Whedonverse comics roundup: Buffy: Season 9

by Gabby

When we left Buffy at the end of season 8, she was returning to her roots, staking a lowly vampire in an alley.

Joss Whedon himself confirmed the feeling I had gotten while reading the last issue of the season, “Last Gleaming, Part Five”. He wrote, in his epilogue: “If you’ve read this issue, you’ve got a sense of where we’re heading for Season 9. Back, a bit, to the everyday trials that made Buffy more than a superhero. That made her us.” (the whole thing is really worth a read; you can do so here).

I have to be honest, I had no qualms with Buffy: season 8. Yes, it was kooky and crazy. Yes, Dawn became a giant, Buffy went to the future, the scooby gang travelled the world and Angel was the Big Bad (not to mention an… *ahem*, active partner in the insane invincible-sex). However, I personally jumped in to the comics right after I finished the series finale, “Chosen”. I was just happy that the universe I’d fallen in love with wasn’t obliterated. It lives on, albeit in comic form.

I must add, though, that I was elated that Mr. Whedon himself felt a return to Buffy’s human complexities was in order. So I am happy to say that season 9 for me has been a big hit (if only for the wonderful opening cover by Steve Morris which I find breathtaking).

cover of Buffy Season 9

I will review in broad strokes the arcs of season 9, and explore a little bit more one issue in particular. I will conclude with my hopes for the culmination of this season.

FREEFALL, parts 1 to 4

In the first arc, we get a glimpse of Buffy circa season 1; the fun loving young woman who just wants to be normal.

a panel from Buffy Season 9

I loved the opening party scene (which will be a factor in a significant plot twist later on) where we are privy to the camaraderie between the scoobies. Willow spends this arc warning Buffy that destroying the seed of wonder will have consequences (which is most evident in the form of Zompires – feral vampires sired after the obliteration of the seed). Xander and Dawn are trying desperately to live a normal life, and I appreciated the authenticity of their relationship (for instance, Xander having to sleep on the couch because he forgot Dawn’s birthday).

a panel from Buffy Season 9

Spike, in the meantime, is also warning Buffy; there are rumors that a Big Bad is after her. At first, it is implied that Eldre Koh, a demon who was wrongly imprisoned by magic, was after Buffy. It turns out that he just wanted to thank her, following his release after the destruction of the seed.

a panel from Buffy Season 9

The real threat to Buffy, however, is a siphon demon named Severin. I really enjoyed his backstory: how his girlfriend wanted to turn herself into a vampire and he agreed to follow suit. However, things backfired when she turned full-on zompire and tried to kill him. This unleashed his siphon abilities and he killed her, sapping the vampire energy out of her and into himself. He then goes on a rampage, killing vampires to exact revenge. This felt real, and heartbreaking, and is a great nod to the “vampire reality TV” phenomenon that Harmony unleashed last season. In the end, Severin is exposed as a pawn. Simone, a gun-loving power hungry ex-member of the Slayer Organization, hired him to kill Buffy. It is unclear at this time what her motives are, but since the current world order prefers vampires to slayers, it is easy to imagine that Simone isn’t liking that one bit. The arc ends with my favorite TV friendship ever, Willow and Buffy, sharing a great moment.

a panel from Buffy Season 9

SLAYER, INTERRUPTED

This issue, George Jeanty took a break from pencilling and Karl Moline replaced him. I love his style; slightly cartoonish, but really precise. Here, Buffy’s having weird “slayer” dreams and feeling sick. When I first read the issue, I loved it for the moments between Willow and Buffy. They have a sleepover so that Willow can monitor Buffy’s dreams. What the First Slayer is trying to tell Buffy is that she needs to undo what she did (destroy the seed), and the slayer scythe is a clue to the undoing. But the scythe isn’t for Buffy, it’s for Willow, and the latter enters Buffy’s dream to grab it and leave. When Buffy wakes up, Willow’s gone and has left a note.

a panel from Buffy Season 9

However, upon a re-read, I paid more attention to the fairy Buffy refers to as “Tink”. She keeps telling Buffy she “isn’t the slayer” and that she’s “not a girl anymore”. I guess I just glossed it over the first time, but these clues are very important for the coming arc.

Finally, there is also shock value in this issue: the last panel is a positive pregnancy test.

ON YOUR OWN, parts 1 and 2

This arc got a lot of ink in the news.

What’s so great about a return to Buffy’s roots is that we get to see human relationships in very real situations. Buffy believes she got pregnant when she blacked out from alcohol at her party (from “Freefall”, part 1). What does Buffy do when she finds out she’s pregnant? She weighs her options, as the situation warrants. She arranges a date with Robin, the son of a slayer, to see what he has to say about the whole thing, and he gives her a ringing endorsement for future mother of the year.

a panel from Buffy Season 9

But then she invites Spike over, and tells him she’s getting an abortion. The following dialogue is very poignant, so much so that I’m reproducing it here:

Buffy: I’m going to have an abortion.
Spike: You’re pregnant?
Buffy: Robin told me how Nikki tried to run away from slaying after he was born. And I thought I could do what she couldn’t. I thought I had everything that Nikki didn’t. Dawn, Xander, Willow… You… I was ready to ask you to run away with me. But then I realized… I’m barely able to hold onto a job. I live with roommates who are about to kick me out. And I can’t even hold my alcohol well enough to remember who got me pregnant. I can handle the slayer stuff. I can do what Nikki couldn’t. But everything else? I’m not ready. At least not now. It’s not the slaying. It’s me. Will you come with me when I do this?
Spike: Yeah.

We’ll come back to this.

In part 2, Buffy lets it slip that if she were to run away with the baby, she wouldn’t have brought Spike, because that would be the antithesis of having a “normal” life. This is the catalyst Spike needs to detach himself from Buffy. He’s still in love with her, and can’t “be the dark place [she] runs to when things aren’t working”. So after the whole ordeal is over, he’s leaving San Francisco (and starring in his own miniseries).

But THEN! A zompire rips out Buffy’s arm and we learn that she’s a robot (read: “not a girl anymore”).

a panel from Buffy Season 9

Ok. So I think this could make a lot of people angry. So far, the abortion story had been handled quite brilliantly. The circumstances surrounding the pregnancy were murky at best; Buffy was, for all she knew, raped that night (like the pin stuck on my lunch box says, “drunk means no”!). She weighed the pros and cons, and decided that she, as a person, was not ready to have a child, and took the decision to end the pregnancy. It could be qualified as a cop out to have her be a robot and bypass the troubles of going through the abortion. It could be a way to appease the pro-lifers. It could, but it’s not. I don’t want to tarnish this incredibly forward way of tackling social issues in comic book form. To pick up a comic and be confronted with the reality a significant amount of young women have to face every day? That’s incredible. I can understand the disappointment that we don’t get to see the process Buffy would have had to go through, but this is an action comic after all. The plot needs to move forward. And Buffy did make a choice. And I think that is the important thing to take away from this arc.

APART OF ME, part 1 to 3

This arc felt a little disjointed, and I had a hard time following most of it. What I did understand was that Andrew was the mastermind behind making Buffy a robot. He roofied her at the party and pulled a Dollhouse: he swapped her consciousness inside a robot and stuffed her real body with a yuppie persona living in suburbia.

a panel from Buffy Season 9

I felt like this was a really elaborate way of making Buffy come to terms with the whole “having a normal life” thing. She was envious of the yuppie Buffy, living a quaint life sipping Californian merlot. But after having a conversation with that version of herself, she realized she needs to earn this life. Andrew was just trying to fast track her there.

a panel from Buffy Season 9

It was the point of departure for Spike, who reaffirmed that he can’t be her puppy dog anymore. He will explore his new found independence in a 5 part miniseries, which I will review at a later date. Oh, and Simone had something to do with this arc, too: she kidnapped Yuppie-Buffy and tried to make her join her rebel-slayer side. Then she ran away when things got punchy? I don’t know what to make of that girl.

GUARDED, parts 1 to 3

This arc introduces Kennedy as the boss of Deepscan, an organization made of ex-slayers (who still have their power) who act as bodyguards for the rich and famous. Kennedy hires Buffy, and she accepts, willing to try something other than slaying for a change. She can’t shake who she is, though. While trying to protect a client, she attacks the bellhop demon instead of the maid, acting on her slayer instincts instead of Kennedy’s orders (in a bid that reminds me of [HUNGER GAMES SPOILER] Katniss’ military test in Mockingjay).

I loved how this arc seemed to take a page out of Angel’s book; not all demons are evil, and Buffy has to deal with Wolfram&Hart (the evil interdimensional law firm) and its senior partners. They are in a hell dimension and can contact all the realms with the help of Tincan, a social networking site. The only way to sever the connection is to destroy the servers, and Buffy has to talk Theo, the C.E.O., into destroying his life’s work. Through his ordeal, Buffy confronts the fact that she had to destroy the seed. She finally accepts that she had to do it, but she also learns a lesson along the way. She can’t forget to protect the little guy, as Kennedy so brutally reminds her (speaking about Giles being a casualty of the seed’s destruction). In the end, Kennedy offers her a very high paying job at Deepscan, something that would help Buffy achieve the normal life she’s been striving for. But she refuses:

Buffy: I can’t do it.
Kennedy: Is it because of what I said about Giles? ‘Cause I was out of line. You made a tough call, and we need someone who can make decisions like that.
Buffy: But you were right. I keep trying to save the world, when sometimes I should just save a single person. It was different when I was younger. Something changed. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing. And if I took this job, I’d be doing it for just one person: me.
Kennedy: After all you’ve been through, don’t you think you deserve that? To finally have the kind of life you want.
Buffy: Maybe. But that’s just not who I am. I’m the slayer.

As for the future of Buffy: Season 9, I’ve read the first part of “Billy the Vampire Slayer” and I’m very excited to see how the dynamic between a gay boy self-made slayer and Buffy will go down. I think it’s a very positive and empowering way to move forward, and will give Buffy the motivation she needs to keep on fighting the good fight. I’m also looking forward to the Willow miniseries, especially after having seen her in Angel&Faith (which I will also review at a later date). I love the wonderful moments we’ve gotten between the characters so far, and I’m hoping they will continue.

Here’s the thing I hope to (1) get more information about and (2) see resolved.

a panel from Buffy Season 9

Something’s up with Xander. There was a really great moment, in the “Apart of me” arc, between himself and detective Dowling. Xander reminisced about killing Jesse (“The Harvest”, season 1), and while on a zompire hunt, he felt the opposite of nostalgia, remembering the feeling of being frightened for your life. But the panel above is too violent to just be about bad memories. It happened after he asked Dawn to bring him his eyepatch and she took 5 seconds too long. I think there’s something more there, and I will keep my eye on him.

This brings us up to date! I would like to hear from you, now; how are you feeling about Buffy: Season 9? Did I miss anything? Any great Scoobies moment I should’ve mentioned?

  • Caroline

    WOW THIS SOUNDS INSANE!

    I don’t mean that in a *bad* way — you have me intrigued. Maybe I’ll catch up with all of these in a big chunk at some point.

  • http://twitter.com/GloryisBen Gabby Ross (@GloryisBen)

    Caroline – Have you read S8? I think comparatively, S9 is a bit more streamlined (which is kind of hilarious, if you consider “Tincan”, the demon social networking site). I think it’s really worth it, though, if only to make the universe live on in your head. :)

  • Caroline

    I read most of season 8 but I think there’s a final trade that I haven’t come across yet, because I definitely don’t recall reading the ending….

    It’s interesting that you mentioned that as soon as you finished watching the TV show, the comics were available….that might have made a difference to me, because I think there were like 4 years from the ending of the show to the launch of the comic, and I got used to creating my own idea of what the future would look like. So while I’ve mostly enjoyed the comics, they seem more like, “One possible idea of what could be going on in this world” rather than an actual continuation. (I did read a couple issues of season 9, including the ones surrounding the abortion discussion — it’s kind of depressing how rare narratives that *actually* endorse choice are, so even though I didn’t think the story was perfect, I very much appreciated the idea behind it.)

  • Jessica

    Wow, yeah, great article!

    Like Caroline, the comics came out quite a while after I finished watching the show. I picked up a few installments of S8, but it didn’t feel quite right to me. S9 seems much more on par with the Buffy I remember–I’ll have to get around to reading it!

    I also heard that Willow is getting her own spin-off–SO EXCITED for that!

  • http://twitter.com/GloryisBen Gabby Ross (@GloryisBen)

    Thanks Jess!

    I can imagine the S8 comics being a let down after all that time without a Buffy universe. They were really… all over the place. I didn’t have the time to create that perfect Buffy world in my head, though, because I jumped right in.

    Also, S9 is so much more true to the characters! I urge you to check it out if that’s what you’re into. And yes: Willow will be on her own as of November! She was in Angel&Faith and it was MARVELOUS.

  • orchardist

    Caroline, if you are not reading Angel & Faith you should. There’s a hint as to WHY Xander forgot Dawn’s birthday. These two series are really being done in parallel with tidbits of data from one series that is relevant to the other. Could you read ONLY BtVS and NOT A&F and still enjoy it? Yes. But I think you’ll find it’s a more complete universe if you read both.

  • Caroline

    @orchardist — I love Angel & Faith, though I think you may have intended the comment for Gabby, who wrote the article.

  • http://twitter.com/GloryisBen Gabby Ross (@GloryisBen)

    @orchardist – Thanks for your comment! I’m starting my Angel&Faith review right this instant so I will keep an eye out for the hint.

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