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27 May 2010 @ 12:06 am
Season Eight at the Seventh Inning Stretch – a View from the Fence  

simonf  asked for 'neutral' essays about season 8, and since I define myself by my spot on the fence, I decided to use his request as an opportunity to reflect on where I am with the comics right now.  The result is long (4300 words), and pretty much just a summary of opinions I've posted.  But having gone through the labor to write the thing, I'll go ahead and post it anyway. 

I am genuinely on the fence at the moment, giving even odds on the question of whether I’ll like the comics at the end of the day or not. Let’s start with the reasons I think there’s a chance the comics could end up being great.

1.  It’s a continuation of BtVS, and BtVS is my all-time favorite show. The comics have much of what I loved about the show -- Buffy is still the protagonist, there’s still a lot of wit, and there’s still a lot of layers. The commentary I wrote on the opening scene of LWH runs very long, and subsequent revelations have added still more resonances to what I noticed when I wrote the commentary shortly after #20 came out. 

Although Chosen didn’t demand a continuation, like all the season endings of the series, it left enough open-ended for interesting elaborations to follow. At the end of season 4, we had the primeval spell that caused Buffy to tap more deeply into the demonic source of her slayer power, and that set up a lot of the issues she dealt with over the next three years. At the end of season 7 she empowered an army of slayers, a signal change in the ‘verse capable of at least as interesting an elaboration as the one that followed season 4. In addition, at the end of Chosen, Buffy remains opaque, and therefore a character about whom we could learn still more. What would she chose to do when she was no longer the only one?   Was she ready to open her heart to another or was she still struggling with the severe emotional scars she’d gathered up over seven seasons of BtVS? Had she really sorted her issues with the Scoobies or with Giles? Etc. etc. So season 8 gives us a continuation and that of itself is a promising place to start.

That promise showed through most clearly for me in NFFY, which is my favorite arc thus far. NFFY revisited the question of Buffy’s relationship with Faith, building on their relationship in a story that was deeply grounded in what had gone before. We get to see Graduation Day from Faith’s perspective, in an arc where Buffy and Faith have arguably reversed positions, with Faith the rock-solid slayer doing her duty one vampire (or vampire family at a time) in a life suffused with sacrifice and Buffy living a life in a castle financed by bank-robbing.   The arc lured us in with the thought that Genevieve, the would-be rogue slayer, was a mirror for Faith, only to learn that she was at least as much a mirror for Buffy.    Lots of emotional layer and complexity, with the story moving on. Excuse me while I bask in what remains for me the high point of the season.

2. It’s ambitious. The world has changed, and so has the medium. I think that’s a central issue of season 8. The slayer spell is the explicit matter. The new medium and the shift in metaphor is the implicit matter. BtVS always has had a layer of commentary on genres, and now it’s moved on to the comic book genre. Of course Buffy ends up with superpowers – how else could that self-awareness that’s a trademark of the story continue? More interesting to me is the signal shift in the metaphor. When Buffy is the one girl in all the world defeating apocalypses in the obscure town of Sunnydale, California, she’s in a story that has to be read as a girl struggling to grow up, slaying various inner demons on her way to being a hero. But once she’s a general of an army fighting evil on a global scale it’s no longer possible to read the metaphor so easily.   Fighting one’s own inner demons is not the same thing as trying to fix the whole world. General Voll is not nuts to compare an illegally funded high-tech army of slayers to a group of terrorists (who, we should pause to remember, typically think they are waging a war to fix the whole world).    Just what do all the demons represent when we shift to a global scale, and is it right for Buffy to take it on herself to wage a battle on *behalf* of other humans, when the name of the slaying game up until now has mostly been about self-empowerment.   It struck me as appropriate that the first thing we learn about Buffy is that she’s taken on all the high-tech equipment that she only rarely resorted to in Sunnydale. The metaphor of a field vaporizer is different from the metaphor of a pointy wooden stick. 

So there’s a lot of richness in the mix. Since the opening we’ve added on one other layer that ought to be equally compelling and that’s the notion that the difference between vampires and slayers is not only difficult for the public to discern, but that the public might actually side with the vampires against the slayers.   More below on whether this wrinkle works, but the shift to global scale invites the question of how we distinguish good from evil. As Willow worries in NFFY, if you use the same tactics as the army you are fighting it’s not obvious why you’re good and they’re evil.    It’s a question that’s been lurking in BtVS all along, but which now seems to be an explicit part of the mix.

3. If it is pulled off the deepening of the mythology in Twilight could also pay-off in a big way.   That’s a big if (more below), but if the meta is of Buffy’s being pushed along by the universe (read: narrative demands) to fulfill a standard romantic trope (get together with her one true love), how cool is it that the result is that the ‘real world’ literally falls apart as a result?   She and Angel land in a paradise where everything bends to their own will, which is what we want our stories to do (see, e.g. Lie to Me where we meditate on how much we want the good guys to win and live happily ever after). But stories like that aren’t true. True is messy and painful and requires sacrifice, but is real. We don’t know enough to say how the Twilight event will play out, but on a meta level it’s full of potential story-telling richness that ranks alongside the best of BtVS.

So that’s the promise of the comics. Along the way, I think it’s delivered some good moments that will look good regardless of how the last act plays out. I’ve already sang the praises of NFFY. The Chain and Renee’s death gave some nice moments about the sacrifice of being a slayer. Living Doll had interesting reflections on Dawn and Buffy’s relationship.  Dawn has had a great arc and has emerged as a self-possessed woman who kicks some ass.  The Buffy, the Bank Robber, panel of #10 was a beautiful moment for me because it instantly made clear a lot of what had seemed strange before (the source of Buffy’s funding, a good explanation for the tension between Buffy and Giles, etc.). People don’t much like Harmonic Divergence, but I loved the question of how much POV determines what seems good or evil to us. The critique of the media-mentality was a bit heavy-handed, but I thought the issue both pointed to spin out there as well as its own spin in an interesting way.  

So that’s the glass-is-half-full part. Now for the part where the glass is half empty. These are not so much critiques since the comics aren’t done yet, as a laundry list of things I think need to be addressed for me to think that the comics work as a whole.

1. Continuity. The show did a big leap forward, and I think that works given the leap in medium and theme I already praised. But some of the early discontent about the comics was that the leap was too big and it was hard to see how to connect season 8 Buffy to the woman with that enigmatic smile full of promise at the end of Chosen. We are asked to step into a story where Buffy has *already* decided that instead of letting others carry on, she would double-down on personal sacrifice and continue as the general of an army. We aren’t told why the new slayers needed to organize on that scale or with that kind of equipment. We aren’t told just how hard Buffy tried (if she did) to find better ways of funding that army. It’s not enough to say all these slayers needed a lot of financial resources to be maintained – since there’s no reason they couldn’t have continued individually on the model that had gone before (being supported by friends and family and/or taking on jobs). It’s not enough to say the organizational requirements demanded a large financial inflow, since there’s no reason (that we’ve been given) about why the model that had gone before (individual girls fighting evil in individual communities with pointy sticks) couldn’t have continued.   I’m not saying there’s no path from Chosen to where Buffy is, but I am saying that Buffy has taken a lot of decisions that have contributed to her difficult position now, and it’s impossible to assess where Buffy is if we do not know why she’s made the choices she’s made.

Willow suddenly had a *lot* more power than she used to. Yes, we’d seen her fly before. No, we’d never seen her set up Willow airlines and routinely fly people hither and yon.   Happily, Goddesses and Monsters acknowledges there’s been a change, and we’re told that the question of what happened to Willow will get more development down the road. But for a good long while, it seemed to be a leap, and it was frustrating to many who were not sure whether we were supposed to notice that it was strange that Willow was now flying everywhere or whether that was something we were just supposed to roll with.

We have gone three years without knowing the basic resolution to Buffy’s last major love interest. In particular, we haven’t been told whether she knows the guy is back or not, much less how she reacted to that news (if she got it). This will, finally, become clear in #36. But Allie and others have repeatedly said that we should just assume that she knows, and in a season that has made much of Buffy’s love life, that hasn’t been a very satisfactory answer. If it is the case that Buffy knows, how hard would it have been to drop in a bubble or two and say so? Maybe give an inkling of how she reacted?   We can see the bottom line – Spike’s not in her life. But we don’t know the why of it.   Is she mourning a lover she thinks is dead? Is she angry at the vampire who came back and didn’t tell her? Did they meet up for coffee and come to an amicable decision to go their separate ways?   The strength of the show was that history mattered. You couldn’t understand Buffy’s relationship with Riley if you didn’t know about Angel, including the reason for his absence from Buffy’s life. Yet we’ve been asked to watch Buffy’s feelings for Xander develop without knowing a few key facts about her last relationship. For the section of the fandom that assumed that Buffy had some significant feelings for Spike there’s a continuity gap here that along with catching up with a girl who’s big choice to rob banks to fund a high-tech army are remain hidden in shrouds makes it difficult to connect this Buffy with the Buffy we last saw. For myself I can say that while I’ve been intellectually invested in the comics, it is also the case that I’m emotionally-disconnected. This Buffy could get killed in the next issue, and I wouldn’t feel like anything had happened to the ‘real’ Buffy back on the edge of the SD crater in Chosen. The technique of in media res is really interesting, but it doesn’t work if we aren’t given the key bits of information needed to keep us connected to the characters we knew way back when. Some fans have managed the leap just fine. But for others, the leap has been too far, and this late in the game it’s unlikely that we’re really going to be given the snippets of information that will emotionally connect comic-book Buffy with TV show Buffy.

2. The Public’s view of Vampires and Slayers. For me it’s not hard to see how the public could come to hate slayers. If a high-tech army set up shop in a castle near me and the soldiers were these super-powered beings who go around killing things, I might have some issues with them myself.   It’s harder to know what to make of the idea that vampires are out and are generally liked. The most common rejoinder to this complaint is that it drafts of the current vampire craze in popular culture. The reply to the rejoinder is that there’s a difference between thinking fictional vampires are cool and getting cuddly with actual reanimated corpses who are very prone to killing people.  A second common rejoinder to the complaint is that we spent years having the citizens of SD be in denial of the obvious vampire activity in their world. The reply to that rejoinder is that there’s a big difference between willfully not seeing evil, and deciding it is cute and you want a date with it. Predators and Prey is widely regarded as the worst arc of the season, and a big part of the problem is that the snippets of life in a world upside down didn’t do enough to make it plausible that the world could go upside down in that particular way. Allie has hinted that magic might be behind all of this, and that would fix the problem straight-up. Without some in-text explanation, the story is really making it difficult to suspend disbelief enough to go with the flow. 

3. Retreat. Speaking of difficulty suspending disbelief. Here I just have a string of questions about how Buffy’s plan makes sense. First and foremost, are we supposed to think it makes sense? Or is it supposed to show how muddy Buffy’s thinking is given the enormous stress she’s under? She decides the slayers should give up their power. Since when could slayer power be shrugged off like that? She has to give up power because that’s how Twilight is tracking her. OK. But importing arms is going to not be noticed when you’ve got a military opponent with lots of high-tech gear? Has she not seen 24? Does she not know that a half-way competent intelligence operation should be able to track down a bunch of mostly Caucasian women in Tibet trafficking in arms? Given that the power-down is at best a band-aid, why are they sitting around farming? Yes, you can fill in the blanks on this – but I’m left with no idea whether we are supposed to believe this is the best Buffy could come up with or whether we’re supposed to read it as signs that Buffy’s actually hit a pretty defeatist mentality and isn’t thinking very hard. 

Along with the problematic nature of Operation Sitting Duck, we’ve got the tweaks to the mythology involved in Buffy and the slayers just being able to shuck off their power. Perhaps to put an exclamation point on the bending of the mythos to suit the needs of the plot, we’ve literally got goddesses ex machina  to come in and fight when Operation Sitting Duck issues in the exact result any rational person would have expected. Yes, the mythology always bends to meet the needs of the plot, but it needs to be done in a way that brings the audience with it, and in Retreat I just flat got kicked out of the story. The writers were too visibly making things up to fit what they dramatically thought they needed and I found it impossible to care about the resulting predicament the characters found themselves in.

Finally, we hit the big emotional moment where Buffy really is out there leading her army against humans, and we don’t get anything like the dramatic punch crossing that huge line ought to have had. We did finally get to deal a bit with that issue in Turbulence when we see that these ‘evil’ army guys are just normal dudes trying to do right. But this ought to have been a big moment in Buffy’s story and it really was down-played.

4. Instead we get swept up in Twilight. Buffy’s got superpowers. I’ve already said it makes sense to go there if you want to do commentary on the comic book genre. My problem is I’ve got no idea what that commentary might be. Meltzer’s jokes are nice shout-outs to comic book geeks, but I can’t get any more mileage out of it than that. Here’s hoping it’s a development that will have some meat to it, but right now, I’ve got nothing.

The universe has been forcing this Twilight event. OK. As noted above, this does have some meta aspects that are interesting. But the exposition feels very forced, and this is already in a story where bending the mythos to fit the story has already stretched suspension of disbelief a lot.   In story, how does this make sense?   Why would the universe ‘want’ to ‘evolve’ in this way?  And we’re missing a lot of nuts and bolts stuff. Why exactly does Buffy get powered up at the end of Retreat? Why did Angel get powered up before she did? It’s not too hard to see why Buffy is the super special slayer, but is Angel a super special vampire in his own right, or is he just Buffy’s main squeeze? #35 was advertized as delivering the big picture on all of this, and all I can say is mission NOT accomplished. I’ve got no idea what’s going on with any of this stuff. Here’s hoping it will make sense once we get through Joss’s arc.

5. In addition to just having a hard time understanding what rules the ‘verse works by anymore, Twilight throws in the big hard question of what we are to make of Angel.   Again, we’ve been told that #35 would give us enough to know so that we could form independent judgments of where Angel is at.   Alas, I still have no clue. Yes, you can go back to some places and see that Twilight wasn’t the evil guy he seemed. He probably sabotaged that missile in ToYL. But why didn’t he tell Buffy what he was up to so she could keep the slayers who did get killed from getting killed? There are too many places where it’s not remotely obvious Angel was doing the best he could to stem the tide against slayers.   If all we are going to get is Angel’s say-so on this, it’s not enough for me to make sense of what we’ve been shown.   In Retreat,  he’s got Buffy so much on the ropes that we are supposed to think Operation Sitting Duck is the best she can do – how is that stemming the tide? And are we supposed to think it’s good that he let a lot of human soldiers get killed when their own general wanted to retreat them out of harm’s way? I could go on and on.   Twilight has been sold to us as evil for 33 issues, and a few bubbles aren’t enough to move Angel into the ‘good’ column. But if it’s not supposed to move him into the ‘good’ column, what are we to make of Buffy’s singular lack of concern with the inadequacy of the few bubbles which are all she got before going from trying to kill him to boinking him to another dimension?

6. How does this Angel square with the Angel who’s been off on his own series for several years now? Above all, how does Connor fit into all of this? Is Connor still alive? If so, how to explain Angel’s shocking indifference to the fate of the world he and Buffy left behind? Again, we’re told we are going to get more story on this, but as of now it’s not adding up.

7. How does the epic saga of Buffy and Angel fit into a season that has been about the consequences of the slayer spell?   Let’s leave aside the problem that for those of us who don’t believe in eternal destined love, it’s a bit bizarre to find out that Buffy and Angel are still the It couple of the ‘verse. Some of us had thought that their decision to lead separate lives for years without making the slightest effort to undo the one big obstacle to their eternal love (his detachable soul) suggested that they’d in fact decided to go their separate ways, with some fond memories and some sort of abiding ‘love’. All of a sudden after being dormant for years, their love affair is the center of the story, and indeed the entire verse.    Let’s leave that aside, and assume that the fans who think B/A are the It couple have just had this right and the rest of us have had it wrong. Within the context of the season, how does it make sense for Angel to take a prominent role in a story about the world’s reaction to the army of slayers? It feels like the season is literally broken into two right now.   Usually when there’s a big twist like the Twangel reveal, it adds layers to what’s come before. I’ve been sitting with it for months and I’ve still got no answer to people who think that the B/A love story burst in pretty much out of nowhere.

I could go on, but I’ve already gone on far too long. I continue to hope that Joss’s arc will address enough of these questions so that I can feel like I’m looking at a coherent story, one worth thinking about. But right now, I’ve got far too many questions. In BtVS, it’s always worth thinking about the story. In Dollhouse, it turned out to not add up and not really be worth a ton of hard thought (though kudos to those who get something from that show). For me, Joss can be a wonderful writer, but he’s not infallible.  I give exactly even odds on season 8. Maybe it’ll make sense and be great. Maybe it won’t.

The last thing worth remarking on is the issue that doesn’t bother me that much, and that’s the question of how feminism is faring so far. Compared to the opening issues of AtF, I don’t think there’s anything like the problem with the objectification of women’s bodies that can happen in the comics in season 8. But there are places where that envelope is pushed – bubble baths, Dawn’s rather frequent nudity. I can see why it bothers some people. We don’t yet know what to make of the renewal of Buffy-Angel,  but I’m still not understanding why Buffy didn’t have a rather huge problem with his explanation that he’d decide to masquerade as her worst enemy to save slayers rather than to bring her into the loop on all of that. That’s not exactly respecting the woman’s position as the leader of the army in question.  There’s a real tension between the slayer army as metaphor for women’s liberation (with season 8 as a saga of backlash) and slayer army as a darker metaphor for people using violence to fix a world in a way that ends up being destabilizing. Feminism isn’t high on my agenda, but this is another arena where Joss’s arc will make a great deal of difference in terms of whether we can still see Buffy as a fundamentally feminist-friendly show. I think it’s too soon to think Joss has forgotten that he cares about feminism; but if this was all the story we were going to get, I think it would be a fair complaint.

And so I conclude where I started.   I’ll know in January (assuming #40 actually comes out then) what I think. In the meantime, I’m just sitting here on the fence.

 
 
 
( 70 comments — Leave a comment )
woman_of_: Angelwoman_of_ on May 27th, 2010 04:33 am (UTC)
Very interesting meta. I like that you gave an impartial view, without strong shipper bias.

I found a few hurdles myself. I was not the biggest critic of Season Eight to begin with, but was increasingly dismayed by it. Not only the comic it's self, but also how Dark Horse marketed it, and SA an GJ's answers in Q&A sessions. That was my main concern. They seemed to dismiss real concerns about where the story arc was going and concentrated on stiring a shipper war, leaving me wondering if the whole myth behind BtVS was being thrown away for the more superficial aspects of the show.

Maybe JW can pull it back, but I'm concerned it is a large undertaking in such a short time. I'm worried we will still be unsatisfied by the end of Season Eight.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

The marketing has been a whole other kettle of fish. I've found the Q&A's have really accented the negative for me. I agree it's hard to see what Whedon can do in five issues -- but he's had this planned the whole time, so one hopes that he had an actual plan!!
Fenchurch: Sunnydalefenchurche on May 27th, 2010 04:51 am (UTC)
I think you've done a fantastic job of outlining all the things that have... perplexed (for lack of a better term) me in Season 8. The longer it's gone on, the more I've had to struggle to see my beloved characters in the ones we're being presented. I think it would have helped a whole lot if we'd been shown how, exactly, they ended up where they are now mentally and emotionally.

I'll admit, I quit buying the comics ages ago. I've picked up a few of the graphic novels, but for the most part, I've been borrowing the individual comics from other people, simply because I haven't been able to immerse myself in the story like I'd hoped, for all the reasons you listed.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I've remained invested -- but it's a weird investment, since as I say, I don't emotionally connect with the characters that much (whereas on BtVS, obviously, I did).
Beer Good: Season 8beer_good_foamy on May 27th, 2010 06:17 am (UTC)
Very nicely put. There are some points where we disagree and some I think could be more emphasized - especially with regards to the sloppiness of the last few arcs - but I think you can guess what they are :-) and on a whole I think you've done a great job outlining the pros and cons of the comics.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I could have elaborated more on the sloppiness, but the essay was running long as it is, so I didn't go into as much gory detail as I might have liked.
flake_sakeflake_sake on May 27th, 2010 07:44 am (UTC)
Great essay! You really summed it up nicely, also I found my own reaction in the enthusiasm for the first two arcs and the decline of same during the last three arcs.

I disagree on some points (Dawn) but mostly I think your assesment is a very fair critical (but not prematurely so) look at the comics.

I guess I feel more betrayed by the lack of feminism in the Buffy because of the stadards the show set and fails to measure up to here.

Another big chunk to me is the pacing and the overrelying on the finish. S4 had in my opinion a fairly bad finish, but I still love the season, it had great episodes. In S8 the individual arcs are too weak in my opinion. The first one was ok, the second was really good and then it started to go down, the third was funny but not much else, and after that there came no arcs that I'd see as working as standalones.

Edited at 2010-05-27 09:38 am (UTC)
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
Season 4 is actually one of my favorite seasons, though the arc itself is quite weak. The focus isn't on the Initiative, it's on the group dynamics, and I think it's pretty tightly written on that front.

But I agree there's a problem with so much pushed off to the end here. Especially for those of us unfortunate enough to be reading as it's released. It'll be nigh on 4 years by the time we're done, and that's ridickerous. My generosity is premised mostly on the thought of what it would be like to read it all at once if you stumbled on the series after it's done. And there I think it could work. We'll see.

I'm not ready to call lack of feminism until the end. But if we don't get Angel bitch-slapped for being a patronising bastard I'll be pretty unhappy. I'm not persuaded so much on the eye-candy question, mostly because as far as I can tell the young girls of today typically dress the way Jeanty is depicting them. That leaves bubble bath and some Dawn nudity, and I can see it pushing into objectionable territory, but it doesn't get me riled up. Emmie's right in her comment below that AtF isn't the best comparison, but just to establish my credentials as someone who can get riled up, I think what happened to the depiction of women's bodies there was completely disgraceful.
(no subject) - flake_sake on May 27th, 2010 02:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
ubi4softubi4soft on May 27th, 2010 08:03 am (UTC)
Thanks for this concisely summed it up.

If it is the case that Buffy knows, how hard would it have been to drop in a bubble or two and say so? Maybe give an inkling of how she reacted? We can see the bottom line – Spike’s not in her life.

This would be the letdown I suppose (doing so just to keep specific fans interested). I just hope Spike will show no crappy jealousy about it.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I so hope we don't just get crappy jealousy from Spike!!
Emmie: Season 8 - The Chainangearia on May 27th, 2010 08:45 am (UTC)
I agree with much here and I'm glad you took it upon you to write this essay.

Compared to the opening issues of AtF, I don’t think there’s anything like the problem with the objectification of women’s bodies

Here's the thing. AtS is not feminist. It fridges all it's women. It turns women into vehicles to be burned from the inside out to give birth and then die.

AtS is not feminist. At all. The way all the powerful women end irrevocably undercuts whatever power they may have grasped in their journey--their horrific deaths define them (Cordy's being one of the saddest to me, Fred's too, all lost their agency as they ended). It shows women in negative lights, in some ways more horrific than the average societal view.

BtVS is feminist often, sometimes faltering, but still upholding the struggle of women. And Chosen, however flawed, is about women not bowing down. Buffy is a figure of empowerment, not for being the Slayer, but for episodes like Helpless where she constantly throws herself in the line for others, where she's strong, respected, the leader.

So finding AtF has bad representations of women is... more of the same. It's expected. The show did much worse in how Darla, Cordelia and Fred all died by horrific birth.

BtVS... doesn't use women the way AtS does. So it's not the same. I think I recall you saying you viewed the 'verse as one entity at one point. Maybe I'm not remembering this right? But perhaps this is where the dissonance between your and my views arise--I don't see the two shows as so irrevocably linked that their destinies in thematic relevance relie upon each other. Where BtVS can claim to feminist themes, feminist moments and feminist ideals, AtS largely fails again and again.

So a continuation of Season 8 shouldn't be measured against AtF. It should be measured against BtVS. Season 8 isn't connected to AtF in any way shape or form (that's been driven home many times). So it doesn't serve that it's a suitable comparison. Just because AtF does it worse, just because there are so many comics that do it worse, doesn't somehow make it okay that BtVS' comic continuation is now doing worse compared to where it stood in the depiction of representing women's bodies in the show.

The point is that BtVS by its later seasons upheld a more respectful representation of women by not having gratuitous partial nudity. Now, you cannot read Season 8 without partial nudity taking over the images. My particular favorite is that Buffy is wearing that toga which bares her sides in strips of flesh while Angel is completely 100% covered. I'm assuming that dress was how Angel wished to see her. Not naked, but not clothed quite enough. It's amusing just as it's disappointing that Buffy's sexuality needs to be on display, as if to remind us that Buffy is hot, that all these Slayers are hot. Meanwhile, Xander has one scene without his shirt on, then nevermore shows his skin even though he's apparently buffed up and maybe the lady readers would like some eye candy. Or some Giles in his robe, or muscular Dracula.

So it's not about what AtF is. It's about what BtVS was. And it wasn't this. It was better than this.

Edited at 2010-05-27 08:56 am (UTC)
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:38 pm (UTC)
That's a good point. Though I think the anti-feminism on AtS wasn't so much in the gratuitous exhibition of female flesh, which AtF had in spades -- not to mention the ludicrous proportions. Oddly I got some push back for complaining about the objectification of women in AtF with people saying that's just how it's done in comic-land.

But you're right, BtVS should be held to a higher standard. And I'm with you on the toga, which is the one time I did think Buffy was gratuitously showing some skin. But as I just said to Nix, much of the rest of what you are calling out, I just see as being a depiction of how girls dress these days. What can I say? There are a lot of women who don't see any value to leaving some things to the imagination. I also think you are missing the form-fitting nature of Xander's one outfit. I can go a step down the road with you (toga, some of the covers, bubble bath) -- but you are much further down that road than I can see my way to going.

Where I do have my axes ready is if Buffy doesn't feel compelled to call Angel on this "me protective man will go behind your back to protect your army for you. And by the way will do a craptastic job of it while I'm at it" thing. If we are in any way to see Angel as her Twu Wuv and his actions as Twangel unobjectionable on the feminist front I'll be heap big angry.

(no subject) - beer_good_foamy on May 27th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - angearia on May 27th, 2010 11:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - beer_good_foamy on May 28th, 2010 06:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - angearia on May 28th, 2010 07:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 on May 27th, 2010 02:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Just pointing out something - (Anonymous) on May 27th, 2010 09:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Just pointing out something - 2maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 10:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Elena: Scoobiesmoscow_watcher on May 27th, 2010 09:14 am (UTC)
Very interesting meta.

If it is the case that Buffy knows, how hard would it have been to drop in a bubble or two and say so? Maybe give an inkling of how she reacted?

I think that the lack of information is a conscious shipper bait. Because if they say "Buffy doesn't care about Spike" they'd lose a sizable chunk of the audience.

I’ve already said it makes sense to go there if you want to do commentary on the comic book genre.

I think that Meltzer wanted exactly this, but Joss strove for a different goal. He's interested in the problem of the absolute power. Maybe reflecting on America's hegemony in current political situation.

Season 7 slogan was "It's about power". I think that Joss decided to go further. To do it, he redically changed Buffy as a character, made her already corrupted with power. And then he exploited Buffy and other characters to service ideas he's currently interested in.

I may be wrong. It's just my impression.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
I think that the lack of information is a conscious shipper bait. Because if they say "Buffy doesn't care about Spike" they'd lose a sizable chunk of the audience.

Not sure how they did better by Spike fans by sidestepping the question all together. We've had to live with a Buffy who thinks very little about Spike for three years now.

I agree with your take on the different agendas of Meltzer and Joss -- and superpower as a commentary on superpowered nations is one I hadn't thought of. Cool!
(no subject) - treadingthedark on May 28th, 2010 01:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - 2maggie2 on May 28th, 2010 05:54 am (UTC) (Expand)
Mrs Darcy: Xacula by beer_good_foamyelisi on May 27th, 2010 09:17 am (UTC)
Good essay, thanks for writing it.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
fangfaceandreafangfaceandrea on May 27th, 2010 09:49 am (UTC)
Yes!! This is how I've been feeling mostly, except you don't get angry and are very eloquent about your reactions/feelings. :)

Mostly, I have to agree on the disconnection I feel towards the characters in general, but have to point out I did like Predators and pray because it gave Andrew a backbone and I like how he and Buffy bonded there.

I have to confess that the Twilight plot didn't ever pull me in and I was just reading for the characters, but now It feels like the characters are being sacrificed for a story I don't care for so I'm pretty hopeless about the whole thing.

Edited at 2010-05-27 09:49 am (UTC)
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

I agree that the Twilight plot is making the characters seem remote.

I actually like three of the issues of Predators and Prey, including the Andrew issue. But taken as a whole it was the chance to sell us on this crazy world, and I'm still not seeing it.
Shapinglightshapinglight on May 27th, 2010 11:39 am (UTC)
This is a fair and even-minded assessment of the comic so far. I don't agree with everything you say, obviously, (am far less fond of NFFY than you), but it's nice to see both strengths and weaknesses of the series stated so even-handedly.

Thanks, Maggie.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

If I recall, the ridiculous depiction of England was your problem with NFFY? It doesn't kick me out of the story, but I can see why it could. It was quite silly.
(no subject) - shapinglight on May 27th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - angearia on May 28th, 2010 12:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - shapinglight on June 2nd, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Lirazel: [btvs] smackdownpenny_lane_42 on May 27th, 2010 02:26 pm (UTC)
I have to admit that I've only skimmed this (no doubt I'll revisit it in depth at a later date), but it looks really solid to me. I always, always appreciate your thoughts on the comics: you're intelligent and insightful and your reviews are fantastic to read.

That said...I agree with angearia on the feminist issues. As usual.

Also, perhaps I overlooked it in my scanning, but do you talk about pacing any in here? Because that seems to me to be one of its greatest weaknesses and one that hasn't been talked about much in the wider discussions outside of lj.
norwie2010norwie2010 on May 27th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
I wrote a short piece (rant is probably more appropriate) about timing differences between the TV show and the comics. Which, to me, has a lot to do with awkward, or maybe unfamiliar, pacing (my latest LJ entry).
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 on May 27th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - 2maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 on May 27th, 2010 06:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
norwie2010norwie2010 on May 27th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you Maggie for your insightful essay. You give a lot of food for thought as usual.

Just like you, i feel we do have different (powerful) stories mixed up in season 8 (power, backlash, "good" vs. "bad" and the differentiation, pulp romance) and - as others - i fear that it won't come together in the end. Compared to the TV show time we have a single episode left (maybe a double episode, if Whedon and Jeanty really pull a genius here) to wrap up a lot of things: romance, public vampires, the universe, twilight, the army, group dynamics, Angel fallout, Spike fallout, DFW, etcpp.

I just don't see how this could all be explained even halfway (possibly to be expanded on in season 9) - and then i look back at the existing 35 issues and search for hints how things were wrapped up in the past. Well, they weren't. But i'm with you that there are interesting themes which could actually make a head-over-feet story work.

Your wonderful essay leaves me with a minor bone to pick:

You say that going superhero is coming naturally with the switch in medium, but i cannot follow you here. I mean, comics are a lot more than the superhero genre - one could make a point saying Buffy the TV show had to go the route of sitcom, to me, that makes equal sense.

Superpowers as a metaphor is valid - but i didn't see a metaphor here, all i saw was author wanking (called "referencing").

But really, that's just a minor point and probably has to do with me not being us-american.

Again, i thank you for your work and look forward to your writings once the season continues.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 05:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks!!

I think I said further down that while I could see superpowers making sense, I was having a hard time seeing any richness to it here. You put it well -- it's more wanking than metaphorical goodness at this point.
temporaryworldstemporaryworlds on May 27th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
Hey. I found a link to your essay over at Whedonesque, and I really have to agree with some of the things you've pointed out here. Although I really enjoyed the earlier arcs of Season 8 (especially NFFY), the last two have really confused me. The Twilight Arc in particular left me really frustrated. I just kept on telling myself "Trust Joss. He knows what he's doing" after every issue just got more and more confusing. When the arc was over, I still didn't think the entire thing made much sense and the "trust Joss" mantra was feeling a little tired. To be honest, I'm kinda glad we get this little break between the last five issues. I know after Twilight, I needed one, and the Serenity comic looks really good :)
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
It's always possible that we could get some key pieces of information that will make sense of what doesn't presently make sense. Unlike you, I'd rather not wait five months for it!! But maybe a break isn't a bad thing.
StephenT: buffy-S8stormwreath on May 27th, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC)
I think one of the problems with all of Joss's work is his tendency to throw random things into the mix because they seem cool. Sometimes that results in a work of genius, and other times it just ends up as a mess. And sometimes, I'm sure, the connections all make sense in his own mind, but are much less obvious to others.

However, with the first seven seasons we have the luxury of time and emotional distance; we can look back on them and see how the elements fit into the completed storyline, and dismiss the ones which never were explained properly (or attempt to fanwank them), and write meta about how the elaborate and seemingly-random plot threads all come together in the tapestry. Often, I'm sure, we read much more into it than Joss ever consciously intended to put there. But with hindsight, most of it makes sense and we can quietly draw a veil over the bits that didn't.

With Season 8, we can't do that yet. I'm sure the final arc will explain or reveal a lot of things; I'm equally sure it will leave a lot of frustrating gaps. But until we know which is which, we're just left floundering...

(and that was a great essay. Nicely balanced. :-))
2maggie22maggie2 on May 27th, 2010 10:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

I do agree that when the book is closed it'll be easier to focus on what's there rather than what's not. As someone who watched BtVS in a flash, I didn't have time to get too upset about threads that died out. I had the big picture and I liked it, and it was OK that there were obviously threads thrown down that never got developed.
Avreliaavrelia on May 27th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
interesting essay, thank you. I have to say, I haven't read the comics yet, but I read the meta. I guess I am waiting for the end to make my decision. So far it seems that the s8 might be a cool story by itself, but I don't see any connection - in what I read about their actions - with my beloved characters. than continuity thingy. I was pretty happy with where we were left at the end of BtVS and AtS, and suddenly have Buffy who is robbing banks looks like a bad fanfic to me. I wait, but I really don't trust it to be all explained though.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 28th, 2010 05:56 am (UTC)
I don't think all will be explained. My hope is that what they do try to do is worth putting up with what they don't do, if that makes any sense. I wish we could fast forward already to January, so I could know whether I should argue for you to dive in or not!!
(Anonymous) on May 27th, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC)
I've Sort Of Given Up
I'm still reading it, but, well, full disclosure, part of the reason is that I created a ficverse of my won in January 2002, set 20+ yearsin the future, which has steadily become more real to me than Joss's canon, and after Harmony's TV show, I could no longer reconcile Canonical Buffy with my sub-version.
My own OCD issues aside, I agree that the whoel vamp-chic thing seemed weak. AMybe there'd be some people like that, but there'd also be a counterr-reaction, with soem inevitable SLayer groupies. Not from Protestant or Muslim fundamentalists or Skeptical Inquirer types who would have no use for either, but by ordinary people. Even MArvel Comics had MONSTER as countervailing to anti-mutant hysteria, which makes more sense than vamp-chic/Slayer-bad.
Andyes, the whole Retreat to Tibet had so many bad foudnational premises I was glad I was already disengaged from it all.
DaddyCatALSO
2maggie22maggie2 on May 28th, 2010 05:57 am (UTC)
Re: I've Sort Of Given Up
Yeah, since when does the public get united behind one opinion? The whole point of the shows that they point to (Colbert, Anderson) is that people DISAGREE about things a lot.
gillo: hellmothgillo on May 27th, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
Here via Whedonesque -
how cool is that?
- and I'm pleased to see such a detailed, thoughtful analysis.

I agree with you about the potential the series had - and that, in many ways, it hasn't yet come close to meeting it. I take the feminist issue rather more seriously than you say you do, and I find the objectification of women's bodies uncomfortable from the opening frames of the first arc. There's far less male flesh than we had is the TV show, and far, far more female flesh. It's hard not to see it as playing to the stereotyped fanboy gallery.

What happens to Angel in the Twilight arc is very disturbing - not only is Connor no longer an issue, nor are any of the other survivors of NFA, which isn't mentioned. Nor are the core Scoobies who were explicitly central in Chosen. Does Angel really expect Buffy to abandon them? I suppose he might base that on Buffy's reckless abandon in IWRY, but that was many years ago now.

My other big beef with the comic is that many of the characters seem to have regressed to their S2 selves, and the hard lessons of the five intervening seasons seem to have vanished. It will take a very great deal to win me back at this point.

Joss is an extraordinarily talented man. I respect him, this side idolatry. But his greatest strengths to me seem to lie in assembling and guiding a team which works together - what we have had here may look superficially like that, but in fact there has been no real equivalent of a writers' room or a production crew. TV has the input of writers, whose work is crucial, yes, but also of actors who bring their own creativity to the mix, directors, lighting cameramen, designers. The result is greater than the sum of the parts - and in the comic book there have been fewer parts and a result which is less than it could have been.

I was so excited when I learned of the comics; my love for the Buffyverse is great and abiding. But so, now, is my disappointment.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 28th, 2010 05:58 am (UTC)
I agree with all of this, except I'm holding off on disappointment until the whole story is told. (Hope dies hard).
(no subject) - mikeda on May 28th, 2010 12:31 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Snick: Faith Gilessnickfic on May 27th, 2010 10:00 pm (UTC)
This a great survey of the comics' strengths and weaknesses so far. It's really nice to see it all summed up in one place.

And I absolutely agree about NFFY - it connects to the series emotionally the way nothing else in the comics has done. Plus, Faith and Giles! Together! Stroke of genius, I tell you.

Thank you for this excellent essay.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 28th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
Thanks! And I *so* love Faith/Giles. I should have added that to my list of disappointments -- they should have given us the Faith/Giles honeymoon arc, darn it!
(no subject) - snickfic on May 28th, 2010 11:46 am (UTC) (Expand)
Colleen: Suicidal Spikeredeem147 on May 27th, 2010 11:23 pm (UTC)
Here via Whedonesque, to say this is an excellent analysis. You've expressed my feelings about the comics in a way I couldn't begin myself. Well done, and thank you.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 28th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
Thanks!!
probablecylon on May 28th, 2010 05:49 am (UTC)
Just watched & listened to the commentary for "Objects in Space", the last Firefly ep, and it was fascinating to hear Joss explaining his own 16-year-old epiphany about the existence of objects & the way this played into how he wrote this particular ep, and the construction of the set of the Serenity as a houselike structure, a re-affirmation that Joss' entire work depends on treating objects in space, not illustrations on a page. He mentioned (as he mentioned in the commentary for "Restless") his own literalness in writing -- tho' he didn't recognize that, just as River & Early are outsiders who see objects in a different way than the crew of Serenity see them, so is he: and basically, a comic book is an utterly object-less, non-existential space -- the entire set of antinomies which Joss discusses in this particular commentary are necessarily missing in the picture-books, and we only generously lent our sense of loyalty to Joss to them -- but Joss HIMSELF doesn't realize that this is an airless space in which his own word-balloons are void of words.


2maggie22maggie2 on May 28th, 2010 06:01 am (UTC)
I hope you're not right about that -- but if the comics fail this would be as good an explanation as any I've heard for how Joss managed to misfire so badly.
(no subject) - probablecylon on May 28th, 2010 08:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
local_max on May 28th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
Wonderful essay! I've been holding off because I've been hoping that, in a flash, I would find something brilliant and witty to add. So far, no dice. If I have time and energy I might write my own post eventually about my personal thrills and disappointments with season eight, which seem to be quite often at right angles to much of lj. (For example, I think Willow has had amazing material and a great continuation of the ambiguous/open ending she had in "Chosen," making a virtue of the incompleteness of her S7 arc and of the lack of chemistry in Willow/Kennedy, particularly in Joss' stories, but to explain why I feel that way might be beyond my capabilities.)

With regards to 1: One of the exciting discoveries for me when I read LWH was that Buffy hadn't sorted out her issues with the Scoobies and herself. She had sorted out things with Xander, but we already figured that out from "End of Days," but her relationship with Willow was not what it had been before season six, and nor would it be. It evolved. She still feels difficulty connecting, indicating that her central late-season issues had not been resolved in one grand gesture. I like your observation that Buffy is still somewhat opaque at the series' end: whether or not that was the intention at the time season seven was written, I think Joss has a clear-eyed view of the aspects of her story (i.e. her partial but possibly incomplete acceptance of her own darkness--"you can't fight what's inside you") that were left hanging.

I agree with your 2 and 3, and also agree with you that it's uncertain at the moment how things will pay off. I think that depending on where season nine goes, it's not necessary for everything in the Buffy the Terrorist or Buffy & Angel, Universe's Chosen Couple to pay off within Joss' arc, but it has to be at least clear where the story/metaphor is.

I'm a bit curious as to your comments about Dawn. I've liked Dawn this season but am not clear on her arc. Is it the movement from victim of transformations to using her transformations for good (e.g. the fight with Mecha-Dawn in WatG and her saving Xander by letting him ride her in ToYL)?

I also like Harmonic Divergence out of proportion to the way it's been received. I don't blame that issue for the weirdness of the Public Loves Vampires plot, for various reasons, and I think you hit the nail on the head in your review about the various ways that issue plays with spin and morality in great, funny Espensonian fashion.

Negatives:

1. Agreed, though I haven't had as hard a time as you getting emotionally invested in the comics, for whatever reason.

2. Part of the problem with Predators and Prey is that it was conceived as a kind of ant's view of the garden: Harmony, Kennedy & Satsu, Simone, and Giles & Faith are not in a position to see what the majority of the people see and understand about vampires. This is in principle a reasonable way to present a game-changer, by having different characters see different perspectives on it. The problem is that we never got the big picture view. And since the big picture seems impossible to accept without resorting to magic, well, yes, problem.

3. Yes. To an extent I'd add that it's a bit of a waste of a return of Oz, though that's a very minor point in comparison to everything else. I did like the emotional stuff in Part 3 and some of the other material. The plot is, um, nonsensical, yes.

4. Well said--there's commentary, but what is the commentary?

5. Pretty much.

6. I think aycheb has mentioned the idea that Angel, having seen Connor die in AtF (yes, yes, I don't want it to be canon either, but go with it) would willingly remake him in heaven rather than have to watch him perish again. And certainly Angel did it before. The problem is that without a reference to this, it's way too big a fanwank for me to get on board with it. I think Angel is often wrong, and he killed Connor 1.0 to get Connor 2.0 before, but I couldn't see him killing perfectly good Connor 2.0 even if he got Connor infinity.0 to work with.

7. I don't really get it either.
local_max on May 28th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
As a final point: the issues that Joss himself has written, LWH, ABH, ABS, ToYL, Turbulence, and the Willow one-shot, may have problems and may have judgment mistakes. But I found all of them very dense, interesting, true to the characters and the created world. So for me personally, I am expecting that even if it doesn't save the season from the last two or three arcs plotwise, I will at least enjoy Joss' final arc. This alone is helping me look forward to it and keeping me cautiously optimistic.
(no subject) - 2maggie2 on May 28th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mikeda on May 28th, 2010 11:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
aychebaycheb on May 28th, 2010 10:05 pm (UTC)
Good summary and evidence for the quality lies in me feeling that we've already argued out the points I'd like to argue if I'd come across it for the first time.

It's funny, I had exactly the same moment of clarity feeling on seeing the bank robbing scene for the first time but a very different take on how it clarified and Retreat is probably my favourite arc. Nevertheless I share your concern about how the big Bangle plot twist (although it's always amusing when history repeats itself as farce) will tie in with the rather more interesting Slayers-Humanity and Buffy-Celebrity issues that were raised earlier.
2maggie22maggie2 on May 29th, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks!

Remind me why Retreat is your favorite arc... I'd love to hear a positive perspective on it.

I'm fairly confident that the Bangel twist will tie in -- since it's apparently a key plot point that the season is built around, and I maintain my perhaps naive assumption that there's a good reason for that. Though I should say, I've been trying to leverage that thought into any kind of insight about what's going on and have gotten exactly nowhere. Haven't given up, though. The point of listing it was just to say that if there ends up being no tie-in, it'd be a pretty major flaw with the season as a whole.
(no subject) - aycheb on May 29th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - 2maggie2 on June 13th, 2010 08:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - aycheb on June 13th, 2010 10:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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chianazhaan on July 9th, 2011 02:02 pm (UTC)
Season Eight at the Seventh Inning Stretch – a View from the Fence
This is a pretty good overview of season 8. I don't agree with some of the things you pointed out as "good", but... *shrugs shoulders*

For myself I can say that while I’ve been intellectually invested in the comics, it is also the case that I’m emotionally-disconnected.

I had this from issue 1 onwards. It hasn't changed since.

2. It’s ambitious. The world has changed, and so has the medium. I think that’s a central issue of season 8. The slayer spell is the explicit matter. The new medium and the shift in metaphor is the implicit matter. BtVS always has had a layer of commentary on genres, and now it’s moved on to the comic book genre. Of course Buffy ends up with superpowers – how else could that self-awareness that’s a trademark of the story continue? More interesting to me is the signal shift in the metaphor.

Interesting comment on the implicit changes to the Buffy-verse. The problem is, it only works if you know/understand/identify that. The same is true for the shift in metaphor. The comic should probably come with an advisory: "This comic should only be read by American citizens." Because I've read more comics without superpowers than with superpowers. Or it should have included a recommended reading list to understand the story.

Thanks for your thoughts.
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