Review: Buffy Season 8 #40 - "Last Gleaming, Part 5"

"The thing about changing the world... once you do it, the world's all different." With those words on March 14, 2007, Buffy Summers was re-introduced to the world. And here, nearly four years later, Buffy temporarily leaves the world again, as Season 8 of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" comic comes to a close. But how does this issue, "Last Gleaming, Part 5," hold up as both a conclusion to the Last Gleaming arc and the season as a whole?

COVER TWO

The Jo Chen cover is an obvious callout to her first cover from the series. On that cover, a confident, smiling Buffy held the Slayer's Scythe behind her neck, ready to swing it into action at a moment's notice. On this one, a battered, beaten-down Buffy holds the remaining pieces of the Scythe together, with a look on her face that evokes self-doubt. Both images are beautiful, but I think this cover is even better than the first one, because of the emotion it conveys.

Georges Jeanty's alternate cover features most of the key characters of the arc -- the core four Scoobies, Dawn, Angel and Faith. It's a nice look at his likenesses for the characters, and a final look at Giles, and a solid cover, but it definitely pales in comparison to the Chen cover (sorry Georges!).

RECAP

(rather than just review the writing and the art, I thought I'd do something different for this issue... but first, let's go over what happened in this issue). 

Part 5 picks up four months or so after Part 4, rather than immediately after, with Buffy working as a waitress at a coffee shop in San Francisco. She's carrying a tray of drinks when she's tripped by an unknown person, but her slayer skills help her from spilling the drinks. She IDs the tripper as a slayer, then talks with Kennedy, whose been dumped by Willow (though at first Buffy thinks its Kennedy who did the dumping).

Buffy and Willow have a conversation about the aftermath of Buffy's lastest act -- which Buffy almost calls a "mistake" before catching herself -- and Willow says that the world's lost its heart, which isn't worse than being destroyed yet, but it will be. Willow alludes to missing Aluwyn, who she'll never see again. Cut to...

Buffy having a nightmare about Angel killing Giles. Dawn wakes her up and we see Buffy is living with Dawn and Xander. Xander heads out to work, and Buffy and Dawn have a nice sisterly conversation about how things are different since Buffy destroyed the seed (though they never directly refer to that act). We learn that the world doesn't care as much about slayers, vampires are still big, and Harmony is on "Dancing With the Stars" (hah!).

Back in.. somewhere, our least-favorite general is complaining about the government's perception of the aftermath of all this. He thinks the war is over, and they've won, when he gets popped in the head by Simone (the rogue slayer from "Predators and Prey").

Meanwhile, Faith and Buffy are at the reading of Giles's will, and it turns out Giles has left pretty much everything to Faith, who's "just as freaked as [Buffy]" by that decision. Giles did leave something to Buffy, the Vampyr book from "Welcome to the Hellmouth", which Faith takes as a sign that Giles saw Buffy as the one true Slayer. Buffy and Faith part, with Faith serving as caretaker to an apparently catatonic Angel, since "[Buffy] can't look at him" and "Everyone else wants his head on a pike."


Back at the apartment, Buffy and Spike have a reunion, though not inside, since it's not Buffy's apartment, and Spike warns Buffy that someone is coming for her. After some more back and forth, with Spike supporting Buffy's decisions, Spike flies off again in his bug-powered ship. As Buffy tries to sleep, Dawn makes some fake-sex noises, and Buffy goes out, patrolling. She encounters three pissed off slayers (who no longer call themselves that), including the one earlier from the coffee shop. She doesn't want to fight them but they attack anyway, and get their asses kicked. The whole incident sets off an inner monologue in Buffy, that plays out over various images, concluding with a final page -- in four panels -- of Buffy saving a girl from a vampire attack:
"So that sucked. And as bad as it feels to take out my own girls... I know there's more coming -- and not just 'cause Spike's playing cub reporter. I know because that's how betrayal works. It sends out ripples of hurt. Ones you can't even see. Sometimes I'm not even sure which part was the betrayal. Everyone's got their version... (I'm pretty sure it was boinking Twilight, but stil...) I just know it all comes back. And then some. The trouble with changing the world is... you don't. Not all at once. You just inch it forward a bit at a time, and watch it slip back, like the Greek guy with the rock. And you hope that when you're done, you've moved it up a little, changed it just enough. You hope. Let's go to work."
REVIEW

Wow, that's a lot of stuff happening. Upon first read, I thought this issue was significantly longer than previous issues, but it's 24 pages of content, which is the exact same length as the previous issue. The difference is that issue #39 was action heavy, while #40 is dialogue heavy.

I think readers who were looking for immediate fallout from Giles's death and the destruction of the seed in the previous issue are going to be disappointed. Because of the four-month gap in the timeline, we don't get the reactions of everyone upon finding out that Giles is dead and that Buffy's changed the world -- again. Instead, we get the reaction to the reaction. In a way, the issue mirrors the way that Issue #1 picked up some indeterminate time after "Chosen", rather than directly following the destruction of Sunnydale.

And while some readers are going to feel cheated by that decision -- and I myself would have liked to see more of the emotional fallout to Giles's death, a la "The Body" for Joyce -- there's enough there to put the pieces together. You don't even have to read between the lines in most cases, since Buffy's conversations with Willow and Faith fill in most of the gaps.

Obviously the lack of any direct involvement from Angel kind of disappointed me, but it's clear that things are never going to be the same for him. I like that Faith, while not exactly forgiving him, is willing to help him work toward redemption, because that was the chance he gave to her on Season 1 of "Angel." Their relationship is always one I would have liked to have seen explored more, though it does still suck that it's going to come (at least, we think it's going to come in Season 9) at the expense of more Faith-Giles interaction.

What also stood out to me was how Xander never directly interacted with Buffy. He wasn't in the issue much, but even when he was, it was almost like he wasn't quite there for Buffy. Maybe I'm reading too much into something that may not even be there, but considering Buffy had direct conversations with Kennedy, Willow, Dawn, Faith and Spike, the lack of a Buffy-Xander talk was conspicuous in its absence.

There's a great line in "The Dark Knight", spoken first by Harvey Dent and later by Batman. "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Well, Buffy's died a hero before, and now she's lived long enough to see herself become the villain. By the end of this issue, and the Season 8 arc as a whole, Buffy is something of a villain to the general public (because of the whole slayer/vampire perspective), the slayer army (some for giving them their powers in the first place, others for taking back the magic) and even some of those closest to her -- though they'd never directly express that to her.

I loved the artwork in this issue more than I have in awhile, not because of anything that was done differently, but because there are so many visual callouts to issues past. I could go through and point out all kinds of specific things, but I think its going to be more fun for those who've been reading all along to find them on their own. I will say that my personal favorite comes on the very last page of the issue, which calls back to the very first pages of the very first issue.

"Last Gleaming, Part 5" ends up being something like the comic's version of "Restless", the Season 4 finale that served less as a follow-up to "Primeval" and more as a surreal summary of where the characters had been to that point and where they were going from there. It's much more a Season 8 finale than just a "Last Gleaming" finale, and as long as you understand that, you'll be able to enjoy the issue. It's not without its flaws -- though most of those owe to the last two arcs as a whole, and aren't specific to this issue -- and in no way is it going to change opinions about those arcs. If you enjoyed, or at least were on board with, Twilight and Last Gleaming, then you'll for the most part feel satisfied with the conclusion. If not, then you'll probably interpret the issue, and Joss's long letter after the issue, as a tacit admission that the whole Slayer Army idea was a mistake. And maybe it was. But it was a mistake that helped Buffy grow as a character, and even if Season 9 takes her back to a more Sunnydale-esque, lone Slayer Buffy, she'll still be all different. Because that's what happens when you change the world.

<-- Prev. Issue (#39: Last Gleaming, Pt. 4)

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