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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Volume One: The Long Way Home

Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2007
By: Dave Wallace



Writer: Joss Whedon
Artists: Georges Jeanty, Paul Lee (p), Andy Owens (i), Dave Stewart (colours), Jo Chen (covers)

Publisher: Dark Horse

I was never a massive fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer when it first aired. I caught the odd episode, and liked it well enough, but never so much that I made a particular effort to watch it. Over the past year, however, I've watched all seven seasons in their entirety (at my partner's behest), and I've enjoyed the show on a different level.

Whedon's talent for planning long arcs in which his characters genuinely evolve and change can only be appreciated when you look at the show from a wider perspective, and the emotional attachment that was built up over the course of the show's early years really paid off with the more mature and sophisticated storylines of the later seasons.

I enjoyed the show so much that I couldn't help but feel disappointed when I finished watching the final episode since I knew that there would be no more Buffy adventures to look forward to. As such, I was quite excited to learn that an "official" eighth season had been launched in comicbook formóbut I didn't find this first collection to be the triumphant return that many fans hoped for.

It's always difficult to translate televisual success to another medium, and I can't think of any other TV spinoff comic that has really lived up to fans' expectations. Buffy The Vampire Slayer continues this trend, despite the boasts of the back cover that the story is an official sequel to the show, but "without the limitations of a small-screen budget."

Whilst that's true, it's also the case that the limitations of live-action media can often lead to a more innovative and creative approach to storytelling, and I feel that some of the essence of the TV show's appeal has been lost in the translation to a different medium.

Over the course of the TV show, Whedon's plotting was always satisfyingly tight, his stories unpredictable, and his snappy dialogue always proved amusing and entertaining. Those qualities are still in evidence here, with a particularly successful transfer of the characters' individual voices and a faithful recreation of the gang's dynamic (but I suppose you'd expect that from their original creator).

However, there's a sense that the book is consciously playing to a different audience here, with several references to Nick Fury from the cycloptic Xander feeling like forced acknowledgements of the transition to comics, and a far greater assumption that readers will go along with the fantastical elements without much explanation or justification.

There's a notable increase in the comic-book tendencies that were always present (but more restrained) in the TV show: the book substitutes frequent bursts of action and excessive threats (with armies of villains that look good visually, but don't have as much potential for drama as a single good bad guy) for the more character-based soap-opera elements of the television series.

Maybe this is Whedon indulging the fantasies he's always had for the character, but if that's the case, we should be grateful that the limitations of television forced him take the TV show in a slightly different direction.

That said, the writer's knack for strong characterisation is still evident, and Whedon's decision to move the characters on to a brand new status quo for this "season" is a risk that pays off. It's a lot fun to see Xander re-imagined as a commanding officer, Buffy as a general in the field of combat, and Dawn as a giant (a possible nod to Michelle Trachtenberg's amusing tendency to get taller and taller with each season?), and it prevents the story from feeling like a stale retread of old episodes of the TV show.

Supporting characters also benefit from Whedon's attention: Jonathan is a particular highlight since he's clearly just as beloved by Whedon as by the fanboy segment of Buffyís audience. His hilarious speech to the slayers on the subject of The Empire Strikes Back is only matched by his later performance in a Slayer recruitment advertisement--and he adds some welcome comic relief whenever things threaten to get too serious.

However, there's still a nagging sense that the characters aren't at the centre of the book in the same way they were at the heart of the TV show. When there is character development, it's fairly superficial (Buffy can use magic; somebody secretly loves Buffy), with the only significant furthering of the mythos seeming to be the growing conflict between the army of Slayers and the military.

Whedon also makes one twist too many in his all-too-simple resurrection of a dead villain from the TV show--a development that also retroactively undermines the "Dark Willow" arc of the sixth season (and causes all sorts of continuity headaches with a major plot device of the seventh).

As far as the art goes, Georges Jeanty does well in bringing the characters to life. I don't know if there's an issue regarding the use of the likenesses of the actors for the book, but Jeanty wisely decides to eschew a photo-realistic approach nevertheless. Instead, he attempts to capture the spirit of the characters rather than their exact likenesses.

Having said that, several of the facial close-ups do look so accurate that they've probably been photo-referenced, and Jo Chen's original series covers are so true to the original actors that they almost look like treated photographs.

Jeanty faithfully brings other concepts from the TV show to life, too--such as the giant Sunnydale crater from the end of season 7--and it helps to reinforce continuity with the show despite the new status quo for the characters.

The action sequences are slick and dynamic, and the less realistic comic book storytelling style allows for some slightly more exaggerated visuals than the TV show might have attempted. There are some effectively surreal fantasy sequences and a far more overt level of sexual content than mainstream American television might allow (one particularly suggestive panel implies that one of Buffy's fantasies is to have a threesome with Spike and Angel whilst dressed as a nurse, and there's a very transparent visual metaphor in the background that shows two trains entering a tunnel from opposite directions).

There's a change of artist for the 5th section (final issue). However, it's easy to accept the handover since it's a stand-alone story (and a fairly disposable one, concerning the fate of the Buffy-decoy Slayers). Moreover, Paul Lee's pencils are close enough in style to Jeanty's that the difference isn't too keenly felt.

It may seem as though I'm criticising this book for not being the TV show, and whilst that's true to a certain extent, I'm not sure that it would stand alone as a comic book for those readers who didn't know the characters from their prior incarnations.

I can at least appreciate the fact that we've been given the opportunity to see Buffy's adventures continue, whatever the medium, and maybe it's only the fact that the TV series was such an accomplished piece of storytelling that makes this book feel weak in comparison.

It's possible that I'll get used to the changes that are necessitated by the monthly comic format (such as the heavy compression in which the first four issues of this collection rush through a story that would probably have taken several episodes of the TV show to tell). I'll simply have to view the comic as a different beast to the TV show if I'm to enjoy it as much.

Whilst I wasn't bowled over by this first collection, I'll probably still buy the next because I enjoy reading about the characters and I think Joss Whedon is a reliable enough creator that his work will always be worth following, even when he's not at his best.

There's also a decent mystery set up that I can't deny that I'm keen to see play out, and it hints at a longer overarching story that feels more in keeping with the style of the TV series.



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