Out of Control

Things are starting to get out of control for the Slayer army. That’s the essential, long-range, overall story arc point made in issues #22 and 23 of Buffy Season 8. But you could be forgiven for missing it in all the experimentation and diversion that these issues contain. Like the two issues previous, and one more afterwards, these are “one-off” stories that explore tangential characters and incidents. Normally, in the run of a TV series, they would be limited to one at a time, and we would quickly rejoin the action. In the case of Season 8, we have five in a row, and then we get back to the main story leading up to the epic finale in issue #40. This isn’t meant as a criticism, necessarily: the stories are good and it is nice to explore other characters and dip into the larger world. The concentration of all of these stories in the middle of the “season”, though, does sap some of its dramatic inertia.

Both of these issues feature adventures away from the main army, and issue 22 doesn’t even really include Buffy. Or Willow, or Xander. Set in Tokyo, the story centers around Satsu, Buffy’s sometimes-love interest. Satsu has been placed in charge of the Tokyo “branch” and fights demons with a Samurai sword wearing cinnamon lipstick. In the skirmish that opens the issue, she cuts an arm off of a monstrous demon (luckily for the demon, it has three other arms) but the day is really saved by the arrival of Kennedy. The tough-talking, adventurous Slayer who we first met back in Season 7 has been dispatched to Tokyo, ostensibly for Satsu’s “performance review”. Satsu has other ideas, as it’s well known that she and Kennedy are among the prominent “out” lesbians in the Slayer army.

Sure enough, Kennedy has some tough words for Satsu on the subject of Buffy. With very Whedonesque dialogue (courtesy of writer and Angel veteran Stephen S. DeKnight), Kennedy boils it down to, “You, gay. Buffy, not.” Buffy may have enjoyed sex with Satsu (well, she clearly did) but that was a physical experience that didn’t imply some sort of long-term commitment. In other words, she was experimenting, and it’s important that Satsu hear this message (she’s heard it before). Kennedy puts it wisely: “Try kissing someone who can give you their heart. Not just their body.”

And in usual Whedon tradition, this moment of deep emotional truth and honesty is followed by a story about stuffed vampire cats that turn out to be evil.

The cute little vampy cat crawls into its victim’s mouth, possessing them and ultimately having the power to “coalesce” into a giant stuffed vampire kitty. That issues terribly serious and ominous sounding demon threats, which the evil kitties freely admit originate with Twilight. It isn’t as if Buffy hasn’t gone to this sort of cartoonish place before. And obviously in Angel there was the classic episode “Smile Time” when our hero is transformed into a Muppet. But the “bigness” of the joke in this story, involving battles far out at sea and huge monsters that were beyond the budget of a TV series at the time (perhaps even today), is an example of the lack of restraint that Season 8 sometimes betrays. One stuffed demon vampire kitty is just as funny, and can be just as creepy, as a thousand of them. But since they’re in a comic now, and don’t have to worry about special effects budges, the creators give us the thousand.

Ironically, other than Kennedy’s conversation with Satsu about sexuality, the two important plot points of this issue come in the last four pages. First, the Slayer army now as a submarine that it obtained from some vampires (who had in turn stolen it from North Korea). The submarine features prominently in the issues to come because of the other major plot point: the Slayer army isn’t popular. In fact, they’re considered dangerous by the public at large. There are several reasons for this. Rogue Slayers, such as the one Buffy shuts down in the very next issue, are committing crimes and becoming quite a nuisance to law enforcement. Also, Harmony Kendall with her usual flair for self-pity, has been making the rounds of the TV talk shows and calling herself a “Vampire-rights Spokeswoman”. She criticizes the Slayer army as if they were the threat, not her, who murdered and tortured someone on live TV in the previous issue. Buffy isn’t happy about this (she appears via TV from Scotland but this is her only role in this issue) but she assess the situation with a grim pragmatism.

The very next issue was written by Drew Z. Greenberg, who also wrote several episodes of Buffy in Seasons 6 and 7, and even wrote “Safe” for Firefly. Greenberg chooses to continue the larger story (Buffy trying to regain some control over the Slayer army by shutting down a rogue Slayer) by devoting an issue exclusively to Andrew. (Also known as Tucker’s brother.)

Though I have heard that some fans have a different opinion, I always liked Andrew. His character is a cartoonish cliche, a fun house mirror reflection of nerdy “fanboy”, but unlike the other members of the infamous “Trio”, Andrew reformed. As the least threatening of the three, and most probably just the sort who is influenced too much by his friends, Andrew grew quite a bit in Season 7, making character progress that has led him into a position of trust within the Slayer army. On this mission, to foil the plans of Rogue Slayer Simone, Buffy chooses to travel with Andrew (a tradition started by Spike in Season 7) and use him as a wingman.

Xander, for one, is skeptical of Buffy’s ability to deal with the motormouthed super-geek, but Buffy counters that “He’s matured. I can handle him.” Cut to three panels full of Andrew’s obsessive observations on topics such as Superman, Battlestar Galactica, The Smurfs, The Terminator, The theme song for Jem and the Holograms and even a pitch for a movie called “Helen Killer”.

Buffy’s plea for him to “stop” is only to add how much Daniel Craig turns her on. Buffy is in fact enjoying nerding out with Andrew, which is a nice change of tone. Part of what makes all of this so effective has to be Tom Lenk, who played Andrew in Buffy and Angel. I suspect a big reason why his character was kept around for so long is Lenk’s wonderful performance, adding unusual emphasis and even stealing scenes from James Marsters (no mean feat, that). “Hearing” Andrew’s dialogue here in Lenk’s voice is fully half the fun.

When they find Simone and her merry band of thieves they discover she has allied with a spider demon called Ranga. Buffy and Andrew wind up fighting Slayers and a giant spider, and we’re even treated to the very rare sight of Buffy brandishing a gun. Needless to say, they save the day. Andrew’s continued journey of acceptance and emotional growth ends issue #23 with a nice piece of comics art from George Jeanty. Having been told by Buffy that he’s considered part of the family, Andrew takes a moment to process it and we are shown, not told, with some subtle changes of expression, his happy satisfaction with that outcome.

Andrew fancied himself on the road to forgiveness in Season 7. Here in Season 8, he’s made the further step of being considered a full member of the team (and one of the only men). It’s a nice, quiet moment in issues that had a bit too much sound and fury.

We must catch up with Faith and Giles in issue #24 before tackling the final events of Season 8, starting with the upcoming arc, “Retreat”. Because while Andrew might have had a good day, the Slayer army is now hunted by both Twilight and the rest of humanity. Retreat is looking like a pretty good strategy.

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Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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Also by Ian Dawe:

The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring the Blade Runner Universe


A More Civilized Age: Exploring the Star Wars Expanded Universe


A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Exploring Star Wars Comics


A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe


New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics


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