‘Buffy’ flashback: Season 8 one-shots (2009-10) (Comic book reviews)

In addition to the 40 regular issues of “Buffy” Season 8, three one-shots flesh out specific aspects of the saga: what it’s like to be a street-level vampire in this new era, how Willow gets her superpowers between Seasons 7 and 8, and how and why Riley joins Twilight’s organization in order to spy on him. SPOILER WARNING: I will discuss Twilight’s real identity in the “Riley” section.

“Tales of the Vampires: The Thrill” (June 2009)

There are no familiar characters, it’s set in New Hampshire, and it’s by a writer (Becky Cloonan) and artist (Vasilis Lolos) in their only Buffyverse project. But “The Thrill” ain’t half bad. It’s the Everyday Vampire answer to the Everyday Slayer story from Issue 5. We follow Jacob, a typical bored small-town arcade-game-playing teenager, except that these are not typical times: Humanity knows vampires exist, and they co-exist with them as long as vamps stop short of killing – similar to the situation on “True Blood.”

The casualness with which people treat vampirism is nicely illustrated in this exchange between Jacob and his mom:

Jacob: “I’ve been turned into a vampire.”

Mom: “I guess … I guess we can move your room into the basement.”

Later, Jacob is angry at his friend Alex – who has been called as a Slayer — for killing his vampire girlfriend, May, who he claims has never hurt anyone. “The Thrill” does a nice job of forcing us to shift our perspective from the default position that vampires are always evil and Slayers and humanity are always good. Lolos’ sparse art fits nicely with this stark story in a dead-end town.

“Willow: Goddesses and Monsters” (December 2009)

Among the biggest lingering questions as we read “Buffy” Season 8 is: “How did Willow become so powerful?” She can levitate, fly, and open portals to the future. The stylistic reason for these enhanced powers is that Season 8 is a comic, not a TV show where such things would be too expensive to render. Earlier this season, we learned that Willow visited Aluwyn (the green hottie with a serpent’s tail) in a magical realm, where she acquired these powers and/or learned to tap into them.

“Goddesses and Monsters” would presumably flesh that out, but it plays like an experimental mind-trip from Joss Whedon, accompanied by “Fray” and “Time of Your Life” (Issues 16-19) artist Karl Moline. We encounter other supernatural beings and shifting landscapes, but it strikes me as mumbo-jumbo. I’m actually more confused after reading this than I was beforehand. How did Willow get her powers? By going to a magical realm and getting them. Maybe that’s all we need to know anyway.

At least this much is communicated: Willow is the most comfortable in her own skin she has ever been (her sexiness even proves distracting to Aluwyn). The only thing that gives Willow pause is a concern about turning dark again, which is sensible. As far as an ability to do magic, she has no self-doubt, which makes her a key weapon for the good guys in Season 8.

“Riley: Commitment Through Distance, Virtue Through Sin” (August 2010)

A “Riley” one-shot may seem nonessential, but Jane Espenson’s comic is surprisingly one of the most important stories for explaining Twilight/Angel’s plan. Although this book came out after the Issue 33 revelation that Twilight is Angel, it takes place back when Twilight is assembling an army. The reason for the delay is that Whistler is encouraging Twilight, and that is a giveaway that Twilight is Angel.

Whistler, whose powers are apparently similar to that of the MCU’s Doctor Strange, has seen many futures, including one where Angel tells Buffy everything and they both die. Whistler knows the best approach, statistically, is for Angel to not tell Buffy his plan — to make her weak (as per the “Retreat” arc), then make her strong again (“Twilight”) and bring about what he thinks is a better phase of evolution.

While this one-shot, again featuring Moline’s pencils, doesn’t save the season with the revelation that Whistler is guiding Angel’s hand, it makes things slightly less inexplicable, a little more palatable.

The Riley portion of the story is solid, too. It paints a nice picture of Riley’s and Sam’s strong marriage – also illustrated in “As You Were” (6.15) – where she insists that he temporarily set aside their plans to be farmers and join Twilight (which will then allow him to work undercover for Buffy). It’s kind of a cheat that Riley worries about having to do something horrible to prove his loyalty to Twilight, but that situation never comes up. Still, “Riley” is the best and most essential of the three Season 8 one-shots.

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

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