Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, part 1 cover (Dark Horse Books, seanax.com)
A bit of digression (skip this if you want to get to the discussion of the volume itself):
Back in the day. When Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) debuted on TV in 1997, I was already 19 years old, in college, and was already too preoccupied with the business of keeping my grades up, securing a degree and my emerging left wing, feminist, radical, liberal politics to find the time to watch BTVS every week. I was a member of the campus paper, coming out, trying desperately to fit in and was also on a regimen of reading at least one Jane Austen book per week (Please don’t let me explain that), so you can imagine that the first season of BTVS breezed by me without it failing to incite any urge from me, to watch it every week. Remember, I was part of the demographic, the generation for whom “A Different World” (yes, my memory goes that far), “Saved by the Bell”, “My So-called Life”, “Degrassi Junior High”, “High School Confidential” and the ultimate teen show, “Beverly Hills 92010” (the original series, not the remake), was aimed at. I was having “high school TV show” fatigue. Plus I actually remember the original movie on which the TV show was based. It starred Luke Perry and Kristy Swanson. I was sick of Luke Perry and I was not interested in Kristy Swanson. I took one look at the poster,dismissed it as too camp,and ignored it. Anyway, then season two came, the famous season that kickstarted it all, when Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) falls in love with the vampire, Angel (David Boreanaz), and that got me hooked. In that one season, the series explored love, loss, conflict, suffering, pathos, the consequences of the decisions we make, the choices we have to live with, and the ensuing pain that comes with it. Buffy was a vampire slayer, the Chosen One, who, up until then, was a childish teen airhead who was a high school student by day and a vampire slayer by night. She did not stop to think about what she was doing, and the burden of being the Chosen One. Vampires were all the same with her and she killed them all with nary a thought. But she meets the vampire, Angel, and her world changes. He is older, more sophisticated, more cosmopolitan, but woe of woes, he exhibits a deep sense of humanity sorely lacking from other vampires. Buffy’s meeting Angel perplexes her – here is a vampire amongst vampires she was born and sworn to kill, and yet this is the one vampire that she seems drawn to, the one who, in the end, ends up loving her, and she finds herself falling for him as well. This culminates in the consummation of their forbidden relationship – the very thing that pushes Angel back into his evil ways. Buffy is thus wracked with guilt. The evil Angel, now Angelus, is bent on destroying the world, and since it is Buffy who has unleashed him, it is she who must destroy him as well. The climactic season finale, when Buffy and Angel/Angelus duel and right before she is about to slay him, he turns back into his old self again but the portals of evil had already opened and she has to make the choice between killing him or letting him live, has got to go down in horror/fantasy television history as the most heartwrenching scene ever. That was the hook that got me. BTVS became my guilty pleasure. And so, though my mom and I always fought about viewing rights and she came to loathe Buffy because it got in the way of her favorite telenovelas I always had the chance to watch almost every episode. Through dodgy principals and mayors intending to take over the world, vampire slayers who go haywire and/or berserk, evil goddesses intending to take over all dimensions, the deaths and resurrections of Buffy, Frankenstein-inspired uber humans, evil geeks, heartbroken lesbian witches who just lost their lovers to evil geeks and countless apocalypses that the Scooby gang always manage to thwart, I stayed with them, rooting for all them. Buffy and the Scooby gang grew up with its intended audience (meaning, us) and I saw them coping with the same things I was going through in young adulthood: careers, jobs, and so on. And then Willow came out and that kept me even more glued to the show. I thought Joss Whedon was a frigging genius. Character development! Who would have thunk it? (something sorely lacking now). It was funny, it had smart one-liners and Whedon et.al treated us, the audience, like we were smart. Which we were. As Buffy gained the loyal following, the devoted fan base that would catapult it into pop culture icon status, Buffy also gained academic validation in the growing number of previously non-fantasy/horror/teen TV show academics who found Buffy to be a very positive, feminist TV show. That made me even more validated. Long after BTVS was cancelled, and a slew of crappy teen shows took its place, BTVS remained the standard with which other fantasy shows (at least the teen ones) would be measured against. Sadly, nothing could ever measure up to BTVS.
So, when I heard from afterellen.com that Buffy the Vampire Slayer had been resurrected as a comic book, I was overjoyed. Comics and Buffy – two of my favorite things in pop culture.It made perfect sense! So I bought the Buffy Omnibus Season 8, Volume 1’s “The Long Way Home” for a paltry £10.50 (well, not so paltry, if you think about it) and settled back to read the first volume.
So here goes.
“The Long Way Home” Part 1 – Part 1 picks up where Season 7 ends and it starts right smack in the middle of all the action. Buffy is now leading an army of vampire slayers (thanks to the spell she and the Scoobies made in the last season which made every potential slayer an actual slayer) to rid the world of demons. They are safely ensconced in Scotland, but have already expanded into other parts of the world. Dawn has turned into a giant, thanks to a thricewise and they are trying to find ways to turn her into a normal sized human being. Xander has stayed on with Buffy as one of her commandos, in charge of the command station as she patrols with her army. Willow, Faith, Giles are nowhere in sight. One of the bodies she had tried to save but failed to has a cryptic sign on it which, presumably will lead to whatever next nemesis she and her army will face. The US military has got wind of what Buffy’s army has turned Sunnydale into and is now on her trail. While poking around what was left of Sunnydale, they encounter an old Buffy enemy, Amy.
“The Long Way Home” Part 2 – Giles, Buffy and Andrew are all running slayer boot camps, where slayers are trained in the fine art of combat, strategy and Buffy iconography. As Xander probes into how and why Dawn has suddenly turned gi-normous, he surmises that it is her abandonment issues that has pushed her over the edge. Buffy has been put under a spell, thanks to Amy and only the thing that can save her is the kiss of true love. Meanwhile zombies have attacked the Buffy fortress. Cue (favorite, self-sufficient geek lesbian witch) Willow, ready to take on Amy.
“The Long Way Home”, Part 3 – Buffy is still under a sleeping spell, stuck with Ethan Rayne, who acts as her guide. She is actually in dreamspace, and dreams of Angel, Spike,high school life and so on (a very intriguing concept, dreamspace: it means, in Ethan Rayne’s words, “You are always dreaming every dream you could dream all the time. Even when you’re awake, a part of your brain is stirring that brew. Which one you choose to remember in the morning is based on wishes, anxieties – in your case, your collective slayer memory and prophecies are mixed in as well”.). Meanwhile, Willow battles the aforementioned Amy, and succeeds in capturing her. Buffy is finally kissed, quite anonymously, by whoever is in love with her and she wakes up. Willow, Buffy and Xander savor their short-lived reunion before Amy succeeds in trapping Willow and teleporting them both into the military installation. Willow is captured, strapped down and being slowly lobotomized by Warren (the brains behind the evil nerd trio in that season when Tara dies), who, as it turns out was saved by Amy before Willow murders him (in that same season). The principalities (I just love finding a way to use that in a sentence) are protecting Willow from the worst of the onslaught and as she sees herself dying she sees all the possibilities of what she could have been dying, as well. Buffy and Satsu teleport to save her, and they defeat Amy and Warren and save Willow,but not before finding out what the cryptic sign from part 1 is. they discover it from the military officer ((who discovered both Amy and the nuked Sunnydale). The sign means “Twilight” and it is a group that has declared war on Buffy and her army of slayers. The military officer, a “Twilight” minion, reveals that “Twilight” means a kind of movement dedicated to destroying Buffy and her “spawn”. She has upset the balance, has recreated the world and they are afraid that she is creating a “master race” and that eventually the evil within the slayers will take over and destroy the human race. Buffy destroys him.
“The Chain” (stand alone issue) – This issue tells the story of a slayer who goes into the dark underworld disguised as Buffy and battle the principalities. She is trained, and prepared for what is to come, but she is defeated by the demons all the same. Excellent issue that explores what it means to be the Chosen One as viewed by somebody other than Buffy, what it feels like to be chosen (like a punch in the face), the initial rush (“the power, the shared memories, the truth”), the idea of choice and truth, the power of names, identity, individual and collective memory, connection, the questions we ask ourselves our whole lives and ask again moments before we die, how fleeting, transitory and insignificant our lives are. This stand alone issue rises from its obscurity and while not addressing all these issues in detail, it does touch at the heart of what it means to be who we are. And it is at these moments when I realize how far comic books and fantasy have come.
Coolest things about this volume:
Parts 1 to 3 of Season 8, pick up, as I mentioned,where Season 7 left of and it addresses unanswered questions left off from the cancelled series, such as what has happened to Buffy and her army? How will she and the world at large deal with a suddenly not so level playing field, where an army Chosen Ones exist side by side in one generation, slaying vampires? Where will Giles, already markedly growing more insignificant as the TV seasons progress and Buffy’s power and growing awareness grew, fit in? Where will Willow, Xander, Dawn, Kennedy fit in in this new riddled-with-slayers world as well?
Well, this series answers the questions quite neatly, which I am happy about. Staying true to what made the TV series popular in the first place, new and old villains arise. We have Warren and Amy for one (although I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to them – their evilness is soooo last season), and a new big bad, “Twilight” which seeks to destroy Buffy and her slayer army. And of course there is the trademark inner villain within each character that has made them so flawed and so loveable at the same time: Buffy battling with her demons in dreamspace, Dawn trying to deal with her abandonment issues, Willow off to somewhere to deal with her powers, Giles still being Giles and Xander being the human who always remains the fulcrum, the anchor of the group. and of course the introduction of new characters, Satsu and Renee (Xander love interest).
Buffyverse’s trademark wicked funny conversations and one-liners are alive and well in the comic book universe, as well as the action, blood and gore.
And of course,the one thing that makes Buffy Buffy is the opportunity for graduate school trained geeks like me (insert grin here) to look into these issues and find meaning and symbolism in it: questions of destiny, power and moral responsibility, control, women and power, morality (power that comes from evil that is used for good), the nature of good and evil, are all subtly spliced into the discussions. This makes for an interesting return to Buffyland and again it confirms my belief that popular culture, repackaged as postmodern fantasy, or fantasy as re-imagined in Buffyverse, to reflect the shared collective sub/unconscious of humanity is a valid form of cultural expression.
Totally a must-have. Like, right now. ^_^
Script: Joss Whedon, Pencils: Georges Jeanty, Inks: Andy Owens, Colors: Dave Stewart, Cover Art: Jo Chen, Dark Horse Books (2007)