story, the art, and the characters. Let’s get crackin’.

If Fred were real and also not dead, she might have called me and old fogey, eh?

So, last time, in Bill Willingham’s first ANGEL issue, it was revealed that our eponymous hero was captured at Innovation Labs, where he is being drained of his own vampyric blood and also being bored to death. Or not death, because he’s been there/done that. But super bored. So, through flashbacks heavy with internal monologue captions, we get to see how he got himself in that situation.

Willingham was smart to utilize Angel’s rise to fame in this book. Kelley Armstrong used a plot device—a city ordinance—to make her own writing easy, thus negating any plot developments that could come from Brian Lynch making Angel famous when LA came back to Hell. Willingham scratches the whole idea of the ordinance (no explanation needed, really, fans can fill in the blanks) and juices that plot for all it’s worth. When Angel goes to a coffee shop to… well, get coffee, everyone around him pretty much goes crazy. The guy who is famous for saving their lives and fighting demons is in the same place as they are, AND he’s about to order the same coffee that they’re drinking. But let’s back up a second.

1. Angel, coffee? Ahhhhhh! Why? I can fanwank the idea that Angel was getting coffee for someone else or even going on a coffee run for his whole time. But I can’t really see Angel as we know him going out with the express purpose to buy coffee for himself. What might have been fun is if Willingham made a comment akin to, “I got so used to the stuff when I was a human, I still find myself craving a cup of coffee, even now that I’m refanged.” I buy Spike liking bloomin’ onion, but I’d have preferred if this were done a tad bit differently, as to not make my eyebrow all Dwayne “The Rock” Johnsoney.

2. This is where the scene gets cool. There’s a lot of, “Look, Angel is famous, PEOPLE ARE TALKING TO HIM AND HE HATES IT” business, which is awesome, but the real purpose for the scene is to show the darker side of things. A guy gets trampled to death when Angel’s appearance makes everyone in the coffee shop think he’s come to fight a demon. Seeing Angel standing alone in the wreckage, completely innocent but with another man’s blood on his hands… well, it’s damn sad. And also true to the series, which is good.

Another flashback, a bad-ass fight between Angel and some vampires, shows how the dynamic between the hero and the people he’s saving has changed. Instead of being glad that they’re not going to die, they’re whipping out their camera phones to record a video of Angel for YouTube.

Also, there’s a True Blood reference (“But on TV vampires explode in bloody wet goo when they’re staked”), which gives me a happy.

The scene is also used to introduce Angel to a man who (SPOILERS:) wants to use him/his blood to sire rich people willing to pay five point six million dollars. Willingham finally integrates the idea of how easy it would be to ensoul massive amounts of vampires into the mythology, something that had been avoided since the rules about how to ensoul were introduced in Season Two of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. But even with the souls… Angel’s not down.

And this, of course, leads to him being captured.

There is another quick scene at Angel Investigations, featuring Connor running his first meeting. It’s fun seeing how awkward he was at leading these people that are used to looking toward Angel for direction, and the scene plays well enough. Willingham has a strong, strong grasp of Connor’s voice. Illyria, much less so. I can’t hear her voice at all when she speaks. Gunn… I don’t really feel the emotion or instability I should. I know this is such an expository scene, so I can’t judge his grasp of Gunn’s state of mind, but he does have the guy talk a fair amount in the scene. I feel like Gunn would be keeping quiet and be a bit less inclined to tell people what to do, based on the events of “After the Fall.”

On the not-so-good side of things, I feel like the book did drag a bit. Willingham likes long scenes, and that’s fine since he’s with the book for the longrun and seems to have plotted out a long arc, but everything in his section of the book could have been done in eight or nine pages. Which means that #28 and #29 could have been one issue, and would probably have been a much more solid story for it. The entire scene at Angel Investigations rehashes what happened to Connor in #28, and the coffee shop scene AND the vampire fight take too long to get where they’re going. In addition to the characters voices being off, what I’m sensing is an incredible writer struggling a bit to get used to the voices, tone, and pace of the Buffyverse. Willingham will certainly do it, because, as I said, he’s an incredible writer. I feel like it might take a few issues before he really hits his stride, however.

And the story seems like it’s going somewhere awesome, so I’m down to wait and see how his comfort with the characters grows over the course of his run.

As for the Eddie Hope back-up, it was cool. Bill Williams is a good writer, and I love how he integrated Jacob Crane, the villainous devourer of supernatural creates from the fifth season of Angel. Also, I love the flashback to Eddie Hope during Hell. It seems to be a fragment of a story that’ll be continued or concluded next issue, so there’s not much I can say, but it was a fun piece.

Art: Brian Denham’s art improves as a whole this issue. The fight scene has some nice, fluid action. But again, his likenesses seem a bit too rigid. Sometimes it seems a bit like the characters are posing, while, even in conversation, it should seem as if they’re moving. It’s not bad, though; in fact, it’s very good. I just hope that Denham continues to improve on the movement of the non-fighty scenes. Messina’s arc in the Eddie Hope bit was great, as always.

Covers: Jenny Frison’s cover is awesome. It pokes fun at Angel’s newfound fame by sticking a cigar in our hero’s mouth and putting two well dressed babes on his arms. It’s funny, looks good, and it overall a well-done, extremely stylized cover. Messina’s is good, if a bit boring. Unfortunately, the three covers we’ve seen of his this arc look very much the same. Let’s hope for some diversity for #31!

Characters We Know: Angel, Gunn, James, Dez, Illyria, Spike, Connor, Kate, Jacob Crane, Eddie Hope.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, January 11, 2010

Twilight Revealed

The covers to Buffy #34 have leaked.

Twilight has been unmasked.

Some fans are pissed.

A certain writer is pissed.

But Buffyverse Comic Reviews? We're (again, using the plural very loosely) kind of excited.

Check out the article Pat Shand wrote because... well, it's essentially a way that this could work.

Enjoy. Leave comments at the site, please! Spread the word... unless you want to avoid spoilers. Because they are aplenty.