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Sunday Slugfest: Buffy the Vampire Slayer #20

Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008
By: Thom Young

Jeph Loeb
Georges Jeanty and Eric Wight (p), Andy Owens (i), & Michelle Madsen (colors)
Dark Horse
"After These Messages . . . We'll Be Right Back!"

Jeph Loeb and Eric Wight join regular series illustrator Georges Jeanty to present a single-issue fill-in story that picks up from the time-traveling Buffy/Fray crossover.

Jon Judy:

Paul Brian McCoy:

Ray Tate:

Jon Judy:

The Jo Chen cover to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight #20 is just great. See you next week, folks.

What’s that? You expect more from one of the crackerjack reviewers at the Bulletin than a one-sentence review? Well too bad, people. I’ve got nothing more to say about this issue than that.

OK, OK, I’ll give it a shot. Let’s start with a barebones, spoiler-free plot summary.

That shouldn’t be hard . . . because the plot is nothing but barebones, and there is nothing to spoil. So here goes: Buffy comes home exhausted from the last story arc and collapses in Xander’s bed.

Why does she collapse in Xander’s bed, you ask?

For no discernible reason other than it’s supposed to be funny that she’s a stinky mess and now Xander’s bed will stink. HAW! The laughs!

Anyway, while she is sleeping she has a dream. Then she wakes up. The end.

I understand that this was a sort of one-shot breather issue after the last arc, a chance for the characters and the readers to take stock of where they are in the story, emotionally speaking.

So, yes, we get some passing references to the horror Buffy has just experienced--killing an evil future version of her best friend--and some acknowledgement that Buffy doesn’t see her life as all that bad because she has her friends.

However, all of that is made subservient to the premise of awkwardly cramming the dream into the issue--and since that dream is just polished-up material left over from the aborted Buffy animated series, this whole thing reads like an exercise in lazy.

“Yeah, sure, we could put together a self-contained story that will act as a breather between arcs and offer some emotional exploration of the characters, but let’s just take that cartoon that never got made and cram it in there instead, then surround it with a framing sequence and call it an issue.”

Jeanty’s art is great as always--though it’s wasted in this framing sequence.

The art in the dream sequence is just fine, but I wanted (and paid for) Buffy: Season Eight, not Buffy Adventures: Now with No Point!

And Loeb’s script is . . .

. . . well, Loeb’s script reads more like fan-fic than a professional writer’s take on Buffy.

Whereas Whedon and the best of his writers make the thoroughly unrealistic and highly stylized dialogue of the Scoobs sound natural, Loeb’s writing comes off as amateurish and forced.

Check out the exchange between Buffy and Xander in the first half of the framing sequence--or the two-page spread where Xander lamely parodies a play-by-play announcer while Buffy does her slaying thing. It’s all very trite and very unfunny.

So meh art with less than meh writing, and absolutely nothing happens. Yeah, I’d pass on this one.

We’ll never know if Loeb and Company might have been able to turn out a terrific Buffy cartoon, but we do know they can turn out a mediocre Buffy comic book.

Paul Brian McCoy:

I'm torn about this issue of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

On the one hand, it features the return of George Jeanty on art--which makes me very happy. By far, his work is my favorite on the series, and he is able to capture the looks of these characters without going all photo-referency all over the place. Plus, his monsters are pretty cool, his action sequences are actually exciting, and he can tell a mean story.

On the other hand, this issue is written by Jeph Loeb--the man who is single-handedly ruining the Ultimate Universe and basically wasting all of the potential of Hulk. I know he wrote some great stuff a while back, and that he's dealt with a lot of tragedy. However, none of that matters when evaluating his current work and deciding whether or not to put down some coin.

Back to the first hand, if this were an actual animated episode of the television series, it would probably be right up my alley. I love it when a show plays around with its format. Farscape's animation episode demonstrated a very effective use of the medium and it was one of my favorites.

Yet, I'm not sure the effect is really the same in a comic book. Sure, Jeanty's art is much more realistic and provides a solid contrast with the cartoon section's lighthearted, animated exaggerations. However, they're both still illustrations in the end--and the contrast becomes more a question of tone than of breaking with the medium.

And the tone is where I don't really know what to make of this issue.

The problem could be that I didn't jump onboard the Buffy train when it first started. In fact, I didn't watch any of the first three seasons when they originally aired. It's not that the series wasn't good, or I don't enjoy them now. At the time, though, whenever I would catch an episode, it was kind of silly and ended up not holding my attention.

It's not that I don't enjoy them now, though. However, at the time, whenever I would catch an episode, I thought it was kind of silly and it ended up not holding my attention (similarly, I ignored Farscape's entire first season for pretty much the same reason, but then happened to catch a repeat of a two-parter at the end of the first season and was suddenly hooked).

Finally, I sat down and watched an entire Buffy episode, and then another, and another. And then I started taping syndicated episodes to watch the whole Buffy series in order from the beginning--yes, it was the Stone Age. The DVDs are now on my shelf, and I consider myself a true fan (although not a fanatic).

My initial reaction to the Buffy television series is similar to my reaction to this issue. Except that now that I've finished reading the book, I really never want to see the animated version. Yes, the cartoon sounded like a cool idea, and I probably would have watched it if it had ever made it past the planning stages--but it just didn't work for me here.

The issue ends up being kind of a waste of my time and money.

I understand that it's supposed to be a brief interlude before we get back to Season Eight, but it was really just silly and obvious.

Is it cute? Sure. It's cute.

It's so damn cute it practically had a laugh track. It was so sweet I almost went into a diabetic coma.

I suppose it provides a nice contrast between the Then and Now while emphasizing the fact that the underlying status quo has stayed essentially the same. However, I really didn't need that, and this issue does nothing to further the current story.

And while some of the one-off episodes were great (particularly "Hush" which was the episode that made me sit up and finally take notice of the TV series), this issue of the comic doesn't come close to capturing the creativity of the series. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this issue really isn't funny.

It's supposed to be. But it's not.

The look is nice, and Wight and Beavers do a good job of producing a fairly light, whitewashed version of the series. I'm sure kids would love it, and maybe they should turn this into an ongoing all-ages title to accompany Season Eight and beyond.

I honestly don't think I'd be able to watch it if it were actually produced for television, though--and for the same reasons that I don't care for it here. It's just silly . . . and here, in a three-dollar comic, it ends up being a waste of my time and money.

Of course, if you're a fan of the goofier elements of Buffy's early seasons--and if you also read and enjoy all-ages comics--then this will probably be right up your alley. It's just not up mine.

Ray Tate:

Once upon a time there were talks about an animated Buffy the Vampire series. Jeph Loeb and Joss Whedon would have produced the series, and it would have had an animation style similar to that of the work that Bruce Timm gave us as the greatest animated presentations of the DCU that have ever been made.

For some reason, probably stupidity, the Powers-That-Be said “no” to the animated Buffy, and disappointed a ready-made international audience. If they could have only seen the potential revenue, they would now be kicking themselves. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was big in America. However, in the UK--which was then starved for science fiction/ fantasy and thirsting for Doctor Who--it was astronomically popular.

Some of the proposed stories for the animated series ended up as Buffy the Vampire Slayer young adult novels. Without the series being on the air and the lack for a need of closure, Joss Whedon gave the series a definite end, the novels were a mere blip on fan RADAR.

This latest issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer revisits the never-made animated series in a dream sequence. Thomas Wolfe said, "You can’t come home again"--and you may argue that returning to Buffy's roots is pure folly because Buffy has grown after seven seasons on television into a character that has far more substance than her earlier self. That's saying a lot since Buffy was the most three-dimensional character on television even during Season One.

To be fair, this issue isn't an exact return to Sunnydale, which was how the animated series would have run. Rather, Loeb fuses the fully formed Buffy seen in the current Season Eight comic book series to the incarnation set in Season One. As a result, Buffy has fun revisiting her much-less-complicated past.

The skilled Slayer has no trouble overcoming "the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness"--and she's genuinely happy to see her old friends and experience the background noise of old rivals. The one time she does feel a pang of regret occurs when she encounters Angel. Knowing what she knows now creates a bittersweet moment.

Loeb creates dead-on voices from Season One--except, perhaps, for Giles who is a little too strict (although this could be how Buffy saw early Giles). In fact, Giles was a very different Watcher who participated in battles as much as he advised and genuinely loved his Slayer the way he would have loved a daughter--which is the reason the Council fired him: He was too close to Buffy and refused to distance himself emotionally.

Despite the whimsical nature of the issue, there is still much depth to be found. Readers will discover a number of insights into Buffy's nature. She genuinely loves her friends. While things aren't simpatico with Giles at the moment, those problems won't last.

Buffy is definitely bisexual--unlike Willow, who is gay--and she's sharp enough to notice the difference. She doesn't see sexual orientation as flexible. Willow always was gay; she simply experimented with heterosexuality before finding her true self. Buffy is still intensely attracted to Angel, but enjoyed being with Satsu--a fellow Slayer who fell in love with Buffy.

Other interesting moments arise in the way Loeb slips Dawn into the proceedings. Dawn never was part of the early seasons because Buffy never had a sister until a group of monks--who apparently watched Doctor Who's "Key to Time" story arc--used Buffy's blood and essence to transform a mystical key into Dawn.

What Buffy and the other Scoobies have are memories of Dawn, so Loeb imagines what it would be like for Buffy to have a sister in Season One. She adds a nice bit of spice. Buffy's relationship with Joyce Summers, her mother, who died memorably in the series, generates some warm, fuzzy moments, and the replication of Season One's feel is quite rewarding.

Georges Jeanty and Andy Owens provide a strong wraparound sequence of “Buffy: Season Eight.” Usually wraparounds are tired things, but there's actual substance in this wraparound. The lion's share of the visuals is handled by artists who have a feel for animation. Several of the names will be familiar to any readers of comics that are spin-offs of animated series.

Seeing Buffy rendered in this style makes one even more disappointed that an animated series never surfaced. The caricatures, the vivid colors by Lee Louridge, the frenzy of motion--such as Buffy's constant cheerleader twirl of stakes--make this issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer memorable. It’s a necessary purchase for any fan of the show or the comic book series.

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