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Sunday Slugfest: Buffy the Vampire Slayer #18

Posted: Sunday, September 7, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Joss Whedon
Karl Moline (p), Andy Owens (i), Michelle Madsen (colors)
Dark Horse Comics
"Time of Your Life" (Part 3)

Shawn Hill:
Ray Tate:
Ariel Carmona Jr.:

Shawn Hill

Plot: When Buffy and Fray have a difference of opinion over standard Slayer operating procedure, the future gets dicey for our heroine once again.

Comments: This issue is all about conversations, or the lack of them. Fray's main source, the water-breathing Gunther, is threatened by Harth. In his own tank. Willow and her snake-charmer goddess have words unsatisfying to both, while Willow and Kennedy continue their mutual support system, in fact probably taking it to new levels, for the greater good. I don't think "Ken-doll" (a funny new one from the lady-loving witch) minded, anyway.

Xander and Dawn-taur are communicating well in the Scottish woods, even when they encounter some rowdy tree spirits, who are just so beside the point when Xander's formulating a plan to combat the "Laurel and Hardy of being a dick," Amy and Warren. How much do I love General Xand-man? A lot, especially as he's getting as exasperated as I by all the things coming out of Scottish woods in this series. The Slayer Castle might as well be Hogwarts.

Unfortunately, when Buffy heads off solo (she wants to fight the source, while Melaka is content to save victims one by one), that gives the real architect of this time travel mumbo jumbo time to speak to Melaka. Clearly, Melaka and Buffy still haven't communicated clearly, and it's not just the language deficit. Melaka isn't familiar with Buffy's do-it-yourself tactic against Big Bads (Melaka's have yet to be as big or as bad as Buffy's were), and it seems that she is easily led very far astray.

I'm still reeling from the reveal of this story's Big Bad (not Melaka's, who is Harth, but his ally), as I was 100% sure from the teasers before the reveal that it was Drusilla, rather than who it turned out to be.

But no, we get no guest-star moment from the lovely Juliet Landau this issue (I hope one is coming up soon, or does IDW have the rights to her and Spike exclusively at this point?), but Karl Moline is quite adept at keeping everyone else in character. Every Buffy body stance (in her NYC party dress, yet to see a fun night on the town) is pure Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Fray's comic-only uniqueness stands up well to the Buffster.

This is the sort of issue where everything gets really complicated, right before things start working out in the end. With stakes this high some losses are bound to occur before that end, however, and we don't know yet what the Big Bad's motivations are.

One more conversation, as Buffy and Melaka's sister find themselves kindred spirits (a real cop and a cop for demons), before Melaka gets the drop on Buffy. Which was probably a really bonehead move, but a great cliffhanger in Joss's completely entertaining merging of his two Slayer franchises. Amidst all the other danglers, the lack of closure and information might be more frustrating, but we know this series, at least, tends to come out on time.

Ray Tate:

Buffy bonds with the future Slayer Melaka Fray. Willow and Kennedy have a magic moment. Xander and Dawn meet up with the trees that say "Ni!"

Joss Whedon's ear for dialogue whirlwinds the reader through a fast paced plot where a helluva lot happens without any of it being obvious. Clues to Whedon's plans sprout everywhere.

Buffy can find no record of her army of Slayers in the books of Fray's time. That indicates three possibilities. Her deeds were purposely erased by the victors of history. This seems very unlikely. Given the multitude and effectiveness of Buffy's army, they in all probability will be the victors. Their deeds never happened, and Fray's future is a parallel alternate permanently set against Buffy's future proper, or--in my opinion the most likely--the events seen in this book will decide how the future of the Buffyverse will occur.

Whedon has done this kind of story before, and he's proven more than willing to revisit a concept so long as he can provide a satisfying twist. His first foray introduced Anya, a vengeance demon and future paramour to Xander.

Anya granted Cordelia's wish. Buffy thanks to the wish never came to Sunnydale. Willow and Xander as a result established themselves as vampire lords, and "our" Cordelia becomes nothing more than a snack. This alternate future ended with one of the best lines in the series, spoken by Giles, as he shattered Anya's focus of power. How can he be sure that the reality he doesn't know will be better than the world he inhabits: "Because...It has to be."

This is what I think Whedon is playing at. He created Fray for comics long before Season Seven. The Scythe that played a pivotal role in Season Seven, was introduced first in Fray. Fray's world doesn't really make sense in the context of: "every girl who might be a Slayer. Will be a Slayer. Can stand up. Will stand up." Whedon, however, doesn't do things frivolously. I think given the option to fold Fray into the continuity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon intends to secure sensibility to the fictional future.

I suspect that everybody is being played in "Time of Your Life" to make absolutely certain that Fray's future will never happen. Dark Willow who lives in this dystopia--although in truth, it's not entirely bad--has grown tired of it. She remembers the point where it all goes wrong. The Lamia--who appears not just to consider Willow a passing fancy and in fact loves her unconditionally--has given Willow important advice that will decide her fate.

Fray's cliffhanger betrayal is a carefully calculated ploy to place Buffy exactly where Dark Willow wants her, ready to go back and make Fray's future vanish. Does this mean that Melaka Fray will never be a Slayer? No. It doesn't. Either she will always be the Slayer of her future, or Whedon will more likely rewrite her as essentially the same but with a lighter personality, inspired by the deeds of Buffy and captaining her own army to fight "the lurks, the demons and the forces of darkness."

I think it's pretty obvious that Karl Moline, through his art, speaks in the language of action, action and more action. This issue allows him to practice subtle moments of emotion, instead of just supremely entertaining kickassery.

When Buffy sees her impact on history--none at all--she's visibly stricken. Moline keeps her face away from the audience until he sets up the scene where she weeps a single tear. The tree spirits that threaten Dawn and Xander are illustrated so humorously as well as nobly that you know that they cannot be a threat.

The casual contact of Kennedy resting her chin on a perturbed Willow's shoulder displays their relationship. Later, Kennedy's beautiful, sated smile and relaxed, pixie-like body language depicts her joy of sexual congress with Willow. She's happy that she sent Willow where she needed to go. Presumably, Willow also drew her to ecstasy.

Moline portrays the sexuality between the lovers warmly and maturely rather than in the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" fashion of low-rent sitcoms, or as the ridiculously backward notion that posits sex must only be between married persons of opposite gender; both parties also should feel ashamed for enjoying it.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the comic book and the television series, celebrates sexuality. As usual, Whedon makes sex intrinsic to the characterization as well as the plot. To reach the Lamia, Willow must use sex as a doorway, and that's a clue that the Lamia has Willow's best interests at heart. Sex isn't evil in the Buffyverse. Sex is a force for good. The true tragedy of Angel and Buffy is that they cannot have sex, for their perfect moment triggers the powerful gypsy curse that frees the demon within Angel. Physical contact, a component of love, impels Spike to fight for his soul to be with Buffy. Loving sex began the reform of Faith. Sex made Tara sing, and even the First allowed her enemies to have a night of pleasure before waging war.

Until Doctor Who returned, Buffy the Vampire Slayer could be considered the best series on television. I have no hesitation in saying that right now Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the best comic book series on the racks.

Ariel Carmona Jr.

The groundwork has been laid out for the current story arc in which Buffy meets future slayer Meleka Fray, but that doesn't mean this issue isn't still ripe with action, Whedon's customary snappy dialogue and damned good characterization.

The good:
  • The covers by Jo Chen and Georges Jeanty. One is a glimpse into Dawn's latest transformation and the other is a fun snapshot of Buffy behind the wheel in a universe that is completely foreign to her.

  • Xander's and Dawn's interactions with Lorelahn in the forest is reminiscent of some of the strange creatures encountered by the Scoobies in season seven of the TV series.

  • SPOILER ALERT: Evil Willow. Perhaps it's not such a spoiler to mention that the mad woman who has been hinted at is none other than Willow in her Evil persona. Don't worry though, Joss excels at those jaw dropping moments, and Willow's machinations in this timeline are positively intriguing.

  • Moline's artwork. I wasn't very familiar with it because I wasn't reading Fray regularly when it came out, but it's very fluid and adds a lot to the sense of motion throughout this arc, especially the wide panoramic panels depicting a futuristic Manhattan in Fray's timeline.

  • Willow's tryst with powerful magical beings. It seems that Willow is always getting in over her head when it comes to her use of magic, and it may be happening again, but considering the consequences, you'd think she would learn. Being infallible has never been a quality of any Buffyverse character though.

The bad:
  • The only bad thing I can find about this comic is that it isn't a very new reader
    friendly issue. I imagine a newbie picking it up for the first time and being completely lost since time travel stories aren't particularly easy to follow in the first place.

Final word: This was a typical Whedon penned comic that's par for the course for this series. This comic knows how a story should be paced, and it's organically being developed. It's a refreshing pace from a lot of the books that are being written for the trade or decompressed to death.

What did you think of this book?
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