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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
Joss Whedon and George Jeanty
Dark Horse Comics
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
 
Past Feature Reviews
Dark Horse Comics
The Digital Home of George Jeanty
Jo's Playground: Official Homepage of Jo Chen
Unofficial Guide to Buffy Comics
Much Ado About Buffy the Vampire Slayer

 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Eight: #1-4
A review by David Newbert

Previously, on Buffy...
  "From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Who can stand up, will stand up. Every one of you, and girls we've never known, and generations to come...they will have strength they never dreamed of, and more than that, they will have each other. Slayers.  Every one of us. Make your choice.  Are you ready to be strong?"
 
  And with those words in the final episode of Joss Whedon's fantastic television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers created the Slayer Army. That episode, "Chosen," closed the door on the previous seven seasons by laying waste to Sunnydale, Buffy's homebase of operations. The show's final spoken words were, "Buffy, what are we going to do now?" It is now four years later, and with the help of the redoubtable Dark Horse Comics, we get to learn what they chose. Slay it again, Buff.

Dark Horse published several dozen Buffy comics beginning in 1998, not too many of them very good. The quality of the art varied wildly, and the writing was often flat and uninspired. Though it had enthusiasm to spare, it was missing the guiding hands of Whedon and the talented men and women who wrote and produced the television show through seven mostly excellent seasons on two different networks.

No such problem exists for this new series, which is canonical to the Buffyverse and is being labeled on the cover as Season Eight. I'm happy to say that it has what marked many of Buffy's best episodes and what many of the previous Buffy comics were missing: a masterful control of tone that included offbeat humour, verbal wit, briskly-paced action, and character-based storylines. Whedon himself is acting as "executive producer" of the title, approving the storylines and crafting the overall narrative arc of the season. The rest of the workload will be farmed out to several name writers from the world of comics, including Brian K. Vaughn (Ex Machina) and Jeph Loeb (Batman: Hush, and television's Heroes), complemented by writers from the original show, such as Jane Espenson and Doug Petrie. This really is being treated as another season of Buffy, except that your average television show produces about 22 episodes in a season, and this one is expected to continue for at least twice that long.

The first four issues, penned by Whedon himself and titled "The Long Way Home," gradually bring us back into the universe of the Scooby Gang. The slayers now number nearly two thousand, with most of them organized into squads and dispersed around the world. Buffy and Xander are leading demon-busting missions out of a Scottish castle that functions as a command-central; besides the slayers, they now have witches, psychics, and a hell of a lot of high-tech hardware at their disposal. Also, Dawn is a giant. Really.

The destructive potential of the slayerettes and their world-wide organization has led the U.S. military to view them as a terrorist threat. However, the military's point man on the operation, General Voll, may be part of an even larger, shadowy conspiracy. And he has two vengeful allies: the young witch Amy Madison, left for dead at the end of season seven, and her boyfriend, who is… well, really gross. Safe to say, the FCC wouldn't have allowed it.

Georges Jeanty -- chosen by Whedon to be the book's main artist -- brings a deft touch and solid talent to bear on these inaugural issues. There is a nimble simplicity to his work, a love of clean lines and telling details, that reminded me of the French comic artist Moebius (who used to draw covers for Marvel comics in the 80s), and avoids a lot of comic book gimmickry. It delivers charm and grace by the bucketloads. Jeanty is very good at drawing facial expressions and body language, and his page design is clever, but unpretentious. Previously known for titles like American Way (2006, with John Ridley), and for having done some spot work on major titles at DC Comics and Marvel, Jeanty has the daunting assignment of having to reproduce the likenesses of actors that have endeared themselves to millions of fans, and he is mostly successful at it. He still hasn't quite figured out how to render a convincing likeness of Michelle Trachtenberg, but he does a much better job than many of the previous artists that Dark Horse hired to draw this title.

The covers are being rendered in variants by Jeanty and the incredible Jo Chen. Her artwork, basically portraits over these first few issues, is tonally nuanced, luminescent, character-building, a boon to man and woman both, and is known to instill a vibrant sense of well-being in those who view it. Seriously, her pictures have a life all their own, and she's damn good.

Whedon's scripts for the first couple of issues are talky, but his dialogue is excellent and a good deal of the reason that people love his work. The characters sound familiar to us, but still have the power to surprise. (Note: if you are new to the Buffyverse, you may want to go over some of the television episodes, especially season seven, before you continue with the comic. Whedon cuts you no breaks here.) By the third installment the action begins to pick up, and then the fourth issue goes slam-bang and ends with a major reveal that pits Buffy against a global enemy more insidious than any she has faced before. Jeanty's final page for issue four is a perfect capstone to a story arc that hits the ground running and whets your appetite for more.

As a character, Buffy has the same appeal that the Marvel heroes did back in the 60s and 70s: she is strong and resourceful, yet also vulnerable and surprisingly pensive for an action star. She may be quick to judgment; she is also willing later to see the flaws in her logic, and it makes her far more sympathetic. For a television show that sold itself as a snarky parody of teenage school dramas and cheap horror movies, Buffy was always more adult than adolescent. The show's concern was less about conformity than about respecting differences and becoming a decent human being. When its characters fell short of their ideals, their pain was emotionally real. Gradually the show's drama evolved from teenage angst into adult existential despair, and that is exactly where this new season's Buffy finds herself: a leader of men and women, but still very much alone and wondering if this is the role she was meant to have.

This is leaps and bounds from the Buffy we met at the beginning of season one, and I appreciate it. It is difficult to find popular entertainment that lets its characters mature over time and risks alienating its core audience. This time Joss and the Whedon Gang have even added politics to the mix. By extending the slayer's powers to thousands of girls worldwide, has Buffy committed an act of international aggression? How accepting are other societies of the feminist icon of Buffy? Could it be that there are greater threats to the world than demons and vampires? The subtext is there, if you want it.

Whether you are in the mood for a feminist parable or a hot comic about a woman and her friends who save the world from supernatural forces, give this one a shot. If you are not a regular comic reader, this series just might be the one to turn you. I'd love it if everyone became fans of the slayer. But it's a choice you'll have to make for yourself.

(Note: Good luck trying to find first printings of the four issues mentioned above. I've already seen one of the variant covers of the first issue go for $80 online! Thankfully, Dark Horse is reprinting all of them, and you should still be able to find these later printings at your local comics shop. And in November, the whole shebang gets collected in trade paperback form -- with another terrific cover by Jo Chen -- under the title Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home, for $15.95US. And of course, new issues of Season Eight are being produced every month even as we speak, each one going for $2.99US at first blush. See how they love you?)  

Copyright © 2007 David Newbert

David Newbert worked for public and university libraries for several years while studying film and literature, then joined the college book trade. He grew up on the East Coast, though he currently lives in New Mexico, where the aliens landed.


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