Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 1: The Long Way Home, Part One
Written by Joss Whedon; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty
It feels weird to be writing a new Buffy review, not least because of the rather drastic change of medium: from television to comic book. In a sense, it’s a good idea: realistically speaking, there’s no way the series can ever continue in televisual form, unless most (if not all) of the characters ended up being recast. At the same time, though, this means that it’s difficult to see the comic as anything more than a poor man’s substitute. That’s perhaps overstating the case a bit, and, to be fair, the graphic novel format does offer some benefits not available to a TV series - for one, the scale and ambition of the locations, monsters and battles is now limited to the author’s imagination and the artist’s ability rather than the budget. That said, it naturally lacks a great deal of what made the show enjoyable, not least the performances of the various regulars.
Not constrained by such bothers as actors’ contractual obligations, Joss Whedon does something a little different with this season premiere, choosing to showcase a limited number of his characters. Buffy, Xander and Dawn are the only three regulars to appear, along with a handful of new character who will presumably be relegated to supporting roles as the “season” develops. Unfortunately, these new characters are all either forgettable or annoying. We have an irritating, clichéd army general, Krull, and a whole gaggle of new Potentials (actually, I suppose they’re technically full-blown Slayers now), who somehow manage to be just as annoying as their live action counterparts. Worse, the extent to which technology is showcased in this season premiere (we are introduced to Buffy and various other Slayers parachuting out of a helicopter, brandishing firearms) is giving me flashbacks to Season 4’s more cringe-inducing moments. The artwork is also not as good as it could have been: it’s technically sound, but the characters don’t really look much like the actors who played them in the show, and the colour palette has a weird “gooey” pink and yellow style (a shame, because the cover art for this and the various upcoming episodes that have been previewed is excellent).
It’s also short. The story is a mere 24 pages, with several large full-page or half-page illustrations, and I read it in less than 10 minutes. Allowing for dramatic conventions and the naturally slower pace of filmed narrative, I suspect that, were this episode filmed, it would last for around 20 minutes at most. Perhaps my expectations were a little high, but the fact that this was marketed as a new “season” did make me think that each “episode” would be something close to the equivalent of a full episode (or at least half of one) of the show. I’m also not that much of a fan of Whedon’s decision to have Buffy and Xander “narrate” much of the episode through their inner thoughts, although I suppose it’s a necessary evil given that, unlike the show, he can’t rely on the performances of the actors to convey what their characters are feeling.
That said, the tone is still clearly Buffy. There are some funny lines, a couple of Buffy’s trademark mid-combat quips, and some nice scenes between Buffy and Xander, and Buffy and Dawn (who has undergone certain, er, transformations since our previous encounter with her, in more ways than one). The final frame also sets up a nice cliffhanger with the reintroduction of a previous character: a certain witch. That’s all I’m saying.
Ultimately, while reading the comic, I did my best to dramatise it in my head as a regular episode of Buffy, and it’s based on this interpretation that I’m going to review it. Had it aired on TV, I would probably have described it as an extremely ambitious and technically impressive but thematically jarring episode. The characters feel like the ones we know and love (or hate, as the case may be), but the situations in which they find themselves feel a bit like a betrayal of the world and rules established by Whedon and his writers in the show. As such, I award it a cautious…