June 21st, 2011

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Last Gleaming

Published by: Darkhorse | Words: Joss Whedon and Scott Allie | Pencils: Georges Jeanty

Review By Bernice Watson

Well, here it is. The final trade in the Buffy Season 8 series. It’s been four years since the first issue of The Long Way Home hit shelves in 2007 and it hasn’t always been a smooth journey. There’ve been good times and there’ve been puzzling, eyebrow-raising times. Quite a few of them actually. Buffy Season 9 has already been confirmed so, for better or for worse, the legacy will continue.

When my copy of Last Gleaming arrived in the post I actually carried it around with me for a couple of days, unopened. Then it sat on my desk, unread, for a couple more. I felt very ambivalent. On the one hand, here sat a book crammed full of some of my favourite characters of all time, on the other, Twilight (the last TPB in the series) was such a baffling disappointment I just didn’t trust Last Gleaming not to follow suit. Eventually though I took a deep breath and turned that first page. So let’s get into it…

Warning: Spoilers

Last Gleaming picks up where Twilight left off. Actually, that’s not true. First we get a little background (a very little) on how Angel came to be Twilight, the big bad. Then Spike turns up under fairly inexplicable circumstances. I presume that for the full story on Spike readers are supposed to read the Spike spin-off comics so I’ll let that slide. Then we get back to the story as it was last seen in Twilight. Unfortunately, since I really struggled to grasp what was going on in Twilight the first time around, I still have no firm idea what’s happening now. Nevertheless, there is some kind of big battle happening. It’s all very serious. Buffy and Angel are still basking in their post-coital glow but everyone else is angry at them (I’m not 100% sure why. Maybe for abandoning everyone in favour of having great sex?) and Spike shows up to save them all in his space ship. Right. Then at the end of issue one we learn of something called ‘the seed’ that the team has to find and…destroy? Protect? I’m unclear on this point. There seems to be options. Anyway, this magical object is back in, where else, Sunnydale, and the Master is guarding it. Voila! Full circle.

The return of the Master is a nice touch, to start with anyway. It kind of ties back to Buffy’s beginnings, in some ways the Master was the most difficult enemy Buffy ever faced. She was sixteen and the thought she was going to die (and she did, albeit briefly). She experienced acute feelings of fear, self-doubt and hopelessness in the first season of the show. The Master was the first and only bad guy who really terrified Buffy in a visceral way, in the way of a child facing a monster. Despite her fear Buffy went to face the Master and do her duty. Sacrificing herself, doing her duty despite her own feelings is what Buffy has always been about. He’s a very emotive character. Unfortunately in Last Gleaming he is used in a very throw away manner. It’s like the writers are looting past glories and shamelessly re-using them to make a connection with the readers. Now, I will admit that perhaps the intention here is to show how far Buffy has come by using the Master as a yard stick but overall it just felt like the story was belittling a once awesome character.

The narrative still feels very scattered; I can’t seem to figure out decisively who the enemy is or what is going on. This ‘seed’ thing has just turned up out of nowhere. Apparently it is the source of all magic in the world and has to be either protected or destroyed. There are hoards of angry demons waging war all over the place and then some crazy Twilight stuff starts happening as result of Buffy and Angle’s little naked interlude in Twilight. But when the reader doesn’t really understand the details or what’s at stake it’s very hard to become engaged in the story. The entire Season 8 narrative has been a meandering, convoluted affair. I’ve been trying to look back and remember whether the TV show was so complicated and fickle in its twists and turns. Maybe it was just easier to follow because there was more exposition. However I don’t ever remember wondering who the bad guy was or what had to be done to stop him/her.

On a positive note, the dialogue in Last Gleaming is a lot truer to the classic Whedon-esque style. Not surprising since Joss Whedon scripted the entire final run alongside editor Scott Allie. The bizarre, off-beat dialogue of Twilight seems to have been replaced, thank goodness, as has the weirdly rampant swearing.

Ultimately, it feels as if Buffy Season 8 hasn’t claimed any original ground. Like they’re kind of still back in Season 7 of the show. The interactions between the characters and base line themes are all the same. It’s like the writers have been trying to make this massive narrative drama but without moving outside the constraints of the TV series. The scenery may have changed, the show may have moved to a larger stage, but ultimately nothing has changed.

As far as the art is concerned, Jo Chen’s covers are still amazing. Chen has been working with Joss on various titles in the Whedon-verse and has been with Buffy Season 8 from the start. Her covers are incredibly subtle and beautiful and those seen in this edition are no exception. Georges Jeanty was on pencils for everything except the final little post-script story about Riley at the end. Jeanty’s work is solid and definitely hits some highs. Karl Molline (Fray) takes up the pencils in Commitment Through Distance, Virtue Through Sin that fills readers in on how Riley came to be involved with Twilight. I love Molline’s work so was particularly delighted to find this little gem tucked away at the back of the book.

Finally, perhaps the most interesting part of Last Gleaming was the final message from Joss Whedon where he discussed the season and thanked the various people involved. I would have expected a triumphant account of the trials and tribulations of converting a television show to comic book format but instead it was an open and honest reflection on the season. On the subject of how Buffy has changed, not necessarily for the better, he said “I was so excited to finally have an unlimited budget that I wanted to make the book an epic, but I realised along the way that the things I loved the best were the things you loved the best: the peeps. The down-to-earth, recognisable people.” On the subject of Season 9 he had this, somewhat comfortingly, to say, “No matter how interesting the world stage or mystical dimensions can be, Buffy’s best when she’s walking that alley, dusting vamps and nursing a pouty heart. We’re not going back to square one, but our square will definitely have a oneishness to it.” So there you go. A new direction for Season 9. Yes, please.

My only lingering concern, and something I’ve come to think increasingly recently, particularly in the wake of news that there may very well be a filmic reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is that maybe Buffy has had her time. Yes, she was great back in the day, balancing dusting vamps and trying to get her homework in on time but those days have been and gone. Much as I have faith in Joss I just wonder whether there’s any story left to tell for Buffy. Time will tell I suppose and Joss’ message has sparked a renewed hope in my heart for Season 9. Honestly, without his encouraging words I might have just given it a miss but, call me a sucker, I’m staying on board. The new season is due to start publication in September of this year. See you then.

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