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Buffy S9 #1 "Freefall" and Angel & Faith #1 "Live Through This"

So, finally, after a long wait, three preview pages, lots of craziness in the fandom caused by spoilers and a couple of weird early reviews and people's general tendencies to read their own preconceptions and obsessive peeves into the text and several really bizarre quasi-controversies with some things blown way out of proportion, I finally read the first issue of Buffy season 9 and liked it, though it's not as impressive as #40.

I'll add some belated thoughts about the first issue of Angel & Faith, which was out 2 weeks ago.

 
Buffy season 9, #1 Freefall part 1

Buffy season 9 is supposed to be getting back to the mundane, to the real life problems that most people could relate to, rather than OTT stuff from season 8, with armies, giants, spacesex and sentient universes. Season 9 was described as a "going back to the basics" season with Buffy being a "little underdog" rather than "little overlord" (Whedon), still fighting monsters in alleys but also being a relatable 20-something trying to figure out her place in the world. Issue 1 is very much about this - it is all about Buffy the girl, with very little of Buffy the Slayer, which is probably reserved for the next issues. There is just one problem with this setup: the continuity with season 8, in which Buffy was a well-known wanted terrorist, a plot that is now conveniently forgotten.

The title of the first 4-issue arc is Freefall, and it shows Buffy, some 7 to 9 months after the spacesex, Giles's death and breaking of the Seed. (#40 was 6 months after #39, and Scott Allie answered my question about how much time passed between #40 and season 9 with a vague answer "More than a month, less than a few months".) She is lost and aimless and coming apart at the seams - only not in such a dramatic and disturbing fashion as she did in season 8. The first panel shows her waking up hungover, looking like a corpse. Her words "God...What have I done? Also, why did I do whatever it was I've done?" could very well apply to season 8, especially the Twilight arc, when she was also "drunk", although that time she didn't start drinking on her own will. She's in her room, which is a total mess with lots of empty bottles and cans lying around, in her new apartment that she shares with two roommates we get to meet a couple of pages later. The rest of the issue is interspersed with her incomplete flashbacks, as she's trying to remember what happened last night at the party she threw to celebrate having a new apartment and not living on Dawn's and Xander's couch anymore.

People arriving at the party include Xander and Dawn, Willow and her new girlfriend, Aura, Riley, Spike and Andrew. It seems like Spike and Buffy haven't been seeing each other that often, since she says the last time she saw him, he gave her a pep talk (probably a reference to the fire escape scene from #40). (Note: some people have interpreted this line differently and don't think it refers to Spike but to Riley, but I don't think this reading works for the dialogue in question.) Spike's line when he blows off Buffy's flirtatious "Any chance I can make you beg?" with "Not this year" seems a meta comment on what we can expect from their dynamic in S9: he isn't going to be making any romantic overtures (just like he wasn't doing it in S8, either).

Buffy is trying way too hard to appear happy and have a good time, but it's obvious that she's a mess and doesn't know how to deal with the fallout of season 8, her feelings or her role in the world, which she is unsure of.  There is a sense of underlying despair in the party flashbacks. She's trying to bond with everyone and anyone, trying to convince herself she could do this or that job: make hats, be a cop, or even "win" at a hack circle, even though she doesn't even seem to understand what it is.  And when you're feeling morally inferior to Andrew (who started a relief organization and gathered Slayers who still trusted him - something Buffy wouldn't be able to do even if she had ever thought of it), things are really bad. During the game in the pool, she is yelling "Kill, kill, kill". Killing feels to her like the only thing she's been really good at. Xander also makes a somewhat nasty remark that battle plans are the only plans she can make.

The panel where she's listening to her boss talk about the hack circle, is particularly loaded with meaning: it's no coincidence that it shows everyone else paired off and smooching someone, including Spike who is making out with a random girl at the party just a meter away from her; Xander and Dawn kissing, and Willow kissing her new girlfriend. It's like everyone else is leading their own lives and she's in the meantime sitting on the table looking miserable and supposedly listening (or pretending to listen) to her boss talking about hack circles but not getting it. He's talking about the spirit of connection and giving between people, and she says "I could so win at that", a funny phrasing for something that doesn't involve any winning. Connection is something that she doesn't seem to be feeling but is desperately trying for.

How funny is it that Buffy's roommates think she has a way of "drawing people in" with her charm, when she notably hasn't been able to do that or be popular since the Hemery High days? But here, she managed to charm the cops into joining the party (a little unrealistic) and a reclusive neighbor called Heinrich, who always complains about the noise but sent her the flowers after she went to his house for 20 minutes. It seems that drunken Buffy, who comes off as a ditzy bubbly party girl, is a lot more liked than the strong and responsible Slayer Buffy.

We're lead to think that she might have sex with someone and she doesn't remember it - when she wakes up, she's naked and there are mysterious beige pants and belt in her bed, and there are several teases who it might have been, but I'm sure they are complete misleads. First there is funny morning after scene where Buffy first believes she slept with Willow (!) and Willow teases her for a moment before telling her she came over for a shower and found her like that. Buffy is also shown possibly hitting on Riley, but she doesn't even remember if she did or not (the remark that a van needs a woman's touch could have just as well been a lead into a question about where Sam is), and if she did, it wouldn't have gone anywhere. They also tease us with Spike, but I think his "That's a bit harsh after last night" comment is just teasing her about having acted in an embarrassing way and maybe having come onto him drunkenly  - it might be just her flirting at the door, or maybe she came onto him again more explicitly later, and how she's not the one to call him "Stalky the Clown" after that (a remark that has been blown out of proportion when it was taken out of context, but it's really just a playful remark on Spike looming from the fire escape in the vampirey way as Buffy and Willow are walking below). There's no way anything really happened between them.

My guess? She probably didn't sleep with anyone. Everyone (Willow, Spike, Buffy's boss from the cafe) is talking about "last night" but it seems that they're talking about things like Buffy dancing on the table. My favorite explanation for the nakedness and the pants in her bed is that Buffy and Andrew got their clothes wet when they were playing a silly game in the pool that we see them doing in one panel. It would be funny if Buffy keeps worrying who she had sex with but it turns out it's something as silly.

There's been a lot of fuss about the supposedly shippy vibes between Buffy and Xander, but I think that's just misleading and teasing readers. Buffy's greeting at the door can be seen as a bit flirty, but I don't get the impression for a moment that Buffy is trying to steal him from Dawn, whatever residual feelings are still there for season 8, and the scene in the bedroom doesn't read as explicitly "shippy" to me. Buffy and Xander are old friends, they have had a bunch of intimate conversations about their problems, they've hugged a lot of times in the show, so holding an arm is hardly shockingly intimate for them. No doubt that the scene is deliberately teasing us into thinking that something happened between them with the dialogue ( Buffy: "Dawnie" - Xander: "Doesn't need to know"), but I really don't believe that's what it's about. First, neither of them would have done it, IMO, second, if Buffy is feeling terrible over the possibility that she might have made a pass on a married man, why isn't she upset at all over supposedly sleeping with or trying to steal her sister's serious boyfriend? And third, how would that work, they sleep together and then Xander is depressed over it but Buffy is OK? No way.

Now, what is really going on with Xander? He has a secret, and it's something that's bothering him. He also seems to have some resentment at Buffy - probably over the way things went in season 8. His jab at her is that she isn't good at making plans of any kind, except for fighting: does this refer to her current life or to her actions in S8 (implication being that fighting is the only thing she does well). There are plenty of things that this secret could be about... someone on Buffyforums speculated earlier that he made some kind of deal with the army/government to get them all off (but how would that work with Buffy knowing about it?), others are thinking that he hates his job and the normal life he has now but has to work to pay for Dawn's college. One of the suggestions is that There are lots of things it could be about, but it is being set up as a new mystery so we probably won't find out immediately. It's worth noting that Xander used the phrase "It's a wonderful life" - it is a coincidence that it's the title of a film about a man who thinks he's a total failure (as a result of money problems) and that everyone would be better off if he had never been born, until he is show that he did make a difference and that his town, his friends and family would be much worse off if he had never existed?

On the other hand, Willow is well-adjusted, with a good computer-related job and a new girlfriend called Aura (who doesn't speak a word,is text messaging while Willow is talking at the party, and Willow might not be very serious about her). Unless it's a cover for sadness that Dawn believes she feels. But at least she seems to be doing well instead of moping. The issue subverted the expectations with Xander and Willow - most fans expected him to be happy and well-adjusted, and her to be a wreck. She's also dealing pretty well with not one but two insensitive remarks about her loss of powers (one thoughtless one by Buffy that she immediately apologizes for, and one snarky and harsh by Spike).

I like Buffy's new roommates, Anaheed and Tumble - two interesting new characters. I wonder if we'll get to meet Heinrich the neighbor?

There are 3 subplots hinting at possible new threats. We're introduced to another 2 new characters, the two cops, one experienced (an Asian woman called "Cheung" in the script ) and one a rookie (a young decent-looking male), investigating the mystery of dead bodies of girls, 3 of them so far, without any marks or wounds. My theory about the dead girls that the police found is, based on the hints and covers for the next issues

*SPOILER* (text is in white)
is that she is a (former) vampire. There is a new character, Severin, who is supposed to have a new way of slaying vampires. The cover for #4 suggests that what he does is separate the demon from the human host (for lack of a better word). But if you remove the demon from the vampire, they probably die, because their bodies are dead in human terms and only animated by the demon.

The girl has no signs of trauma, no wounds, and she looks "beautiful", which seems to be a big hint that she's a vampire. As a vampire, she was healing quickly and had no human illnesses, until the demon was cast out and she just died, if my theory is right.

*END SPOILER*

Another new threat/new consequence of the end of magic is El Draco (that's apparently the name of the big demon released from the mystical prison when the Seed was broken). He sure has a weird way of talking! Did he forget to talk because he was imprisoned for too long? His task is to "kill all". All as in...? Humans, demons, or just everyone? How long was he imprisoned, anyway? Could be thousands of years for all we know.

Simone is also back. We were lead to believe in #40 that she was just out to kill Buffy, but she seems to be planning something much bigger than that. Assassinations? Terrorist attacks? The season 8 propaganda about the Slayers might just be made true by the likes of Simone.

Some funny moments: Buffy: "Do you have porn?" In The Long Way Home, she said that porn wasn't real attractive. That's a change. Riley": "You're into porn?" Buffy: "Gross! But don't you think I should start?" She's getting used to being single and horny...

It could also be a little meta joke about #34, the porn issue. There are a couple of casual references to earlier seasons: "The Initiative" (Spike and Willow retell the story about his failed attack on her) and "Beer Bad" (Buffy in her narration/conversation with herself mentions Cave Buffy and how unpopular she was - meta joke on how unpopular the episode is).

Tumble wants to be in a band with Spike. Reminds me of: Becoming II: "I'm... in a band! With Spike!" But would A Dirigible Run by Insects be a good idea for a band? Well, it would attract attention for sure...

The demon reveal thing was cute, but it's a bit weird way to end the first issue, if that's the one that is supposed to hook people up. I guess it is  making fun of the epicness and OTT stuff that season 8 delved into (though it sometimes looked like an epic farce more than epic drama), while also showing that Buffy will have more mundane problems this year, like repaying her student loans. OTOH we do get the setup for legitimate threats - El Draco, Simone and possibly whoever killed that girl, though I think that one is a mislead. The new world of season 9 seems to be the one where it's not just the vampires who are accepted and popular (Buffy warns Spike not to reveal he's a vampire, but he apparently does so very soon and party guests are just delighted and curious; there are even two guys siting close to him who look like a Spike wannabe and an Angel wannabe), but demons serve as tax collectors.

Art: There is nothing new I can say about Jeanty's art. It has his good points, he is good at facial expressions and body language, but I still think he makes Buffy look a bit too childish (or is that what Joss wants him to do? People working on the comic seem to be repeating the mantra "Buffy needs to grow up" this year). Some of the characters are hard to recognize - Riley and especially Andrew. There's a coloring mistake in some panels where Buffy's ugly multi-colored top becomes red and then again multi-colored.

My favorite Jeanty portrayal of Buffy in this issue is his cover. She looks really beautiful and thoughtful in that picture. Jo Chen's cover is great in another way, but it's a classic superhero pose that isn't particularly related to this arc. But the best and most interesting cover by far is Steve Morris's. It's beautiful, very unusual and surreal, but fits the theme of the arc perfectly.

This is pretty good issue but a little fluffy, although there are serious themes and a sense of underlying despair.

I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Angel & Faith #1, Live Through This part 1

The comic makes me happy. It's a really good followup to season 8, better so far than the Buffy issue.

I'm so glad to see it confirmed that the Whistler and, presumably, the Powers to Be were in favor of the Twilight plan and that they aren't the good guys that some people believed without any evidence. Whistler was honest about what he was, he always made it clear he was a balance demon. Which means, when the evil is too strong, he helps good; but when the good is too strong, he helps evil. TPTB don't mean bad to humanity, but they are just too removed from them; even if they want to keep humanity as a whole (or possibly some new, 'improved' version of it), they don't care about individual people. So if they decide the world needs 'evolution', they don't care how many people die.

This however opens some questions. Does this mean that the Whistler introduced Angel to Buffy in the first place because he had the Twilight prophecy in mind? That would be a big retcon, but it wouldn't be the first one in the verse. We never learned before why he showed Buffy to Angel in the first place. He said to Buffy in S2 that nobody expected the two of them to fall in love, but that doesn't sound convincing to me. I mean, come on, you've got a guy who's totally lost and has no friends or purpose in life, and you show him a beautiful teenage girl who looks a bit like his ex that he spent 150 years with, and tell him that she's his life purpose from now on, and you never think he just might fall for her? Or that a teenage girl might perhaps fall for a handsome, mysterious, older stranger who's also one of the very few people who can share in her new life as the Slayer? In season 8 Riley one-shot, Whistler said something quite different to Angel, that Angel and Buffy falling in love was "a long shot that paid off" - which sounds like matchmaking was what he intended. (On the other hand, Allie got confused when asked about it and said it was probably a mistake, but he didn't remember. I'd still reserve judgment until I hear from Espenson, who wrote that issue, or Whedon.) If that was the case, it's easy to see why Angel was picked, as the only vampire with a soul at the time, but why Buffy? How did TPTB know that she would turn out to be more special than most other Slayers? Was there a prophecy about her?

In any case, Whistler aligning himself with Pearl and Nash should clear that he's far from the good guy some people assumed he was. The panel where we see Whisler calmly talking to them in a bar where they've just slaughtered everyone in many different ways, is really gruesome.

Good to see Angel's crimes from S8 addressed, not just the death of Giles, but the deaths of many Slayers that he allowed to happen. Faith is going to be in tough spot now, how long can she hide Angel and the fact she's helping him, from Nadira and the other Slayers?

It's also great to see Faith getting storylines of her own - her relationships with other Slayers that she has been working with and helping. Nadira is an interesting new character (and it's good to have a bit more ethnic diversity, never the strongest point of Buffyverse). We needed to see someone represent the Slayers who are really angry with Angel and want revenge for season 8. This puts Faith in a tight spot. How long can she keep hiding Angel, or the fact that she's helping him, from Nadira and the other Slayers?

Funny that Nadira thinks that going from Slayer general to waitress is punishment enough for Buffy. I think it's rather a blessing for Buffy, even if she's not doing that well at the moment.

Angel's exposition opens some questions, especially about the extent of Twilight's influence on him before the possession. He says he doesn't remember the incident Nadira describes, how come? But it's good to see that he's taking full responsibility for it all, including the death of Giles, because he knows he could have walked away many times, just like he takes responsibility for the death of Jenny in S2, not hiding behind the 'it was Angelus',' I didn't have a soul' excuses. While Faith is still trying to disassociate him from "Twilight" and "Angelus", much like Buffy used to try to disassociate him from "Angelus" in S3. I was thinking that Faith could be the one that accepts all of Angel, but it seems the things he's responsible for are too much even for her.

Great to see Giles in a very interesting flashback, I hope there will be more of that. He lost one of his best days - a happy day with Jenny, presumably at the beginning of their relationship - and it's an interesting turn of events to give it Angel, connect him stronger to Giles.

The loss of memories comes up a few times - nobody remembers what happened in After the Fall, apparently, except Angel; and
*SPOILER* (white text)
a Mohra demon is set to appear soon. That brings to mind the occasions when Angel decided to, or went along with wiping out other people's memories - taking away one of the happiest days of Buffy's life, in IWRY, and wiping his son's and his friends' memories in Home. I hope the latter will be addressed when Connor turns up in Angel & Faith.
*END SPOILER*
In a way, Angel remade Connor into a 'new, improved' Connor, just like TPTB were going to remake the world into a 'new, improved' one.

Angel should learn that you can't just erase your mistakes. But obviously he has a long way to go, since the cliffhanger shows him making another boneheaded, easy-fix decision - to resurrect Giles. This is not going to end well.

Rebekah Isaacs's art is great. So much better than Jeanty's. She can actually make the characters look like themselves, and they actually look like adults. I have no complaints about Isaacs, Faith and Angel are both perfectly drawn.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.dreamwidth.org/12345.html. Comment here or there, as you like.
Tags: angel and faith, buffy, buffy the vampire slayer, christos gage, comics, dark horse, georges jeanty, joss whedon, rebekah isaacs
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