Friday, June 15, 2007

My Review of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's 8x01: "The Long Way Home Part 1"

Written by Joss Whedon
Artwork by Georges Jeanty

Buffy: “The thing about changing the world … Once you do it, the world’s all different. Everybody calls me ma’am nowadays.”

It’s been four years since Buffy and company have parted our TV screens. I think I can speak for the majority of viewers when I say it was time for the show to end. All good things come to an end after and no-one appreciates a show that outstays its welcome. Charmed I mean you!

Within those subsequent years I’ve latched on to many shows including the big cultural zeitgeists such as Alias, Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes and I have a soft spot for Supernatural while shows such as Smallville and The Dresden Files have been the odd guilty pleasures for me.

The biggest shows in a post Buffy/Angel world that ignite the same bloodlust and undeniable passion for me have the phenomenal Doctor Who and its fun if flawed spin-off Torchwood. As it doesn’t need to be pointed out, we are now in a situation where there are more genre shows than you can shake a stick at.

The bigger question is why after such a reasonably longish time has Joss Whedon decided to continue his career landmark in the form of comics? Don’t get me wrong, I knew there was no way in hell that he would be able to round up all of his main cast for a movie but even the inner cynic in me has to ask that very question.

The very public Buffy lover however is thrilled about learning what has happened to some of the characters he’s cared deeply about since “Chosen”. I may have stopped wondering after a while but having official answers is something I wouldn’t have dismissed for the world.

Like an episode of the show itself, things open up on a pretty sharp note. We have Buffy musing about how the world has changed because of what she did to the Slayer line and soon enough herself and three slayers named Rowena, Leah and Satsu jump from a helicopter all secret agent like and storm a church in Scotland protected by a force field.

Well I lied, the force field is pretty useless because soon enough Buffy and company are able to get past that but soon enough they find themselves scrapping with a bunch of lizard like demons. A part of me thinks they look like something from a Marvel comic but they look brilliant that it doesn’t matter.

One of the best things about this opening sequence is the dialogue and it’s undeniably Joss’ with the demons stupid enough to underestimate Buffy and our main Slayer then happy to rectify that arrogance by literally crucifying him. I just had to throw that pun in there, despite its risk of being deeply immature.

However a bunch of demons attacking a church isn’t any good without a body count or better an idea of what they are after and when Buffy spots a weird symbol on the victims chest along with some arsenal, this comic already has you grabbed.

Then it gets slightly better as the previously underused Xander is told by his best friend to send Giles a copy of the symbol found on the victims. It turns out that Xander has gone from carpenter to watcher in over a year. Not that I’m complaining because if Andrew could become a trainee watcher then surely the more useful Xander would be deserving of an elevation in status.

One of the worst things about the last televised seasons of Buffy was the horrific lack of Xander. Obviously better at taking criticism than the likes of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, if making Xander a watcher is Joss Whedon’s attempts of further developing his character and just simply giving him more to do, then Joss is going to have a lot of pleased readers on his hands, including me.

With both Willow and Giles being collective no shows in the first issue (and yes, that is a major let down), it’s Xander and his general awesomeness that really makes this comic fly in a lot of places. Sure this issue doesn’t lack some mystery or a fight sequence or two but Xander is the best damn thing of this entire issue.

Reasons to love him here include playing his not unfamiliar role of confidant to Buffy, who once again has managed to distance herself from others. In fairness I’m glad Buffy is talking about her fears and insecurities to one of her best friends rather than sleeping with a peroxide vampire she’s never loved.

What’s great about Xander is while he’s sympathetic to Buffy’s plight he’s also savvy enough to know that a lot of Buffy’s distancing is essentially her own fault, not that even Buffy is keen on admitting it. Xander doesn’t push the issue and manages to lay off some of the moralising that has been annoying in the past.

Another thing that Xander seems skilled in is his new role of watcher. In Season Seven Xander did have to look after some of the potentials in his own home, now he’s actually instructing them and unlike the relationship some of them seem to have with Buffy, the girls here take to Xander and his instructions pretty well.

In particular there’s a girl named Renee who seems to be happy at the very sight of Xander and has even gone to the extent on reading up on her Nick Fury, much to the new watcher’s delight. In fact Xander’s very response is a nudging nod to how Whedon credits his fandom’s general savvy.

However the biggest state of Xander awesomeness throughout the entire first issue is his role of mediator between a quarrelling Buffy and Dawn. Remember how in both “Grave” and “Chosen”, Buffy made allusions of building a relationship with Dawn? Well suffice to say, the first problem they have and Buffy slips into the role of Crap Sister. Yes, that’s right viewers, its Dawn’s side you should be taking.

Seeing as Dawn is now at least 17, the girl has naturally become sexually active and a tryst with a Thricewise (it’s not explained what that is here) named Kenny has reaped the nasty consequence of her becoming fifty times her normal size. In fairness Dawn should count herself lucky – there’s no way Season Eight could redo something like an Angelus type nasty first time sexual experience. As for us readers, thank God we don’t have to deal with a supernatural pregnancy.

While Dawn may have gotten several warning from various concerned people about bonking Kenny and not heeded them, I have to admit that Buffy’s lack of concern is a pain. Your sister has become tall; perhaps worrying over treating it like an imposition is a more responsible reaction because Xander certainly thinks so.

As a detractor recently pointed out, if Buffy became gigantic, you’d bet your ass Willow would be summoned ASAP to undo it but like the Fred/Illyria debacle on Angel, Dawn has to wait until Willow comes back and this is one reason why she had better pop up sooner as opposed to later. So instead of being in Berkeley, Dawn is now in a castle.

It also doesn’t really help that while not only does Buffy have to be practically nagged into seeing her sister but when she does, she’s not exactly helpful. Buffy has a right to be concerned about Dawn being safe but hey, Dawn also has a right to be in relationships of her choosing even if her judgement is suitably wonky. Not wanting to divulge to Buffy the extent of her fling with Kenny and instead only to tell Willow does very little to remedy the tension.

As much as I like Dawn, I can’t exactly admit I’m keen on the idea of a Giant Dawn for this entire arc. I’m sure in case of attacks Buffy and her new Slayers will encounter, a Giant Dawn would be an advantage but unlike Xander’s new and improved role, it feels like she’s getting the short end of the stick.

Also as for the new girls of the bunch, we’ve only encountered four new Slayers and while the likes of Satsu, Rowena, Leah and Renee are probably the most strongest or experienced of the lot, a part of me missed not having Vi, Rona and even Kennedy around the place. On the plus side, these new girls managed to not bog down proceedings and if that doesn’t earn the girls some likeability, then what will?

Moving away from all the interpersonal stuff, there’s also the set up of some big trouble and unlike The First Evil, these ones are perhaps tangible. The symbols on the victims that Buffy and her Slayers found don’t look good. At first I thought these victims might have been sacrifice material but it was kinda deduced earlier on that they had gone into that church looking for a fight. I keep wondering whether whatever is behind it is the season’s Big Bad or a foe solely for this arc alone.

But that’s not the only problem facing Buffy and the gang. Once again, the US government, perhaps a new formation of The Initiative lead by General Voll seem to also pose a threat. Of course, like The Initiative, Voll views himself as a good guy and is quick to draw parallels between Buffy’s destruction of Sunnydale and her band of Slayers as a terrorist cell. The guy even makes the audacious comment of Buffy being deliberately anti-American as well.

The Initiative weren’t exactly the most effective villains we’ve ever had on the series and Voll’s little army aren’t as enticing as pure evil, a cavalcade of ancient vampires of a Hell God but either way, Joss plans to use Voll for something and the demented general and his people aren’t surveying what is left of Sunnydale, they end up nabbing two attackers.

The first one which seems to be a boyfriend is unseen but alluded to as being disgusting but it’s the girlfriend who really sparks interest and low and behold, it’s non other than Amy Madison.

Amy’s a clever little thing who turns being captured into her own advantage as the comic comes to a conclusion. Not only will she help General Voll take Buffy down but she’ll do it provided her and her boyfriend are let go and given a laboratory and magical hardware as well as immunity if they success.

It’s great to have Amy seemingly cast as a season big bag. It makes sense but I’m really wondering who her boyfriend is though. Since she became human, Amy only had a flirt with some random guy in the episode “Smashed” when she wasn’t trying to send Willow of the deep end.

It doesn’t take much to guess that Amy’s willingness in helping General Voll is motivated by a desire to get back at the Scoobies, especially Willow. Amy’s irrational hatred hasn’t died down. Still though, I’d take her more seriously than Voll any day of the week.

Also in “The Long Way Home Part 1”

Artist Jo Chen seems to be doing two covers for each issue. The one I acquired was the solo Buffy with the scythe.

Demon: “Stupid human, I am no vampire. You think I fear the cross?”
Buffy: “You might wanna start.”

It turns out that there are two girls pretending to be Buffy, one of them is dating The Immortal which Andrew thought would be funny. Not so funny if Angel and Spike had blown the girl’s cover in “The Girl In Question”.

Leah: “That were a wee bit repulsive.”
Buffy: “Went okay. Cept I feel a little weird about using a crucifix to kill someone.”
Leah: “Yeh dinno much religion, do yeh?”

Xander: “I used to be in construction. Pay was good, hours were way better than this. They even ended occasionally but when duty calls you don’t exactly get time to screen.”

So far this Season Eight seems to be running for an undecided amount of issues. How about 22, like each regular season would be itself?

Renee: “Wasn’t Nick Fury a Colonel when he ran S.H.I.E.L.D?”
Xander: “I like him better in his Howling Commando days but your nerd points are accumulating impressively.”

General Voll (re Buffy): “Worst of all, they’ve got a leader. Charismatic, uncompromising and completely destructive. I mean for the love of God, look what she did to her home town.”

I noticed Buffy was wearing a Serenity logo on her shirt. This issue had ads for the Serenity comic as well.

Buffy: “You’re a terrible watcher.”
Xander: “Well clearly.”

In the beginning of this issue Buffy mentioned there being at least 1800 slayers out there with 500 of them working for her in 10 different squads. The gang are making an effort to contact the rest, right?

Dawn: “Kenny never said he was a thricewise.”
Buffy: “I said he was a thricewise, Leah said he was a thricewise. Giles said he was a thricewise and he only met him on the phone.”

There’s a lot of people missing from this issue including Willow, Giles, Andrew, Kennedy, Rona, Vi, Faith and Robin.

Buffy (to Xander): “I miss my home. I miss my Mom, I miss the gang and churros and sex. Great muppety Odin, I miss that sex.”

Chronology: It’s been 18 months since “Chosen”, so it’s November 2004.

Well this was definitely a good start to what will hopefully be a compelling continuation of the Buffy-verse. “The Long Way Home Part 1” earns points for the Whedon esque dialogue, the introduction of some old and new baddies but scarcely referencing other characters and being only 32 pages long makes you feel a bit short changed at times. Still though, Joss is finding his feet and it will take a while before everyone really sinks their teeth into proceedings but at least we’re off to an interesting start.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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