26 May 2011

Buffy Season Eight!

(Spoilers? Yes indeedy.)

In early 2007, when I was living in a wee adobe box in Santa Fe, I got an unexpected package from my friend Josh. Inside was the first issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight. I'd no idea such a marvelous event was even taking place, and it just straight-up made my year. (In fairness, 2007 was a lousy year. Doesn't lessen the excitement.)

I'd never collected individual comics issues before (OK, my sister and I did amass an enormous collection of Archie Double Digests), though not from any snobbery or cooler-than-thou; it becomes really difficult to catch up on this stuff when you didn't grow up reading it, you know? The DC and Marvel universes are decades old and crazy-ass complex...Buffy had seven seasons of crazy-ass complexity behind it, indeed--but it was crazy-ass complexity that was second nature to me. (The musical episode of Season Six is, in fact, my only homegrown Christmas tradition thus far.)

Now the series is through (40 issues--I've got most, having bought the first trade for issues #3-5, and I ran out of $$ for the last arc but read it on NetGalley, because NetGalley is the tits). As a whole, I'd rank Season Eight with the good seasons of the show (per my subjective-of-course opinion, 2 and 5; the great seasons were 3 and 6, the "ehn," 1, 4, and 7--though even those had high points, like the mostly-dialogue-less "Hush" in 4). Picking up around a year after the end of the TV show, it deals with the aftermath of Buffy's momentous decision to "activate" all the potential slayers in the world: from two (due to Buffy's various deaths) to 1,800, most girls working in loosely associated squads. The decision to create what's essentially an uber-race of ass-kicking ladies doesn't sit well with a lot of people, though, including the U.S. military and a mysterious cabal (are there non-mysterious cabals?) led by the charismatic masked Twilight.

Let's let that sink in: the Big Bad in this season is named Twilight. This made my brain explode with happiness. Whedon can swear all he likes it's a coincidence, but I can't imagine him doing any less than seething about the dominant vampire narrative of our time destroying his efforts to undo the helpless-female horror trope; he does pen a line for Buffy about the series, how she lived it, and "[her] vampire was better." There's also an storyline in which Harmony gets her own reality show and vampires become ever so chic, making slayers seem even more like villains, perhaps a response to the defanging of Edward and his ilk?

However: that storyline is really where the season started going sour for me. The four arcs that come beforehand are great: The Long Way Home, while largely exposition, seems giddy with excitement about the revival of these characters, and crackles with delight, snappy dialogue, and some brill reveals, the best of which is Flayed Warren, who's been kept alive since Season 6 by a skin of Amy's magic. He is understandably bitter. In No Future For You, Giles recruits Faith to kill an aristocratic Brit slayer who's decided that her blue blood and supernatural powers give her a moral carte blanche; since Faith knows only too well that slayerhood doesn't mean righteousness, she's the best woman for the job, but conflicted as she gets to know the girl and recognizes a lot of herself. And there is totes a cameo of the Tenth Doctor and Rose which I completely missed the first time around. The third arc, Wolves at the Gate, is weakest of the four, but there's still drama and fun to be had: hijinx with Xander and Dracula, who apparently developed a weird buddy/manservant relationship after Anya died; Buffy's controversial decision to sleep with a Japanese slayer named Satsu (me? I think it was perfectly in keeping with her sexual history, which is often thoughtless and always unusual). And then Merciful Zeus there's Time of Your Life, the Buffy/Fray crossover I hadn't known was necessary to make my life complete. (I was Fray two Halloweens running, made myself a scythe, see?)

Then we hit a string of one-offs (collected in Predators and Prey), and things start to plateau. There are important events--Harmony's media success and the continued demonization of the slayers, worsened by the activity of rogue slayers. Dawn finally sheds the ex-boyfriend-induced enchantment she's been under the whole series up until now (which has rendered her a giant, a centaur, and a living doll). But perhaps because these issues are all written by different people, they lack cohesion--funny, really, that Monster of the Week eps are often my favorites in TV terms, but don't quite work for me in this medium.

When the series returns to arc form in Retreat, though, I wasn't as compelled, despite the reappearance of Oz (now married to a Tibetan woman and living a peaceful werewolf-free and yak-butter-laden existence). I think it's because things got too huge: there's a teleporting submarine, full-scale slayer-on-military warfare, three giant wrath goddesses who give Buffy superpowers. One of the joys of the comic for its creators, of course, is not being shackled to a small-screen third-tier-channel FX budget, but from here out the temptation to go blockbuster grows too great, and true core of the Buffy ethos--relationships, ambiguity, wit--sometimes get lost in the spectacle.

Endgame arrives in Twilight and Last Gleaming, and I found it a bit of a mess (minus the awesome sequence of Xander putting Buffy's newly acquired superpowers through the Superman paces). Twilight turns out to be Angel (buh?), and he and Buffy literally screw a universe into being (also buh?), which threatens this universe and can seemingly only be cured by the banishment of magic. Dawn and Xander get together, apropos of really nothing that I could see. Then, Spike shows up (maaaaaaan, I know he came back to life in Angel, but his hero's death in Season 7 made me so HAPPY) in a spaceship piloted by bugs, reveals the existence of a glowing whatsamajigger that's the source of all magic in this world I think and is guarded by the Master (somehow). Honestly, I spent a lot of these arcs being simultaneously confused and dubious; I mean, Giles dies*, and I didn't even cry! AM I A MONSTER?!?! (*Yeah, this was a bit too spoilery for me. Highlight if you will.)

Still and all! The ending is satisfying, albeit mostly in the new world it sets up: magic is removed from the world, at Buffy's hand. Vampires and the slayers already called remain...but Willow finds herself powerless and defeated, and rage against Buffy spreads in the formerly supernatural community. There's expected to be a season 9 starting in September, which promises to ratchet down the bells & whistles and adhere more closely to the show's heart: identity, change, betrayal. And I'll be reading!

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