Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Buffy Season 9, #1 - Freefall, Part 1


PLOT SUMMARY

Set, a few months after the events of the "Twilight" arc, "Buffy S9 #1" picks up where S8 #40 left off, Buffy living in San Francisco, working as a waitress, dealing with a world without magic. The issue starts with Buffy waking up confused, with a hangover, after a huge party at her new apartment the night before. Buffy shares her new place with a girl (Anaheed) and a guy (Tumbler) who don't know about her being The Slayer. Xander and Dawn show up for the party, then Willow shows up with her new girlfriend (and a new haircut).

Eventually, Riley, Spike and Andrew all show up too, and much craziness happens at the party, including Buffy casually hitting on a married Riley, a very hint-y scene with Xander in Buffy's bedroom, a pool game of chicken with Andrew on Buffy's shoulders and a visit from the police. The next morning, Buffy briefly thinks she may have slept with Willow (but apparently, to the disappointment of thousands of shippers, she didn't), goes in to work where she's told she has the day off, and deals with the consequences of her partying actions.

While all this is going on, there are three major supernatural-y things happening. First the SFPD comes across a dead body that has no obvious cause of death, the third such girl found that way this week. A group of demons tries, unsuccessfully, to contain some kind of previously unseen demon warrior, who has to "honor the task. Kill all." And Simone returns to San Francisco in a VW van loaded with weapons.

The night after the party, Buffy goes out patrolling, with Willow joining her, and they continue to argue about the fallout from the discussion of the seed. Spike joins them and quips. Then a demon shows up and tells Buffy that it's time to pay... her student loan!

REVIEW

Story

The immediate question is how to review this. Should I be looking at this as a continuation of the ongoing "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" story, a reintroduction to it, or something that stands on its own merit. To be fair, I think it has moments where it succeeds and fails in all three categories, and in that way, it's a lot like many of the season premiere episodes from the TV series. If you're looking for an epilogue to the previous season, it's not entirely there, but the events aren't ignored either.

As I read this issue, I couldn't help but feel like there was a lot going on, and yet nothing going on at the same time. After the "everything has massive consequences" feel of the last few arcs of Season 8, everything that was going on seemed kind of low scale here. There were definitely some heavy moments, and you can tell things still aren't right between Willow and Buffy, but for the most part, the big party felt out of place, particularly with Buffy getting so wasted. Yes, there was a callout to "Beer Bad", but I just don't see Buffy as the kind of girl who'd handle her problems -- even her massive world-changing problems -- by drowning them in alcohol. Still, she genuinely seemed remorseful the next morning, which could set her on the path to seeing that her actions haven't always been right.

That said, I love the idea of Buffy having roommates who aren't "in the know." It takes things back to a Season 2 reality, where she has to be sneaky, and pretend to be normal, which is really what she's wanted all along (the normal part, not the sneaky part). Oh, and while the "student loan" twist at the end felt a little Season 6-y (with the money problems and all), I have to admit, I laughed my ass off at that page, and Buffy's NSFW reaction.

This "Kill all" demon-y thing intrigues me, and I can't help but wonder if he's connected to the dead girl -- and I also can't help but wonder if the dead girl is a slayer. I don't want to spend too much time speculating, though, after the "who is Twilight" question started to dominate Season 8 (before getting spoiled... THANKS A LOT, SOLICITATION COVERS!).

This issue wasn't quite a plunge into the deep waters of Season 9, but more of a dip into the shallow end, which I think is fine for now. We'll have to see how things pick up in the next few issues.

Score: 3.5 out of 5


Art

This will be the last time I give this caveat, so we can get down to specifics in future reviews, but by this point either you like Georges Jeanty's art style or you don't. If you're still bothered by the fact that "Buffy" doesn't look like Sarah Michelle Gellar, there's probably nothing that's going to change your mind by this point. Which is a shame, because I love Jeanty's art. He has an incredible way of bringing a character -- not an actor, but an actual character -- to life. I particularly love how he draws Dawn, who looks so much more grown up, as she should, since this takes place a few years after the series ended.

One of the things I really love about his art is the fashion sense he imbues in the characters, and that's on particularly impressive display in the party scene. Between Buffy's top, Dawn's boots, Willow's whole ensemble, there was a lot of awesomeness on display. Willow's got a new haircut, which I'm sure is going to be divisive to the fans, but I like it. Oh, and Xander's got a new look. Gone is the military regalia from Season 8, and in is... some kind of cardigan thing. He looks very... Giles-y, circa Seasons 4 and 5, which I'm not sure is intentional or not.

There's one page that brings everything together for me, and that's the one with Buffy in the middle, on patrol, with an expression that's somewhere between confused and perturbed, and surrounding her are six seemingly random scenes from the party the previous night. It's really cool page design, and without being too heavy handed with it, Jeanty manages to drastically contrast Slayer Buffy and Party Buffy. Oh, and he still has a way of working magic with Buffy's eyes.

Score: 4 out of 5

Covers

We've got triple cover action this month. The first, pictured above, is by new series cover artist Steve Morris. When I first saw this cover, I wasn't sure what connection the naked, covered-by-sheet, Buffy would have with the issue, but obviously it makes perfect sense now. The second cover is the Jo Chen cover, with a dynamically-posed Buffy perched on the Golden Gate Bridge, looking down into the city. It's obviously less connected with the issue as a whole, but Jo's covers always look great.

What I did find interesting is that both of these covers feature Buffy with a significant Sarah Michelle Gellar likeness (as Chen's covers always have), which I think contributes to a bit of the problem fans have with the non-likeness on the interior pages. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a bait-and-switch, since fans can obviously page through the issue at a local comic shop before buying it, but it's a bit of a misdirect. At least with Season 8, that was mitigated by having a Jeanty alternate for all the covers.

This month does have a Jeanty alternate, as part of the Dark Horse 25th anniversary line of covers. Its a relatively limited variant (though you can still get it from TFAW for just $5), and it has no BTVS branding on the cover, but I think it's my favorite of the three. Just Buffy, on the Dark Horse 25 tombstone, with incredible levels of detail in the stone, the grass, and Buffy herself. Again, I love her eyes.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Overall

I think this issue might have been better served using a more straightforward narrative, rather than bouncing back between the party and the aftermath (not to mention the splicing in of the non-Buffy scenes), but otherwise this was a solid start to Season 9. I think it goes a long way to bringing back fans who were turned off by Season 8, while not alienating those who enjoyed the last season.

Score: 4 out of 5

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