Netflix has robbed me of the discipline required to keep up with a serial narrative as it is first broadcast or published, and so I make it a point to wait until entire commercial-free seasons are released on DVD and, more relevant to this review, until masses of single-issue comic books are collected into one convenient graphic novel. Such was my plan for Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8; I was cable-free when the show premiered on the WB back in 1997 and switched for its sixth season to UPN, and so I took in the series on DVD in tireless marathon gulps and, figuring it would be impossible for me to wait for up to two months between each new issue, I knew better than to bother reading Joss Whedon’s comic book relaunch of his landmark television series until it was finished. Better to wait for the collections, even if that meant waiting a few years.
Then one of my students, one Luke Emery, screwed up my plan. Stupid young people.
To be fair, having lured perhaps half a dozen of my young charges into the geeky, giddy, addictive pleasure that is the Buffyverse, I suppose I have only myself to blame. Either way, the point is that Luke Emery, one of the punk-ass no-accounts in my classroom, took it upon himself to cheerfully loan me the first four issues of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8, and with one final, distracted curse on his name and all his grandchildren, I will now move on to respond to the series with all the reserved, objective, critical literary analysis skills for which I am celebrated:
There is admittedly some necessary adjustment as one comes to grips with Georges Jeanty’s penciling (engaging and clever, mostly, and even brilliant at times, but also uneven), which provides the story with all the requisite momentum but is still off-putting for fans accustomed to seeing the story moved along by actors rather than illustrations. But even so, Buffy The Vampire Slayer triumphs in the one area in which most comic book adaptations of films and television shows (even previous Buffy The Vampire Slayer series) tend to fail: the patterns of dialogue ring true. Normally, any attempt on the part of a comic book writer to mimic the speech patterns of a television character is so contrived and awkward that it proves distracting.
Not so here. Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon has thus far scripted every issue, and has further stated his intention of supervising the production of any future issues he doesn’t write himself, and so the interactions between characters have a very satisfying flow and energy. Here is an example, as Buffy attempts to prepare fellow Slayer Satsu for battle:
“BUFFY: Kill any demon you see… You fight with me, not next to me, do I need to say that again?
SATSU: No ma’am.
BUFFY: Did you bring any lip gloss?
SATSU: Oh yeah.
BUFFY: I’m all cracky… If I tell you to bail you do it without a word, you get out and you regroup. Hnh. Cinnamon.”
The qualities that made the show such a stellar piece of work are if anything more pronounced and stunning in the comic book; much has been said about the comic book medium’s ability to accommodate a writer’s imagination in a way that television budgets simply cannot, and for proof you need look no further than the two images which open Season 8: A distant view of the earth, accompanied by a caption reading, “The thing about changing the world… once you do it, the world’s all different,” followed by Buffy and three fellow Slayers leaping wildly and determinedly from a helicopter in full battle gear.
More telling still is this cute recap that precedes issue four:
“The Slayer population of the world has gone from two to nearly two thousand. Almost five hundred are working around the world with Buffy’s organization in squads–or ‘terrorist cells,’ according to the American military. Buffy, Xander, Dawn and a passel of Slayers are currently bunked out in a Scottish castle, where the latest mission revealed a strange symbol carved into human bodies.
Also, Dawn’s a giant.”
Whedon’s newfound liberation (No more cheap digital effects! Unlimited monster make-up budgets! The globe is our setting!) have clearly inspired him, for Buffy The Vampire Slayer hasn’t felt this confident, charismatic or hungry, indeed this essential, in many years. The wit, the ambition and the staunch, defiant feminism for which the television series was known and adored for seven years are all in full effect here. What could easily have been little more than a cynical, uninspired marketing juggernaut is instead nothing less than a creative triumph.
I was content with the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series finale, and felt a comic book continuation was unnecessary at best. Four issues in, however, I realize just how much I had missed these characters and, more so, the endlessly clever, inventive, surprising and subversive manner in which their talented creator always brought them to life. Joss Whedon is in fine form here, and I daresay Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 is quickly shaping up to be Buffy’s greatest season yet.
Now all that remains is to make the necessary adjustments to my budget, and learn to be very patient between issues.