Last updated on March 4, 2019
[NOTE: For various reasons, this was written for one of the sites I work for, and not printed – but I love Buffy, and want it to be good, so I’m posting it here for posterity.]
Joss Whedon’s official Season 8 for Buffy the Vampire Slayer concluded in the comics with issue #40, and suffice to say: I’m underwhelmed. Oh, and mild spoilers on for today’s issue, by the way.
Things started out so well, some forty months ago or so, when Whedon launched the continuation of his TV series in graphic form. The series was a wild success (and continues to sell in droves), and even started a trend of continuing TV shows in comic book form. For Buffy fans, and non-fans alike, the comic was fun, funny, creative, and captured everything people liked about the TV show. Plus, no budget constraints, so the comic went big immediately, with Dawn, Buffy’s little sister grown to enormous size, an army of slayers, and the kind of monster armies a TV showrunner can only dream of.
But over time, the comic quite literally lost the plot. It meandered for large chunks of time, brought back way too many characters, and had what might be the most confusing resolution in the history of the “show.” Even if today’s issue, in typical Whedon fashion, calms down and gets back to what’s good about Buffy – i.e., the characters – there’s still a palpable sense that things spiraled wildly out of control.
But good(ish) news! There’s a Season 9 on the horizon, which means there’s also a chance to look back at what worked – and didn’t – in Season 8, and correct those mistakes. Here’s our thoughts on ten things, as fans who want Buffy to be good, we hope they fix:
1. Enough With The Fanservice
The first time an old friend showed up, it was a giddy surprise to see them again. But by the time The Master showed up as a villain in the final arc, the reaction was way more muted, more along the lines of, “Oh right, I guess he hasn’t shown up again.” In fact, except for former villains Glory, Adam, and The Mayor, pretty much every character ever on the TV show turned up at some point. And we vaguely remember The Mayor showing up in a dream sequence, maybe? Point being: yes, you had a lot of great characters in your time, but not all of them need to be there all the time.
2. Stop Drawing Actors
This is a tough one, but it ties into the above: it is very difficult to reproduce actors on the graphic page, so maybe just stop? By the end of issue forty, artist Georges Jeanty had a handle on the essence of Buffy, Willow, and Xander, making them look like comic book characters rather than caricatures. But Dawn, Faith, Giles, and even Angel looked like parodies of themselves, too close to the Uncanny Valley for comfort. The solution? New characters. I know, right?
3. Get a Simple Villain
We’re still trying to suss out who the series big bad Twilight was. “He” was Angel, but also a lion-headed flame being, but also a baby universe that was brought into existence by Buffy and Angel knocking super boots… Except Twilight was always there? Or something? Honestly, it barely matters: the best villains in Buffy history are the ones with a clear goal and mission, like The Mayor, who just wanted to eat everyone.
4. …Who isn’t one of the Scoobies
At this point, the villains on Buffy have been Angel (twice), Willow (once), and Faith (kind of). We’ve already played the “friend turns against Buffy” card. If things go the way they look like they’re going, it’s going to be Buffy vs. Willow, round two, which we can do without. Yes, the Scoobies need to have drama and pressure, but remember the end of Season Five when they were all working together to defeat Glory, rather than each other? That was rather awesome. New villains are hard to create, but no more Dark Willow or Angelus, for goodness sakes.
5. TV Seasons Don’t Last For Forty Months
TV shows get strained at 22 episodes a season – there’s always flab in the middle somewhere, or an unnecessary episode. Could you imagine if they stretched to forty weeks? And only showed an episode once a month? That’s basically what happened with Buffy. What could have been a tight, taut story instead felt like it stretched out interminably. Luckily, Dark Horse and company have promised already that Season 9 will be shorter, so lesson learned.
6. Don’t Write a TV Show, Write a Comic
It’s actually worse than what I said above, because often it felt like the writers were breaking up a TV show into four or five parts. That’s the equivalent of watching the first ten minutes of a TV show, stopping for a month, watching another ten minutes, and so on. In other words: infuriating. They did get better at embracing the comic form by the end of the run, but just barely. No more TV scripts, no more writing for the trade. You’ve all done “Tales of the Slayer,” which are super short – think about your twenty-two page limit, and embrace it.
7. Just Because You Have an Unlimited Budget Doesn’t Mean You Should Use It
Was it cool to see Buffy fighting giant armies, Dawn three stories tall, and magical beasties we could never imagine? Sure. Did it start to get out of control when Buffy was flying around fighting giant Asian gods, or Spike showed up in a steampunk spaceship piloted by bugs from the future? Yup. There’s something to be said for a limitation of budget causing creativity. Just because you don’t have those constraints in a comic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use ‘em.
8. Don’t Forget The Non-Fans
Buffy was never one to skimp on continuity, but aside from the last few episodes of every season, there was always a good “in” for new followers of the show. The comic became so dense, it forgot about this. At the very least, give us a nice, simple recap page, like the “Previously On” you had on the show. I realize I’m saying two things, alternately saying to embrace the TV form, and ignore it. But some elements are more translated – and necessary – than others.
There were approximately three hundred things Buffy Season 8 tried to deal with – and not just subplots, either, but full-blown plots. For Season 9, give us one good story about Buffy growing up, and then make it a metaphor come to life in the form of one – new – villain. You know, like you used to do? Those were some good times.
10. It’s The Characters, Stupid
This is more of a reiteration than anything else, but Season 8 got far too into shocking returns, plot twists, and crazy ideas. In the mix, we forgot about what makes Buffy great, and that’s the characters. Season 8 was at its best when Buffy, Xander, and Willow were just being friends… But that’s something we’ve only seen sparsely since Season 5 of the TV show, and a large part of the reason Seasons 6-8 just haven’t been as successful. Yes, Buffy mopes. Yes, Buffy has a hard time. Yes, she pushes her friends away. But at the end of the day, they’re all there for each other, and it’s something wonderful. Let’s get that back one more time, in Season 9!