Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Time of Your Life (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Volume 4)

And speaking of semi-cannon print continuations of film/tv classics, the fourth collected volume of the “eighth season” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer came out last month. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of the comic book medium (by which I mean traditional U.S style comics as opposed to graphic novels, for example, or manga). I generally prefer their cartoon adaptations, as is the case with my beloved X-Men. That being said, I have been following the comic book continuation of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which ended with its seventh season in 2003, primarily because I love that universe and am a total sucker for all things related to it. So when the fourth volume of the collected edition, entitled Time of Your Life and containing issues #16 – #20, came out a few weeks ago, I hustled my butt down to Barnes & Noble and plunked down sixteen bucks for my copy. While the comic series doesn’t necessarily retain all the charm and appeal of the show, it nevertheless provides lots of fun for fans and usually a good read as well.

The title “Time of Your Life” refers to issues #16 – #19, a time travel story arc that also crosses over with Fray, an eight-issue comic about the slayer of the future. In this arc, Buffy and Willow head to the New York group on some mystical tip Willow got through the vague and mysterious spiritual pipeline and end up – you guessed it – walking into a trap. Bottom line: Buffy gets transported 200 years into the future and finds herself in a sci-fi version of Manhattan coming face-to-face with Fray, a slayer whose English is even more garbled and incomprehensible than Buffy’s. Once she adjusts to the bizarre circumstances a bit, Buffy’s dismayed to see the rather grim conditions of the future, and to learn that the number of total slayers has somehow dwindled back down to one (in fact, Fray’s the first to be called in years.) Before she can piece together the whole, story, however, we find out just who’s been pulling the strings behind Buffy’s little jaunt through time. Well, the cover art kind of gave it away, but yes, it’s Dark Willow! (dun dun dun) But she’s not like the Dark Willow of season six, who was full of incontrollable rage. This is a Willow darkened not by sudden anger, but rather twisted and hardened by the inexorable passage of time and filled with cold, merciless calculation, and perhaps not a little sadness as well. Her motives for bringing Buffy to this time are not exactly clear, but it doesn’t take long for her to turn Fray and Buffy against one another.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Dawn and Xander are left to hold down the Scotland base. This proves rather difficult when Amy and Warren (these two never die, do they?) orchestrate a two-pronged supernatural/technical attack on behalf of their new boss, the ominous and mysterious Twilight (who is undoubtedly the big bad of Season Eight.) Xander and Dawnie and the rest of the troops pull through in the end, of course, but not before sustaining some casualties and having a hilarious encounter with the tree-folk of the forest surrounding the castle. Also in this arc, we get to see a lot more of Kennedy (she and Willow are evidently still a thing), and we learn that Riley Finn has apparently gone over to the dark side. Too bad Buffy still thinks he’s a reliable source.

After all the intense action of issues #16 – #19, I really loved how issue #20 provided a little break from the increasingly entangled developments of the Season Eight mythology. Entitled “After These Messages … We’ll Be Right Back”, this issue was much lighter in tone and really played up the nostalgia factor by hearkening back to the early days of the original series, showing us how much has changed since then, but also how much is still the same. In this issue, Buffy returns to the base totally exhausted from an evening of demon slaying and has a strange dream in which she finds herself back at Sunnydale High, as if the past eight years had never happened. Initially thrilled to be relieved of the pressures of leading a worldwide slayer army, she soon finds that high-school slaying isn’t all fun and games the way she remembers. I loved this issue. I loved seeing old characters like Cordelia and Joyce and Principal Snyder, not to mention the high-school versions of Buffy and Willow (let’s face it, Xander hasn’t really changed all that much, bless his heart). I loved how the art during the dream sequence shifted to a more cartoonish, Betty-and-Veronica type of stylization. I loved how it was funny like the original series was, but also drove home a really powerful message about what changes over time and what remains constant.
All in all, Time of Your Life was a pretty nifty installment of Season Eight. I never read the Fray series, but I was still able to follow and enjoy the crossover. The series may not be as funny or clever as the show was, but it’s still really engaging and enjoyable. Plus, with little gems like “After These Messages” and the tree-folk embedded here and there throughout the series, how could I not read it? Also, the artwork is gorgeous. I kind of like that the characters don’t look exactly like the actors from the show; the series has its own distinctive style. And if there’s one thing that comic books have over manga and graphic novels, it’s color. The colors in here are so prettyyyy. If nothing else, Season Eight sure is easy on the eyes.

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