(Welcome to Comics Rewind, a weekly column devoted to discovering – or re-discovering – great comics published some time in the past. Here you will find looks back at comics published in every era, from the Golden Age to the Modern Age, as well as retrospectives on the work of important comics writers, lists of “essential” comics, and evaluations of important works, as well as works worthy of a second look or a wider audience. Enjoy!)
Yeah, we’re back to Whedon this week, and for a very simple reason. I was planning to write about something else this time around, but out of the blue I realized that I’ve never visited Buffy Season Eight in this column, a comic I enjoyed and finished reading quite some time ago. Hell, I’ve even written about it in other places, but I’ve never brought it here. I have no idea why. So I decided it was time.
I know a few people who walked away from Season Eight unsatisfied, a few who walked away confused, and a few who walked away both confused and satisfied, which then made them just plain angry. There are a number of reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is probably that Season Eight is not what Buffy on TV was, sometimes very emphatically so. This is a different world, a world where Joss Whedon was able to stretch his creative legs without the constraints of a TV or even a motion picture budget. This was Buffy unchained, and a lot of fans didn’t like what they saw.
I’m not going to recap the whole 40-some odd issue run of Season Eight, but one thing I do want to emphasize is the scale of the thing. As we resume our adventures with the world’s favorite vampire huntress, she’s in command of a large army of Slayers operating out of a castle in Scotland. They’re well-funded, well-armed, and dedicated to saving the world. But the world doesn’t see it that way. Everyone knows about the Slayers now, and most of the world isn’t taking it very well. Buffy is viewed as a terrorist leader, and a number of threats against her and her organization lurk around every corner, chief among them the enigmatic “Big Bad” known only as Twilight (do not attach sparkliness to that name, please).
But the whole “Buffy lives in a castle and commands an army” thing is just the tip of the epic iceberg. Willow’s powers are far beyond anything she’s ever known, Dawn’s been turned into a giant (long story), and as the season nears its end Buffy’s sex life gets really, really freaky. I mean, world-alteringly freaky.
I won’t spoil how all of this works as part of one story, or how it’s resolved, but it wasn’t to the liking of every Buffy fan, because, to be honest, this wasn’t Buffy. It wasn’t the story we followed for seven years on television. The old Whedon banter was there, the sense of humor was intact, the gravity of the big moments kept ringing true. But this was far beyond anything we’d seen on TV. This was a story on a global – even a universal – scale, and some readers thought they’d been cheated out of the human element that made all that time on TV so worthwhile.
I disagree with that assessment. Yes, the old “Scoobies” gang is changed forever. As the comic story takes off, it’s already in a different form, and events conspire over the course of the series to ensure that it’ll never be quite the same again. The kids who hung out in cemeteries and staked vampires for the good of the citizenry of Sunnydale are adults now, and they’ve got bigger fish to fry. That’s a hard thing for some fans to grasp. But perhaps the more important thing to focus on here is the creators, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard and Jane Espenson and comics great Brian K. Vaughan. Did you really expect – or want – them to just do more of the same, in panels instead of on screens?
When Joss Whedon’s series left television, he left Sunnydale – the show’s home base – in a smoking crater. He did that on purpose. Even if he didn’t get a chance to continue the story, he made a deliberate choice to force Buffy out of her comfort zone. In doing so, he forced himself out of his own comfort zone as the comics story began. There were bigger issues at stake here, and with nothing but his own imagination and the talents of his artists to limit him, Whedon could go as big as he wanted for as long as he wanted. He held absolutely nothing back. There are moments in Season Eight that are ecstatic with the glory of imaginative power. Whedon and his cohorts aren’t content to give Buffy a few more vampires or one more demon bent on ending the world. They wanted to go further than that, and in those moments when you feel them swinging for the fences, even if you’re disappointed by them, there’s an indescribable kind of excitement at play.
I loved Season Eight, loved it from the first issue right up to the last, major canonical changes and all. I loved it because it was about change, it was about what someone so used to smaller potatoes was forced to do when her world suddenly and aggressively expanded beyond her control. It meant that I got to go on the same journey that Buffy did. We were both freewheeling through this violent new space in the Whedonverse, and even if it did get a little outlandish, it was fun.
For loyal Buffy fans, Season Eight is often a challenge. But that’s the point. If Whedon did the same old stuff over and over, he wouldn’t be Whedon. If you’ve been holding back on this series, dive in. If you tried and gave up, dive in again. There’s great stuff here, some of the biggest imaginative leaps of Joss Whedon’s career, and he deserves credit.