Sunday, June 10, 2007

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 'The Long Way Home: Part IV' (8x04)

This issue brings the initial arc to a close in a less than spectacular fashion. At this point, the novelty of having new Buffy in comics form has worn off a bit, so the problems with the storytelling are more apparent. It’s not bad, it’s just that this doesn’t feel like the show I loved. Admittedly, most of the problems are holdovers from season seven, magnified by the limited space that monthly comics allow for storytelling.

My major issue with this issue, and the series in general, is the premise, Buffy as leader of a gang of slayers. For me, the interesting part of the show was rarely the vampire slaying, or Buffy’s issues with her role as slayer, that was all just a hook to get people interested in the characters. The reason I love season six more than any other is that it strips back the action trappings and lets us focus exclusively on the characters and their issues. Season seven, and this comic, go in the exact opposite direction looking at Buffy only as a slayer, not as a person.

What this issue does is basically retread the exact thematic points we already saw in season four and seven, with the initiative and Caleb arcs. I never liked the initiative because it just didn’t fit into the world the show had created. I like the more street level slaying, what happens to the characters in seasons five and six is relatable, Buffy’s involvement with the initiative in season four, not so much. The show could do fantastical things and still be emotionally real, but the initiative stuff just didn’t make me feel anything. And, this arc hits the exact same points, Buffy vs. entrenched patriarchal military industrial complex.

The series’ hook was a girl who had a lot of power, but really wanted to live a normal teenage life. As she grew up, that remained the central conflict, could Buffy be a slayer and still live a normal life? The end of the show seems to resolve the conflict by making her no longer the chosen one, instead she’s just one of many chosen. That’s why the setup of this comic bothers me, Buffy isn’t particularly interesting when she is in control of her life. It’s when things are spinning away from her that the character was best, here she’s got so much power, such a large operation, there’s no real tension.

The most grating moment in the issue is when Buffy goes on a rant about how the military guy doesn’t want women and power in the same sentence. It doesn’t work for the same reason that the Caleb arc in season seven fails, you never want to make what was thematically implicit explicit in such an obvious manner. We know that Buffy is powerful, we know that people are out to get her, you don’t need to go into such obvious speechifying mode. It’s the equivalent of having someone come out and call Tony Soprano a bad man, we know that already, we don’t need to be told. We know that the military is out to keep women down, we don’t need Buffy to say it. It just took me out of the moment of the story.

The series ends by setting up an X-Men style war between slayers and normal humans. This is an interesting route to go in theory, but I don’t think it works with what Buffy was doing during the series. For me, Buffy isn’t particularly interesting as a leader of troops, that’s why season seven fails on a lot of levels, we lose the sense of her as a person. Now, she’s an icon, not an individual and we either have to see behind her fa├žade or not put her in this position. I feel like we really need Spike here, to keep her in touch with her dark side. Now, she’s got no one to play off of and it’s only through the interior monologues that we get any sense of the conflict she feels. But, let’s show, not tell on that.

Ultimately, I think the reason I have issues with the book is that Buffy was one of the least interesting characters on the show. I love her during season two, five and six, when she’s got all kinds of troubles facing her, but during the comparatively stable years, she wasn’t particularly interesting. Willow, Anya, Tara, Xander and Spike were all much more interesting than her, and I’d rather spend more time with them than with Buffy. That’s where the problem with comics come in. On the show, there was time to give the other characters their own meaningful subplots, here they just do a couple of pages supporting Buffy. Perhaps that will change in future arcs, we’ll see.

Looking ahead, I’m curious how this storyline will play into the Faith storyline. Will it really be six months before we return to these characters, or will Faith eventually meet up with them? I have to say, I’ll be happy to leave Buffy for a while to focus on someone else. The setup she’s got now, she’s just not that interesting. There were some more interesting, human moments in the last couple of issues, but not here. I’m sticking with the comic, it’s still cool to see the gang back together, but I think the premise they’ve chosen was really misguided. Hopefully things will right themselves on future storylines.

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