Brian K. Vaughn-- comics auteur, screenwriter...magician?

That's the conclusion I'm led to by the latest issue of Buffy Season Eight, Joss Whedon's return to the book after Vaughn's four-issue arc, and one whose quantum leap in quality from Whedon's previous work on the title suggests just how much having a comics pro around raised everyone's game. After a slow start, Vaughn's arc turned out to be a fabulous delight. In part, this might have been because he focused on two of the Buffyverse's most interesting characters, Faith and Giles, whose violent pasts and prickly personalities generated more interesting stories than the rather dull, heavy-handed Slayer Army of Whedon's first five issues; in part, it's because getting away from the core group and going to Cleveland and London opened up the story space, and really exemplified the kind of "global narrative" of Slayerhood that Whedon's been telling without showing; and partially it's because Vaughn has years of experience creating and writing such wonderful books as Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man, and Runaways, and has (at least for now) a much better sense of how to achieve the kinds of cinematic and televisual effects in comic form that Whedon was grasping for in the first five issues, but never quite getting. Vaughn's villains were richer, his dialogue tighter, and his vision of Faith and Giles as a contemporary Steed & Peel spot-on. And the closing pages of his final issue were wonderfully chilling and complex, the best comics translation yet of the kind of prickly emotions the Buffy TV series was so good at exploring, and the first evidence that the show's brilliant aesthetic might really work in this different medium.

I was sorry to see him go, but I'm happy to report that Whedon's return to writing chores (before Buffy and Angel writer Drew Goddard takes over for a multi-issue arc) is a smashing success, and a fine continuation of the various issues-- friendship, loyalty, interpretation of motive, betrayal-- that Vaughn's run highlighted; that it happened in an issue that was heavy with my least-favorite character, the passive-aggressive wiccan Willow, makes his achievement all the more impressive. The issue's title, "Anywhere But Here," is a reference to a game we see Buffy and Willow briefly playing in the Sunnydale High courtyard in Season Two-- what is your fantasy of where you'd rather be right now? They play this game in the issue's opening pages, but it becomes a metaphor throughout the issue, as we see Buffy, Willow, Dawn, Xander, and the others wrestling with the toll that full-time Slayage duty has taken. As in Vaughn's arc, breaking up the core group and letting them have separate moments is a good move, since it allows greater insight into their emotions and (paradoxically) their bonds with one another. I won't spoll any of the details, but Whedon's ability with flashbacks and cross-cutting is much smoother here than in previous issues, and I really enjoyed the way he answered some lingering questions while raising a whole host of others, neatly folding the program's history into the comic's ongoing narrative. I also really liked Cliff Richards' art: apparently, he was the artist on an earlier Buffy series Dark Horse published several years ago. I never read that one, but his art here is wonderful, the best visual translation of the characters the book has seen yet, and it enhances the feeling that, after a slow, slightly rough start, Whedon and company are really starting to click on all cylinders, and that Buffy Season Eight might actually live up to its vast promise.


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