Thursday, September 4, 2008

Buffy: Season Eight #18 Review

Writer: Joss Whedon
Penciller: Karl Moline

Spoiler Alert

With its third part, the episode "The Time of your Life" is finally starting to come together. What is most interesting about this comic is that Joss Whedon has quite successfully merged his comic book, Fray, with the Buffy universe at large. Several elements are coming together here. At the end of Season Seven, Buffy turned all potential slayers into true slayers, thus changing the world. Moreover, by doing so, she changed her own fate, or rather, removed it. Buffy had been the "one girl, in all the world, a chosen One. One born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil". By imbuing the other potential slayers with her power, she removed her own destiny. The final line of the television show was Dawn asking Buffy, "Yeah, Buffy, what are we going to do now?". Buffy lets out a small smile, indicating that, for the first time since she was called to be the Slayer, she was able to ask herself that question.

The importance of the current story line is that it appears, somehow, that Buffy failed. In Fray's future, there is only one slayer again. Most fans had assumed that Fray was simply out of continuity, and because it was published before the final episode was aired, it had just not taken the finale of the series into account. Either Joss Whedon knew what he was planning all along, or he made it seem like he did. Instead, the existence of Fray indicates that somehow Buffy failed, and quickly. All the history books that Buffy reads at the beginning of Issue #18 include no mention of her army of slayers, indicating that her army was either wiped out or depowered before anyone could even notice.

How did all of this happen? Curiously, this issue indicates that somehow Buffy is probably responsible. The Willow of the future claims to have very little magic power left, which may or may not be true. Moreover, whatever she told Fray about Buffy convinced Fray that Buffy needed to be killed or at least captured. The Willow of the future is also apparently conspiring to bring someone back into the past, possibly to change whatever would happen, so that magic will not be eliminated from the world. Either Buffy will lose to this group, Twilight, or somehow she imbalanced magic enough that it will somehow be destroyed.

We are beginning to see some of the complexities of the themes of this season. Buffy has created an entire army of slayers, and humanity has simply had enough. We have seen humanity try to fight magic before, with the disastrous Initiative from season four. Twilight is humanity's response to the continuing threat from magic and from the fairly tale world that continues to press against its borders. One curious thing about the themes of this season is that it's not entirely clear who is in the right. Sure, Twilight is creepy, but when presented with the possibility that humanity might be out to stop magic, Buffy's response is to simply say, "Bring them on".

There is an interesting character moment in which we realise Buffy may have lost her compass. When she and Fray are watching vampires attack a group of citizens, Buffy doesn't leap into battle, but instead plans to watch them kill the humans so they can follow them back to their base. At first, I tried to rationalise this scene, thinking that perhaps Buffy was about to discuss a plan in which Fray stops the vampires while she follows the driver back to their base, but I'm not so sure. This is a new Buffy, not the one who foolishly ran off to save innocent civilians while Drusilla killed Kendra and put Willow in the hospital, falling for the same ruse "every single time!" as Angelus mocked. Looking carefully over the season, there have been a few moments where Buffy's utilitarian reasoning has arisen. She has been robbing banks in order to finance her army. She has put some of her soldiers into jeopardy by turning them into her decoys, one of whom was killed. This issue, she is content to simply watch people die for the greater good. Her reasoning has started to resemble some of the darker reasoning of the Watchers during the television show, which makes sense given that this has basically become her role relative to the newer slayers. Future Willow may not have needed to invent very much in order to turn Fray against Buffy.

As a whole, then, the arc of this story is very impressive. It is good to see this comic turn from a series of interesting events to a genuine story with important themes that Whedon wants to tell. In its particular moments, some of the scenes are very funny. Dawn's comment to Lorelahn is laugh-out-loud funny when she asks him whether or not he was caught in a "legend blender". The face-off between Harth and Gunther is suitably creepy, as the two of them realise that they are in a stalemate, and Gunther shows Harth that maybe he isn't the biggest creep in town. The future Willow is starting to be developed well, and she is not the dark Willow of season six nor the vampire Willow of season three. Instead, she is simply a sad figure, almost like a repository of dark and mostly forgotten memories. She looks like an old, broken doll, with cracks on her porcelain forehead and in a tattered, dirty dress. Her comment that she "earned" her title as "madwoman" indicates that somehow she may be responsible for her own misery.

This is the best issue yet of the series, even though nothing much happens in it. Instead, Whedon is carefully drawing out his themes and subtly tying together his narrative, leaving the reader to realise that something very, very bad is about to happen, and that it might be the fault of our favourite characters.


No comments: