Back when it was still a going TV concern, I remember checking out several issues of Dark Horse's Buffy, the Vampire Slayer comic book cash-in, but I wasn't particularly impressed. It wasn't just the art (which never sufficiently approximated the way I knew these characters looked from the show) but the writing – which was so much flatter than BtVS's TV scripts. An unfair comparison, I know, but when the discrepancy 'tween show and comic is the primary thing you notice, then something is seriously wrong adaptation-wise.
Now Mister Buffy Himself, Joss Whedon, is scripting a new run of the comic version – and calling it "Season Eight" to boot – so attention must be paid by those of us with more than a passing interest in the Whedonverse. Whedon's made a connection in the series to comics before, of course: the big axe/blade wielded by the Buffster during the teleseries' finish made its debut in an earlier Dark Horse sci-fi horror comics series entitled Fray. And to make sure we recollect this, Jo Chen's cover to the first issue of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer – Season Eight features our slayer heroine holding said axe/blade oh-so-casually across her shoulders, though when we get to the actual action inside, said mystical weapon is nowhere to be seen.
Okay, already I'm attacking this book like a geeky fanatic – which also may not be entirely fair, but, realistically, it's the first draw for this title, right? So to those few Buffy fans who haven't already picked up this comic from their local comics emporium, let's get the Big Questions outta the way. Who shows up in the first issue? Buff, natch; former goofball spear-carrier Xander Harris (who gets to make his second Sgt. Fury reference in a Buffy story, this time playing off his own one-eyed self), now in a position of some importance; and bratty kid sister Dawn Summers, presently transformed after an apparent one-night stand with a magical creature. Those talked about but not seen: Buffy's old watcher Giles, current watcher Andrew and gal-pal hex-mistress Willow. Fans also learn that the stories Andrew told us in an episode of the TV spin-off series, Angel, about Buff were totally untrue: there's more than one decoy Slayer out there designed to throw the Forces of Hellmouthery off track. Missing in action: the high school principal currently serving as President on 24 and all the characters who slipped over to Angel.
As for our title lead, she's still holding onto the hard-assed ("Thanks, I work out") Leader of Wimmen role she maintained in the teleseries' final season. The world is packed with Slayers ("Eighteen hundred now, that we've counted.") and the Minions of Badness seem to have increased to accommodate this fact. The Watcher's Council, which on the show appeared to be a neo-Edwardian collective of old-fashioned tweeds, has apparently gone all high-tech and paramilitary. Issue #1 opens with our heroine parachuting with a trio of supporting Slayers into a sinister castle being held by monstrous demons (one immediate advantage that the comic has above the show, of course: the demons don't look fake 'n' rubbery) and scattered with the remains of dead humans who all have the same mysterious tattoo on their chest. "I think it's a frown turned upside down," Xander notes back at HQ, thankfully demonstrating that he still has a piece of the same ol' goofus inside him.
If the shift to a more Marvel Comicky approach makes some storytelling sense ("The thing about changing the world," Buffy notes in voiceover narration, "once you do it, the world's all different."), this fan can't help worrying that it's at the expense of the original show's subtext. If the television Buffy was, at root, about the perils of adolescence and the later travails of growing into adulthood, what's Season Eight about? How to be a kick-ass soldier?
But perhaps I'm jumpin' the high-tech armament here. The title of Season Eight's first storyline is "The Long Way Home," which would seem to hint that Joss is planning on taking his cast back to where they came from. (Mebbe the world hasn't changed so much, after all.) And Whedon happily still possesses his crisp way with the Scooby Gang interplay. His heroine parcels out Damon Runyonesque quips ("Here at Command Central, not much with the hilarious."), while her scene with a whiny Dawn contains a snarky comeback that I could easily hear Sarah Michelle Gellar delivering. Story-wise, I'm willing to give the comic a few more issues.
As for Georges Jeanty's art, well, mebbe it's the fact that the series has been off the air for awhile – so we don't have current acted versions of the characters to compare it to – but I found myself accepting Jeanty's take on the cast. Could've been a little moodier with that creepy castle, I thought, but I enjoyed his treatment of the Bert I. Gordon scene 'tween Buffy and her sis. And check out the expression on the flirty face of a young computer minion chalking up "nerd points" with Xander back at Command Central: a few more comically human moments like that, and we might be able to accept this Season Eight biz as more than just a fannish merchandizing ploy, after all . . .
For a second Blogcritics consideration of the new comic, check out Patrick's review.