Friday, April 23, 2010

Buffy Season 8 Episode 1 - 8.01 The Long Way Home Review

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is back!  Joss Whedon and Dark Horse Comics bring us the official continuation of the Buffy series with Season Eight! Since this blog will cover virtually all things Whedon it would be impossible to ignore Buffy so we're going to start with season 8.  Each review is going to start with a recap of the episode in a very Andrew-esque "Storyteller" way in order to catch you up on the highs and lows of each individual issue that way it will be easier to understand once we get our hands dirty and discuss the events of the episode in question.

Issue 1 - The Long Way Home Part I
We join our heroes years after the events of Chosen.  Willow is off doing who knows what, Buffy is leading a Slayer faction in Scotland where Xander is serving as base commander.  Giles appears to be no where to be seen, we meet three new Slayers who appear to be close to Buffy, one maybe a little too close.  Speaking of Buffy, there are three of her now, one underground, one off disco-ing it up with The Immortal in Italy and our twice dead religious history ignorant Slayer herself.  There's some guy who is all floaty and oh yeah Dawn's a giant.

Issue 2 The Long Way Home Part II
We rejoin our heroes - actually only about 3 seconds after where we left them, only with added Scoobage.  Giles is off being all watcher-y but seems to have accepted the idea that a Slayer works better with others instead of alone.  Buffy is pointing out how overqualified Rowena, Leah and Satsu are to be corpses while totally crushing on Satsu's hair.  Andrew is explaining that guns are evil and how he's Team teddy bear with killer trees yet he can not join Team Leader who wears bellbottoms and a half cape and Xander is desperately trying to keep his one eye from looking at Dawn's... shadow.  Living trapped in the mouth of Hell has led Amy to well, have sex with... who knows what, and seems to have gone retro\vintage, storming castles on dark nights, army of undead at her bidding, ritualistic sacrifice and a true love spell.  Apparently Hell is full of 80s horror movies and teen rom/coms.  Oh yeah Dawn is still a giant, yet couldn't really see our favorite Wiccan formerly known as Darth Willow floating on in at the eleventh hour.

Issue 3 The Long Road Home Part III
Our favorite chaos worshiping no friend of Ripper Ethan Rayne guides our sexually deprived heroine through memories of high school, Mr. Fruit Punch Mouth the Master, Angel, the loss of her mother, The evil smurf the Judge, fallen fashionista Goddess Glory, Dawn, Caleb, some guy named Joss Whedon and frienemy Faith, Slayer of the Vampire - who literally fought with the forces of good for weeks.  Giles meets with a demon and Andrew is bored by watching girls play strip poker.  Willow goes Wiccan y Wiccan with Dark Witch/Army Bitch Amy who it turns out has been boning, well a bag of bones.  Filet-o-Warren is back, skinless of course because why would the government find it disgusting that Amy was 'dating' Warren if he had his skin.  Willow tells Buffy that over the year she had been not in Scotland she was off with Kennedy who died, but its okay it was only for a month.  Dawnie learns that while big girls don't cry they f%&#ing fum!  Oh yeah, and Buffy learns that true love tastes of cinnamon buns moments before Willow is sucked through a vortex of Amy's techy smelling magic.

Issue 4 The Long Road Home IV
Warren explains that sometimes having a stalker can save your life.  Amy is pretty much holding Warren together with her magic.   Warren stabs Willow in the eye while Amy freakaleak that she is enjoys watching, but won't let the government join in her reindeer games.  Willow goes on some trippy trip and is guided by a tree woman, a hairy woman, a blue woman, a two faced woman and a wordy woman.  XXX marks the spot, not with treasure but with dead bodies.  Buffy sees the beautiful sunset that is carved into General Voll's chest.  Satsu also enjoys cinnamon buns.  Giant Dawnie's milkshake doesn't bring all the boys to the yard, but it damn near brings down Scotland Yard.  Oh yeah, and the world hates Buffy.

Alright let’s start off with how amazing it is to even have Buffy back in the first place; the property itself has been around since the early 90s with the Buffy movie, the TV show, the Angel spin-off, the first run of Dark Horse comics which ran for over 60 issues not counting the endless mini-series’ and one shots.  Now Buffy is back and it’s officially canon with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight.

The format is a little clunky because each issue isn’t technically an individual episode; the episode only changes to a new one once it gets a new sub-header on the cover, sometimes that’s just one episode or it could be up to four or five issues.  That is kind of annoying considering that it is a monthly book and we had seven years of only having to go one week between episodes.

The first episode – The Long Way Home – is written by none other than series creator Joss Whedon and it shows from the first sentence.  We have all the usual players: Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Xander, Andrew and Giles; Joss does what Joss is known for by bringing back characters that we wouldn’t have seen ever again if this were anyone else at the helm.  Amy, Warren and Ethan are all back, and we get a bunch of new characters: Satsu, Rowena, Leah, Renee, General Voll, Simone and the mysterious Twilight.

Now there is a gap in time between Buffy Season 7 and 8 – exactly how much is unknown, however I’m assuming no less than three years have passed since in season 7 of Buffy Dawn is a Sophomore at Sunnydale High School and now Dawn goes to college in Berkley, well at least she was until she became a giant. There are a few other changes, aside from the major ones which I will get into later in this review.  Something seems off between the gang and Giles; it could just be because the group is divided a little oddly.  Dawn is supposed to be in Berkley without any connection to the Slayer world; Xander and Buffy are based in Scotland where he is sort of the de-facto Watcher, Andrew is off in Europe with his own group of Slayers to train, Willow for the most part is off at parts unknown with Kennedy and Giles has his own group of Slayers but also acts on his own.

The major changes obviously have to be Willow is no longer afraid to use her magic; Buffy and Xander have a home base that is actually an old castle in Scotland.  Faith and Robin are no where to be seen, but this is only the first episode of season 8 so it’s a little too soon to tell what’s going on with them.  Andrew seems to have really proven himself as a true Scooby since he’s been trusted with his own Slayer squad.  One thing that I think deserves to be touched on is the massive amount of tension between Dawn and Buffy.  In season 7 they seemed to have gotten a lot closer and were getting along fine, now all of a sudden Dawn appears to be verging on hating her sister.  I guess this could be explained due to the age problems.  When her body was 16, technically her soul was only a baby, so when she was acting the part of the teenager that the world is out to get, it could be argued that she was going through her terrible twos.  Now that Dawn’s body is that of a 19-21 year old her soul appears to be going through puberty.

I like the idea of Amy surviving Sunnydale’s destruction, but I’m still not too keen on her being evil. Personally I always wanted her to become a member of the Scooby Gang.  Warren on the other hand – I like the idea of Amy saving him and after his body dies bringing him back magically without his skin, they do make quite the pair.  The problem I have with this is that Warren appeared as The First in season 7.  The First could only take the form of someone who had died and now that Warren is back and appears to be a pivotal character I need a better explanation as to why The First could appear as him other than a throw away line from Warren where he says that ‘Bored now,’ where the last words he ever heard in his ‘human’ life.  Also it is a little hard to swallow that Amy turned into the magical stalker version of Big Brother and was following Willow around unknown to everyone.  Another thing that I have a problem with is General Voll and the government being back in play.  I wasn’t a big fan of the Buffy VS the Government in season 4, and I’m even less of a fan of the idea of a do-over.

Don’t get me wrong we do get our handful of classic Whedonverse moments: Buffy wearing a Serenity T-Shirt, one of Andrew’s Slayers reading the Fray trade paperback, Andrew in full on geek mode, a brand new big bad in the form of Twilight and a use of the massive established character pool at Joss’ disposal.  I only wish that they didn’t kill off Ethan so soon, and with it being a natural death – a gunshot to the head – it’s one that will never be undone it sort of makes it pointless to have brought back a character that had been around since the second season only to kill him off so abruptly.

The first episode also gives us more questions than answers.  Who or what is Twilight?  What’s up with the beautiful sunsets carved into the people’s chests?  How did Kennedy die, and more importantly how did she come back to life within a month?  Where was Willow?  How did Dawn become a giant?  What’s a thricewise?  Why does true love taste of cinnamon buns?  How was the destruction of Sunnydale spun in the news?  We get a few answers too.  We find out why Buffy was partying up in Italy with The Immortal and that not everyone who stayed in Sunnydale when the Hellmouth was closed died once the town sank in on itself. We also get a plethora of new characters: Satsu, Renee, Leah, Rowena, General Voll and Twilight all of them manage to have just enough ‘screen time’ and be interesting enough for you to become invested in them.  When Renee felt responsible for the girls getting injured once Amy released her army of zombies it had just as much emotional resonance coming from a character that we’ve only been exposed to for one episode as it would have if Dawn or Buffy were laying on the bed bandaged and bleeding You want to know about these characters because in Whedonverse no one is a simple throw away character, they’re all there for a reason whether you like them or not.

All in all The Long Way Home is a good reintroduction to the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It will take a little while to work out all the kinks since Buffy had been off the air for so long and that the new season told strictly in comic form is a different venue for the property it will take a bit of patience because it switches from a weekly product to monthly.  I might not agree with things, Buffy does seem a little out of character to be honest; but anyone who knows Joss knows that his strength is in the long term and the pay off, and historically Buffy doesn’t have strong season premieres when it comes to plot and momentum.

Rating: B

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