I've been a Buffy fan since the very start, but season eight was filled with everything I didn't like about the show and brought a whole new set of flaws to the party when it switched media. It's time to say goodbye.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight
Written by Joss Whedon et al
Art by Georges Jeanty et al
At its best, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the finest TV show of its generation. That's not to say it didn't have some pretty terrible episodes here and there but I'll stand by the first 100 installments as my favourite TV of all time. After Buffy's death, things changed, The show had moved pretty far from it's high school roots and the characters were substantially changed from what they once were, and - for me at least - much of the appeal was gone. There was the odd high afterwards (Once More with Feeling, Selfless and Conversations with Dead People were all amazing episodes) but watching our heroes struggle to become adults was significantly less enjoyable than watching them struggle to survive high school.
Because that's what I loved about the show. I liked the Vampire Slayer but it was Buffy that I cared about: Buffy and her gang of friends and their lives. The problems shifted when the drama came not from without but almost entirely from within. Season six started with our heroes making a very poor decision and continued on from there, slowly breaking down and generally being very hard to like. Season seven went some way towards fixing this; doing so at the cost of any of the show's trademark light heartedness as well as eliminating all tangent plots post-episode 8 in favour of one dark, overarching storyline. It wasn't bad television by any means but it bore very little resemblance to the Buffy with whom we fell in love in the first place. This feeling of disconnect with the show's roots and disappointment in our heroes' actions married themselves quite happily to problems inherent in switching formats to produce Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight.
I'll start with the highlights, because as much as this comic frustrated and saddened me there were some positives to be found. First and foremost was Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos' Tales of the Vampires one-shot. This issue doesn't feature a single character we've met before or will meet again and simply acts as a look at how a handful of lives were affected by the events in the main series. It's very much an issue of Demo in the Buffyverse and it works perfectly. It had everything that appealed to me about the Buffy set up and none of the baggage accrued by the main cast. I adore it.
Tales also featured my favourite example of highlight number two: Jo Chen's stunning covers. Having covered most of the first two volumes of Runaways, Chen was already my favourite cover artist but her depictions of the Buffy cast were beautiful and there isn't a weak composition in the bunch. I really have nothing bad to say about the books' covers which were always easy to spot and never anything less than the best looking comics on the shelves each month.
Going back to single issue stories, issues #5 (The Chain), #20 (After These Messages) #23 (Predators & Prey) and #40 (Last Gleaming pt 5) all stood out as genuinely enjoyable. That they all stand largely apart from the main plot of the series is sadly predictable but they were all unique stories that played to the strengths of the property and #20 in particular was the only time I really felt like I was reading something that played to the strengths of both the medium and the title. The use of the aborted cartoon's art style was a delight and a reminder of what I used to love about Buffy - a wonderful breath of fresh air right before the plunge into what I thought was the worst thing Buffy could have done.
Season seven's ending took the slayers out of the darkness and brought the power to a whole generation of young women, so it was perhaps inevitable that the same would happen to vampires too. Now this may have been a comment on the current popularity of vampires (we'll get to the other glaring nod to this later) but dragging Buffy's world into public view never felt right to me and since it was never fully developed or given a lot of panel time in the comics, I have to assume that this was going to play a much larger role until someone thought better of it. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and is just another example of Buffy working less well as a concept for me the further we get from Giles' library.
This larger scope was a major issue for the comic and Joss Whedon himself has admitted that the unlimited budget of the page didn't serve Buffy terribly well as the character is, "...Best when she's walking that alley, dusting vamps, and nursing a pouty heart." The Retreat and Last Gleaming storylines were overstuffed with unnecessary guest stars and overblown action that left me absolutely cold and it's clear that the ability to do anything they wanted truly made the creators lose sight of what it was that made Buffy so appealing to begin with. Had this been televised then by no means would we ever see Spike captaining a magical ship flown by a crew of bugs or Buffy fighting ancient deities in Tibet - and not just for budgetary reasons. The girl who studied for her SATs in a graveyard is not the woman who leads an army from a high tech Scottish castle and her best friends were never meant to be immortal villains and poor versions of Nick Fury.
Ah Xander. While Willow had season six to derail her and Buffy was pretty deconstructed towards the end of season seven it's your beloved comics that bring you to your knees. Buffy's lesbian fling caught the headlines but it's pairing Xander with Dawn that caused me to almost literally shout at the book in my hands. There is nothing about this pairing that makes any sense apart from them both being the 'normal folks' in Buffy's life. The age gap would be fine had Xander not watched Dawn grow up and invited her to his own wedding. The lack of build up would have been fine had we not been treated to a much better build up between Xander and a much more interesting character in this exact same comic. I could pick any number of baffling character choices in this comic, but this stands out above all of them. All but one.
Thanks to a mistake by Dark Horse's publicity department we found out the identity of our villain Twilight long before we were meant to. This created a huge mess that left the creators of IDW's Angel series baffled and led to a lot of very hasty apologies from all corners. This had the happy effect of distracting us all from the fact that it made no sense. None at all. I've read every issue of the comic and I'm pretty sure nothing about Angel's plan to bring about a better world makes any sense at all when teamed with his war against the Slayers throughout the year. It reeks of a sudden change in direction that needed a huge nonsensical reveal about the nature of Buffyverse magic to seemingly legitimise and the more I think about it, the easier it is to despair. Naming the villain Twilight also feels like a childish slight against the similarly titled pro-chastity, pro-glitter phenomenon the continued popularity of which seems to baffle people of the non-teenaged-girl variety everywhere. It could have been a coincidence but if it is it's one that could easily have been spotted and dealt with. I don't know whether I'd prefer sloppy or stupid but I know even this tiny detail irks me.
Finally it's probably an idea to mention the art here. Geoges Jeanty's art isn't eye catching enough to hide the fact that his renditions of the Buffy cast don't really look like them. When several cliffhangers rely on us being shocked at someone's appearance in the story, it loses a lot of impact when it takes a minute to figure out who it is we're so surprised to see. Everything else is done well but not spectacularly and storytelling is never a problem but for a title that was as high profile as this one, an artist who stands a little higher above the middle of the pack would have been nice.
The ending of season eight sets up the dystopian magic-free future of Fray and a more back to basics approach for season nine which, taking into account Whedon's comments about needing to tighten things up, sounds pretty appealing but for me the journey is over. What Buffy has shown us, a point further rammed home by IDW's Angel comics and Boom's Farscape revival, is that you can't go home again. The things I loved about Buffy have been relegated to the past and the characters have grown up and away from me. Up until the final arc I believed that the story could be saved but a series of increasingly ludicrous plot points hammered home how far away from my favourite tv show Buffy season eight has come. I feel pretty guilty putting this much effort into writing about how badly season eight let me down but I think I need to get it off my chest. I think if I don't fully expunge all my negativity towards Buffy now then when season nine eventually rolls round I might be tempted to jump back in. I think if I had any faith left in the property whatsoever, I'd be there.
Written or Contributed by: Liam