Saturday, March 08, 2008

Something To Talk About

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #12
Drew Goddard, Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens, Michelle Madsen

Alright, here’s the deal: I wasn’t going to review this issue. Although I think it’s one of the strongest in the series so far, I didn’t feel a particular need to comment on it. It was, I thought, just a good, solid issue in a very entertaining series, with no particularly noteworthy developments to the storyline.

Apparently, I was wrong.

Because so many folks have commented on a certain element of this issue’s story, I thought I’d better throw in my two cents. Buffy is my favorite monthly comic book right now, so it seemed weird for me to remain silent on the issue when it’s getting so much attention from everyone else. I want to review the entire issue, though, so my comments regarding said element will be reserved for the final couple of paragraphs. I guess you can skip ahead if that’s all you’re interested in.

This issue marks the beginning of what I believe is a four-part story arc, “Wolves at the Gate,” written by Drew Goddard, who worked with series creator/executive producer Joss Whedon on the final seasons of both Buffy and Angel, but is probably better know now as a writer/producer on Lost, and as the writer of the J.J. Abrams produced giant monster movie, Cloverfield. In other words, the guy’s got geek creds to spare, and he doesn’t disappoint with this very entertaining first chapter. The story involves a raid on the Slayers’ headquarters by a new group of formidable villains, vampires with strange powers beyond those normally associated with that particular breed of undead, at least in the Buffy universe. These guys (well, two guys and a girl, all sporting chic Goth ensembles) can transform themselves into animals, or mist. These abilities apparently give them enough of an edge over our heroes to succeed in their mission to steal the scythe, an important weapon Buffy and Willow used to activate the other Slayers, essentially changing the world. The assumption is that the bad guys want to reverse the spell, although I suspect they may have a different agenda.

As you might imagine, there is a lot of fast action taking place this issue, framed by a couple of scenes at the beginning developing the relationships between some of the characters. Oh, and Andrew is back. Freaking Andrew, man! Georges Jeanty’s work looks better with every issue. He’s getting very comfortable drawing these characters. His work does not look overly photo-referenced. Rather, he has developed his own versions of the characters that look enough like the actors who portrayed them on the small screen so as to be recognizable, but who also bear the artist’s own style.

Some of the criticism I’ve read regarding this series suggests that, since the T.V. show ran perhaps a couple of seasons too long (an opinion I sort of agree with), the comic book is unnecessary, a pointless return to the rapidly drying well, as it were. I have to say, I really disagree. Although the comic proudly proclaims itself to be “season eight,” I think it’s more helpful to think of it as a canonical spin-off, featuring the same characters and universe as the show but with a flavor all its own. This is how it reads to me. Because of the events in the final episode of the show, the setting and premise are radically altered, a few years have passed, and the comic is written in such a way as to deliberately take advantage of the comics medium. It seems to me that all of these things (perhaps the few years’ break between show and comic most of all) have given the franchise a new burst of energy. The storyline and characters seem fresh and alive to me, in a way that I can’t imagine a lot of licensed comic books do.

Okay, so: Buffy has sex with a girl. When I came upon the scene in the comic, I was surprised, pleasantly, but not shocked. It does not seem to me at all out of character for Buffy to have made this choice, and I think it sets up a lot of interesting possibilities for future storylines. This development seems very right, and very true to me, if that makes sense. It says nothing about Buffy’s sexuality, although it does say something about her emotional state. Also, the scene where all of her friends walk in on the two of them was laugh-out-loud hilarious. I don’t think it’s really explained earlier in the issue exactly why Willow brings Andrew to the castle, but if the only reason was so that he could participate in this broadly comedic scene, that would be reason enough for me.

After reading and enjoying the issue, I went online to peruse some of my regular comics blogs, and was surprised to see that most of them had linked to this New York Times article about Buffy’s having had sex with Satsu. This kicked off a flood of commentary from comics and non-comics websites regarding what I had thought was an amusing but minor plot development in a comic book a lot of these people apparently were not even reading. I guess the primary controversy centers around whether or not this was a cheap publicity stunt or a genuine story development. Now, I don’t know Joss Whedon personally, and I suppose it’s possible that he (or his editors) concocted this storyline (really more of a subplot), in order to drum up attention and sales. However, everything I’ve ever read by and about Joss Whedon (and my admiration for his work is such that I’ve read most of it) makes this scenario seem very, very unlikely, as does the fact that, as I said above, the development is so completely and utterly in keeping with the character of Buffy and the tone of the series. I’ve read some things that lead me to believe the editor and publishers of the comic may have taken the opportunity to sell the book based on this supposedly controversial element, but I don’t think that has any bearing on the original creative decision, nor am I really interested in a discussion of marketing techniques. Unless the editor forced the creative team to inject this element into the series, which I don’t believe for a moment they did, then the way in which the comic was sold is, in my mind, a separate issue. I guess I shouldn’t mind that one of my favorite comics is getting so much attention, but there’s something about the whole thing that makes me a little sad. There’s something very weird and archaic about the way people are reacting to this that rubs me the wrong way, like people are making a big deal out of something that I thought had ceased to be a big deal a long time ago. I might be completely off base, but I bet Joss Whedon is surprised by the level and type of reaction this has gotten, and probably has mixed feelings about the whole thing as well. Frankly, I suspect he expected better of us.

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