July 18, 2008

Buffy: Season 8

I am not a comic book girl. I've read Alison Bechdel, and maybe one issue of Tank Girl, but that's about the long and short of my comic book experience.

However, I love Buffy. For an eighth season of Buffy, reading a comic is the least I can do. That being said, please take the following review as the opinion of someone who knows quite a lot about Buffy, but almost nothing about comics. For a great feminist blog dealing with comics more competently, check out Girls read comics (and they're pissed).

The Buffy Season 8 comics, now sixteen issues in, are a "canonical" (meaning the story line, as well as the actual writing of some of the issues, comes from Joss Whedon) continuation of the television series. Buffy is no longer a lone slayer, but the commander of an international slayer army, with the help of Willow and Xander. Given that comics aren't budget or time constrained the way television is, the technology (and magic) used in the comic is much more intense than what was reasonable to do on the show, and the action takes place in lots of exotic locales (including the Scottish castle home base of the new and improved Scoobies). The characters, however, remain consistent with those viewers of the show came to love, and the dialogue, particularly in the issues written by Joss, is very familiar. These are definitely the same characters, with both the strengths and flaws they had on television.

But, of course, they are drawn, and they are drawn like comic book characters.

On Alas, a blog!, Maia wrote:

I loved the comic so much that my usual complaint about drawing is relegated to a footnote. Could we have one comic where a female character doesn't get naked for no reason? I also thought the slayers looked too generic, the one punk girl the exception which emphasizes the similarities.

Yep. My thoughts exactly. I love these comics, but, no matter how Joss claimed it would be otherwise, they suffer from female comic book drawing syndrome. While it's not as bad as other comics, it's certainly not good. When did Willow get cleavage? Why are the slayers working with Andrew having a pillow fight in their underwear? And most of all, why the hell are the female characters all SO similar looking?

I have other complaints as well, but all of them are storyline things that I could have seen happening on televised Buffy just as easily. Faith is manipulated and used by Giles. Even though they're international, the slayer army is still mostly white, and most of the non-white members are Asian. And, most of all, Buffy has yet another totally inappropriate relationship.

Buffy's "sexual experimentation" with another woman has been the hottest topic so far for many readers of the Season 8 comics. One of the slayers, Satsu, is in love with Buffy. Buffy is lonely. Buffy sleeps with her, in the soft porniest scene the comics have shown. My problem with this isn't Buffy's sexual experimentation--though honestly that didn't seem very in character for her to me. My problem is that what we're basically seeing here is Buffy entering into yet another relationship with very messed up power dynamics. She's using someone who loves her for sex, a lesson we'd have thought she'd have learned already, and she's sleeping with a soldier in the army she commands. Not cool. This problem is underscored when she and Satsu resume their general and soldier roles immediately after their first sexual encounter.

It's this kind of stuff that has always kept me from really liking Buffy as a character--she just never seems to learn from her mistakes. In the show, that could often be excused by her youth, but at this point, in this new forum, I would really have loved to see her grow up.

Ultimately, I am giving the Buffy Season 8 comics, up to Issue 16, three stars, the same rating I gave the show. I'm impressed with how generally true the comic is to the show, and the underlying plot line in which the government considers the slayer army a terrorist organization has fascinating implications. But the comic fails in the same places the televised version did--it remains unfortunately white, and Buffy remains flawed in ways that become less and less believable as she approaches a decade of slayage.


I am not a regular reader of BS8, but I have heard a fair amount about it, including about the incredibly skeevy subplot involving a Black Slayer getting staked right after kissing Xander, which I thought would have downgraded the rating more than this.

Two things:

1. I didn't particularly have a problem with what happened with/to Renee.

2. The way I see it, if Buffy (the whole story) didn't have the downfalls it does, we'd have to go higher than four stars for it--it would be an unprecedented, amazing example of heroine content. So even when I note where it screws up, I just can't give it less than three stars. There is still so much going for it.



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