Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: Paul Lee, Dave Stewart (colors)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
The first stand-alone "episode" of the "Season 8" series is a magnificent tale involving a "nameless" Slayer whose courageous existence thrusts the narrative along with the same flawless execution and pacing which Whedon has already infused into the comic's first arc. One would almost feel worried that Joss will be handing the writing reigns to other writers if one didn't know who was on deck: None other than Brian K.Vaughan, one of the most accomplished and brilliant stars of the comic book industry's writing pantheon. It must be fun for Whedon to be able to choose among the industry's elite to write one of Dark Horse's blue chip comics.
This was also the first issue pencilled by another artist, spelling series regular Georges Jeanty and what amazes me is how Paul Lee's artwork stands up beautifully to Jeanty's work. The transition is almost seamless. Colorist Dave Stewart's vibrant pallete serves to ensure that this is one of Dark Horse's most beautiful looking books.
The story? A singular gem; a post Season Seven adventure dealing with one of Whedon's favorite themes: The empowerment of everyday common people through the preternatural legacy that is the lineage of Slayers. After all, before Buffy Summers became a name which sent shudders through the demon community, there was the "primitive" first Slayer and all the other chosen ones who have gone after her.
Sandwiched in between another striking Jo Chen cover and another fun letters page overseen by long time Buffy Editor Scott Allie, is the usual magic found in these comic's pages: A threatening larger than life demon proclaiming the death of Buffy Summers and holding her seemingly lifeless body over his horned head, as if to verify his claims to his clamoring hordes.
Yet the narrative style which permeates the issue and which alternates between the present conflict in an underground reality and flashbacks to the protagonist's existence as the chosen one aren't the only surprises. In a remarkable comic where Buffy herself doesn't even make an appearance, there are bits of the old trademark Buffy humor (a funny bit parodying recruiting ads on television being the best of the lot) and cameo appearances by offbeat characters known to Buffy fans. In this case, Gnarl the creepy green skinned skin stripping demon from early Season Seven makes his return.
Also of interest is the description of what it's like to be chosen. Whedon notes that the experience can be "like a tickle" and for others it involves pain, "like Mike Tyson ripping your ear off with his teeth."
The appearance of a colorful slug-like creature with a skull necklace is the prototypical Buffy adversary, reminiscent of Balthazar from the third season episode "Bad Girls," a slimy and disgusting test for the combined forces of the Raven clan and the slugs. Another thematic refrain is revisited: The power of many concentrated into an individual will with devastatingly awesome results, transcending even death itself. A reality which can hardly be done justice by a TV budget and CGI special effects comes to life in the pages of this comic. Like I've stated, a magnificent comic book, and in my opinion, Dark Horse's best and the best in the series
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