Posted by Don MacPherson on July 25th, 2007
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #s 1-4
“The Long Way Home” Parts One through Four
Writer: Joss Whedon
Pencils: Georges Jeanty
Inks: Andy Owens
Colors: Dave Stewart
Cover artist: Jo Chen
Editor: Scott Allie
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $2.99 US per issue
From what I can gather, the announcement a few months back that Joss Whedon was going to continue the TV saga of a certain vampire slayer in the comic-book medium was met with glee on the part of the show’s diehard fans, but I assumed that the appeal of the new title would be limited to that crowd alone. Of course, I realized I shouldn’t assume anything about a particular comic book. The new series has performed well for Dark Horse, of course, and Whedon has written a few non-Buffy comics that I enjoyed in the past. With that in mind, I delved into the first four issues of the Buffy “Season Eight” series. While there are a lot of references to Buffy’s TV continuity, I was surprised to find that the plot is fairly easy to follow. Whedon has taken a much more ambitious approach to the vampire-slayer mythology, and the dialogue, unencumbered by U.S. television’s Standards and Practices people, is snappy and entertaining. Nevertheless, the subplots and revelations of this series are clearly intended for fans, not for new readers. As a guy who was never able to sit through more than half an hour of the now-cancelled show, the significance of cliffhangers and some character-driven subplots were lost on me. While diverting, these comics made me feel like an outsider looking in through the window of a club for select members.
Since the destruction of Buffy Summers’s hometown of Sunnydale, Calif., the vampire slayer has relocated to Scotland. From a castle stronghold, she and Xander have established a slayer army of almost two thousand young women to contend with demonic threats arising all over the world. There’s just one problem: the U.S. military views her organization as a threat to international security, on par with a terrorist organization made up of the fiercest warriors the world has ever seen. In the bottom of the crater that once was Sunnydale, the military discovers two of Buffy’s old enemies, with the power and plans necessary to bring her and her allies to an end.
Georges Jeanty offers up what is probably the most well-defined, crisp artwork of his career in comics thus far, and in the process, his art looks stronger than it ever has before. Perhaps the credit lies with pairing him with inker Andy Owens, I don’t know, but there’s no arguing with the results. He handles the action in the story adeptly; he choreographs the fight scenes adeptly. He also manages to capture the characters’ youth with seeming ease. They all look like young adults. Jeanty seems to strive for a limited sense of likeness when it comes to the characters and their TV counterparts, but they’re not dead ringers or anything. Jo Chen’s covers for the series offers much stronger likenesses of the actors. Where the art goes a little awry is with the depiction of a select number of characters who look far too much alike here. Fortunately, other cues in the art and in the script help to distinguish them, but Dawn, Amy and Willow all boast similar hair colors, body types and hair length, making for fleeting moments of confusion.
From what I know of the Buffy TV show, this notion of an army of vampire slayers based in Europe is a significant shift in direction for the property, and Whedon’s to be commended for not only making such a dramatic change to his heroine’s status quo but for providing enough information so that those uninitiated in all things Buffy are able to follow the story. The immensity of the vampire-slayer organization is balanced nicely by the playful dialogue, and the U.S. military’s opposition to a new (though unconventional) world power is an easy idea for the reader to accept.
While I was able to follow the larger plotline, I was struck over and over by the same thought: “I’m missing something here.” When the returning Buffy villains are revealed, I failed to pick up on the significance. Buffy and Dawn’s strained relationship may humanize the unusual characters, but I had no idea from what the rift between them stemmed. Willow’s reference to a dead lover was lost on me as well. And the pattern kept repeating. I don’t mind being out of the loop for a few moments, but I kept waiting for Whedon to include some exposition in his script. There just wasn’t enough there. I can understand why he’d want to avoid interrupting the flow of the plot and dialogue, but the absence of information is glaring. To be fair, I am not representative of the targeted Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight reader. This is designed with the faithful in mind, not me and my review should be considered in that context. Nevertheless, I think Whedon missed an opportunity to win over new Buffy fans. 6/10