As with the last one-shot, we get a standard Jo Chen cover and a cover by issue artist Karl Moline. I love the Chen cover on this one, as she really manages to capture Marc Blucas. And though her Sam Finn doesn't quite look like Ivana Milicevic, it's close enough to work. Moline has more of an action focused cover, which masks the fact that his Riley doesn't really look like Blucas, at least not on the cover. Still, since he puts a beautiful image of Buffy in the corner, I'll let that slide.
Also, I should mention the "Riley" title font, which I really like. I prefer the Chen cover's use of the BTVS logo, but I can understand why they didn't use it on the Moline cover (it really would have cluttered things up).
THE WRITE STUFF
Having had the experience of the "Willow" one shot already, I went in to this one with a better idea of what to expect -- a story that would fill in some of the backstory of Riley in Season 8, but wouldn't take us all the way up to his first appearance. And from the Riley perspective, that's exactly what we got.
Riley has never been one of my favorite characters (I feel about him the way most "Buffy" fans feel about Dawn), but I actually liked him in this issue. His justifications for doing what he was doing -- going undercover with Twilight at Buffy's request -- made sense. He wasn't doing it just because Buffy was asking, he was doing it because he knew the only way Buffy would even ask if because it was end of the world type stuff. I also thought the stuff between Riley and Sam regarding their "retired" life together and each one's recognition of the other's eagerness to get back into the action was really well written.
However, while this issue gets the "Riley" title, it's not just a Riley issue. Twilight, who we now know is Angel, plays a major role. And not only is he unmasked in this one, but we see that he's working with Whistler, who you should remember as just some immortal demon sent down to even the score between good and evil from Season 2's "Becoming". While the backstory on Riley was satisfying to explain his whole role in Season 8, the Angel/Whistler stuff was the meat of the issue from an expository standpoint.
I also think the subtitle, "Commitment through Distance, Virtue through Sin", does a good job summarizing why both Angel and Riley agree to play the roles they did early in Season 8. Yes, the issue never actually shows Sam leaving Riley, but it gives you all the necessary dots to connect.
THE ART STUFF
I was really looking forward to seeing Moline return to "Buffy", but I was mildly disappointed with the final result. So many of the panels in this book are distant or drawn from behind for really no good reason. It almost seemed like Moline wasn't comfortable with either Riley or Sam, so he visually minimized them. It worked for the scenes at the missile silo, and in the water, but for the truck and plane scenes, it seemed out of place. He did a better job with the Angel/Whistler scenes, though something seemed off in the panel in which we see Angel unmasked in the Twilight costume. He almost looked too young (like, even younger than David Boreanaz back in Season 1 of "Buffy").
Oh, and having 1 1/3 pages of dialogue over black panels just seemed like an awkward decision. Plus, story-wise, it seemed unlikely that neither Riley nor Sam would have had some way to light the cave (but I can't really pin that on Moline, since it's just as likely that writer Jane Espenson asked for that page-plus to be drawn that way).
I feel weird giving this the same 3.5 grade that I gave to the Willow one-shot, but it makes sense. I liked the art in that issue better, but I liked the story in this one better. In the end, they were both overall about the same -- good one-offs that gave solid insight into specific characters for Season 8, but not entirely great on their own. Also, there's so much in this issue that assumes you're a regular Season 8 reader, and while I fall into that category, there may be some Riley fans out there (they do exist, so I've been told) who decide to pick this up and are completely confused.
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