Buffy Season Eight Vol. 4: Too Much Exposition Weakens the Series’ Conclusion

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18895Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Season Eight 31-40”
Writers: Brad Meltzer, Joss Whedon, Scott Allie
Pencillers: Georges Jeanty
Inker: Andy Owens
Colorist: Michelle Owens
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Published by Dark Horse Comics

The last two storylines of  Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight excelled in regards to art, dialogue, and character development, but a continued focus on exposition at the expense of action and characterization made this conclusion less than satisfying. Without giving anything away, the final issue is amazing and leads into a very different (and perhaps better) Buffyverse for Buffy Season Nine and Angel and Faith.

In the four part  “Twilight” arc, Brad Meltzer has lots of fun with the Buffyverse characters. Like Identity Crisis, he is capable of handling a large cast of characters and giving them a distinct voice. His Xander is filled with wisecracks and pop culture references, but he has matured from his portrayal in the show. For example, Xander lays a foundation for a life with Dawn with a job and apartment despite the impending apocalypse while Buffy still fantasizes about Angel and Spike. Whedon and Meltzer let both Dawn and Xander grow up and anchor the book’s increasingly overpowered characters in humanity.

Meltzer also expands on Superman-like powers (like flight, superstrength, and leaping tall buildings in a single bound)given to Buffy (and Angel) earlier. Whedon partially based Buffy on the X-Men character Kitty Pryde, and her attempts to balance school, social life, and saving the world evoke Spider-Man so the exploration of this genre makes sense, especially in the comics. The jokes afforded by the tropes are hilarious for comic book fans, but even though these increased powers should have consequences, Meltzer opens up too many plot threads to be concluded in five issues. The reveal of Angel as the “Big Bad” Twilight falls flat as well and leads to a mess that Whedon tries to clean up in the last arc “Last Gleaming” with the help of fan favorite character Spike and George Lucas’ favorite plot device.

To try to solve the problem of Angel being the Big Bad, sex between him and Buffy creating a new universe, recurring villains like Amy and Warren switching sides, and legions of demons attacking, Whedon and co-plotter Scott Allie arbitrarily create a MacGuffin and awkwardly try to weld the heroic Angel of IDW’s After the Fall with the villainous one in Dark Horse’s Season Eight. These issues are also full of Giles, Spike, Willow, and a returning old character’s exposition and debates about magic, the universe Angel and Buffy have created, and what is best for saving the universe, magic, the Slayer line etc. There is still some humorous banter, but the big reveals seem rushed and unsatisfying. This is mostly centered around the fact that brainwashed, blackmailed by a higher power Angel is not a convincing villain despite his heinous actions. Bringing Spike back complicates matter further as he somehow has all the secrets of the universe and still has time to be Buffy’s wet dream. His dialogue is well-written, but his actions do nothing to move the plot along and wrap up the series.

One thing that salvages this beautiful mess is the art team of Jeanty, Owens, and Owens. Most of the story is done in the wide-screen format which acts as a callback to its origin as a TV show. Jeanty is clever at cutting back between different parts of a story to tell all of it and use varying panel sizes. Some of his strongest work was near the end when he shows the entire book’s cast’s reaction to the story’s finale in square panels. His figures are cartoonish, but Jeanty make the characters his own and doesn’t slavishly strive for photorealism. Occasionally, his female characters look a little too similar, like Buffy and Willow and Kennedy and Dawn. However, he does an excellent job capturing character emotions, especially with Buffy from her smile after satisfying sex with Angel to her horror at a major character’s death. Andy Owens’ line work adds texture to the character’s expressions as well as adding depth to their surrounding environments. Michelle Owens seems like a painter who only uses yellow to denote magic or some kind of universe changing energy, but she makes the faceless monsters that Buffy and the gang fight more unique.

This trade is the Buffyverse at its most cosmic and incomprehensible, but the last issue salvages most of the major character’s arcs and makes sense of the previous storyline’s idiosyncrasies and major developments. There is also a wealth of supplemental material in this “library” edition, including a one-shot about everyone’s favorite Iowan Riley Finn written by Jane Espenson with art from Fray’s Karl Moline. There is also a  variant cover gallery, commentary by Georges Jeanty about some of the interior and cover art along with parts of scripts. The trade concludes with an afterword from Joss Whedon that is part apology, part teaser for Season Nine.

 

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