‘Buffy’ flashback: Season 8, Issues 31-40 (2010-11) (Comic book reviews)

M

y reviews looking back at “Buffy” Season 8 continue as we enter the final stretch of the 40-issue season. We finally learn the identity of Twilight, which only raises more questions. So many questions.

“Turbulence” (Issue 31, January 2010)

Joss Whedon allows us to catch our breath between “Retreat” and “Twilight.” The reason why Buffy, Willow, Dawn and Xander are taking a pause before rushing off to rescue Giles, Faith and Andrew (who have been captured by Twilight) is hoary: Amy casts a spell that makes our heroes temporarily oblivious to the fact that their friends have been taken, thus giving Twilight’s group time to split from Tibet and return to their headquarters.

It’s a refreshingly old-school moment, although it’s hard to not notice the new-school aspect: Willow and Buffy are both flying as they’re talking.

Beyond that, “Turbulence” is a classic Whedon piece centered on Buffy confessing her feelings to Xander. I love the maturity of Season 8 Xander. He’s flattered, but he also recognizes Buffy’s emotional confusion and gently calls her out for her timing, noting that keeping it to herself might’ve been a better approach. I love the final-panel zinger; as much as Buffy is surprised by Dawn-and-Xander, Willow sees it coming a mile away:

Buffy: “Xander and Dawn are in love.”

Willow: “Gah! I thought they’d never figure that out!”

It’s a refreshingly old-school moment, although it’s hard to not notice the new-school aspect: Willow and Buffy are both flying as they’re talking. Season 8 is the year when everyone flies. If only that was the extent of the “X-Men” parallels …

“Twilight” (Issues 32-35, February-May 2010)

This is where we finally get answers about Twilight … or not. Brad Meltzer’s four-parter, despite mostly consisting of an explanatory monologue from Angel/Twilight to Buffy, is hard to follow. I think Angel engineered the events of Season 8 so a bunch of Slayers would die and Buffy would get a next level of superpowers.

Angel already has that next level of powers, but we don’t know why or how at this point. Buffy gives in to her love for Angel, and they have sex (the Angelus curse doesn’t apply anymore, for some reason), which causes a dimensional rift to open into paradise. Broadly speaking, Angel knows this will happen and wants it to happen.

Angel is playing out a prophecy wherein a super-Slayer and a super-vampire will bring about the next phase of evolution. (Giles knows about this legend, too, but hadn’t lent much credence to it.) “Twilight” tries so hard to be epic – and admittedly, George Jeanty’s drawings of Buffy and Angel having sex in the sky make a strong impression – but at the end of the day, monsters are coming through portals, same as in IDW’s “Angel: After the Fall.” It’s the universe’s way of balancing out Buffy and Angel’s creation of the paradise dimension.

Another problem with “Twilight” is its blunt pop-culture references. Meltzer apparently wants so much to write an “X-Men” comic that Twilight’s HQ is modeled after those comics and the future version of Willow is called Dark Phoenix in shorthand. Meltzer’s fandom extends to other franchises, as Xander cribs a motivational speech from “Superman” (1978), and Andrew and Warren fight over Captain America’s shield. Adding to the feel of laziness, everyone swears a lot, and two subtitles from this arc include cursing: “Chapter One: Buffy Has F—ing Superpowers” and “Chapter Three: Them F—ing (Plus the True History of the Universe).”

“Twilight” should be the arc that makes sense of everything up to this point. But it makes the previous stories worse, now that we know Angel’s actions have been illogical. There’s one arc left to salvage the season, though …

“Last Gleaming” (Issues 36-40, September 2010-January 2011)

As with “Twilight,” “Last Gleaming” is a story I have to read carefully to figure out what’s going on, rather than kicking back and enjoying it. But this five-issue conclusion — written by Whedon and Scott Allie – is at least better than the previous arc. In flashbacks, we learn that the universe (the Powers That Be?), in the form of a talking dog and random people (a la “Joan of Arcadia”), gave Angel his levitating and flying powers, and an inkling about how to create a new world. In the “Riley” one-shot, we learned that Whistler was guiding Angel, too; strangely, that’s not mentioned here.

Later, Twilight — in Angel’s body, but it’s not Angel — kills Giles. This is an important distinction; I had it in my head that Angel kills Giles. Still, it’s tough for Buffy to see a being with Angel’s face kill her father figure, and it explains why Buffy and Angel go their separate ways after they were in “happily ever after” mode so recently.

The Seed is another important element: In a nutshell, destroying it means saving the Earth, but it also means eliminating the Earth’s connection to magic. Buffy destroys the Seed, which she believes has to be done. While Willow doesn’t hate Buffy’s guts, she definitely feels lost and worthless without magic.

I like how Willow insists on protecting the Seed after learning it is the link to magic, even fibbing about her reasoning. There is also some good stuff in Issue 40 – a coda and a setup for Season 9 — about Buffy having to deal with Slayers who now hate her guts for … well, it’s unclear. (Did they lose their powers?) But the general notion is that someone forced to make a tough choice – as Buffy does in destroying the Seed — will be second-guessed by a swath of the population.

While I mostly grasped what happens in “Last Gleaming” on this re-read, it’s still clunky for a Whedon work, and even Jeanty is off his game. Dawn, Faith and Kennedy look too much the same. A massive fight against huge flying demons is going on – I haven’t even mentioned Spike and his ship full of alien bug allies — but it’s the people who are important. Whedon and Allie know that and resolve most of the character arcs (or bring them to a logical pausing point), but “Last Gleaming” nonetheless serves up almost too much to absorb.

Click here for an index of all of John’s “Buffy” and “Angel” reviews.