Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Buffy's Back - in Comic Form!

Buffy’s Back to Kick Butt
By: Jennie Nickerson

A pert, blonde, fashion-conscious young woman named Buffy seems an unlikely hero to battle the forces of evil and save humankind. Yet, it is just this girl who continually protects humanity against demonic forces, bloodthirsty vampires and the occasional heinous roommate. Born as Buffy Summers, first in a film created by producer Joss Whedon, then throughout the seven seasons of the TV series of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this powerful young woman has attracted a cult following around the world. Women like her because she dismisses traditional gendered stereotypes of the passive, helpless female. Men like her, because, well, she looks great in leather pants while holding a crossbow. In general, however, Buffy’s fans have always respected both her supernatural strength as well as her acute sense of responsibility and athleticism. Perhaps this is why, after the program ended in its seventh season in 2003, the hearts of millions who had grown to love and relate to the mystical slayer and her gang of ‘Scoobies’ cried out for more.

It took four years, but finally, Joss Whedon and Dark Horse Comics have given Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans just what they want – more Buffy. Sure, it isn’t coming in TV sitcom form as fans are used to, but this eighth season of Buffy’s many adventures will be captured in a new medium – the comic book. While fans of the show have created Buffy spin-offs via the comic book genre in the past, the difference this time is that this authentic eighth season (which picks up a few years after the last episode of the series left off) is written by producer/writer/director Joss Whedon himself and joined by artist Georges Jeanty.

Released to the public on March 14 2007, the first story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, entitled, "The Long Way Home – Part One" doesn’t disappoint. There's been a moderate period of time between season seven and season eight, with numerous characters having gone through varying degrees of change. Buffy, Xander, Dawn and a host of recently awakened slayers have moved to Scotland in the wake of their former home, Sunnydale, being turned into a massive crater at the end of season seven. However, a battle still rages on with the Buffy characters, as they continue to fight both literal and figurative demons while attempting to discover themselves and their duties in a new, unfamiliar home. As with the series to date, a major theme of growing up and the hardships that follow still exists strongly within the comic. With all the trials the characters have been through, a sense of adulthood has been forced upon them and it is how they deal with that which creates the drama and conflict Buffy fans are familiar with.

Buffy, herself, has transformed from a veritable loner in the early seasons of the series, to someone now evolved as both field leader and monarch of sorts. Other slayers, much to Buffy’s chagrin, now refer to her as “ma’am” – a title Buffy clearly does not appreciate as the reader can see via Whedon’s excellent use of internal caption narration that offers readers a valuable insight into her mind.

Whedon's most brilliant move in this first issue, however, is his use of Xander, the ‘heart’ of the group and now leader of Buffy's command centre. Buffy describes him as her “watcher”, which is wonderfully poetic as Xander tragically lost his eye by Buffy’s side during battle in season seven. Nevertheless, now Xander watches over Buffy via monitors that give him the ability to see things in a more multiple sense. On a much more superficial note, Xander’s eye patch is a very cool visual which, coupled with a Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D reference, suits Xander’s personality perfectly.

Xander is one bad ass mofo in Season 8!

The tone and dialogue of the comic also stays true to the series, with many little Whedon-esque quips seamlessly blending with necessary exposition and personality. The ‘voices’ of the main cast are replicated to the point where it becomes easy to hear the actors and actresses give life to the excellent artwork. This is wholly helped by the superb art partnership of Georges Jeanty, Andy Owens and Dave Stewart, all of which provide the suitable mood and clarity of storytelling to allow things to breathe, ebb and flow. Certain pages stand out, such as the first encounter with Dawn which is brilliantly laid out to portray what's happening on page without sacrificing the movement and control over time comic books allow. Also, Buffy's internal monologue afterwards, effectively displays her going through a range of emotions and obvious feelings of solitude.

My only concern with the comic book itself is that people reading without any familiarity of the series will most likely wonder what the fuss is all about. To newbies approaching Buffy for the first time, many of the inside jokes and references, as well as the significance of the ending, will be entirely lost on them. They may well shrug their shoulders and carry on unaffected by what they just read, while fans will be champing at the bit for the next issue.

Alas, this is the nature of a season 8. Not many shows on TV reach seven seasons, and Buffy should be allowed a little leeway given the large cultural impact and following it has amassed over the years. It's not going to convert newcomers straight off the bat, but at this stage, for fans who've waited so long to get their Buffy fix after initially thinking we'd seen the last of our beloved ‘Scoobies’, it's a passable flaw because the book isn’t going to be aimed directly at onlookers and the curious.

This may be Buffy in a different shape, but the essence and soul of the series remains – which is surely what many fans have wished for after four long years. With brilliant dialogue and superb artwork, The Long Way Home offers a promising eighth season of Buffy.


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