"Wolves at the Gate: Part II"
Shawn Hill: 4 Bullets
Marx Pyle: 4.5 Bullets
Ray Tate: 5 Bullets
Shawn Hill 4 Bullets
Plot: Buffy's crew goes about gathering intel on the creepy new group of Asian vamps, which means Xander hooks up with an old master, and Andrew lectures everyone to distraction. Except for Buffy, who's got that scary "gonna do it my way, alone" gleam in her eye again …
Comments: "Buffy vs. Dracula," the humorous if not outright ridiculous opener of Buffy’s best season (five) is revisited here, as Xander goes to inquire of his former lordly master just why the Harajuku vamps all seem to have his very unique power set: transmogrification, immunity to stakes, hypnotic stares, seductive abilities … things the Buffyverse vamps usually lack fully. Andrew (wearing the actual George Hamilton costume from "Love at First Bite") bullet points all these gifts for a confused and wary group of slayers, while Xander's new love Renee is severely annoyed by all the obvious bromance she witnesses when Master and Manservant are reunited.
This is ripe material, and a sort of completists-only Easter egg that Drew Goddard provides, building on and expanding the work that Marti Noxon did on the original episode, taking the Xander/Dracula relationship to the next level, as it were. They speak like old lovers who've both moved on but share tender memories of the past, and it's frigging hilarious.
Buffy meanwhile is trying to suss out her latest foes using her very formidable army in stealth mode, but is stealth really all that Slayer-prone a skill? She's riled by the recent attacks, and while we get little on the ongoing threats of the military or Twilight in this arc, it's still a cornucopia of fun for the dedicated fan. Every season of Buffy had its filler or minor episodes, some of which turned out only to be laden with more significance in hindsight. So why shouldn't season eight as well present us something new and fresh (Dracula’s school of vamps) even if it's not that major?
What have we had so far this season? Buffy and Willow have conquered a demon (while revealing a few of their own). Faith has conquered a rogue Slayer. Twilight has made its first move on Buffy, wiping the floor with her. Warren and Amy have tried to take down their nemesis Willow, and all of us have begun to get used to the new status quo. This current set of foes may just be more distractions along the way to the really Big Bad, but they're worthy and quirky ones, featuring a mix of pop-cultish humor and some very disturbingly intriguing aspects: they've got some anti-Slayer mojo, and one of them may even be another rogue slayer herself.
Jeanty has to capture Transylvania, Tokyo and Andrew's patented brand of whimsy from page to page in this issue, and he's firing on all levels, turning in great work that doesn't waste a moment of either humor or terror. Season 8 clearly has loads left to say about our many stars.
Marx Pyle: 4.5 Bullets
"The very idea that some two-bit, run-of-the-mill vampires could just come along and... take them from the... lord of darkness... oh balls." – Dracula
I've really enjoyed this eighth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even so, up to this point I have sometimes felt that the original chemistry between the characters had been somewhat lost in the grandeur "unlimited budget" stories of Buffy and her army.
But, you know what? The Scooby Gang mojo is back with this issue.
Xander goes and visits his master... I mean friend... Dracula to find out how a bunch of Japanese vamps that took the Scythe are running around with his powers. Andrew, dressed in the original George Hamilton outfit from "Love At First Bite," fills in the slayers (and the readers) on Dracula and what he has been up to since we last saw him in "Buffy vs. Dracula" (episode one of season five).
Meanwhile, the slayers get a lead on Toru, the leader of the Japanese vamps in Tokyo. Buffy gathers together every slayer she's got leaving their base in Scotland defenseless, which sounds like a bad idea. Together they head off into a very deadly trap that may de-slayerize them all.
It should come to no surprise that Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Lost, Alias, Cloverfield) has delivered one of the best issues so far. As someone who wrote for Buffy before, he knows the characters and their dialogue well, and it shows. I feel like Xander is acting more Xander-like and Buffy (besides the slayer-on-slayer action last issue) is feeling more Buffy-like. I also love the return of Dracula. I would really like to see him become a recurring character.
Now, the last issue with Buffy and Satsu caused a great deal of controversy. Luckily this issue doesn't linger on it. Honestly, I'm still having a tough time believing it, but to be fair, this is a pattern in Buffy's behavior. She has this tendency to use lovers to make her feel better. She did it big time with Spike. I think this is her just lapsing back into bad habits. Hey, she has experimented sexually with undead guys. Why not living women?
I also think the odd move of her gathering together every slayer fits her hazard yet forward attitude. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised that if someone makes a move on the fortress that Buffy has something in place waiting for them. Even if she doesn't, it still isn't out of character.
I was pleasantly surprised that the Scythe can take away slayer powers. It makes complete sense, and it is an uber-threat unlike any that Buffy has faced before. Well... that isn't completely true. There was that one episode where she lost her powers, but you get my point. Unless a miracle happens, it looks like we are in for some major slaying of slayers next issue.
It looks like everything is leading us up to the big event that was hinted at in the miniseries "Fray," which ironically was the first appearance of the Scythe. That was well before it ever showed up on the TV shows. Ah, the circle is complete.
Georges Jeanty was given the monumental task to draw likenesses of some truly iconic characters. Not an easy task. I have had trouble at times with how they are drawn, but either Georges is getting better or I'm getting used to it because I feel like the art is getting better.
Overall, this has been a great series showing that a fan favorite TV show can still live on in a different medium of storytelling. I'm just waiting to see what other TV shows follow this trendsetter.
Final Word: If you are a fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show then this issue... heck... the whole bloody series is a must read. Even if you aren't, this series is heating up and you should give it a try or I'll Grr Argh... you until you do.
Ray Tate: 5 Bullets
"In every generation, there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer....You're the one who sees everything, aren't you....Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of the Scythe to change our destiny. 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. Can stand up. Will stand up. Slayers....Every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong...I think these boys were looking for a fight...They got power. They got resources. And they got a hard-line ideology that does not jibe with American interests. Worst of all they got a leader..."
"Those filthy yellow swine!"--Dracula
Xander and Renee have tea with Dracula. Willow has a heart-to-heart talk with Satsu about Buffy. The wolves at the gate do the unthinkable, and Buffy and her federation of Slayers head to Japan to dust the vampires that brazenly invaded Castle Summers and stole the Scythe.
Last issue, Buffy and Satsu were found in bed together. That moment sent ripples through media not even associated with comics. No less than the bloody New York Times ran the story, and spoiled it I might add for any crossword addict.
I suppose some might have thought: "Well, that's the end of that. The book can't possibly be anything but good. The greatness of Buffy exploring her sexuality with Satsu has been done."
Wrong. Consider the novel execution of classic tropes in adventure literature, which is arguably a much more difficult task than getting your title character to sample the lesbian lifestyle with somebody who loves and deserves her.
The story opens with a scene of Dracula, showing his years, and his new "manservant" Butterfield, a dead ringer for Peter Lorre, though one with purple skin, and demonic ears. Later in the story, Dracula's racist outbursts bear similarity to the diatribes spoken by Boris Karloff's Dr. Fu Manchu. It's reverse racism to be sure. These shades all comprise one the most inventive homages to the monster movies of yore.
When Dracula is confronted by Xander and Renee, he of course has Butterfield make them tea, but you see that's been done before countless of times with a variety of villains and antagonists. In essence, the writer gives the villain a veneer of humanity by creating a pretense of civility. The difference in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is in the interplay of conversation and relationships being explored under the surface of the tea break.
Xander and Dracula are old friends. Renee instinctively despises Dracula, and Dracula's not too fond of Renee. There's jealousy on both sides of the coin, and Xander is at the center. The dialogue is witty and reveals the mesh of the characterization. As does the subtle nuances in the expressions that Jeanty and Owens render.
If you believe Andrew, who is in excellent form as a teacher to the Slayers, Dracula and Xander just may be more than study buddies. There's clearly a gay subtext if you want to read it. At least a grain of what Andrew says is true because he mentions that Xander taught Dracula how to ride a motorcycle, and a Kawasaki 21000 led Drac to gamble his secrets.
When first viewing the Dracula episode, I didn't take it seriously, but defying expectation, Whedon and Goddard smoothly draw Dracula into "Season Eight." As established in the television series, Dracula isn't quite like other vampires. In fact, Dracula says some curious things in the book that suggests he too may have a soul: "These powers you speak of--they're part of ancient magics. I risked my very soul to attain them. I am their worldly guardian."
The bold face is in the text. So this must mean something.
Though treading on well traveled ground, Goddard and Whedon consistently diverge from the standard. Their Dracula is extremely different from other incarnations of the character. You can't even say that he's a little bit of this one and that. He's entirely new and even unique from the other vampires of the Buffyverse.
Whedon and Goddard make simple surveillance seem fresh. After Jeanty and Owens charge up the aftermath of an interrogation scene with a Slayer standing amid the bodies of Kabuki Demons, Goddard and Whedon take that fierce Slayer and show in her an experience that's admired even by her targets. The trouble is that the souped up vampires are preternaturally aware, and the surveillance becomes an ingenious trap foreshadowing what's at stake in the story arc.
Quiet scenes get pumped up by all of the creative team. Willow's talk with Satsu flows with Allyson Hannigan's voice and identifies the facets making Willow's character. She can be soft and warm. She can be knowing as well as mischievous and everything in between. That is captured in just two pages of brilliantly conceived dialogue and gesture. It's a lesson to be learned by readers and writers. Characters should be able to convey the same emotions differently and subtly.
This issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, despite containing nothing newsworthy, still exemplifies writing and visual storytelling at its very best.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!