NB This review contains spoilers for Buffy Season 8
After a strong start Buffy Season 8 seemed to lose its way amid storylines of epic proportions, the clash of slayer armies against the hordes of demonkind and the end of the world. Having been freed from the limitations of a television budget Joss Whedon and his creative team seemingly indulged every whim and fantasy they had ever had about where Buffy could go – castles, helicopters, Tibet, you name it. In his editorial at the end of Buffy Season 8: Last Gleaming (the final TPB in the season) Whedon admits that some mistakes were made in BS8. “I was so excited to finally have an unlimited budget that I wanted to make the book an epic, but I realised along the way that the things I loved the best were the things you loved the best: the peeps. The down-to-earth, recognisable people.”
In the midst of all the sweeping story arcs and limitless excitement, a vital, integral part of what makes Buffy such an emotionally relevant story had been left behind. Whedon promises a return in the new season to Buffy’s roots and to the spirit of the show, saying “No matter how interesting the world stage or mystical dimensions can be, Buffy’s best when she’s walking that alley, dusting vamps, and nursing a pouty heart. We’re not going back to square one, but our square will definitely have a oneishness to it.” He acknowledges that Season 8 may have irredeemably alienated some old fans but points out that it has also attracted new ones. Whether some of those who were put off by the latter half of BS8 will return to the new series has yet to be seen. Ultimately, as a fan who felt keenly that some key part of Buffy went missing in BS8, it was this editorial from Whedon that convinced me to give Buffy Season 9 a chance.
The new series sees Buffy living in San Francisco with Dawn and Xander. Having disconnected the world from magic at the end of BS8 the slayer is now persona non grata in the magical (or not-so-magical-anymore) community. Working by day as a waitress and hunting vamps and ghouls by night, the premise of the new season certainly appears to be a return to the Buffy we all know and love from its seven seasons on television.
But there have also been some major changes; Giles is dead, killed by Angel/Twilight at the end of the last season, while Angel and Faith have moved to London where they will appear in their own spin-off series. Spike and Willow seem set to stay by Buffy’s side but, without any magic, perhaps we will see Willow step into Giles’ shoes as the teams’ towering intellect and general know-it-all.
Buffy Season 9: Freefall, Part One immediately feels like a return to the Buffy fans know and love. From the first page it is full of the humour and snappy dialogue that only Joss Whedon himself can bring to the series. In BS8 it was always painfully obvious when Whedon hadn’t scripted the story, there was just something not quite right in the dialogue. Whedon has a way of capturing Buffy’s real world naiveté that is both endearing and hilarious and which contrasts sharply with her universe-saving responsibilities as the slayer. It is the dichotomy between Buffy as a hero and Buffy as a sometimes clueless young woman that is at the heart of the series and it’s great to see this element back in the mix. This issue had me laughing out loud a number of times and that’s always a good sign.
Georges Jeanty’s art can be a little hit and miss, sometimes capturing the characters perfectly and at others not succeeding at all. Personally I find Jeanty’s style too cutesy and cartoonish but his panel layouts are great. Madson’s colours are rich and bold, a joy to look at. I particularly enjoyed her colouring of poor Buffy when she’s hungover: she managed to perfectly capture the sickly pale grey we’ve all seen in the mirror at least once! Steve Morris has once again produced an evocative cover that speaks of the themes we can expect to see explored in the new season.
This issue seems less concerned with getting into the big stuff than setting the tone. Joss Whedon focuses on taking Buffy back to its roots and he does it with aplomb. It’s lighthearted, funny and well-paced. We get a look at all the major characters and a firm sense of the setting. This is a first issue that promises good things to follow.
Verdict: If you’re a fan of Buffy and were put off by Season 8 I’d recommend you grab a copy of Buffy Season 9 issue 1. If you didn’t read BS8 then this is a fantastic opportunity to get back into the series. 9/10
Written by Joss Whedon
Pencils: Georges Jeanty
Colours: Michelle Madsen
Covers: Steve Morris/Jo Chen
Published by Dark Horse