[It should probably be noted that Buffy the Vampire Slayer has nothing to do with punk rock, DIY or anti-authoritarian culture. Though I'm sure there's many anarcho and punks out there who can geek out about Anya, Giles and Spike with the best of them. Normal service will resume soon.]
If I was a hack looking for metaphors comparing Dark Horse to vampires I wouldn’t be too far from the mark, though I think that’s probably being too kind; leeches perhaps? And at this point I think it’s only fair to issue a spoilers warning as I lay out my tale of the vampyre woe.
Perhaps I should start at the end. The straw that finally broke my back was the end of issue 26. There’s a submarine. It’s just landed in Tibet. Oz is in Tibet. At least I think it’s Oz, it looks nothing like him, but he’s on the front cover and it’s the only time he might appear. Willow transported them there. Which seems to answer all the problems in the book, though from a reading point of view it creates most of them too.
There have been many near breaking points, but this final issue in particular was truly dreadful. Within 24 pages Buffy and Willow return to Scotland, someone attacks Faith and Giles in Germany, Andrew (well I think it’s Andrew, it looks nothing like him) gets tricked by a skinless Warren, there’s a couple of flashbacks, Giles returns to Buffy, there’s some tears, a battle of magiks, some Orc-type creatures attacking, more magic, a trebuchet, ‘brain-fry’ and a re-enactment of the final if Season seven. And then the submarine. Too much for any kind of character development, narrative or intrigue; just development, after development after dreary development.
It’s much like Heroes. Heroes had an interesting, and promising first series. You could forgive the rather mediocre second series on the basis that there was a writers strike happening and I guess all the decent writers were in the union. Then it got into the third and suddenly you have time travel, someone who can move faster than time, someone else who can time travel, a dude who has a metal rod wedged up his arse because he’s ‘The Man’, man, Sylar who may or may not be evil, a rogue cop who can control everyone’s brain, and the cheerleader who is probably going to be joining the ALF any moment now. In short, it’s a mess. A complete dogs breakfast of a mess. Convoluted time-lines, pathetically melodramatic music, and expansive dialogue where they desperately try to explain exactly what new plot twists they fitted into the last two seconds of the episode, and what will appear after the next commercial break.
But in comparison to Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8, Heroes season 3 looks like a masterpiece. Everything, everything, is wrong with this comic series. Top of the list is the artwork. Artwork that is attempting to be ‘life-like’ and ends up making everyone look either ‘male’ or ‘female’, with no clue beyond perhaps hair colour as to who the character actually is. At least Xander is unmistakable thanks to Calib taking out one of his eyes in Season 7. ‘A guy with one eye? Okay, I must be looking at Xander. Oh look another of his pithy one-liners didn’t work. Again.’
Second on the list is the ever expanding multitude of characters, not helped by the bad artwork. And would someone explain to me why Warren, eviscerated at the end of season five, is somehow alive and kicking but minus his epidermis.
We’ve also left Sunnydale, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Angel managed to survive LA after all. But Season 8 isn’t happy just staying in one place; no in short shrift we’re whisked to Scotland, Italy, Japan, back to Ohio, New York, Scotland again, Tichajit, then into the future to see Fray and kill Willow (she’s evil again), back to Scotland, an Italian island somewhere, Germany, Scotland and now finally Tibet. Oh, and Dawn is a giant, oh wait no, a centaur, sorry, a porceline doll. The whole thing is exhausting.
The worst is it doesn’t need to be like this: The convoluted plot lines, the superficial characters (because you can hardly develop someone if they’ll be dead two pages later), and the ham-fisted return of a shady government agency. The one off, ‘Tales of the vampires’, by Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos showed what you can do with comics. It has poise, pace and asked some interesting questions. The characters didn’t look like poorly realised photos, but instead were living, breathing expressions of ink. And the story was given space and location to develop.
A slightly generic mid-west town perhaps, with a couple of arcade game playing clichés thrown in for good measure, but still a place where vampires and humans could walk and interact without worrying about where the next submarine was going to be magicked from, or to. And I genuinely enjoyed reading it, something that I can’t say for a single other issue of Season 8.
What seems to have been forgotten in this new ’season’ is that it wasn’t the action that made millions watch Buffy. Joyce dying wasn’t shocking because a human had died, it was shocking because of Buffy’s reaction, it was shocking because there was suddenly no music, it was essential because it allowed Tara to develop into a fully fledged character, force Buffy to take on the truly terrifying burden of adulthood and in response begin to close herself off from her friends. Willow’s magic at the end of Season 6 wasn’t interesting because there was lots of flashing lights, black eye-liner, and a strange occult temple rising out of a cliff (though I conceed it was kind of cool), it was fascinating because of the betrayal of her friends, the courage of Xander and the fact that Buffy final accepts the mantle of looking after Dawn. It’s not the fact that Willow can teleport a submarine that made it worth watching!
Perhaps the solution for Season 8’s problems are pretty simply; let some comic writers and artists write it. Stop allowing bad TV producers cram 2,001 things into each panel and let it breathe a little. If it doesn’t work in an hour of Lost it sure as hell won’t work as a 24 page comic. If they let Jason write an issue I’ll pick it up in a shot. But I’m not holding my breath.