I am a fairly recent fan of Buffy, having started to watch the show only a couple of years ago and finishing about two months ago. Naturally, I devoured Season 8 afterward and I think my opinion is in line with everyone else: the concept got too big, the fights and the battles and the budget-less execution was a bit of a garbled mess. I remember reading an interview with Joss Whedon where he talked about the second season of Buffy and the budget cuts they got. He argued they were a good thing, made them focus on characters rather than fights and other things, and that the series became much better because of them. Well, the logic will hopefully hold for Season 9, where the show has received an even bigger 'budget cut' by reeling things back in a large way. The castles and the giant spaceships piloted by giant insects have been replaced by Buffy the waitress, Willow the de-powered witch, and Xander and Dawn the domestic bliss-y’s occupying a world recently devoid of magic. So while Season 8 was, even in the words of Joss Whedon (and I paraphrase) a bit of a failed experiment, I think this new season will be better because of the scaling back. It worked once already.
BTVS Season 9 starts out as strong as ever, certainly feeling like an episode of the show in many respects. The dialogue is there, loaded with quips, wit, and a penchant for adding ‘y’s’ to the end of words for an extended period, but these aspects never really left and certainly made Season 8 easily digestible. And it is written by the man himself, series creator Joss Whedon, so all of that is to be expected. But conceptually, I like what Season 9 is doing. I felt the larger metaphor’s of BTVS, namely growing up and the constant state of becoming, had been partially abandoned in the latter seasons of television and completely done away with in Season 8; but here in season nine, the quarter-life crisis is in full swing and I couldn’t be more excited! Buffy has the job not realizing her potential (not as a Slayer, but as a person in her own right), the roommates and crappy apartment she’s trying to dress up, and, most climatically of all: Student Loan repayments! Perhaps this is why the structure of the story, told mostly as flashbacks to Buffy’s house party rager, works as well as it does. Each flashback is thematically important more so than plot forwarding and visits the series in clever and quick ways. Riley is back, along with Buffy’s uncertainty about relationships, only compounded by the presence of Spike and, after their exchange in Season 8, Xander as well. Most importantly though, and maybe this is just for me, the book does two things Season 8 lost very quickly: it’s wildly entertaining and makes sense. The motivations for Season 8 were never communicated very well and seemed to focus on the returning of characters long lost and concepts too big, but the speech balloon-filled pages are funny and witty while the story outlined is concrete and expected. Not that I am against experimentation, I welcome it, but for Buffy, the experimentation last time was flawed. Here, in the back to basics approach, things are already looking promising and, well, simpler. BTVS is about the characters and their progressions, one of the only television shows to have earned, believable, and actual character development, and this is all happening here to maximum effect. Whedon has set the bar high again and gotten my expectations high, let’s hope the rest of the series, and the few mini-series lined up, all work well enough to meet the re-set high standard.
That being said, I have never been completely sold on Georges Jeanty’s artwork. Not to say the job isn’t difficult, attempting to bridge the gap between recognizable real people with a comic book style and approach is, well, near impossible, but his work has never blown me away. He has handled some crazy ideas in the past, who can forget Mecha-Dawn, but his work never seems to stand out. The new character designs, with almost every character getting a haircut with varying degrees of success, don't work very well. Buffy looks like a teenager again and Andrew, at least I think it's Andrew, isn't recognizable; he let his hair grow out and I’m not entirely sure that his long hair is in line with his character and helping me recognize him. Luckily, the other characters are easily recognized and fairly iconographic: redheaded Willow and eye-patched Xander are fairly easy to pick out of a crowd, especially with the very bright coloring. Jeanty is capable and can convey the emotions of the characters fairly easily, if not relying a bit too heavily on exaggeration, and overall the book looks good. Jeanty has been drawing Buffy for a while now, so audience’s are used to the style and characters, mostly. Unfortunately, colourist Michelle Madsen hasn't quite got a handle on some things. Buffy hungover looks more like a vampire-zombie than a person in need of a greasy breakfast and a cup of coffee, and the early morning scenes look washed out and pale in a way that is distracting and looks off rather than capturing the haze of early mornings. However, the book is more than readable and the art team has a handle on the material, even if it doesn't turn heads.
Grade: A- Buffy is back and sets the bar pretty high.