Review: Buffy Season 8 #36 - "Last Gleaming, Part 1"

As hard as it is to believe, it's been nearly four months since an issue of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8 was released. Yes, we did get a Riley One Shot in that time, but that wasn't nearly enough to satisfy fans who wanted to know how things would work now that Buffy, Angel and Spike were all together. So, now that #36 is finally here, how is it? Well, I think that depends on who you think Buffy is destined to spend her life with.

COVER TWO

Jo Chen's cover was the subject of a little bit of controversy when the solitications were released, because in the original art, she didn't have Spike's eyebrow scar in there and his eyes were the wrong color. Those issues have been fixed, and the cover looks pretty nice. The Georges Jeanty cover is an "homage" (I use that term loosely) to the poster for "New Moon", which is a reference to Angel's villain name (and a reference to how Angel's identity was revealed back in issue #33). The position of the characters on the cover -- with Buffy in place of Bella, Spike in place of Jacob and Angel in place of Edward -- also gives a bit of a hint to one of the themes of the issue.

THE WRITE STUFF


OK, I'm going to get right to it. Whether you like the story of this issue or not depends heavily on whether you are a "Bangel" shipper or a "Spuffy" shipper. To be specific, Spuffy shippers (that's people who wish to see Spike and Buffy together) are going to dislike it immensely, for two reasons. First, Buffy admits to having known Spike was alive for awhile, but was too busy to get in touch with him. Second, Buffy tells Angel, "you have my heart." That pretty much puts a stake through the heart of the Buffy/Spike relationship.

Still, it's not like this issue is perfect for Bangel fans either (and if you couldn't put together that Bangel=Buffy+Angel, you really should stop reading now). Throughout all of their interactions in this book, both with each other and with other people, Buffy and Angel just seem... off. If anyone but Joss Whedon had written this book, I'd chalk it up to the writer not understanding the characters, but it seems like something else might be going on, like maybe they're not quite over the effects of creating Twilight, then leaving it.

Moving beyond the relationship aspects of this issue, a lot of issue #36 takes place via flashbacks focusing on Angel and Spike. The book starts with an Angel flashback where he's tumbling out of a portal, before he's taken on his Twilight persona. As someone who also reads the "Angel" comic series from IDW, I have to admit confusion as to when in the "Angel" timeline this is actually happening. Angel quickly comes into his Twilight powers and saves a crashing plane (in a scene that's both a Superman homage and a reference to "Lost"). Meanwhile, Spike crashes out of a similar portal, clinging to the hood of his ship (from the end of issue #35), which happens to have a crew of bug people. We get a scene where Spike arrives in London and gets caught up on what's going on in the world of Buffy. There's also a nice little panel in which it becomes fairly clear that Spike has known that Angel was Twilight this whole time.


So, back to "now", with Buffy and Angel fighting off the remaining monsters in that strangely incongruous scene I mentioned before. In the end, Buffy sends Angel off to finish them off and she rejoins her slayer crew on Spike's ship, where she has her reunion with Spike (the disappointing for Spuffy fans reunion mentioned earlier). Spike spills all the details about what's going on, including introducing the newest maguffin to the series, "The Seed of Wonder". Cue splash page with the seed being lorded over by... The Master.


Not to get too much onto a rant here, but can I just say that I'm a little tired of this series bringing back so many OLD villains. Twilight was supposed to be the new big bad of the season, but he turned out to be Angel and not even a bad. Amy and Warren both played major roles and Dracula was dragged back from Season 5. We're 36 issues in and we're really lacking in strong new characters. Even if The Master (long since thought dead) turns out to be The First (not really killable), then that's still an old villain. 

THE ART STUFF

There's a significant amount of action going on in this issue, whether it be Angel saving the plane, Spike riding his ship or Buffy and Angel fighting the monsters, and Jeanty does a good job on those scenes. We're now on the fourth issue of scenes between Buffy and Angel, and once again I found those the visual strong point of the issue (including the panel where Willow flies by and "accidentally" turns Angel into a frog). 

On the flip side, this is the first issue in which Jeanty has had to draw Spike extensively, and while there are some panels where I feel like he nailed it, there are others that feel like a miss, particularly the aforementioned scene where Spike is reading up on all the latest slayer news (that panel -- a profile view of Spike -- may look worse than it actually is just by comparison to the panel immediately above, in which Jeanty nails James Marsters perfectly in a full face shot. I think part of the issue is that Spike has been so well drawn in the "Angel" comics for three years now that there's an immediate reaction to compare them. Given time, I'd think Jeanty will get more consistent with his Spike likeness. 

There was one other thing that bothered me about the art, and it was kind of minor. Throughout the Buffy-Angel scene, Buffy had some kind of monster goo on her (after killing a monster by flying through it). It was weird to look at for the entire time, then suddenly in the last page of the scene, with no explanation, it was gone. 

I'll let it slide though, because the tiny image of Xander hugging Dawn while Dawn was freaking out about the bug people was so adorable.

LAST THOUGHTS-ING

Since there's no more need for a "Who is Twilight" or "What is Twilight" section, I created this to just share some extra thoughts on the issue. 

By now, everyone's probably heard the news that the "Angel" license is coming over to Dark Horse. While I think this makes sense for the long-term continuity of the Buffy-verse, I'm not sure it makes for stronger books. Buffy, Angel and Spike are all characters who are strong enough to carry their own books and they each have their own dedicated fan bases that are interested in the characters, not their relationships with the other two. In a way, this issue felt kind of overloaded with Buffy, Angel and Spike all playing hero, which has me a little concerned for Season 9 and beyond. 

Oh, and no grade for this issue, since with these multi-part arcs, I prefer to wait until the end. Until next time, which thankfully isn't four months from now...

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