Saturday, November 7, 2009

Predators and Prey (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, volume 6)

Gosh, it seems like forever since I wrote about volume 4 back in June. This most recent volume of Dark Horse’s comic continuation of the epic television series was released in September, but it’s taken me quite some time to catch up. First, Barnes and Noble postponed my order for about a month, and then when it finally did arrive one thing lead to another, and now here we are in November and I’m finally getting down to business.

All in all, this was a decent installment of Season 8, but the comic as a whole still fails to recapture the awesomeness that was the original television show. It has all of the same characters (well, most of them anyways), and I do like how it has boldly continued to develop the mythology of the story beyond the cataclysmic series finale. Yet much of the magic of the series has been lost in its translation into the comic medium. One of the main casualties of the switch is the show’s humor, which by and large has not carried over. The writers of Season 8 do sprinkle in the occasional witty one-liner here and there, but without the delivery of live actors the dialogue tends to fall rather flat on the page. The show should always find fresh, surprising ways of being laugh-out-loud hilarious. So far, Season 8 has yet to achieve that. Or maybe I’m just too picky, or too close to the original material to judge the comic objectively. I will say that, for what it is, Season 8 is usually a pretty solid, entertaining read. So long as one remembers that what it isn’t is as good as the original.

But anyways, on to a discussion of the particulars of volume 5, which contains issues #21-25, plus a few extras.

Issue #21, “Harmonic Divergence”, was pretty exciting in that it reintroduced one of my favorite recurring characters from the show, Harmony Kendall. Harmony was a vapid mean girl, characterized by pettiness, petulance, a week will, and an absurd love for tacky unicorn figures. Very little of her personality changed when she was made into a vampire at the end of season three (with hilarious results.) Her incorporation now into Season 8 is a really good illustration of why the comic both works and doesn’t work. Harmony’s foray into the world of reality television in this issue was a great storyline that stayed true to her original character and was very entertaining. And yet, at the same time, it just wasn’t’ the same as watching Mercedes McNab’s pitch-perfect performance. I’m not sure, but I also think the writers may have been taking a dig at (or at least playing off of) True Blood in this issue, what with their setting up Harmony as a kind of spokesperson for vampire rights, spearheading the integration of vampires into mainstream society. Of course the twist here is that the social justice movement modeled in True Blood (“vampires are people too!”) is made out to be shallow, manipulative PR designed to put a negative spin on the real heroes of society (i.e. the slayers).

Issue #22, “Swell”, featured two characters I don’t really love (Kennedy, who first appeared in season seven, and Satsu, an original creation of Season 8), but still managed to be pretty cool, regardless. Kennedy shows up in Japan to run a “standard op” evaluation of Satsu’s performance in her new role as cell leader. That’s the official reason anyways, but in truth Kennedy just wants to give Satsu a little pep talk to help her get over the whole still-in-love-with-Buffy thing. (Of course, this is Kennedy we’re talking about, so her heart-to-heart, while well intentioned, is a little bit on the abrasive side.) Nevertheless, I like the way this episode provided some closure to the whole Satsu/Buffy thing without writing off her character or making her too one-dimensional. Well done, Season 8 writers. Oh, and the Japan team also takes down an army of vampire teddy bears as well.

Issue #23, “Predators and Prey”, was kind of a confusing issue, plot-wise, that involved Andrew and Buffy tracking down a rogue slayer and her team of marauding thugettes in the Italian countryside. While the duo fails to bring Simone and her gang back over from the dark side, they do share some much needed bonding time. Ah, Andrew. Another one of my favorites from the show. If I could pick any television character to be my real-life best friend, it would be a toss up between Marshall from How I Met Your Mother or Andrew from Buffy. Sure, he’s annoying, slightly delusional, and not too long ago he was a weak-willed accomplice to murder. Yet he’s become the poster boy for second chances, and I really dig that. He’s walking proof that even geeky villain wannabees can find redemption. Plus, how much do I love the fact that, in this issue, Andrew makes the confession when confronted with certain death that he’s always been on team Spike? (I love Angel too, don’t bite my head off, I just have a special place in my heart for Spike.) So although I wasn’t too enthused about the story of this issue, I thought the character stuff was great, and at the end of the day that’s what really counts.

In issue #24, “Safe”, we return to Giles and Faith, who teamed up and kind of broke away from the slayer organization, at least temporarily, back in volume two. While I’m very glad to see these two back in action, it’s also very sad for me to be reminded of how distant Giles and Buffy have become. They barely keep in touch with each other anymore. Their relationship underwent a great deal of strain in season seven, and although there’s no real animosity between them they’ve kind of grown apart. It’s just sad considering how uber-close they were in the past, in spite of their differences. They shared a genuine father-daughter love for one another, but Buffy’s a hero, and Giles was always more willing to make the hard choices. I’d like to think their bond will never truly fade, but I guess only time will tell. Another question I had about this issue: didn’t the entire Watcher’s Council die in the bombing in season seven? Where did this survivor come from? I guess it’s not important, I just felt like that needed more explanation.

Issue #25, “Living Doll” was a little blah in the plot department as well, but it served a much greater purpose in the grand scheme of things: namely, turning Dawn back into her human form for good. This whole deal with Dawn and the tricewise’s curse dragged on long enough, and I was more than happy to see it finally explained and resolved. It seemed almost as if the writers didn’t really know what to do with her character in Season 8; this weird plotline has kind of marginalized her from the group for a while now. I hope now that she’s back to normal she will play a more integral role in slayer operations. I know Buffy wants to protect her, but Dawn’s practically grown up now, and has at least as much right to be included as Xander, who’s just as human and powerless as she. Oh! And how tickled was I when Dawn made that reference to Valley of the Dolls, which I recently finished reading?

After issue #25, volume five also contains a special short story featuring the misadventures of Harmony on her reality show, “Harmony Bites”, as well as some faux magazine inserts and advertisements from her publicity. Fun stuff, but I’m not sure how I feel about sweet, unaffected Clem (the loose-skinned demon who used to play kitten poker with Spike) being Harmony’s new “friend” (i.e. chauffeur/pawn/source-of-amusement-when-she’s-bored). I guess it makes sense, though, since Harmony uses people and Clem’s a total pushover. I just feel bad for the guy. I wonder if the two ever reminisce about their former mutual friend Spike?

Volume six of Season 8, entitled “Retreat”, will be released in March of 2010.

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