If you’re a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer like I am, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Volume One: The Long Way Home is something you’ve been looking forward to for a few years now. If you’re only generally aware of this series –or only know the title from the so-so practically unrelated movie that preceded it — this collection of the first five comic books that takes Buffy’s story past the ending of the TV series is a good place to get into the mix. Also called “Buffy Season Eight” (and officially subtitled “Joss Whedon’s Season Eight” starting with comic book #6), it’s intended to be the offical follow-up to the series. The first collection of this Dark Horse collection serves as evidence that Joss still has it in spades.
How’s Buffy doing since we saw her last? Well, she’s got over a thousand other slayers covering her back, and a host of other supernatural do-gooders (witches, seers and the like) helping out too. Plus the Watchers Council is lending aid, and if you think that’s a whole lot of help . . . it ain’t. It’s looking like the Big Bad this season will need every last one of them. What’s the Big Bad, for folks not as fannish as I? Well, it’s what Buffy fans call the thing/things that Buffy and her friends (the Scoobies, à la Scooby Doo) have to deal with and ultimately vanquish each season. They’ve dealt with big-dude vampires, an evil goddess with a shoe obsession, army mutants, their own mayor, the First Evil ever, old boyfriends and even a best friend.
The Scoobies are here too, although some are more present than others. The TV series had that too; you can’t have everyone on camera all the time, can you? Or it sure gets crowded. But the players are exactly where they need to be — for the most part — when the story calls for them, and that’s the important part. Plus, there’s lots of Willow magic and there’s even a point where Xander gets to be a little butch (it’s the eyepatch.) Meanwhile, I have a not-so-secret love for Giles (it’s the glasses.) He’s here too, holding down the fort in London. Yeah, they’ve gone global, and that has it’s pluses and minuses.
And Dawn, you ask? Well, Dawn is going through growing pains. It’s not easy being the sister of a slayer . . . the slayer . . . the big-boss slayer. Oh well, whatever she is now, it’s still ain’t easy for Dawn, and this graphic novel finds her with rather large problems. I hate to say it, but I was never a big fan of Dawn; she’s whiny, she’s petulant, she’s everything Buffy was when Buffy was her age, minus the whole ability-to-slay-and-vanquish thing. And okay, seeing her parents break up (I’m talking Willow and Tara here folks, the only real “parents” Dawn got a chance to really bond with), then survive Tara’s death ain’t easy either. So okay, maybe my Dawn dissing isn’t entirely fair, but it’s there nonetheless. And in The Long Way Home, Dawn’s still relegated to second string, something I hope will change in subsequent volumes. Hey, if I’m gonna give the gal a chance, I need to see her in full action, right? Right.
Sorry about that, I was on pluses and minuses, right? Well, with over a thousand slayers, the Scoobs have a ton of backup. But the slayers all have minds of their own, and petty competitions flare within their ranks. A handful of folks to rally around the cause? Not a problem. Over a thousand? That’ll take some work, I’m sure. Plus, the Army isn’t to happy about an entire town getting sucked into the earth, and they want to find who’s responsible. In this post-9/11 age, I’m thinking they’ll want more than a cup of C-ration coffee and a chat. . . .
There’s a lot to like in The Long Way Home. After the past four years, it just feels good to have the gang together again. There are a lot of in-jokes, but not too many that a casual fan will find them off-putting. Even if you pick up this book and read it with no prior Buffy knowledge, there’s enough exposition to keep you on target and in the game. That said, a basic knowledge of the TV series is required in order for a reader to get maximum enjoyment. Hey, that’s what Netflix is for, or Wikipedia for that matter, if you don’t have the series at home or available on cable where you are.
The best bits for fans? A particular Buffy dream sequence should have both Spike and Angel relation-shippers howling, and I’ll admit I had to revisit that page for a giggle quite a few times. And there’s a little Wicked Willow action, just for the fun of it. But for me, the best part of this graphic novel has no Buffy, Xander or Willow in it at all. I know, weird, right? It’s the final section, “The Chain,” and it’s simply amazing. Told from the point of view of a slayer far, far away from the main action, it’s a part of the story that can also hold its own as a stand-alone piece. That’s all I’ll say about the final section of this graphic novel, so as not to spoil it for anyone. Just trust me on this.
Looking at how the graphic novel/comic books are put together, the artwork is absolutely beautiful in this collection. Georges Jeanty inks 1-4, and Paul Lee does the honors for “The Chain.” Can you see the differences in artistic point of view? Yeah, kinda. A little. Sorta. Giles looks a little studlier under Lee’s pen (yes, I noticed). And backgrounds are a little different here and there between the two, but that can also be easily explained by the nature of the stories told, and the feelings the artists are trying to evoke.
Joss takes the helm on each of the books collected in this collection, but later individual comics in this series have had other writers further the story. For The Long Way Home, you can expect the usual quick comebacks, seamless interplay between characters, and mysteries wrapped in enigmas. But the Scoobies are all here, and even though they’ve come through a lot (watching their High School get destroyed by a demon, saving the world from your best friend — or trying to destroy the world — watching your home town get sucked into the depths of the earth, etc.) their ties are still strong. It’ll be interesting to see how Series Eight continues in this graphic format, now that production costs are a thing of the past. Well, if you’re not counting ink and paper that is. Much cheaper to destroy something on paper than in Real Life. Setting Joss free of the financial (and, let’s face it, ratings system) constraints TV shows inevitably have could prove to be an awesome thing indeed.
On that note, Volume Two, No Future For You, is set for a summer 2008 release. It’ll contain numbers 6-10 of Season Eight, and have a new writer in for some of the ride. If the stories were scripted by hacks and drawn as stick figures, I’d be intrigued. But with the stories and art this damn good, I can hardly wait.
(Dark Horse Books, 2007)