The ninth season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” sure has moved fast. Of course, being drawn out over 25 months, it still takes a lot longer to tell than a season of television, as that’s just the nature of the medium; but the first comic-told season, 8, exhausted most fans during its 40-issue story told over three years and some change. It also did not help that the second half of that season was received – by fans and critics alike – as being greatly inferior to the first half. The story lost all sense of direction and even rewrote its mythology with some cringe-worthy results. Joss Whedon himself even sorta-apologized for the “Twilight”-era of Season 8 in a letter-to-fans published at the end of #40.
Like Season 8, Season 9 started off strong. Its first half dozen issues are a refreshingly domestic look at Buffy’s life and interpersonal relations following the fantastical absurdity of last season. It even delivers a few stellar issues that perhaps equal the show at its peak, following Buffy’s reaction to her pregnancy. The robot-Buffy answer to the genuine drama took the season on a bit of a nosedive, however, with two consecutive arcs that are unsatisfying and awkwardly plotted, and featuring questionable cast lineups (more on that later). The season has been disjointed, and too episodic. There is nothing wrong with an episodic format, of course, but when character and story arcs jump from one place to another without clear reason it can be problematic. And one cannot help but compare “Buffy Season 9” to the other ongoing Season 9-set title, “Angel & Faith”, which has been consistently solid (and getting ever better) for its entire run, and also the most season-arc heavy story the Buffyverse has ever told. To date, only one of its first 21 issues strays from the central narrative (the one-shot #5), with the rest of the season’s smaller arcs being woven together rather beautifully.
“Buffy Season 9” did eventually find its footing, its story elements and characters coming together as the comic prepares for its endgame. As messy as Season 8 is, it understands that the heart of the series is its ensemble of characters. The current title has largely been Buffy sans-Scoobies, with revolving side characters for each arc, her usual team now disbanded and dealing with their own troubles. It is fascinating in premise, and makes sense for the characters at this stage in their lives, but it does not entirely make for an enjoyable season. Willow is featured heavily in #21, having returned just last issue, following her exit in #5, which gave way to her solo adventure. Likewise, Xander has finally been getting more screen-time (or rather, panel-time) in these last several issues, his conflicts with Buffy having exploded in #20. He has been in the sidelines for nearly the entire comic, and hopefully when the series is finished it will not feel as if it has been too-little-too-late.
This issue is a standout in the series for one reason: for the first time in the comic’s 21 issues to date, we actually get to see the core ensemble of Buffy-Willow-Xander as they formulate a plan and exchange witty banter in their traditional fashion. It is incredibly satisfying to finally see the team together, who have rarely even been in the same room together since last season.
With only four issues remaining, there is a lot of story left for this season to tackle, and with the comic now the strongest it has been in over a dozen issues, things are looking bright for Season 9’s big finale. While the Big Bad has been lacklustre (and barely existent), that has not stopped Buffy before from delivering a solid season (see: Season 4 and Adam). Hopefully Season 9 will end just as strongly as it began, and give us an idea of what to expect from the already-confirmed Season 10.