As I mentioned in my last review, the Buffy comic franchise seems to be continually offering things just on the verge of greatness, just not quite what we know this franchise can be. This almost on the verge of something is almost exhausting by this point, the series seems to be re-articulating itself after Season Eight by attempting to bring things down a few notches, but then it can’t quite seem to get there. Now, as a new storyline begins under the pen of former Buffy scribe Jane Espenson, there seems to be something that might be good... again. Be sure to read Troy-Jeffrey Allen's take on this issue, too!
Espenson wrote for four seasons of Buffy and her great history on the show draws mostly from her ability to work with general metaphors in a specific sort of way. Episodes like “Superstar,” where Jonathan makes himself the center of attention, or “Doublemeat Palace,” which takes a hard look at the early twenties labour force, may not be the most critically acclaimed, but they do work as metaphorical tales that have, in retrospect, become focal points of discussion on the series. Here, in Buffy Season Nine, the ‘show’ is trying to get back to this, so having her on board is very exciting. To start things off with a bang, she introduces (it’s on the cover but SPOILER ALERT! anyways) a male slayer of sorts, ‘of sorts’ because he doesn’t seem to have powers. Billy, a gay kid in a small town living with his hippy grandma because his parents kicked him out has all sorts of wonderful hot topics wrapped up in a single character that Espenson can use to get to the back to basics formula of Season Nine. Of course, the show tried this going back to high school thing in season 7 through Dawn, but it didn’t work very well. Perhaps through Billy, Espenson has enough material and similarity to get to something interesting. And the issue itself is interesting, well plotted with that wonderful dialogue we’ve all come to expect from all things Whedon, that makes me legitimately excited for this aside to the main story. My major issue, however, is that even though Billy is interesting, his situation is a little tired. The jock antagonists work on a metaphorical level, up to and including their transformation, but they are still pretty stock and boring additions, ironically framing a narrative about acceptance and persecution in a bunch of stereotypes. And the "Hey look at me, a gay!" approach is also a little tired, a little too Will & Grace nineties treatment of the topic, but I trust Espenson here to do something more. Despite these fairly big issues, both in terms of entertainment and looking at what Espenson is metaphorically attempting to do here, I do look forward to seeing how the plan he hatches with Cute Devon plays out, even if I have a feeling they aren’t getting out unscathed. Overall, the series can do with this sort of break after all the nonsense, so I welcome a very stripped back but relevant story.
Any change from series regular Georges Jeanty for me is a bonus, so Karl Moline is a welcome change of pace. What Moline'a artistic style brings is a consistency even if I’m not completely swayed by his work. His pencils are well conceived and steady; the book may never astound but it certainly doesn’t disappoint, His facial expressions don’t exactly work at times but they do convey what the script is saying and, after witnessing Jeanty’s inconsistencies issue after issue, it’s nice to have something that actually works throughout.
Grade: 7/10 Promising script and legible art, things are looking up for the franchise! Again.