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Date Posted: 13:51:16 06/18/07 Mon
Author: KdS
Subject: Buffy S8: "The Long Way Home" (#1-4)

I've now acquired and read all of the first Whedon-written arc of the new BtVS Season 8 comics. I was holding off on reading and reviewing them until I had them all for various reasons, but first some actual responses.

In general, I like the set-up, have some issues, but want very much to see how things will develop. In general I think that the scripts are excellent in continuing the feel of BtVS from the TV show, but that the art is problematic. Things get particularly difficult in #2-4 where Buffy, Dawn and Amy all end up looking confusingly similar to each other and unlike the real-world actors. Andrew also looks nothing like Tom Lenk to the point where several times it's too hard for the reader to work out who he is.

On the other hand, curiously, Warren looks just like Warren despite not having any skin.

In relation to the general set up, I do think it was a bad idea to have all the new Slayers being non-adult, whether this means that Potentials do expire or whether all older non-activated Potentials were taken into the Council and wiped-out by the First. It causes the very serious problem that supervision of the new Slayers, age and experience in the comics, apart from Buffy herself, seem to be entirely associated with male figures like Giles, Xander, and possibly unfortunately, Andrew. (I say "possibly unfortunately" because I think that he's deliberately being portrayed as a desperate bad choice for leadership because there was no-one else around, and it will be interesting to find out which way he jumps when he finds out that Warren's still alive.) Bringing in some mature female characters would have helped with this, and also have diluted the "Never trust anyone over thirty" element that looks increasingly naive and unpleasant as the central characters themselves get older.

Xander's role in the comic has really upset some people. Some of them just hate Xander and think that he's a dull, insensitive, self-righteous twerp whose own life and relationship advice to Buffy have always been tainted by casual sexism. Given that I've got characters who I always think the worst of, I don't have that much problem with them. On the other hand, there are some people who ideologically think that if Xander is ever allowed to become more than a male heroine whose role is limited to providing emotional support then it takes away from Buffy's role as strong female character and the series's feminism. Not that there aren't some grossly sexist "Xander gets a power-up and doesn't have to play second fiddle to GURLS any more" fanfics out there, but I don't think that the comics fall into that trap. Xander's still very much in a support role, and I'm one of the group of fans who found that keeping the Scoobies organisationally incompetent and uninterested in self-improvement outside magical talent damaged my belief in the story.

As far as the teasing of Buffy/Xander goes, I suspect that the whole scene between Buffy and Xander at the beginning of her dream is a dramatisation of an unacted-on attraction that's always been there to some degree. Even if there was an ill-advised tryst at some point since S7, I don't think it's a slur on the characters. In terms of other ship-teasing, I also don't agree with the argument that Buffy's embarrassment over Ethan seeing her sex fantasies is a sign that she's afraid of her sexuality. I'd say that firstly it's Ethan and secondly if you look at it without ship-lenses, she might well be embarrassed to still lust after two exes whose actual relationships with her were hardly entirely positive. Finally, I'm not sure what I think about the resolution of the "lover's kiss" thing. (I'm pretty sure that it was Satsu.) It could be an acknowledgement of sisterhood and intense admiration. On the other hand, if it's sexual desire, then I'm a bit irritated by the continuing pan-cultural tendency to have so much canon f/f and so little canon m/m, which screams out "We are pandering to neanderthal fanboys who hate and fear gay men but fantasise about women together".

The use of Ethan in the dream sequence and afterwards is very interesting. Again there were complaints that it was making Buffy subservient to a man, but Ethan's just an informer here, Buffy draws all the right conclusions herself. It was always clear that bringing Ethan back would be problematic for various reasons. Firstly, the more serious tone of post-S5 BtVS would make it hard to gloss over his murderousness, and secondly political developments since 2000 make characters being dragged off to secret government prisons not such a joking matter any more. Whedon seems to have decided to head-on confront the second problem, with Ethan's seeming imprisonment ever since A New Man and murder by the General. He may or may not be permanently dead, but the message is that Buffy and friends are now facing a threat from perverted order big enough to make Ethan a genuine ally, if only briefly.

Now I like Warren, I'm notorious for liking Warren as a villain, but the details of his survival and the way he's behaving at the moment don't work. It seems to be the implication, and correct me if I'm misreading, that Warren was already in contact with Amy in the latter stages of S6 and that it was this that caused her to save him from Willow. Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine the egomaniacal and insecure Warren of late-S6 forming a new collaboration with anyone, let alone a woman. Even if he's now bound to her to survive, it's an extremely unlikely and unstable relationship, and I can see ructions in the very near future. Also, it's long since time to admit that Amy's shift from mostly-good minor character to raving villain can't just be explained by drug use and jealousy, and come up with a high-quality retcon story to fill in the missing pieces and make sense of it all.

I'm also not fond of this explanation for Warren's survival because for her not to have killed him even temporarily continues the trend of whitewashing Willow's personality and actions during S6. Although I did like the flash of Black Willow during her fight with Amy. It was also a very good idea to have Willow astrally detached from her body while Warren was torturing her, to avoid a scene which would have come across as gratuitously vicious and misogynistic, especially in the light of recent controversies in relation to DC/Marvel superhero comics and violent victimisation of usually-indomitable women. And did Warren actually die at all or not? There's conflicting lines at different times in the story about whether Amy resurrected him or just gave him invisible magic skin, so if he didn't die how did the First appear as him and if he did where did Amy get the power to resurrect?

Finally, the new Twilight/US Army arc may be very good or a complete disaster. I did like the way in which Buffy's initial accusation of pure primitive sexism against the General was met with a quite convincing insistence on a more respectable motivation. What remains to be seen is whether the forces that distrust Buffy will be allowed to continue to have some dignity and points worth making, and how the arc actually turns out. Hopefully this will move beyond the endings of Angel and Firefly, which to my mind didn't achieve anarchism but a debased Libertarianism (in itself a fairly base ideology IMO) based on little more than all organisations based on more than five people being boring and evil and that people who were really cool should be allowed to, like let it all hang out.

The main reason why I waited until all of this arc was out was because some of the reviews of the first couple of issues I saw on LJ and elsewhere were so biliously hostile that they were spoiling my reading experience even though I disagreed with them, and the major problem was grim assumptions about how the story would develop in the future. Now I have, at times, made rude remarks or expressed concern about how certain plot elements would develop in on-going narratives. But one thing that's been significantly annoying me in some people's responses to S8 and other recent Whedon work is criticism based on assumptions about how plots will develop that aren't then followed by acknowledgements or retractions when the darkest prophecies turn out to be wrong. As I've said, I sometimes write "I hope this won't happen", or "I'm worried they'll take it that way" or even "If you do that I'm giving up this fandom". But I feel that I have an obligation when it doesn't happen to reference by earlier fears and acknowledge that I was wrong.

I've seen it declared on blogs and LJs that Renee was obviously going to die from being stabbed in S8 #2 because Whedon wanted to punish her for having sexy thoughts about Xander, or that Whedon was obviously turning Emma Frost evil again and retconning her as always having been an undercover villain because he hates adult women who don't have a hearts-and-flowers romantic attitude to sex. While these people may or may not have been justified for being worried, they often haven't acknowledged they were wrong, which is both impolite and a genuine problem because casual readers who aren't into the specific fandom will be left with the impression that they were correct. To show what this kind of thing can lead to, I saw comments from non-BtVS fans on one of these posts, not corrected by the OP, which flatly stated, seemingly from fannish osmosis, that Buffy was raped during the main sequence of BtVS.

One more thing that annoys me slightly, not related to the actual story, I don't like the way that the letters column seems to be divided between fawning praise and criticism from people whose ship- or character-based biases are so extreme as to make them seem unhinged.

Next issue we seem to have a done-in-one story by Joss about a new Slayer, which from the pre-issue hype seems to me to be unfortunately promising a new story about how superpowers are a hideous and tragic torture despite the new dispensation, followed by Brian K Vaughan's Faith in Britain arc. That one could be very good indeed if Vaughan can get Britain right and not produce some stereotypical fantasy UK. Personally I'm hoping for something grimy and nasty with no posh castles or rural scenery in it at all, and Faith doing a John Constantine impression...

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