Category: Fantasy


I love Stephen King. Anyone who read my review of Under the Dome (his best novel in nearly twenty years) knows just how much I’m willing to defend Stephen King’s legacy as one of America’s most prolific and (yes) talented authors. His Dark Tower saga is one of my three favorite book series of all time (the other two are A Song of Ice and Fire and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels). So, when Stephen King announced a while back that he was working on another Dark Tower novel, I was filled with a layer of excitement and trepidation. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be a sequel but instead it was going to fit in between Wizard and Glass (my favorite of the Dark Tower novels) and Wolves of the Calla which was good because there was no way that a sequel to the final book’s controversial ending was going to please anyone. However, it’s been so long since Stephen King had written any Dark Tower material that I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to get back into the flow of the novels. Since the vast majority of The Wind Through the Keyhole doesn’t even feature everyone’s favorite ka-tet of Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and (of course) Oy, it was a moot concern. The Wind Through the Keyhole is a return to the world that has moved on  known as Mid-World, but it functions more as an opportunity for Stephen King to craft an excellent modern fairy tale (in a way only he could accomplish) than as a chance to see more of our favorite heroes. So, if you’re expecting more gunslinger adventures, you’ll be disappointed but if you allow yourself to be taken on Stephen King’s fairy tale journey, you’ll find it to be a highly enjoyable and fun read.

After escaping the machinations of Randall Flagg in Emerald City at the end of Wizard and Glass (which marked the formal beginning of the invasion of modern pop culture into Roland’s world that became the driving force of Wolves of the Calla), Roland and his ka-tet make their journey to Call Bryn Sturges along the Path of the Beam on their ultimate quest to find the Dark Tower. However, the bumbler Oy begins to suffer from strange symptoms and while Roland at first thinks it means they’re being followed, he quickly remembers (with the help of a ferryman) that Oy is trying to warn the ka-tet that a massive (and fatal) snow storm/tornado called a “starkblast” is making a beeline in their general direction. The ka-tet takes up shelter in a church in an abandoned ghost town to survive the storm and Roland decides to pass the time by telling his companions a story from his youth after he had murdered his mother thanks to the sorcery of Marten Broadcloak (also known as Randall Flagg also known as Walter o’Din). He is sent by his father to the town of Debaria to investigate reports of a “skin-changer” (a werebeast variant) who is massacring farmers. Roland arrives (with his fellow gunslinger Jamie) to find a farm with nearly 30 people slaughtered and the only survivor is a young boy. As Roland waits with the young boy in a jail house to protect the child, he tells the boy a fairy tale from his youth of a young lad named Tim Stoutheart who goes on a fantastic quest to find the wizard Maerlyn to save his mother’s sight and to avenge the murder of his father by his newly adopted stepfather.

The last book I reviewed for this blog was V. by Thomas Pynchon. Going from the post-modern insanity of Pynchon’s masterful prose to the relative simplicity of King’s every man language was a surreal and at first confusing switch. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to not have to guess what the hell an author was talking about (seriously Pynchon’s V. bordered on being incomprehensible at times. actually it played hopscotch with the incomprehensibility line). It was pretty refreshing although at the same time, I have to admit that King is not the best prose man out there. There isn’t a lot of poetry to his writing. That’s okay though because his storytelling skills are second to none (and he doesn’t have half the prose problems that say Suzanne Collins has). He can occasionally imbue a very dark sense of humor into his writing that won’t come through unless you’re really paying attention. However, credit must be given to King for being able to write a novel in three distinct styles. You have the traditional “King” style when he’s telling the story from the point of view of the entire ka-tet. Then, he writes a story the way that Roland would speak when Roland is telling his story to the ka-tet. And then he switches it up one more time (for the style that the majority of the book is told in) when he writes the way that a Mid-World fairy tale would be written. Since Wizard and Glass is my favorite entry in the series, it should be no shock that my favorite passages from the novel are the ones where we see young Roland. I like the combination of science fiction, westerns, and high fantasy that is melded so perfectly there.

The novel is only around 300 pages long, so unlike The Stand or Under the Dome this isn’t some sprawling epic. There isn’t a huge ensemble cast of characters and there isn’t a grand social message hinted at in the novel through extensive use of allegory. No, it’s simply a (disturbing) fairy tale which Stephen King uses as a chance to show the important of storytelling and the blurring between fiction and reality in the Dark Tower universe. So, this can be a pretty short review. For Stephen King fans and especially for Dark Tower fans, it’s a must read. You don’t see much of the ka-tet but it expands on the Dark Tower universe and I’ll never pass up an opportunity like that (I’m also a fan [though not as much as the real novels] of the Marvel graphic novel series that expands on Roland’s backstory). Also, for fans of writers like Neil Gaiman (especially Stardust), you’ll likely appreciate the grown-up fairy tale that King crafts with the story of Tim Stoutheart. All in all though, it’s not one of King’s best novels, but it’s far from one of his worst, and I enjoyed all of the time I spent returning to Mid-World.

Final Score: B

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Anansi Boys

I’m going to preface this particular review with some exciting news for my long time readers. I’ve been regularly updating this blog since February (though in a post Skyrim world, my blogging has slowed down slightly cause my addiction can only be called immense), and for the first time in years, I’ve finally found something I love. My ability to turn my insatiable appetite for popular culture into something productive (i.e. thoughtful and entertaining analysis) has given me more direction and stability in my daily routine than I’ve had in ages. A couple of months ago, I realized I wanted to try and do this for a living. I’ve been applying for jobs here and there but with my lack of professional journalism experience, I hadn’t heard from anyone. Well, recently I got in touch with an upstart music journalism site called baeblemusic.com who were looking for an editorial intern. Thanks to some networking and hopefully what they perceived as my potential as a writer, I got the job. So, next semester, I’m going to be in NYC as an editorial intern helping to review albums, going to concerts in the city and writing about them, and helping with artist interviews and recording sessions. It should be a blast and the time I’ve spent writing for this blog has helped me hone my crafts as a writer, and it unearthed my hidden passion for entertainment journalism. Thanks for reading everyone, and I hope you’ll keep up with me once I’m a real professional writer.

I’ve already reviewed one Neil Gaiman novel for this blog, 2001’s American God‘s, and I plan on covering the entire Sandman series at some point in the future (since it’s my favorite book series of all time). With American Gods, Sandman, Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett), Stardust, and his children’s book Coraline, Neil Gaiman has certified his position as one of the most imaginative and consistently entertaining voices in the modern fantasy market. If George R. R. Martin is the pessimistic and brooding epic in the vein of a tortured Tolkien, Gaiman is the clever and energetic younger brother who delights in the mischief and comedy of fantasy and myth. 2005’s Anansi Boys is Mr. Gaiman’s last adult novel (he’s written some children’s books in the interim), and while it may lack the sweepingly mythic tone of American Gods (even though both books share a universe and some ancillary characters), it is once again Gaiman’s wit and playfulness that pushes Anansi Boys beyond so much of the trite and cliche drivel that is produced in the fantasy realm. The book may say all stories are Anansi stories, but this a madcap comic tale that could only come from the brilliant mind of Neil Gaiman.

“Fat” Charlie Nancy (who is anything but) is a mild-mannered temp in London. African-American (and originally from Florida), “Fat” Charlie moved to England when his mother divorced his lay-about prankster of a father. Decades later, “Fat” Charlie is on the verge of marrying the woman of his dreams, Rosie, and life may not be exciting, but that’s just the way “Fat” Charlie likes it. Then, Charlie’s father (who hasn’t seen in years) dies in a karaoke bar in Florida, and at his father’s funeral, “Fat” Charlie Nancy discovers that his dad was in fact the spider and trickster god of myth, Anansi. To add to his confusion, it turns out “Fat” Charlie has a long-lost brother he never knew that inherited their dad’s godlike powers and that his brother can be summoned by whispering to a spider. Well, one day Spider shows up on “Fat” Charlie’s door, and after an epic night of boozing and dancing in memory of their father, Spider pretends to be “Fat” Charlie in order to steal Rosie, and with the further complications of a serial killer and vengeful gods, “Fat” Charlie’s life will never be the same again.

While Gaiman has always maintained a comic tone in his books, none (except for potentially Good Omens) could ever explicitly be called comedies. Anansi Boys is pure madcap and screwball comedy gold. Outside of the George Carlin joke books like Napalm and Silly Putty, I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh out loud as many times as Anansi Boys. I exclusively read this at work, and I’m fairly certain I was confusing my customers with my seemingly random outbursts of hyena-esque laughter. While telling an almost painfully accurate tale of family (in all its awkwardness and pain), Gaiman still manages to inject more life and joie de vivre into these characters than you would find in any 30 minute sitcom. Whether our heroes are escaping a horde of flamingos, discussing embarrassing high school memories involving President’s Day, or Gaiman’s re-interpretation of a beloved Anansi tale, the humor never lets up, and even the book’s darkest moments (of which there are plenty) show a sparkling wit and creativity that most author’s would die for.

While this isn’t my favorite Gaiman story (that award goes to his A Midsummer Night’s Dream issue of Sandman), it is still a fun and wildly imaginative tale from one of the most talented writers working today. I have read all of his novels now (except for Neverwhere), and I have simply come to the conclusion that the man can do no wrong. From the moment he wrote his first story in Sandman that featured Death, he’s just been on a roll. For all fans of fantasy, his books are simply must read as his only contemporary that comes close to matching his spirit and passion is George R. R. Martin (though they are diametrically opposed in tone and style). With brisk pacing that still manages to capture a certain enthusiastic love of myths and the nature of storytelling, Gaiman’s works remain a bastion of intellectual but accessible fantasy, and Anansi Boys is no different.

Final Score: A-

American Gods

In the realm of movies, it’s not uncommon to encounter directors (and writers) whose absolute love for their medium shines through in every frame of their films. Quentin Tarantino’s near encyclopedic knowledge of cinema is evident in every second of his glorious odes to the genre films he knows and loves. While simultaneously deconstructing the entire medium of film, much of David Lynch’s most famous works, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive specifically, are full to the brim of subtle nods and references to the 1950’s and film noir classics he so clearly adores. The way in which his characters spend large swaths of his films discussing in pain-staking detail the most irrelevant sections of classic science fiction and fantasy films, it’s impossible to deny Kevin Smith’s passion for his field. British author Neil Gaiman (the classic Sandman graphic novel series as well as the novels Stardust and Good Omens with Terry Pratchett) is the literary equivalent of a genre enthusiast. With a rich and indelible knowledge of mythology and fantasy, Gaiman has spent the last two decades weaving rich historical and fantastical narrative tapestries around the myths and fairy tales that form the core of the fantasy experience, and in his 2001 novel American Gods, Neil Gaiman hones his craft to near perfection.

Weaving the grandly mythical with the everyday, American Gods is a tale quite unlike anything you’ve encountered before. Shadow is a gym trainer who has spent the last three years in prison for aggravated assault. Just as he is being released on parole for good behavior, Shadow is shocked to discover that his wife Laura (the light of hope that got him through his prison years) has died in a car accident.  On the plane ride back to his hometown for his wife’s funeral, Shadow meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who seems to know more about Shadow than is humanly possible. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his driver, protector, and errand boy, and after witnessing Wednesday’s seemingly impossible powers first hand, Shadow accepts. What follows is a Jack Kerouac reminiscent road trip across the United States as man meets myth in a world where all of the gods that have ever lived still walk the Earth, as long as there is someone left to remember them. It is a world where the old gods and creatures of Norse and Irish and Egyptian and countless other mythologies face extinction at the hands of the new gods of technology and big business. At the core of the novel remains Shadow, the man with much more than meets the eye who finds himself enmeshed in this ever-growing conspiracy.

For those who have read Gaiman’s Sandman series (and if you haven’t, you simply must right now), it should come as no shock that this novel falls firmly in the realm of urban fantasy, which is to say fantasy tales set in the Earth we currently occupy. Using a seemingly limitless number of real places as the continuing setting of his road trip into the heart of America, Gaiman keeps readers on their toes by seamlessly integrating more gods, cultural icons, and mythical creatures into the story than you may even notice (if you aren’t intricately familiar with mythology). What makes this feat so impressive is the way he accomplishes all of this while still maintaining a well defined and comprehensible set of rules and logic to this mythical universe he creates. Gaiman’s abilty to deftly weave a riveting and engaging fantasy epic alongside asides on the nature of myth and belief with existentialist undertones on the nature of god’s relationship to man all wrapped in a tale that is pure Americana (told by a Brit no less) simply makes this one of the most unique and rewarding tales I have encountered in a long time.

For those concerned that my sales pitch for the book makes it seem inaccessible and overly intellectual, let me assuage those worries. At no point in this tale does Gaiman sacrifice readability or entertainment value for long-winded pretension. His prose is simple and clear and is as thoroughly readable as anything written by Stephen King. One of the many things that makes Gaiman so special is the puts this deeply accessible prose to the service of a grandly complex tale which can be enjoyed on a surface level as a fantasy adventure, but for those who wish to dig deeper into Gaiman’s words and themes, there is a whole world of mythology and Americana to dissect. Over the course of a 6 hour shift at work, when customers would regularly interrupt my reading, I still managed to devour 300 pages of American Gods in one sitting, and I could only think of how much more I wanted to read. American Gods is a page-turner in every sense of the word, and once it gets its claws in you, you won’t be able to put it down.

Stephen King famously declared Neil Gaiman to be one of the most talented storytellers we have working today, and I would have to confer. His Sandman graphic novel series is not only my favorite comic book series of all time but also my favorite book series, period. Compared to the dark, deconstructionist bent of George R. R. Martin (which I appreciate as well), Gaiman represents as intellectual and ambitious a force in the fantasy market, but he puts forth his love of fantasy and mythology without leaving the genre in tattered ruins in his wake. For everyone who grew up devouring classical mythology as a child and never out grew their sense of wonder and discovery, American Gods is a guaranteed catalyst to your mythological pleasure principle. Fans of the great urban fantasy tales of our generation (such as Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels or the works of Joss Whedon) will find the true master of the genre in Gaiman. There are few things I am willing to whole-heartedly recommend to every subset of my audience, but as long as you have even the most remote interest in fantasy storytelling (and even if you don’t but still love intellectual mind games), this book is for you.

Final Score: A

Well, it’s finally finished. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 has been a long strange road with more twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie and (unfortunately) more bumps along the way than you’d expect from something carrying the Buffy moniker and part of the official canon of the franchise. While Buffy the TV show was always (at least after Season 1) as occupied with character growth and deeply personal storytelling as it was in epic fantasy adventures. If it weren’t for how incredibly detailed every single person in the main cast felt, this would have just been another conventional supernatural show like The X-Files or Night Stalker. Buffy set its self apart from the crowd with its unique sense of humor and instantly endearing cast. The comics allowed the franchise to no longer be constrained by the special effects budget that so obviously hampered the program (especially in its early days), but this was also the comic’s greatest curse, as the series became far too involved with an epic and sprawling fantasy plot and not enough focus on the characters we loved. The season’s final collection, Last Gleaming, brought it all to close in spectacular (and tragic) fashion but yet again failed to make me as emotionally invested in the story (one major death excluded) as the best moments from the show did, though it did set in place events that will make the next season considerably more personal.

After their super-sex created the paradisaical realm they were meant to live in (but abandoned to save Earth), Buffy and Angel continue their fight against the demon’s flooding into Earth just as Spike shows up to also help save the day (in his space ship run by bug creatures… don’t ask). Buffy and Angel separate so they can take down as many demons worldwide as they can, and then Angel is finally introduced to a corporeal form of the being known as Twilight who had been controlling his actions previously. After losing a fight with this being, Angel is possessed by Twilight again and begins to attack Buffy and the Slayers once again. The story takes the Scoobies back to Sunnydale where a mysterious object known as “the seed” lies and is protected by the Master (who is alive again). The seed is the key to the Earth’s connection to the magical world and the only way to save humanity from the demon floods is to destroy the seed. Buffy is wary to destroy the seed because it means no new Slayers were born, and it takes a possessed Angel killing Giles to cause Buffy to break it which removes everyone’s magical powers except for the remaining Slayers and remaining vampires. Thus, Willow is no longer a witch. The season ends four months after the battle in a magic-less world with Buffy as a waitress in San Francisco back to her more simple days of hunting down isolated monsters.

As compared to the other Joss Whedon collections from this season, Last Gleaming was actually comprehensible and well-organized as opposed to the confusing and rambling arcs he had written before. At no point during any of this did I not know what was happening, though I’ll admit I’m still confused as to why the remaining Slayers still have their powers if there is no magic left in the world. I guess I’d chalk that up to the demon essence that powers them that was revealed in season 7. Also, Giles’ death was completely shocking and unexpected. None of the founding members of the Scoobies ever died in the TV show, and I figured their immunity would extend to the comics. It looks like I was wrong. Possessed Angel killed Giles the same way Angelus killed Jenny Calendar back in Season 2 so there was some tragic parallel there. Honestly, even though I know it wasn’t really Angel that killed Giles, I loved Giles so much that this action is probably going to color my future viewings of Angel the show in a completely different light now that I know he’s going to kill such a beloved figure in the future.

I pontificated on my primary problem with the comic series in my opening paragraph so I won’t expound on that any more here since that problem mostly still remained in the final collection. However, it was nice to see that Joss realized how overblown his story had become and that it may be time to take things back to basics. The season ended with enough resolution of its primary plot threads to be satisfying but it also set the stage for what should be some significant conflict between Buffy and the pissed-off Slayer population, Buffy and the pissed-off Wicca population, Buffy and Willow, and Buffy and the vampires to make season 9 full of lots of possible intrigue. I’m definitely going to pick up issues #1 & 2 at my local comic book store so I can’t get right into season 9 as quickly as possible. I have a Buffy addiction, and I’m glad it hasn’t completely gone away yet.

Final Score: B+

Quick editor’s note before I actually get into this review. Some “twi-hards” have taken umbrage with the main villain of Buffy Season 8 being a dude named Twilight, cause of the whole “has the same name thing as the other big vampire story of the last ten years”, except Buffy and Angel were the original Edward and Bella, except not awful. Well, my first editorial note is that Twilight was a named villain in this series before Twilight was ever written so, yeah, suck it Stephanie Meyers fans. The second editorial note is that I thought that Joss Whedon wrote the main story arc for this particular collection, named Twilight. He didn’t. He wrote the introductory one-shot as well as a non-related one-shot concerning Willow that takes before the season began. The majority of the writing duties were handled by Brad Meltzer, and lo and behold, I really enjoyed this arc. Buffy as a series knows how to bring things to a close, and I have a feeling the final arc is going to pretty damn epic.

The last arc, Retreat, ended after a disastrous battle between the forces of the Slayer army (without their powers) and the literal military forces of Twilight. The Slayers attempted to summon a trio of Hindu goddesses but that backfired and only made things worse. At arc’s end, Giles, Faith, and Andrew had been kidnapped by Twilight’s forces, and Buffy suddenly discovered that she could fly. Well, it turns out Buffy has went from having Captain America-style superpowers (fast and strong but not invincible by any means) to Superman powers. She can fly, run faster than a bullet, and has become damn near invincible. After handily kicking the asses of the Goddesses, Buffy and Xander run her powers through the gauntlet with Dawn freaking out that these now powers are in fact bad (they are…). Also, Buffy finally reveals her feelings for Xander, but he explains that he’s now in love with Dawn. After Amy, Warren, and the General defect to the Scoobies (though they still aren’t loyal, just pissed with Twilight), Buffy and Willow are able to discover Twilight’s hide-out where Giles has finally realized just who Twilight is and what his ultimate plan is.

It turns out that Twilight is in fact Angel (although I think it’s a little more complicated than the series has let on so far). Basically, there is a Watcher myth/rumor that there would eventually be the Slayer who broke the cycle of death and transference of power. She would so completely upset the balance of good and evil in the word that it would cause the return of the demons that had mostly long fled our plane of existence. Buffy caused this problem when she activated the powers of all of the world’s Potential Slayers. Twilight’s ultimate goal was to make Buffy realize just how powerful she could be in this new world. Buffy’s new powers have come from all of the Slayers who have died since she activated them. For some reason, this has caused Angel to become more powerful as well since he and both share a cosmic plan from “the powers that be” to steal the term from Angel‘s show. After an epic fight between the two that ends in a draw, they make love which literally tears a hole in the universe and they enter a paradise realm where they are tempted to stay together in complete power for eternity. However, Buffy goes back when she realizes what is happening to Earth and her friends, and Angel follows. I get the distinct impression that this isn’t really Angel (not Angelus either) but that he was being controlled by some force known as Twilight cause all of this seems completely out of character for him.

First things first, this particular arc was one of the most pop-culture reference heavy stories the entire comic book series had done to this point, and they were without a doubt, all hilarious. When Xander and Buffy are trying to figure out exactly what Buffy’s new powers are, it was a never-ending parade of comic book nerd glory. Similarly, when Buffy and Twilight finally have their big fight, Buffy straight-up calls out Twilight for shamelessly stealing the basic Angel/Buffy relationship conceit for its main plot. I definitely laughed out loud. Similarly, at one point, Andrew finds a evil mad-scientist lab that Warren had constructed at Twilight’s base, and what begins as a hilarious joke about how Warren stole his lab design from an X-Men comic becomes a picture of Andrew decked out in a hilarious hodge-podge of every superhero outfit you could imagine from Captain America to Batman to the Punisher. It was frakking hilarious.

The Willow one-shot which was written by Joss Whedon is something that I would love to see done with the actors from the show. It perfectly captured Joss Whedon’s surreal and occasionally non-linear sense of storytelling at its very best. Explaining this weird snake-lady that we keep seeing around Willow in terms of her increasing (but more controlled and safe) magic powers, we get some much needed insight into the character of Willow who got plenty of action screen time during this season but not a lot of character development. The show was much more interested in background Slayers like Satsu or the various subplots of Xander and Dawn than Willow who is an established founder of the Scoobies with universe-ending powers. The aspect of the issue that I enjoyed the most was the sheer “down the rabbit hole” nature of the story where for once, Whedon’s inability to properly explain everything didn’t matter because this world he had tossed us in was so distinct and memorable, even if I didn’t understand exactly why it was happening.

Well, I only have one trade left of Season 8 to read, Last Gleaming, and then I’m finally done. Buffy Season 9 started recently so I’ll probably be picking those up on a monthly basis, since I don’t have to go through years of back issues to get where they are with the series. I think they’ve only done three or four issues of Season 9 so I’m really not far back. After I finish reading the trades of Buffy though, I’ve officially decided that Y: The Last Man will be the comic replacing it on my list of trades I’m reading, which Y is finished so I won’t have to eventually catch up with it thankfully. Also, one last note before I draw this review to a close. Spike is back! He crashed some sort of airship or some weird vehicle into Twilight’s HQ at the end of the last issue. He’s my favorite character in the Buffy-verse by a long margin, and I’ve really missed his presence in this season.

Final Score: B+

 

We are really starting to wind down my time spent in Sunnydale (until I start reading Season 9 anyways, which only recently began). Having finished volume 6 of Buffy Season 8, Retreat, I am now left with only two collections to go and a total of ten issues (12 if you count the Willow and Riley one-shots that are included in the trades). This far into the series I can definitely say I’ve enjoyed seeing my favorite group of supernatural adventurers in a comic book form, but I feel as if this particular story they are telling doesn’t rank as highly as some of the better stories from the television show. The franchise isn’t suffering because it’s a comic book. That’s definitely not the problem as I’m still loving the art-work and the ability for the series to do things that it couldn’t do with a TV series budget. However, the actual over-arching mythology of this particular season is leaving something to be desired as I feel there is simultaneously too much happening and not enough development put into the action occurring. The comics have developed a frenetic pace, and it would be appreciated if they could just slow down for a second and let things happen more naturally or with more of an explanation.

This arc picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the end of the previous arc, Predators & Prey. The Slayer army has been forced underground after a swell of unpopular sentiment from a world that feels threatened by their very existence. This is a PR ploy that has been set up by Twilight to keep the Slayers on the defensive and on the run. The arc begins with the Slayers last possible stronghold being destroyed by Twilight’s forces and the Slayers make a last ditch effort to teleport away to Tibet to seek the advice of none other than Oz (!!!). Apparently, Twilight and his minions can hunt the Slayers by their magic, so Buffy seeks out Oz because he has learned how to completely suppress the magic in him, aka his werewolf side. Buffy wants for the Slayers (and Willow) to learn how to hide their magical signature, but that’s impossible. They have to completely give it up, which means losing their Slayer powers (and Willow’s magic skills). This was beginning to work when Twilight suddenly discovered the location of their hide away and he unleashed a full on assault on powerless Slayers. The Slayers try to fight with conventional weaponry but it fails, and the Slayers are only saved from complete annihilation when they summon the forces of Hindu Goddesses, but this backfires because the Goddesses begin attacking everyone indiscriminately. The arc ends with the Slayers losing to Twilight’s army and being captured, and with Buffy awakening in the sky, flying for some unknown reason.

Besides from Dawn and Xander beginning a romantic relationship (whose “ick” from me since he, you know, used to baby sit her when she was younger) and Buffy and Willow coming to terms with the fact that Buffy had to kill Dark Willow in the future, there wasn’t much room for character development in this arc, and that’s a problem. Buffy‘s main strength as a franchise has always been it’s ability to continue to mature and evolve these characters while presenting fantasy adventures. This collection delivered the fantasy adventure part, but no emotional reason to be attached to the story. It’s also a serious problem that the adventure itself was a muddled and confused mess. If it was so easy for Twilight to find where the Slayers were hiding, why would they give up their powers in the first place? Also, I feel as if Oz’s wife should have known that there was a chance these Hindi goddesses were going to just flip shit on everyone and not just the enemies when they were summoned. Also, I thought that Season 7 had finally settled the issue of whether Willow could control her magic addiction. I feel we’re retreading old ground at this point.

Joss Whedon is back at the helm for the remainder of the series so I’m hoping that he’ll be able to bring this all back together in a way that is satisfying and provides closure for the large number of dangling story threads that we have going on at the moment. I’m a little concerned about his ability to do this since before this arc, which is the worst now (sorry Jane Espenson. I normally love your stuff), Joss’s two arcs for the series were easily my least favorite. The man has the ability to deliver a finale like no other though so I have faith in him. I’m still enjoying the series but this particular arc just seemed to augment all of the various problems and issues I have with the series to new levels which is really sad because the presence of Oz (a favorite recurring character from early in the series) and an issue told entirely from the point of view of Andrew should have made things so much better. Actually, Andrew’s issue was hilarious and just classic Andrew and it’s the reason this collection’s score isn’t even lower than this.

Final Score: B

 

So, you know how I was concerned that since this particular collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, titled Predators and Prey after one of the fives issues contained therein, would be a jumbled incoherent mess without a story arc since there was five different writers telling five different stories instead of a four issue story arc and then one-shot as had been the norm for the season to date? Well, I was wrong. The fifth of eight collections for Buffy Season 8 was far more coherent and cohesive than the arc Joss Whedon penned in the last collection, Time of Your Life. Also, with five different authors, we got an over-arching story that made sense while simultaneously letting us have five separate adventures, and they were all a lot of fun. It was great to have Jane Espenson, Drew Greenberg, and Doug Petrie writing some of the issues as they were long time writers for the show. Yet again, these writers broke down the barrier between TV and comics and made me feel like I had picked up into some long lost episode of the series, except now in comic book form.

The main thread of the collection is a new world order in which the vampires have “come out of the coffin” (to steal True Blood‘s phrase) and the actions of a rogue slayer have made all of the Slayers in the world public enemy #1. After being refused entrance to a night club, Harmony Kendall grabs Andy Dick (such a hilarious choice) off into a corner and is spotted by the paparazzi bleeding him. For whatever reason, this lands her a reality show with MTV where a Slayer tries to make her name by killing Harmony, except she fails and now the world sees Slayers as a major threat. The rest of the arc (except for the last story which is more about Dawn) deals with various plots and counter-plots by the vampires to weaken the Slayer army, while they are all seemingly under the employ of the mysterious Twilight. Buffy and Andrew also have to fight off a splinter group of Slayers who are trying to take over the world, while Xander and Buffy later have to rescue Dawn whose final transformation is that of a porcelain doll, until she finally breaks the spell over her and is simple old Dawn again.

Since each issue was self-contained, I feel as if I can review them like I would episodes of the show, so here goes this for the first time in my reviews. “Harmonic Divergence” was penned by series veteran Jane Espenson, and it had that tragicomic undertones that the show always nailed and that she would later bring to bear on Torchwood. Harmony was always a great comic relief character on the show, and it was fun to see that it was her stupidity that outed vampires around the world. “Swell” was a little silly, as the plan for the vampires to take out the Slayers was sentient vampire cat stuffed animals, although at the end, we see this was just a plan by Twilight to inflame anti-Slayer sentiment so it wasn’t as dumb in retrospect. It was cool to have a story told from Satsu’s point of view since she had so recently been “hit it and quit it” by Buffy for Buffy’s lesbian experiment. “Predators and Prey” had a lot of Andrew, and since Andrew quickly became one of my favorite characters in Season 7, his presence was obviously appreciated. His seemingly endless monologue about a million different geek topics was classic Andrew. “Safe” was okay, but that Faith storyline will never live up to the one written by Brian K. Vaughan towards the beginning of the series. “Living Doll” was probably the weakest of the bunch, but it was a story about Dawn, so what did we expect?

So, I’m well past the half-way point now, and any qualms I’ve had about this series have easily been completely quashed when it comes to its transition to the comics. I’ve pontificated to many of my friends that comic book stories and more specifically, adaptations of comic books, are infinitely more suited for the television medium than for the movies. Yeah, there have been a million comic book cartoon shows, but outside of Superman and Batman, no one has made any real effort to adapt comic books to the TV medium, and I think that’s silly. Buffy the television show told a serialized story that took place every week and there was always a season long story arc. The arcs were half the season at the beginning til about season 5 when they became more important for the whole season. Comics do the same thing. A Joss Whedon run X-Men show could do more for that property in the live-action realm than any of the Bryan Singer films (which to be fair, I loved his work).

While this particular arc didn’t carry the same weight as the much needed Faith story that Brian K. Vaughan wrote or deliver the same nerd laughs that Drew Goddard’s Wolves at the Gate elicited, it was still more fun and entertaining (and comprehensible) than either of Joss’s arcs to this point. I’ve only got three collections left to read, and I know that Joss wrote the last two arcs himself. I’m curious to find out exactly who Twilight is and why it is that Riley was working for him the last time I saw him. There’s a lot of resolution that needs to be delivered, as this season has been sending us on some distracting side quests before we get our big reveals, but that was always the Buffy way. I’m just looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

Final Score: B+

I’m noticing sort of an alarming trend here, and it is counter-acting pretty much every statement I’ve ever made on this blog about Joss Whedon being the multimedia king of nerds who has managed to tackle television, cinema, and comic books and come out on top in victory. This trend is that I am not really digging the arcs that he has written so far for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books. I’ve enjoyed most of his one-shot issues, but I have not enjoyed either the first arc, The long Way Home, or arc number four, Time of Your Life, nearly to the same degree that I enjoyed the works by Brian K. Vaughan or Drew Goddard that came in between Joss’s stories. And if there’s been a recurring reason why I haven’t been able to dig his stories as much as everyone else’s, it’s that I’m often left wondering what in the hell is going. Each arc has cool elements but I just don’t get why things are happening, and even worse, I don’t know what’s always happening. So all in all, Time of Your Life, was sort of a disappointment but fortunately, there was a one-shot by long time comic book legend Jeph Loeb story at the end of the collection that nearly made it all worthwhile.

Time of Your Life chronicles the events immediately following the massive battle in Japan against the vampires hell bent on taking away all of the powers of the Slayers in the world. Buffy is dealing with the emotional fallout of making Satsu stay behind in Japan. Xander is still mourning the loss of Renee, and Willow has finally gotten in contact with Kennedy for the frist time in the entire season. Also, now Dawn isn’t a giant anymore. She has mysteriously been transformed into a centaur. One evening the Scottish castle which has become the head quarters of the Slayers has been attacked (and destroyed), and simultaneously Buffy, in another part of the world, has been sucked through a temporal warp hole to an alternate future where there is now only one Slayer, Fray who had her own comic series at one point, and the world of a whole army of Slayers has never existed. So, Buffy is forced to find a way back to her own time while also having to deal with an evil Willow who still exists as Dark Willow in this parallel universe.

I just kind of felt the arc was a jumbled mess. At no time did I have a clear idea of what in the hell was going on, and one issue plays with narrative linearity in such a way as to completely throw me off what was happening (although in retrospect I enjoyed it more later for forcing my brain to be on such high alert). Also, Joss tries to poke fun at Buffy speak by showing its natural evolution through Fray’s even more idiosyncratic dialogue, but it just made it even more difficult to follow what was happening. Also, at the end of the story, there was virtually no resolution or confirmation as to why any of it was happening in the first place. Why did Dark Willow bring Buffy to the future? Was it just so that Buffy would kill her (actually I’m beginning to think that’s what it was)? Was this alternate timeline actually the same timeline as the established series continuity and some cataclysm has dropped the Slayer numbers down to one again? Nothing was explained in any meaningful way and honestly, what the hell is going on with that snake lady that Willow has gained magic from or something along those lines?

Like I said though, Jeph Loeb’s one-shot “After These Messages” saved the whole collection. Basically, Buffy has a dream where she’s back in high school and she’s just formed the Scooby gang. It really could have been a missing episode of the TV show, except it was all a dream of future Buffy. It got the old snappy dialogue right. It nailed the characterization of the Scoobies when they were in high school. It even had the essential silliness that I associate with the show’s earlier seasons down to a tee. They even incorporated a very cartoony and stylistic art shift for when Buffy started dreaming to show it in the more innocent and pure light of high school except by the end of the issue Buffy realizes that things weren’t easier in high school. They were just different. I really appreciated the cameos from members of the cast that hadn’t been part of the Buffyverse in ages like Cordelia, Angel, and Principal Snyder. Also, the scenes with Buffy’s mom were especially sad.

I really hope that the next collection, Predators and Prey, is better than this one cause as I’ve said, I was just disappointed with Joss’s work here. The big potential problem with the next book is that there is no big story arc. It’s just five different one-shots written by five different authors, so we could have some problems there. Here’s to me praying that it all works out okay. I’m now officially half-way through season 8 of Buffy, and I’m looking forward to finishing it so that I can either start Y: The Last Man or re-read Sandman by Neil Gaiman (which is my favorite book series ever). I’ve learned recently that Season 9 of Buffy has recently been started up so I know that I’ll eventually have to pick that one up as well.

Final Score: B

One of the marvelous things about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the television program, was the way that over the course of any given season, the show could evoke so many different themes, emotions, and styles. The controversial sixth season is generally known for its pitch-black and dark tales but it also included the musical episode “Once More with Feeling” as well as the gut-bustingly hilarious “Tabula Rasa”. There has never been a more dramatic and emotionally devastating hour of television (outside of some HBO programming like The Wire) than Season 5’s “The Body”, yet the show is still able to deliver stories like season 4’s “Something Blue” or season 2’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”. Of course, it makes perfect sense for the comic books to continue this trend of delivering a wide range of comedy and drama all within the course of one story arc and writer Drew Goddard (Lost people need to continue their work on Buffy the comics) gives a tale that is hilarious and heart-felt all at once.

Starting with a one-shot where we learn that newly made Slayer, Satsu, is the one who woke Buffy from her magical slumber with her kiss of true love, Buffy proceeds to get her ass handed to her by Twilight who shows up face to face with Buffy for the first time and starts to make her question her mission. The real story arc entitled Wolves at the Gate takes place when a mysterious group of vampires who have the power set of Dracula (transforming into wolves and mist, etc) show up at the Scottish castle and steal Buffy’s scythe with the intention of draining all of the Slayers of their power. Buffy, who has had a one-night stand with Satsu, must lead her army of Slayers to Japan to stop this from happening while Xander and his girlfriend Renee must head to Dracula’s castle and recruit his help in the coming war against the Japanese vampires. Also, Andrew’s returned to town and his expertise in cheesy Japanese monster/robot stories could very well turn the tide of the battle (it does in hilarious fashion).

The writing in this particular arc is the best that the comic has done so far in matching one of the more comedy oriented episodes of the series. I legitimately had to stop reading on several different occasions just so I could catch my breath from the hearty guffawing that was emanating from my throat. There’s a moment where the Slayers use now giant Dawn as a raging teenage version of Godzilla to inspire fear into the hearts of the Japanese vampires. It’s only improved when Dawn is then forced to fight a robot version of herself that spouts out cliched versions of what Dawn-haters would imagine her saying. When Satsu and Buffy have sex, practically the entire castle discovers in a seemingly endless turn of embarrassment for our beloved Slayer. Xander has never said “sweet merciful Zeus” in such a hilarious manner as its used during that particular scene. Hell, even the stuff with Dracula is great. Drew Goddard who didn’t become a writer on the series til the 7th season (though he co-wrote the amazing “Conversations with Dead People” and the nearly as stellar “Selfless”) but if anyone on the planet knows the voice of the show as well as Joss Whedon, it might be Drew Goddard.

While the arc (with the exception of Whedon’s one-off where we actually saw Twilight for a bit) didn’t do much to propel the continuity of the comic series at all, it was ok because (and let’s be honest), the show always worked best when it was its snappiest and tongue-in-cheek funniest. “Buffy vs. Dracula” was a highlight of Season 5 (which was far and away the best season of the show) and his character returning just gave Goddard an excuse to play off the great comic chemistry between Xander and Dracula. When the arc decided to give both Xander and Andrew more screen time, that was an assured sign of great things to come because they are two of the strongest comic voices on the series, barring Spike who has made no appearances so far (other than in a fantasy of Buffy’s with Angel). A lot of people were fairly perplexed by Buffy having a lesbian experience with Satsu, but it didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t find it titillating as many fans may have, but titillation also wasn’t the point. I just wish they had developed her relationship with Satsu a little better before it happened, as I had literally only really seen her before in the one-shot preceding the arc. Well, that was the first time I noticed her anyways.

This was just a fantastic collection of issues. A lot of people in the fandom are fairly adamant about which version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that they prefer which is to say light and funny Buffy or dark and brooding Buffy, but I enjoy the way the series bounces back and forth between those voices. A lot of series that try and do the same thing suffer from mood whiplash (I’m looking at you Glee) but Buffy has always been the fortunate exception. This was one of the funniest Buffy stories, TV or comics, that I’ve had the pleasure of taking in, and I hope that the comics take the opportunity to keep things light every now and then in the future. Apparently, Joss Whedon is writing the next arc that I’ll be reading, Time of Your Life, so I’m expecting that something fairly major will probably be happening. I’ll keep you all posted as I inch closer and closer to finally being out of new Buffy stories to read. That will be a sad day.

Final Score: A-

Of course. Leave it to Brian K. Vaughan (Lost, Y: The Last Man) to write a better Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic arc than even Joss Whedon himself. Vaughan solidified his position as one of the most talented writers in the comics medium with his universally acclaimed work on Y: The Last Man and The Runaways, and I can’t think of a better writer to leave the second arc of the Buffy comics to. He is a man who understands the needs of not just comics but also of television and he managed to find a stellar way to combine the two forms in the second collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, in his 4 issue arc, No Future for You (there’s also a one-shot Joss Whedon story that is pretty strong as well). Hell, he manages to make a fantastic story arc and it isn’t even centered on our titular hero, but rather the dark yin to her light yang, the less than savory Faith. It’s good stuff.

As mentioned, most of the story here is told through the eyes and narration of Faith who has been banished to Cleveland along with Principal Wood as the Slayer in charge of Cleveland’s Hellmouth. She is contacted by Giles who wants to give her a special undercover mission that will allow her to leave her life as a Slayer behind as well as drop the Watcher’s Council’s interest in her past crimes. One of the nearly 2000 girls activated as a new Slayer when Buffy released the power of the Scythe has decided not to use her new powers for good but to instead hunt down other Slayers for sport as training for an attempt to defeat Buffy Summers and lead a Slayer army to take over the world as well as further the interests of the mysterious Twilight that we keep hearing about. Faith is forced to go through some My Fair Lady-esque training to infiltrate the house of the rogue slayer, who is British nobility and then take the opportunity to take her down and end this threat once and for all.

I’m not going to lie. This four issue story did more to make me care about Faith as a character than Joss Whedon was ever able to accomplish once he introduced the character back in Season 3. I know that may come off as sort of blasphemous but on the show there was virtually never a moment where I ever liked or empathized with her character. Maybe it’s because this was the first time we really ever saw her on the right side of good versus evil but she finally gained my sympathies. Brian K. Vaughan did a spectacular job of really exploring her motivations and neuroses in a way that made a lot of her actions in past seasons make more sense as well as open up why she was able to finally find her road to salvation. I don’t know if Brian K. Vaughan is writing any of the other arcs of this series but I really hope he returns. He’s a master story-teller in the long comic tradition.

In addition to the main story, Joss Whedon also did a one-shot which was about Buffy and Willow traveling to the home of some demon to enlist his help in the coming fight against Twilight (because not all demons in the Buffy-verse are bad. I miss Clem!) but is instead treated to a dream-like series of prophecies and flashes into the future that was very reminiscent to the scene in the Palace of Dust with Daenarys in A Clash of Kings. Ever since “Restless”, I have complete faith in Joss Whedon’s ability to deliver stream-of-conscious and symbol-heavy tales that clearly evoke dreams, and he once again succeeds with the one-shot of this collection. I am really curious as to what exactly this Twilight person is and why his costume makes him look like a member of the Foot clan from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Virtually all of the qualms I had about the original collection have been quashed as this particular assortment of issues was as good as the TV series. I understand that each individual arc is handled by one writer so that means that the quality of this series has the potential to just be all over the place, but that’s Buffy in a nutshell isn’t it? Buffy is a truly great show but with a writing team as large as it employs, you’re going to have a few stinkers here and there. Hopefully, the rest of the series can maintain the freshness and excitement that Brian K. Vaughan brought to the table and simultaneously propel the over-arching mythology of the series to new and exciting places. I can’t wait to jump right back in.

Final Score: A-