08 September 2009

Buffy Season 8, Issue #28 "Strength without Powers"

Spoilers Ahead

I approached Buffy #28 with a serious sense of trepidation. In my last review I mentioned that I was worried about the Slayers de-magicking themselves and losing all their powers, so when I saw the cover--featuring former Slayers, and even Willow, as Tibetan farmhands--I have to admit I was worried. My worries turned out to be founded, but for different reasons.

So the Slayers (and Willow) are indeed using meditation and hard physical labour to slowly and permanently release their magic by letting it be absorbed by the earth. Yes, they just want to be normal girls--the kind who settle down and have babies and bake cupcakes. But they apparently also want to keep fighting, so they're training to fight without magic. But if unmagical people--even an army of them--can fight vampires and demons, why did the world need a Slayer in the first place? And won't the world just end up needing one again? But maybe that's the point, as well as the explanation for the state of the world in Fray's time. Still, if they're going to fight anyway, why not hang on to every advantage they can get? And if they're going to fight anyway, how normal a life can they really have? Not to mention that "normal" is highly overrated, but more on that in a bit...

While the Slayers are busy trying to be just like everyone else (yawn), Andrew picks up a video camera à la Storyteller and uses it to suss out the spy he believes is in their midst. At first I really loved that they reprised this classic Andrew episode; he's ridiculously fun to watch/read when he's being his obnoxiously geeky self. But the more I thought about it, the more it annoyed me. So, the best part of the comic was a rehash of an episode on the TV series? Really? Even less impressive: Jane Espenson wrote both the comic and the episode in question.

And now that I think about it, didn't Jane Espenson also have something to do with the uber lame finale of Battlestar Galactica in which the remaining humans decided to swap civilization for the fantastic caveman lifestyle (why have art and technology when you can have a sharp stick and a life expectancy of 25)? (By the way, IMDb confirms she was exec producer.) Kids, if anyone ever tries to tell you weakness and mediocrity are preferable to strength and an exceptional life, do me a favour and bitch slap them back to their hippie ashram. Trust me--the world will be better for it.

While we're on the subject, any time the writers want to stop stressing that the Scoobies might just maybe still have a chance to have a "life" (if they only give up their powers), that would be fine with me. What about fighting evil and saving the world countless times does not constitute having a life? If the only thing that qualifies as "a life" is the aforementioned cupcakes and babies, then I'll take a so-called non-life, thanks. It also makes me wonder why writers who don't even seem to grasp the concept of Buffy keep getting handed the reins. In a story about heroes, why are our characters constantly being exhorted to think small? Our fantastic 'verse is suddenly becoming very mundane.

Speaking of which, there's also a subplot about Buffy finally seeing Xander as a potential love interest, only to *cue dramatic music* walk in on him kissing Dawn. Again I say: really? The show always had some strong soap opera tendencies, but they used to be fun (not to mention interesting and often creative). I hate to say this because I absolutely love Buffy, but this issue comes off like it was written using the Hack Writer's Handbook, rather than the prodigious talent of the Whedonverse mainstays. It's depressing. Worse--it's insulting. If this is the best you can offer fans, what's the point?

By the way, I think Joss should make a sizeable donation to a cat rescue organization, given his continuous negative portrayals of cats through the years. First, he insults the feline world by having Cordelia (before she was tolerable) dress as a cat for Halloween. Then there's the unfortunate incident involving Miss Kitty Fantastico and a crossbow (thankfully, only mentioned in passing). Now in this issue we suddenly have a cat appear among the Scoobies, so of course we instantly know the cat's the spy (okay, maybe not instantly--but as soon as the cat made a second appearance, one in which it was mean to a friendly dog, its purpose became glaringly--and disappointingly--obvious). Apparently Amy morphed herself into a cat, and then decided to teleport back to Twilight (in front of everyone, no less. So, you know, they can have some advance warning) just in time for the big cliffhanger ending. But as I was saying, since Joss and co. have decided to perpetuate the notion that cats are evil/trouble/entertaining in their suffering, maybe he could balance his karma a little and do some damage control.

There was one thing I did like about this issue: Buffy's Sesame Street Count t-shirt. Any idea where I could get me one of those?

Anyway, this is one weak issue in what has so far been an overwhelmingly good series, so maybe I shouldn't criticize too harshly. But weak issues are troubling because by now the writers should have the hang of it. Storylines should be getting better, not worse. Lame "twists" should be recognizable from a mile off and assiduously avoided. Reusing past plot devices should not be considered a substitute for good writing. This kind of downward spiral is easy to fall into and far too difficult to recover from. I've seen it too many times. Let's hope Buffy doesn't keep sliding.

Text Bites

Andrew: I will begin with a little tour. And a little examination of a certain stranger who is suddenly all up in our midst.

Oz: Every time you do a spell, you're manipulating energy, right? You're pulling energy from all around you and you're compressing it, pressing it so tight that eventually it explodes.
Willow: If you say so...
Oz: We're just trying to teach you not to bottle up the poison inside you.
Willow: But without the poison, what am I?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Issue #28 "Strength without Powers"; art by Georges Jeanty and written by Jane Espenson. From Dark Horse Comics.

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