After last issue's stagnation and general tire-spinning, the ninth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is turning out to be surprisingly good. Things are purposefully scaled back and operating on a much different, more focused level, and I can appreciate the writing, the quick witticisms and intelligence of the series much better now that Spike isn’t riding around in an “intergalactic roach hotel.” Overall, the issue is strong and sets up a larger plot while staying entertaining and interesting.
The water-treading of the last issue, with many characters seemingly set into caricatures of themselves, is gone and writer Andrew Chambliss is faring much better now. He has a handle on the characters’ voices and moving them past repetition, or at least filling the issue with enough to hide this. The internal logic of vampires and the public consciousness is still up for debate, a lasting remnant from Season 8 I wish could be easily reversed, but at least things are moving along, not tied down by Harmony’s reality show. Instead, the series is calling back the general public’s fascination with eternity, or so it seems. Perhaps it is the familiarity without repetition that is making this issue so much more enjoyable. Spike is interrogating demons who operate in a noir-ish criminal underworld, as per usual, while Buffy struggles to balance things overwhelming her. Its nice to see rifts occurring early on in the season rather than near the end, as was the mainstay of the show, simply because audiences get to see Buffy figure things out independently while having the cast not too far away. The Scooby meeting was also something that was nice to see, simply because group was so fragmented last season, now they are also interacting in more basic, and easier to handle, way. Xander is back in full comedic relief swing, insisting on using the new term of ‘zompires,’ and Dawn has never been less annoying; even Willow’s distancing is a point I am looking forward to being played out over a while, simply because this central friendship needed to be addressed again after the conclusion of Season 8. The familiarity is there without being stagnant, a nice balance the series was obviously going for. Overall, Chambliss delivers an issue that restores my faith in a better Buffy future. The characters are spot-on again, the humour is there, and the entire thing feels back on track.
I have spent the last two reviews talking about how much I don’t like artist Georges Jeanty’s artwork and I still maintain the best art of any Buffy book is the cover, but I feel I should give some credit where credit is due. Jeanty’s task, to bring a live and very recognizable cast to the page without falling into terrible photorealism, is extremely difficult. He tries to balance animation with recognition and it rarely works extremely well. Many times the characters are fairly blank until extreme close-ups and often times the same expression is used for the same character for an entire scene, as is the case of the little pig-like demon Spike beats up. But the book, and maybe this is more of a point of familiarity than anything else, still reads well. On a technical storytelling level, Jeanty communicates clearly, but Chambliss still relies on a lot of exposition. Overall, the art could always be better, but at least it isn’t interfering as much as it used to.
Grade: B+ Things are reading better, the book seems to have figured a couple of things out.