Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine #1-5
Writers: Joss Whedon, Andrew Chambliss
Pencillers: Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline
Inkers: Dexter Vines, Andy Owens
Colorist: Michelle Madsen
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Ending almost exactly after Season Eight, the first story arc of Buffy: Season Nine returns to the roots of the TV show while simultaneously trying to show the characters mature in the new setting San Francisco and introduce new threats and allies. This story arc feels more like a season premiere of the TV show than the over-the-top Slayer army, Dawn the Centaur, and Twilight antics of Season Eight. (Which I reviewed earlier here) It may have a few too many callbacks to the original show for the non-initiated and isn’t new reader friendly, but it works as both a character study of Buffy after the momentous events at the end of Season Eight and a supernatural mystery-thriller with lots of twists, turns, and false leads along the way.
First, Andrew Chambliss perfectly captures the voices of the characters, and reading the dialogue is like listening to the show again. This TV feel might come from the fact that Chambliss worked under Whedon and other Mutant Enemy writers for Dollhouse and currently under former Buffy writer Jane Espenson for Once Upon a Time. He uses voice-over narration to move the plot along and focus on key themes, mostly on how Buffy is trying to live a normal life when dead bodies connected to her are seen on TV. Occasionally, the dialogue seems to be trying too hard to sound “Whedon-y”, especially when Chambliss adds “-y” to the end of words that Buffy and the other characters use.
This story does a great job of showing how Buffy copes with destroying the source of magic and her role as Slayer. The early scenes with Buffy getting drunk (she still can’t handle her liquor) and doing ridiculous scenes had the right mix of humor and sadness. Georges Jeanty with an assist from inker Dexter Vines shows why he draws the best Buffy and does subtle things with her face to mirror Chambliss’ voiceovers. For example, he pairs a close-up panel of Buffy, who is both terrified and confused, when she is cornered by cops after dusting a vampire in issue #2 with a short text box stating Buffy’s conflict with the “real world”. Jeanty dials back his art in this volume, eschewing the detail filled splash pages of Season Eight and focusing on character interactions and returning to the simple street fights of the TV show. Despite this downscaling, Jeanty cuts loose with the tall buildings and cityscapes of San Francisco using long rectangular panels to show Buffy climbing buildings to escape from the police. Colorist Michelle Madsen handles the shifting tone of the issues from the messy pastels of Buffy’s apartment to the more pure color palette of a supporting character’s pad and the dark, dirty colors of Spike’s street interrogations and Buffy’s patrols. She even experiments with a film noir look in issue #4.
This book is chock-full of characters, and many of them only exist as plot elements. Chambliss does a great job of handling Buffy’s inner struggles, relationships with other characters, and the subconscious nature of her return to full-time Slaying. He also gives Spike a strong ‘B’ plot with both snarky lines and genuine soul-searching in his relationship with Buffy. The conflict between Buffy and Willow directly stems from the destruction of the source of magic in Season Eight and is handled very well with no clear resolution. However, Dawn and Xander become “yes-people” for Willow’s side of the story and have relationship struggles that are neither resolved nor have anything to do with the plot. Hopefully, in the next arc, these beloved characters will be more than comic relief and generic voices of reason. Also, it seemed like Giles’ death was an afterthought to these characters. It was only mentioned once in issue #5. However, despite these discrepancies, Whedon and Chambliss introduce some fun and mysterious new characters to the Buffyverse including a fierce and surprisingly complex demon that looks like a Klingon.
Even if not all the character get full arcs, Chambliss (with help from Whedon) and Jeanty tell a fast-paced story that takes time for introspection and isn’t weighed down by exposition and too many plot points, like the last Buffy comic storyline. There will be many familiar things to fans of the Buffyverse and a few sad differences which are explored in the stand-alone issue #5. However, these develop organically from the plot and characters. “Freefall” acts as a great return to the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as these characters mature and interact in a world without magic and the wackiness of Season Eight.