The Best and Worst of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

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For previous installments of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

For previous installments of Angel:

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Season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer takes place a year after the end of the series where the Scoobies now have an array of psychics, witches, seers, Slayers, and a massive amount of technology, all directed from command central, a citadel in Scotland.

The Best:

No Future For You, Retreat, and Twilight

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No Future For You was an awesome story bringing back Faith, with Buffy and Giles, and another rouge slayer, Lady Genevieve Savidge. The interplay between the characters were all exceptionally great. According to the HorrorTalk review of No Future For You:

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Despite the title being named after her, this comic is not all about Buffy. Her supporting cast plays a huge part throughout each issue.  This volume though shifts the focus entirely to another slayer: Everyone’s secret — or not so secret — favorite, Faith. When Buffy awakened all the sleeper slayers, not all of them signed up for her new covert team of demon butt-kickers. Some had their own agendas. Such is the case with Lady Genevieve Savidge. She’s being influenced by an evil warlock (you can tell he’s really evil because he’s a ginger) to kill Buffy.  Giles realizes that this is going to lead to some bad mojo and enlists Faith to take out Genevieve, recognizing that Buffy and her team isn’t up for this kind of dirty work. Faith has to get close to this rogue slayer in order to do the deed, but along the way she questions if having Buffy eliminated is really such a bad thing given their checkered past.

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This setup is great. The dynamic between Giles and Faith works really well because at this point in the game they’re both outcasts. Giles is the lone watcher for hundreds of slayers that don’t need him while Faith is out on her own in Cleveland. Ugh…Cleveland. The two form a strong bond that’s unlike what Giles once shared with Buffy.  It’s a partnership that begins out of necessity but one that grows to something much more.

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There are five issues collected in this volume, No Future For You. Brian K. Vaughn (Y The Last Man, Ex Machina) pens the four issue Faith-centric story arc. Vaughn is a very talented writer and his style fits perfectly into the Buffyverse. He captures the voice of the characters extremely well and works in many bits of Whedon-esque dialogue.

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The fifth issue included is written by Whedon himself. The story, titled Anywhere but Here, follows Buffy and Willow as they seek out an ancient demon for help and guidance. They are struggling with the identity of Twilight, the mysterious Big Bad that’s been orchestrating recent events (not to be confused with the sparkly vampires). They pass through visions of the past, present, and future and are not happy with what they see. The truth about Buffy’s mysterious benefactors come to light and we see that Willow is still mourning for Tara.  They also encounter a Minder named Robin whose job it is to…well…mind the demon. Robin is based on a real person of the same name who won a contest that Dark Horse put together. The winner was originally supposed to get a cameo but after hearing Robin’s touching story about her battle with schizophrenia, Whedon expanded the role.

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As with the previous volume, the art by Georges Jeanty is subpar. His work looks rushed and unfinished with many faces only partially filled in. What little details there are throughout appear sketchy.  If it wasn’t for Vaughn’s great writing, I’d have a lower overall grade for this book. The last issue is actually drawn by Cliff Richards, but the style mimics that of Jeanty so it’s not much of an improvement. It really is a shame that Jo Chen only did the beautiful covers for the series and not any interiors. It would have made a world of difference to the art.

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No Future For You ties up a few loose ends left from the TV series such as the Hellmouth in Cleveland and the whereabouts of Giles and Robin Wood. It’s a good breather from the breakout first volume, but Buffy still plays a big role. The mysterious villain Twilight is still in the shadows, but he’s moving the characters around like pawns on a giant chessboard. Whedon’s executive producing of this book continues and he’s steering it in the right direction.

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Retreat was fantastic in that Oz, Willow’s former love interest, returned. I was not so thrilled with the return of Amy Madison and Warren Mears since Time of Your Life. According to the HorrorTalk review of Retreat:

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Now that the world loves vampires and hates slayers, what are Buffy and her squad to do? They’re scattered around the globe in hiding, but demons and soldiers are starting to hunt them down. Drastic times call for drastic measures and, thus, an all-out war is started. It’s the slayers against just about everyone else, but the girls are outnumbered and outgunned and tensions are rising.

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Retreat, the sixth volume of Buffy’s un-aired eighth season is perhaps the most unusual volume yet as it delves deep into the slayer mythos and comes up with some stuff I hadn’t known before. Buffy figures out that her group is being tracked because they’re using magic. The only way to hide them completely is to stop using magic. After telling Willow and the rest of her wiccans to tone it down, they’re still being tracked because the slayers themselves use magic. This is the part I didn’t know. Granted, I’ve only watched the TV series once, but I don’t remember the bit about the slayer powers being magical in nature. It makes sense. I just don’t recall that being brought up.  Obviously this comic is canon, so it’s not like some weird fan fiction and it’s certainly not something bogus like midichlorians. It just came out of left field for me.

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Buffy hunts down the only guy she knows that has successfully suppressed magic: Willow’s ex-boyfriend and current werewolf, Oz. The former guitarist for Dingoes Ate My Baby is chilling in Tibet with a wife, a baby (that’s not a little dog, much to the surprise of the Scoobies), and a herd of werewolves. They’re all channeling their power into the Earth and avoiding changing during the full moon. Buffy and the slayers study under Oz and learn to focus their energy as well. While they’re able to hide, they lose their powers so they all become regular women again.  This allows Dawn and Xander to step up and lead for the first time, as they’ve always been normal humans without any super powers. They’re experts at staying alive in these crazy situations.

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Of course, this book would be incredibly boring if Twilight didn’t eventually find them and have a big ‘ol battle.  Since the slayers are de-powered, they all pick up guns and join the fray. While this volume has the feel of a Buffy story, the events themselves feel completely unlike any other Whedon-verse story I’ve seen or read.  Slayers with guns?  Shooting at civilian soldiers (even though they’re being led by Twilight)?  It just feels weird.  In the hands of a less talented writer, this could have gone severely off-course. Jane Espenson is definitely right for the job here as she manages to push the story forward through all the uncharacteristic situations without losing that razor sharp wit that accompanies every good Buffy story.

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Series regular Georges Jeanty illustrates all five issues of Espenson’s arc. I have to say that he’s getting better.  The close-ups of people are great, but any time the panels get a little farther back, the details are lost and you end up with shaky images of people. The action scenes are where Jeanty gets to shine, though. The battlefield is gigantic with a lot of action as humans, slayers, werewolves (and more creatures that I won’t name here for fear of spoiling story details) collide and he manages to capture all of this in each panel.

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As with the previous volume, there are a pair of short stories from MySpace Dark Horse Presents included.  The first is another Harmony story written by Espenson and illustrated by Karl Moline. The blood-sucking reality TV star appears on The Colbert Report explaining how vampires are really victims. It’s a fun little tale that  touches base with public opinion in the Buffyverse. Meanwhile, the second story is written by Joss Whedon and drawn by series cover artist Jo Chen. I’ve been hoping for Chen to pencil more than her awesome covers, so I was glad to see her get a chance at the interior of a book for once. This story, Always Darkest is another one of Buffy’s dreams.  This time she encounters Caleb, Angel, Spike and marries a very surprising former villain. It’s a definite gag, but it’s a great read and Chen really delivers on the art.

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While Retreat is the most un-Buffy Buffy comic I’ve read so far, it had some great plot points. I loved seeing the return of Oz as he was one of my favorite characters from the TV show. Season 8 continues to challenge the status quo that was left at the end of the series. There are some huge changes in this volume, including some new powers for Buffy that I’m not too sure about yet, as well as a budding romance that I didn’t expect, but really should have. With Twilight, Warren, Amy, the army and who knows how many demons hunting down the now de-powered slayers, Buffy certainly has a full plate ahead of her.

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According to the HorrorTalk review of Twilight:

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Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a vampire slayer with some emotional issues who may or may not bring about the destruction of the human race! The penultimate volume of Buffy Season 8 is filled with exposition as reveals start popping up left and right and the story is moved along at break-neck speed. Buffy has super powers. In fact, the second issue in this collection is called Buffy has F#@$ing Super powers. This totally embraces the comic book genre but it feels a little out of place in world that Joss Whedon has created.

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The last volume took the Scoobies down a path they’ve never taken before and this one obliterates that path entirely. Buffy can fly. She has super speed, super strength, and super eyesight. Much to the dismay of Xander, she does not have adamantium claws, the ability to phase through solid matter, or the power to spin a web any size.  (These are all actual questions that Xander asks.)  his seems out of place to me. While I can accept a world where a lineage of women are given super strength and agility along with all of the past memories of the slayers before them to fight vampires and other things that go bump in the night, when one of them gets the power of flight I just stop buying it.

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Fortunately, this comic is still being overseen by Whedon. While he only wrote one of the issues of the Buffy arc, his presence is very much much felt. Best selling author Brad Meltzer, no stranger to the world of super heroes himself after writing Identity Crisis and a year’s worth of Justice League of America comics, takes on scripting duties here. If you didn’t know any better, you would swear he wrote for the TV show because he picks up the voice of these characters so damn well. There are numerous references to comic book lore throughout these issues including an awesome variant cover by Georges Jeanty paying an homage to the iconic cover of Action Comics #1. Meltzer handles these in a fun manner while still driving the massive exposition needed to explain everything that’s going on.

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The way that all this is weaved into the slayer mythos is quite impressive. Giles explains that the slayers exist in an effort to balance out the vampires. Just as you can’t have light without darkness, you can’t have vampires without someone to slay them. Each slayer has been a test from mother nature, searching for the one that will break the mold and ascend to the next level of the evolutionary chain. Buffy became the true chosen one when she did what no other slayer did before her: shared her power. This tipped the scales and they need to be balanced.

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Enter Twilight. I’m not going to dance around the issue here because the cover of the book totally spoils it. Twilight is Angel. This came as a total surprise as Angel comics were currently being published by IDW and he had his own ongoing storyline there that took place after his TV show ended. Somehow that all makes sense in a way but Angel has been the one orchestrating the events of the entire series so far. Also, he’s got super powers too. Mother Nature sees Angel as the yin to Buffy’s yang. The two must go forth together or not at all. There’s a price to all of this, though, and it risks the destruction of the slayers and the planet Earth as we know it. But someone else stops by with a way to put an end to all that. That cameo I’m not going to spoil here.

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While I had my doubts about this whole setup, the way it’s explained works very well. Meltzer is a talented enough writer to make sure that the book isn’t bogged down with all the talk that was needed here. There’s still a ton of witty dialogue that we all love from this series including several panels that had me laughing out loud.

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Meanwhile, Jeanty continues on art duties and although I praised his work in the last volume, it looks like it’s back to the same lack of detail and dimension that plagued the previous issues. As with the other characters, Angel often barely looks like David Boreanz. Most of the time I had to squint in an effort to tell who was who as there was barely any detail when there were more than two people in a single panel.

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Also included in this volume is the one-shot Willow: Goddesses and Monsters, written by Whedon. This gives us a peek into Willow’s journey before the eighth season began. She set out in search of some spiritual answers and paid some dues along the way. This doesn’t give us all the information on Willow’s back-story but it’s a nice story that shows us how Willow ended up on the path she’s on. Karl Moline jumps in for pencils and gets to really shine with some of the elementals that our favorite red-headed witch encounters along the way.

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This volume of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 sets everything up for the final showdown. It puts all of the characters where they flourish which is in the heat of battle. There are plenty of surprises that will leave you ready to jump head first into the final collection.

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The Worst:

The Long Way Home, and Predators and Prey

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The Long Way Home was the opening story, which I found to be too busy. There was too much going on like a Steven Moffat story. According to the HorrorTalk review of The Long Way Home:

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When Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air in 2003, everyone figured that was about it when it came to the Chosen One and her gang of Scoobies. Leave it to someone like Joss Whedon to resurrect the series in comic book form four years later. Buffy Season Eight splashed on the scene in 2007 and it was like they picked up right where they left off. Well, sort of. The writing is exactly what we’ve come to love and expect from Whedon, especially in the Buffyverse. This story starts out a year after the last episode of the TV series.

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After releasing that Slayer mojo into all the candidates around the world, Buffy has spent the past 12 months assembling these would-be slayers into a force to be reckoned with. Xander oversees the operation out of a castle in Scotland like Nick Fury in S.H.I.E.L.D., complete with eye patch. They are trained in various forms of combat, but teamwork is a major part of their curriculum. Also on staff are a handful of witches and physics. This is like the Initiative if it was run by hot chicks.

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All is not well in the world though. Despite Buffy’s efforts there’s a new Big Bad that’s starting to get noticed. Known only as Twilight (not to be confused with the sparkly vampires), his followers bear a strange symbol that looks like “a frown turned upside down and then turned upside down again.” (Gotta love that Whedon dialogue.) Little else is known about Twilight, but just enough mystery is brought up to make it interesting.

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Meanwhile, the government has noticed Buffy’s operation and a rogue branch of the military is trying to hunt her down. They’ve teamed up with some people from Buffy’s past to try to break up what they see as a very real threat. I’m not going to get into who these people are because it’s a great surprise. Plus it does a great job of tying up some loose ends…and some ends that I thought were tied up pretty tightly too.

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The covers for this series by Jo Chen are simply beautiful. Each one is presented before its corresponding issue and it really makes the pencils by Georges Jeanty look like crap in comparison. I don’t hate Jeanty’s art, but it just feels very blah. It’s run-of-the-mill. It’s ordinary. It’s basically very forgettable. The covers are all great and I can’t remember a single specific panel from the book, especially with Whedon’s outstanding writing shining through. Sure, Jeanty gets the likenesses of each actor correct but I’m just not thrilled with the art. His demons and otherworldly creatures are mildly better, but overall it’s nothing to write home about.

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Season Eight of Buffy in comic book form works. The story that Whedon starts to tell here could not have been done on television, much less on the limited budgets offered by The CW. There are big explosions, a zombie army, and not to mention the entire slayer crew. Oh, and Dawn is a giant. Like Jack and the Bean Stalk giant. This volume collects the first five issues of the series. The first four are part of an arc while the fifth issue is a stand alone story. If compared to episodes of the TV series, I’d say that those first four issues represent at least two episodes and the fifth issue would be its own. Think of it as the oversized season premiere to Season Eight. And it’s just getting started.

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The return of Harmony Kendall! I was none to pleased to see her return in Harmonic Divergence. Swell was actually the only issue I liked out of them all, with both Slayers Kennedy and Satsu. I didn’t find the pairing between Faith and Giles in Safe to be that engaging considering their characters still have very different paths. Living Doll is the epitome of what I disliked about Dawn’s story throughout the entire series. It was boring, with more boring, and then a culminated seriously boring story. According to the HorrorTalk review of Predators and Prey:

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While I’m not a fan of the “Freak of the Week” episodes of TV shows, I am a huge fan of a well-done one-shot comic book.  A lot can be done in a single issue story, but they’re not often handled seriously and are mostly treated as fill-in issues.  That’s not the case here in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Volume 5 – Predators and Prey.  The five issues collected here serve as a check-in for the main characters (and some not-so-main characters) as well as a major change in the perception of vampires. These are far from filler issues.

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Each of the five issues center on a different character. The first, Harmonic Divergence, deals with perhaps my most hated character from the series, Harmony Kendell. I hated her in Buffy. I hated her more in Angel. Now she’s invaded the comic book. Fortunately Jane Espenson handles her in such a way that I don’t want to tear the pages out of the book. Plus she writes a story that is so smart and interesting that it feels silly that no one did this sooner. Harmony is caught by the tabloids sucking the blood from a C-List celebrity and gets her own reality TV series on MTV. Vampires are in (eerily just like in real life) and they can now roam the streets openly.

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This leads directly into the next issue, Swell, written by Steven S. DeKnight, which has Willow’s main-squeeze Kennedy dropping in on new Japan field leader — and former Buffy lover — Satsu for an evaluation. They end up taking out an evil toy manufacturer that’s created hordes of fluffy little vampire cat dolls that possess people with their cuddly powers. Oh, and did I mention that the Japan group of slayers has a submarine?

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Unfortunately this is blown up in the media by the aforementioned Harmony and now slayers are seen as the bad guys and the vampires are like a wounded minority. This setup is brilliant as it turns the whole Buffy world upside down. Now the hunters become the hunted and the Scoobies have to re-think their entire approach to defending the world from demonic evil.

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The highlight of Predators and Prey is the title story written by Drew Z. Greenberg. It encapsulates everything that the Buffy series is about in one issue. Andrew finds the location of a rogue slayer and goes on a road trip with Buffy to track her down. He feels responsible for her because he was her watcher. What follows is a hilarious and well-written trip around the world with Andrew talking about such nerd topics as Jedis vs. Superman, Jem, and the Terminator until they finally get to their destination. I won’t get into too many details, but Andrew is trying to atone for his mistakes with Buffy and, in true Whedon-verse fashion, there’s a heart-warming tale of family and friendship and how the two can mean the same thing. There’s also a lot of ass-kicking and a creepy spider demon too.

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Next up is Safe by Jim Krueger, which checks in on Faith and Giles as the pair of them travel around the world picking up renegade slayers. They discover a town that’s called a slayer sanctuary, where slayers can go if they don’t want to have such a responsibility on their backs. Vampires stay away from it and the town feels safe. Faith swings by in an effort to kick these girls back into gear, but all is not what it seems.

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The last issue collected here is Living Doll by Doug Petrie and this wraps up the magical adventures of Buffy’s sister, Dawn.  She’s been a giant and a centaur and now a doll. We learn a bit more about her relationship with the demon that started this whole mess, too, and I’m glad that that storyline is over. It was fun while it lasted (seriously, giant Dawn attacking Tokyo in Wolves at the Gate is amazing), but there’s only so much they can do with this. I’ll be interested to see what Dawn ends up doing at the slayer camp now.

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But that’s not all, Buffy fans! With this volume you also get two short stories from MySpace Dark Horse Presents that spin out from the first two issues. One about Harmony and one about the cuddly vampy cats.  Neither of them add much to the series, but they’re nice to flip through.

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As usual, Georges Jeanty handles most of the art on this book. Also, as usual, I’m not a big fan. I do have to say though that his vampy cats are equally adorable and terrifying. He does big action well, but the faces of the characters are still a little off. Cliff Richards drew the Faith-centric issue and managed to mimic Jeanty’s style pretty closely. He’s a lot better in the face department, though. Karl Moline returns for the Harmony short story. There’s not a lot of action so I feel Moline’s talents were wasted to an extent. Finally, Camilla D’Errico draws the vampy cat short story and it fits the tone of those creatures and that tale so perfectly. It’s cute, but still terrifying.

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Volume 5 is a break from the overall Twilight story that’s been weaving through the series from the beginning.  However, it’s moved along with little bits and pieces. More importantly, this volume resets the status quo of the characters and their current situations. It ties up some loose ends, allowing the writers to concentrate on the “Big Bad” for the rest of the series. As usual, Buffy Season 8 still sounds like a Buffy story. The witty dialogue and fun writing is all there as the season takes its first steps towards the end.

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Next is the best and worst of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9.

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3 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Angel and Faith: Buffy Season 9 | The Progressive Democrat

  3. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Smallville: Season 10 | The Progressive Democrat

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