Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Review of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's 8x15: "Wolves At The Gate Part 4"

Written by Drew Goddard
Artwork by Georges Jeanty

Dracula (re Willow): “I can stop them but I need your witch. Go get her!”
Buffy: “I’m not leaving. I can’t leave Xander alone.”
Dracula: “He’s not alone.”

With the previous comic ending with the death of Renee, there’s something rather impressive about the start of things here. Sure Xander would grieve for the girl in the midst of a battle between slayers and morphing vampires but that’s small fry.

The real innovative stroke is tackling Renee’s death from her point of view. Rarely done on television in this context but seeing Renee desperately trying to cling for life even though she’s slipping at a faster rate is quite sad.

Over the course of this season, I’ve grown attached to Renee and I was happy about the idea of her and Xander as couple. She was as removed from Cordelia and Anya as you could get and Xander seemed mature enough to be with her.

Watching Renee begin to realise she lost her voice as well as wondering if Xander really knew how she felt about him is believable. I don’t think Renee needed to worry on that score because from the way he reacts in this comic, he’s more than aware of what she felt for him, mainly because he felt the same way for her.

With slayers and vampires battling it out and there not seeming to be winners on any side, it seems that Dracula is the one with the bright ideas. He knows this lot have an upper hand with their magic so bringing Willow into the game should help even the score for everyone.

Of course Buffy’s first impulse is to go to Xander, which is sweet so Dracula literally has to scream at her to get Willow. A lot of people online thought Buffy was being selfish or unsupportive of Xander in this comic but to be fair, I have to disagree with that thought.

Buffy does leave to get Willow but ends up having to put Satsu in charge. I presume it’s because Satsu is the only other experienced slayer there and due to the fighting, it’s not like Buffy could spend ages deliberating over a decision. Besides Satsu can handle herself.

Willow meanwhile is getting into another battle with Kumiko. They already had a go with each other in “Wolves At The Gate Part 1” and here, Kumiko is not only trying to kill Willow but it also turns out that they have a shared history of sorts. Willow then tries to use that to her advantage to get some answers.

Instead she nearly passes out and if it hadn’t been for a knife happy Buffy, Kumiko might have actually succeeded in killing Willow. Kumiko’s death isn’t quite as glorious as I was hoping it would be but it does leave Buffy and Willow in a bad predicament.

As for the streets, there are more vampires and slayers tearing strips out of each other but at least having Dawn around even things out. For once her giant stature is actually becoming useful. That doesn’t mean I want Dawn to remain a giant indefinitely but I have no objections to seeing her crush a few vampires.

It’s also nice to see Dawn assert herself by telling the slayers to attack the very building with the big magic circle. If they don’t then they’ll become normal girls and will be killed even faster than some of them are already. Unfortunately for Dawn, Toru is also aware of their next move.

Then again Toru has been on top of things for the last three issues what with stealing the scythe and the easy way he killed both Aiko and Renee. Being a giant means that Dawn is harder to kill but Toru is full of surprises and even Dawn has a disadvantage when he reveals his own way of dealing with her.

If you thought that one Dawn wasn’t enough, then you get to have two. The one on Toru’s side happens to be a Mecha Dawn and between jests and gasps from both sides, the robot has fun in beating the shit out of our Dawn. Well this comic was lacking a girl on girl fight and this fills the quota.

As for Toru he’s also aware that Kumiko’s not responding and assuming the worst he decides to do the spell himself in order to weaken the slayers. However the one thing he didn’t bank on was Dracula getting near enough to take the scythe away from him and to hand it to Satsu.

There’s a great moment where Satsu is standing on vampires in order to get the scythe but as soon as she does she realises she’s in for a harsh landing. That the third person on our side that’s fallen from a great big height.

The other two would be Buffy and Willow. They managed to land safely when Willow turned the sidewalk into water. I didn’t see that one coming but it’s also rather delightful to see the girls have a talk about Buffy’s sexuality. When Willow did that with Satsu in “Wolves At The Gate Part 2” I cringed but here I laughed.

I’ve never gotten the impression that neither Buffy nor Willow fancied the other but to see them compare lists and tell each other that they aren’t the other’s type was surprisingly funny. You’d wonder how Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan would’ve played that if this was a series and not a comic.

However the girls do leave the banter alone in enough time to stop Satsu from dying and do battle with a few more vampires. Dracula on the other hand gives Willow his sword so she can do a spell to strip every vampire of their magic. Weirdly enough he’s also cool with the fact that it will also do the same to time.

Dracula sacrificing his powers is quite strange. In Season Five there’s no way in hell he would’ve done that and I’m not so sure as to why he’s doing it now. Is it because of Xander or a desire to do good? Or is he lying and the spell will strip everyone’s but his powers? The cynic in me wants to go with the latter decision.

Willow pretty much gets on with doing the spell anyway and it quickly takes effect. The vampires are just regular vampires but it does feel like the slayers are more threatening to them now that they can’t morph into animals or mist. Buffy herself rallies the girls into attacking much tougher on them too.

Dawn meanwhile is at a losing point with the Mecha Dawn. Much as I generally loathe Andrew, Drew Goddard found a use for him by having the nerd tell Dawn exactly how to defeat the thing. Dawn does it pretty effectively but her amusement as to how Andrew knows stuff like that is misplaced.

I mean he spent all of Season Six with Warren the robotics king so it’s not too surprising that Andrew might have picked up a few tricks along the way. Still it’s also nice to see Dawn rip off the head of that thing, even though it made some perceptive comments about Dawn’s penchant for whining.

As for the final battle, Buffy nearly got killed by Raidon until Satsu got to be hero and save the woman’s life. Dracula meanwhile got locked in a battle with Toru. While I’m suspicious of Dracula’s motives, Toru basically thinks the vampire has been emasculated.

In a scene that could’ve blatantly written for Spike, Dracula goes out of his way to emphasis that he’s far from emasculated. You could almost say that Dracula over emphasises it a little too much but there’s something very glorious in the swift he decapitates Toru.

Toru’s then left looking like a pathetic shell of the dangerous vampire he started this arc being but it’s a vengeful Xander who finishes him off. On screen that would’ve looked a lot darker than it was here but at least we got to see Xander breaking down and Buffy consoling him. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone console Xander so for that scene alone, this issue wins massive respect.

The rest of the slayers on the other hand are told to clean up the town. I can’t imagine that there are that many dangerous vampires from Toru’s gang left but hats off to Buffy for being sensible and making sure that they are despatched.

Xander meanwhile gets a fairly meaningful scene with Dracula. By that I mean he threatens to kill Dracula and tells the vampire to stop treating him like a servant. Given how messed up the Xander/Dracula dynamic is, this was another choice moment in this issue.

Buffy and Satsu on the other hand also get a good moment. In a scene that’s literally similar to The Doctor/Martha scene in “Last Of The Time Lords” or even Rose/Mickey in “The Age Of Steel”, Satsu tells Buffy that she needs to stay in Japan and fall out of love with her.

Buffy realises that Satsu has a point and decides to let her take a position guiding less experienced slayers. Whether you were for or against Buffy/Satsu, this is a brilliant way of ending a relationship that would’ve never lasted anyway. It’s nice that both women got to keep their dignity intact and that they parted on good terms. Perhaps Buffy is learning something about relationships after all.

The final page is a delight with Dracula bringing a meaningful narration. In a panel we’ve got Willow in meditation mode, Buffy and Satsu having sex and Xander spreading Renee’s ashes. I can’t think of a more ending for an arc like this. It was a nice way to go with it.

Also in “Wolves At The Gate Part 4”

Cover for this issue I got was Buffy and Dracula battling vampires morphing into wolves and bees.

Renee: “Please don’t let me fall. I can’t hear what he’s saying. Why can’t I? Oh God. I’m not ready. I hope he knows. I never got to tell him. Xander I’m not ready. I’m so scared.”

Willow and Kumiko shared the same mentor, the snake creature we saw in “Anywhere But Here”. Will she play a part in later issues?

Kumiko: “We speak the same language you and I.”
Willow: “Good. Talk to me.”

Saga Vasuki (to Willow): “Darling Willow. Did you think I could not find you? Did you think you could hide from what you are? Or what’s to come?”

We saw a burning city and the scythe in Willow’s mind. Again I wonder if this is something we’ll see in a later arc.

Buffy (as she’s falling): “Not like a diving board! Not like a diving board at all! Will? Willow? Um I need you to wake up now … wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up.”

Rowena: “They built a Mecha Dawn.”
Toru: “There’s something you don’t see every day.”

That gigantic red ring looked like a portal at one point. I almost thought Willow might have gotten sucked into it.

Dracula: “Get the scythe.”
Satsu: “On it. Oh hell.”

Buffy: “What list? There’s a list.”
Willow: “Yeah and you’re not on it.”
Buffy: “Oh yeah? Well then, you’re not on my list either.”
Willow: “Good. I don’t want to be.”

Buffy’s ‘list’ includes the likes of Judi Dench and Eleanor Roosevelt. Now there are older women but come on, Buffy.

Willow: “We should probably catch Satsu now.”
Buffy: “Yeah. I was just thinking that.”

Mecha Dawn: “My name is Dawn.”
Dawn: “That doesn’t sound anything like me.”
Mecha Dawn: “I am a teenage girl.”
Dawn: “Then why do you have a tail?”

How exactly did Toru know about Dawn’s penchant for guys taking advantage of her? Was he that hard up for dirt on the slayers?

Raidon (to Buffy): “I bet you taste sweet slayer.”
Satsu: “You have no idea. I can’t believe I just said that out loud.”

Toru: “You can’t leave me like this. You owe me that honour.”
Dracula: “It’s not my place to kill you and you know nothing about honour.”

There was a full ad for the upcoming Buffy/Fray arc “Time Of Your Life”. Here’s hoping it’s a good one.

Dracula: “Perhaps you’re right. Something like ‘lackey’ or ‘minion’ then.”
Xander: “Absolutely not.”
Dracula: “Houseboy?”
Xander: “Still getting killed.”

Buffy: “So. What do we do now? Say goodbye? Go our separate ways and such?”
Satsu: “Well. I suppose we could always save goodbye for tomorrow.”

The next issue which starts of the “Time Of Your Life” arc is out on July 2nd.

This arc might have been a bit hit and miss but it started off brilliantly and “Wolves At The Gate Part 4” made sure it ended brilliantly as well. A sad exit for Renee but at least we got a dignified one for Satsu but I seriously think we need to start advancing the Twilight stuff and reintroducing the likes of Amy, Warren, General Voll, Giles and Faith and soon.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

Friday, June 13, 2008

My Review of Angel's 6x08: "After The Fall Part 8"

Written by Brian Lynch And Scott Tipton
Artwork by Tim Kane And Fabio Mantovani And Kevin Schmidt And Mirco Pierfederici

Gunn (to himself): “I remember the odds. I remember not beating them.”

The last of this good but somewhat unnecessary prelude to “After The Fall” and to be honest, things here aren’t quite as exciting as the previous two issues have been. I mean it’s apocalyptic but there doesn’t feel like we’re getting anything really new.

For instance with the Betta George plot of the story all we’ve seemed to know is that the vampires holding him hostage have been fighting slayers but beyond that, we don’t know why.

Betta tries to get his captor to spill his guts but beyond getting further threats on his life, the surly vampire doesn’t tell us anything. Three issues in I wish that we would either see Betta getting rescued or even dead because the lack of progress is something of a sore point with this issue.

Betta started off feeling important to the whole plot but now he’s just sitting there and nothing is getting advanced. Given that comic book form is a slower medium and the majority of people reading this are just Angel fans rather than comic fans, it would help to speed things up a little.

If Betta’s so important to this hell on earth plot that Gunn went to extra lengths to capture him, then it’s about time we got to see how exactly he contributed. Clearly the fish knows more than he’s letting on so how about some insight. This might be hell on earth but don’t send the readers to hell by being slow on the developments.

With last issue opening up on both Wesley and Kate’s escapades post “Not Fade Away”; Gwen is the next person to come under the microscope. As I’m fond of Gwen and given that we know she later allies herself with Connor, it’s quite nice to know what exactly the electro girl is getting up.

Once again there’s a romantic setting that looks destined to be crushed. Gwen enjoys a romantic picnic on the beach with a guy named Nate and surprisingly she’s able to touch him without killing him. Then again hell does work in mysterious ways.

After all this is the same setting that has made Angel a human, Wesley a captive ghost and Illyria pretty unstable. Gwen not being able to kill through touch is advantageous so surely because of that, it can’t last seeing as hell put Angel, Illyria and Wesley in disadvantaged positions.

Although Gwen is enjoying the idea of being able to get frisky with a bloke it does seem that Nate is a little too overexcited. Perhaps he genuinely likes or maybe he’s aware that she’s not very sexually experienced but either way he is somewhat eager to sleep with Gwen.

It even seems that Gwen’s sexual prowess is quite the news topic but despite his insistence Gwen still refuses to put out. Given how unstable her new environment is, I think Gwen is being smart. Pity that Nate continues to act a little immaturely for my taste.

Another interesting moment is the hellish feel the beach ends up getting a few minutes later. On screen it would be one of those surreal of images seeing an ocean practically resembling the inside of a volcano. There’s even a fish scorched to death at one point to emphasise the sudden transformation.

Nate seems pretty worried about what’s suddenly happening but it’s Gwen who’s more cutting in her comments. Desperate to get rid of her amorous new pal she berates him for trying to be a boy scout and then has a dig at his sexual prowess to really piss him off.

Okay so it’s pretty low blow but Gwen’s reasons for doing this are obviously there to protect Nate rather than harm him. She does seem to like him enough and if being a bitch to him is the only to keep him safe, then Gwen certainly doesn’t mind doing that. Under the circumstances, I don’t blame her.

However Nate still gets hurt when Gwen touches him and ends up fried to a crisp. Hell has been consistent in messing with certain character’s attributes so it’s no surprise that Gwen would get a sting in the tail. No one gets to catch a break in this arc, do they? Well, except maybe Lorne and Spike to a degree.

Gwen’s reasonably upset that her touch can kill once again but I’m having a hard time trying to understand what she meant when she said she earned it. If anything, I’d imagine the opposite reaction would be true. Gwen might not be pure as the driven snow but she’s certainly evil or deserving of bad shit like that to happen to her.

Despite not actually viewing Nate as a permanent love interest, Gwen’s grief for him is still pretty damn effective no less. I liked that she promised to try and fix the chaos surrounding LA by allying herself with Team Angel and seeing how she goes from that to actually Connor would’ve been nice.

It’s also interesting to get a somewhat deeper insight into Gwen as a character too. We know that she’s lonely and part of her reasons for seeing Nate was kill some of that loneliness. In her new surroundings I can’t imagine much in the way of happiness for her right now.

Meanwhile Gwen isn’t the only one in suitable turmoil. Nope, our next focus are the civilians of LA and there’s a young man who is desperate to spread the word of doom much to derision of others.

This guy wastes no real time in chiming bells and spouting stuff about the end being near. He even invades a cinema and uses the words to promote movies in order to get the point across. As plots go this one is both audacious and a little silly. In some ways it’s nice to see how the hell on earth affects ordinary people but this isn’t quite as compelling as you’d want it to be.

The guy comes across as somewhat annoying that the sceptical woman telling him not to be so negative is somewhat more sympathetic. Of course while she might think that he’s barking mad, it’s not long before he actually gives her genuine proof that he’s right to be fearful.

As the skies rain fire and the girl gets increasingly scared, it’s the guy who seems to find enjoyment out of this. For some reason that reminds me of Andrew and that is never a good thing.

With demons trashing the whole of LA left, right and centre the rest of this segment feels a tad flat. So hell is here and this guy is happy to be right? At one point it does look like he’s about to challenge some of these demons to a duel. Whether or not he actually survives, I have to admit that I don’t really care all that much.

The last focus of this issue is then Gunn. So we all know that he’s been turned into a vampire and this issue fills in some of the gaps since we saw him in “Not Fade Away” as Gunn finds himself in the hands of another vampire.

At first he thinks he’s been captured and that the vampire in question is a tad crazy but soon enough his mind begins to flash to the moment he was dying. Gunn even quips that he didn’t beat the odds. Being a vampire also ensures that to be honest.

As Angel, Spike and Illyria fought to survive, Gunn was on the way out and even Angel couldn’t encourage him to hold on for any longer. That’s when a group of vampires took Gunn and one of them ended up siring him. The question is why would one of them do that but annoyingly enough, it’s the one thing this issue fails to provide an answer for.

Gunn isn’t best thrilled with his new fate and nor is he in the mood to become friends with the very fellow who sired him. In fact there’s some good banter about these vampires who have an inside line when they’re explaining that they don’t work for Wolfram And Hart.

With Gunn being offered a position to work with these vampires (whose motives aren’t that clear), it’s actually quite funny that this lot are very reluctant to tell Gunn that it’s hell on earth. Of course Gunn is more than aware of that and when he’s not staking the guy who sired him, he’s informing the rest of the gang that he wants out of hell. I think that’s easier said than done.

Also in “After The Fall Part 8”

The cover I ended up buying for this issue was the one with Gunn and the many hands coming after him.

Betta George (to the vampire): “In the short time I poked around what passes for your mind, I saw all sorts of stuff and for the sake of surviving, I agree that air supply is totally underrat-”

It’s a bit odd that unlike the previous two issues, we got nothing on Betta George at the end of the comic.
Nate: “We’ve been kissing for three hours.”
Gwen: “And touching.”
Nate: “And touching, yes. Lotta touching.”

Gwen: “I should go.”
Nate: “No, you shouldn’t. Because you go and I don’t know when I’m going to see you again and then we can’t touch and that would suck because I’m all about-”
Gwen: “I know where you work. I’ll come there if I want to see you.”

Did anyone else think Nate was drawn a bit like Nathan Fillion for some reason?

Nate: “Somebody’s gotta do something.”
Gwen: “Totally but it ain’t you. Lots of boy scouts in this town. I’ve run across a couple of guys that are probably better at handling this than you. Also better at making out. Take the hurt and use it.”

Gwen (to dead Nate): “Yep. If it is permanent and it’s not and I can’t find another one of those thingamabobs to change me back and I will, kinda wished I had actually dated someone in the short time that I had. Not just. Yeah. And not you, not saying you. Just woulda been nice to know what it’s like. To not be alone for a little while. Woulda been nice.”

This has to be the first issue that was co-written with Brian Lynch. Scott Tipton helped out with the Gunn segment of the story.

Girl: “Why are you so negative all the time?”
Man: “I’m not. I’m positive. The end is near. Get ready. I am. I have soup and bottled water and a sword.”

Man (re Girl): “But if she’s okay and she ever does pass this way again she’ll see I used her stupid sign to lie for her and if she’d just come back, I’d be more than happy to admit it … it wasn’t entirely painful.”

The man used letters from movie titles such as Valentine, Chance, House On Haunted Hill, First Night and Catch Me If You Can – all of these movies have featured Buffy/Angel actors.

Vampire: “Just calm down Charles it’s going to be alright. We’ve been waiting to talk to you for weeks. What’s the last thing you remember?”
Gunn: “I remember … overly friendly vampire telling me to calm down. Oh, you mean before that. I remember the alley.”

Angel: “It’s gonna be alright, Gunn.”
Gunn: “Reall. Reall.”
Angel: “We’re gonna get out of this.”
Gunn: “Really not Angel.”
Angel: “Oh. Just hold on for a few minutes.”

There’s a brief preview for Issue 9 at the end of this issue. It comes out on June 26th.

Gunn (to vampire gang): “So. What’s this about an inside line? Because even before that curtain was pulled I was fully aware I was in hell and I want out.”

Does anyone know if Spike: After The Fall is canon as well as this? Is there even a point to it?

“After The Fall Part 8” has a collection of some good ideas and while it’s intriguing, this whole storyline on a whole hasn’t added as much as I hoped it would. Hopefully by next issue some actual progress will have been made.

Rating: 6 out of 10.