Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #1-25 (2011-2013)
Written by Joss Whedon (#1), Andrew Chambliss (#2-13, 16-25), Scott Allie (#8-10), Jane Espenson (#14), Drew Z. Greenberg (#15)
Pencils by Georges Jeanty (#1-4, 6-7, 11-13, 16-19, 20-25), Karl Moline (#5, 14-15, 20), Cliff Richards (#8-10), Ben Dewey (#15)
Coloured by Michelle Madsen (#1-25)
Inking by Dexter Vines (#1-4, 16-19, 21-24), Andy Owens (#5, 8-10, 14-15, 20), Karl Story (#6-7, 25), Nathan Massengill (#11-13)
Executive Produced by Joss Whedon
Published by Dark Horse Comics
The Buffyverse was in dire need of rescue in the aftermath of Season 8. The infamous Twilight story arc that made up the last one-fourth of the series stripped a struggling comic series of the respect it had slowly been earning. When you declare something “canon”, a whole lot of people start paying a lot of attention, and there was a lot of pressure on Buffy Season 8 to see if it could continue the series narrative in a way that would please long-time fans of the television series. As mere “product tie-ins”, the previous Dark Horse run of Buffy comics had zero expectations, and few people paid any notice to them.
Season 8 was an immediate hit with critics and fans, and many comic-reading Buffy fans had no qualms going along with the notion of this being the official continuation to the TV series. Then came ludicrous story arcs, the reveal that Angel (and not Angelus) is the Evil Mastermind, and serious retconning of the Buffyverse mythology that states that Buffy and Angel hooking up fulfilled an ancient prophecy that would open up a new universe in the wake of their cosmic orgasms (or something; it got a little confusing).
In the aftermath of the Seed’s destruction in the Season 8 finale, the status quo was altered to a state of normality (or what passes for normal in the Buffyverse). In Season 9 #1, Buffy is living a quieter, somewhat domestic life, with two new roommates in a San Francisco apartment. Buffy hosts a house party inviting all her friends, and it is a good opportunity for the reader to catch up on the lives of Willow, Xander, Dawn, Spike, Andrew, and Riley. Most of these characters play important roles in Season 9 (all except Riley, who more-or-less disappears after the first issue). What the first issue lacks in substantial plot it more than makes up for in voice. As the sole issue in Season 9 written by Joss Whedon, the dialogue is some of the season’s best. Dialogue is one thing that regular season writer Andrew Chambliss struggles with.
“Freefall”, the opening four issue arc, examines how the Seed’s loss affected the world on a macrocosmic level as well the rift that exists between Buffy and her friends, particularly Willow. In removing magic from the world, Buffy ruined Willow’s life, stripping her of her identity and forcing her into new life roles. Xander and Dawn, having relationship problems of their own, and trying to live a mundane monster-free life, are too uninterested in helping Buffy fight her never-ending battle against the forces of evil. This season takes Season 6’s approach of dividing the Scoobies against one another and puts it to the extreme, by removing them from each others’ lives.
The bold premise of splitting up the Scoobies and forcing Buffy to fight her fights without a stable group of supporting friends is what makes Season 9 simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. It feels appropriate, given the light of recent situations in each characters’ lives, and Buffy’s journey throughout this comic is thematically satisfying, though narratively unfocused.
“Slayer, Interrupted”, #5, is an excellent one-shot guest-drawn by the superbly talented and under-used Karl Moline (Fray). This comic is largely a dialogue between Buffy and Willow, separated by minimalist dream scenes and visions of the First Slayer telling Buffy she is not the real Slayer. The story ends with not one but two significant moments: Willow walking away from the series to find and recover magic on her own, and Buffy discovering that she is pregnant.
For two consecutive months ,Buffy released two of the very best comic issues on the stands with its headline-making controversial storyline “On Your Own” (#6-7). In a nutshell, it represents the very best and very worst of Buffy-in-comics. From the flashback opening of 1970s Slayer Nikki fighting vampires while pregnant to a heart broken Buffy confiding in Spike that she’s getting an abortion, everything about #6 is perfect. It handles real, human drama better than any Buffy comic issue has, before or since, and rivals the television show’s most powerful moments. Believing she had a random drunken hookup at her house-warming party, Buffy speaks to Dawn, then Robin Wood, and finally Spike, about the decision making that comes in a young woman’s life after an accidental – and in this case, unwanted — pregnancy. Spread throughout are more Nikki flashbacks, and they’re a great read. Nikki the Vampire Slayer was intended as a one-shot character in the television series, but she struck a chord immediately with fans. Her appearances are still quite rare, and this issue teases how cool a throwback Nikki miniseries comic would be.
#7 is a little more action packed, with a break out of rabid zombie vampire (zompire) attacks interrupting Buffy and Spike’s trip to an abortion clinic. It’s the tender Buffy/Spike scenes that make the issue worthwhile, with the two unable to express their true feelings for another. “I don’t want to be the dark place you run to when things aren’t working,” utters Spike in a moment of frustration, which motivates him to follow in Willow’s footsteps and also walk away from the series a few issues later.
What absolutely ruins “On Your Own” and also sours the season as a whole is the big twist in #7, revealing that the Buffy we’ve been following for however long (turns out, since her drunken blackout in #1) is not really Buffy, but a robot (with Buffy’s real personality). The comic ruined its most beautiful poignant human story with science fiction nonsense, invalidating the brave steps they took just one issue earlier when a young woman decided to go through with an abortion (how often does that actually happen in media? Very very rarely). Even worse is how the reveal is played more for laughs than drama. The tastelessness and shock of the scene is gross and insulting. Season 9 backs out of the one truly amazing story it has in it, following it immediately with frustrating mediocrity for the next six issues. Even when Season 9 does eventually recover, it never returns to the height of #5-7.
Retcons (retroactive continuity) involve re-writing already established facts about a work of fiction’s history and while they aren’t always bad, they do often cause frustration on the fans. Buffy actually pulled off a very successful retcon in its TV series: the introduction of Dawn. “Apart (Of Me)”, #8-10, is a bad retcon. It makes the powerful pregnancy storyline that preceded it look like an utter waste of time, and also cheapens Buffy’s interactions throughout the first 7 issues. Buffy’s body was switched into a fake body by Andrew. The loveable scamp from Season 7 is becoming more and more detestable throughout the comics so perhaps they need to finally drop him like they did with Riley. It’s gotten to a point where the is-he-or-isn’t-he-gay jokes are offensive. Buffy, Spike, and Andrew must now try and rescue the real-Buffy-body-possessing-a-fake-personality which has been kidnapped. The absence of the Scoobies really hurts a story like this. Buffy/Willow/Xander scenes could always elevate really terrible stories, so they would have been a huge help here. The best thing about this arc is the guest-art by Cliff Richards, who does a phenomenal job depicting the faces of the stars, particularly when they’re looking really pissed off.
The season takes a turn for the worst with “Guarded”, #11-13, which shows once again how bizarrely and ineffectively this series has been structured. While Angel & Faith told one coherent story across its entire 25 issue run, providing consistent character development for its two leads and handful of supporting stars, Buffy Season 9 goes from one inconsequential story to another, constantly shuffling its cast without a sense of rhyme or reason. These feel like Monster-of-the-Week instalments, which in itself is never bad or unwanted, but “Apart (Of Me)” and “Guarded” are devoid of the imagination and characterization that made the TV series and superior comic stories worthwhile. In the opening pages of #11, it is jarring how out-of-character Buffy is behaving, attacking an innocent demon simply because of his appearance. Andrew Chambliss does not have a consistent handle on the character, and in the comic’s weaker stories, everything falls apart at once, from dialogue to larger conflicts to smaller character moments. “Guarded” isn’t a colossal disaster like the Season 8 endgame, but it’s a story where every single ingredient feels off. And it’s an unpleasant reading experience for a Buffy fan, who has an enormous attachment to these characters and this world.
Jane Espenson and Drew Z. Greenberg, beloved writers from the TV series, helm #14-15 and produce a far superior story than the previous two, but one that makes its season even more disjointed than it already was. “Billy the Vampire Slayer” is an inclusive story of a cisgender male who wants more than anything to become a Vampire Slayer. It is a strong story, but it doesn’t feel like Buffy, due to the lack of core characters and emphasis on Billy and his friends. It would have been better off published as a double-sized one-shot under the Season 9 banner (similar to the Willow and Spike minis).
“Welcome to the Team”, #16-19, finally sees the season get the traction it needs, building all of its plots towards the nearing finale. It does what any successful penultimate arc does: make the reader invested in what the final arc has to offer. After the very bumpy ride of #1-15, it’s refreshing to see the final 10 issues of Buffy Season 9 all work towards the same goal. “Welcome to the Team” Parts 1-4, “The Watcher” and “The Core” Parts 1-5 read as one extended story, and it’s a pretty good story at that. The Big Bads are probably the most underwhelming and least menacing Big Bads in Buffy history, but to see the Scoobies reform is a treat. Xander and Dawn return to the foreground, and Willow and Spike return to the series shortly after. Illyria makes an exciting debut to the Buffy side of the ‘Verse and her inclusion is an inspired choice. Her presence is always a welcome one, and it’s thrilling to see her and Buffy actually get some one-on-one.
The finale issue spends perhaps a little too much time on the Big Climatic Action Sequence but it’s probably Georges Jeanty’s finest choreographed action of the entire season, and appropriately massive and epic. Michelle Madsen’s colours never looked better; the first pages of the issue are particularly breath taking. The light beige backgrounds make it one of the most visually stand-out moments all season. Only the last seven pages of the issue remain after the climax, and it’s a typically sappy sequence. And of course, the last couple pages pull off a couple surprises, because the status quo has to change once again. Magic is back, but it’s a very different magic than that previously existed. The rules have changed, and a lot of the fun in Season 10 will be seeing how this new magic will change the life of the Scooby Gang.
Season 9 fought an uphill battle to repair the Buffyverse, and while it was not as successful or as enjoyable of a comic as its sister series Angel & Faith, it does have its share of thrills, evocative story lines and solid character moments (both funny and dramatic). It also leaves the series in a much healthier state than Season 8 did, making the future bright for upcoming Buffy comics.