Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Best "Episode" So Far, Season Eight Of Buffy Continues With Wolves At The Gate!

The Good: Interesting story, Good character development, Decent "voice," Good use of Buffy universe.
The Bad: Often mediocre artwork.
The Basics: In the third new episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Buffy has a sapphic experience and the team fights shapeshifting Japanese vampires!

Buffy The Vampire Slayer seems to have a new life being breathed into it following the demise of the television series, a fact which any true fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is no doubt aware. The series has been continuing on in the comic books and those who have read the anthologies of them, The Long Way Home (reviewed here!) and No Future For You (reviewed here!), have generally found them to be decent continuations of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer storyline which has enriched the Buffyverse and provided new adventures outside the budgetary constraints of television. Under the watchful eye of series creator Joss Whedon, the story of Buffy The Vampire Slayer has been continuing and developing with a new villain, Twilight. The third volume in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight saga is Wolves At The Gate. The trade paperback anthology includes Buffy's first battle with the new Twilight minion in "A Beautiful Sunset" as well as the four-part Wolves At The Gate episode.

Wolves At The Gate is the best - to date - episode from the eighth season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer because it both progresses the characters forward while making some truly clever callbacks to the series. As well, this episodes works beautifully as a standalone for those who have not been familiar with Buffy The Vampire Slayer before now because it does a decent job of explaining itself throughout. All one truly needs to know to get this episode from the outset is that Dracula made an appearance at the outset of season five of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Everything else is fairly well explained such that a Buffy virgin (an important distinction from a virgin in the buff!) could understand all of the action just fine.

As Buffy and Xander work to contain the potentially explosive problem of rogue Slayers staging a heist, Buffy must also wrestle with the fact that one of the Slayers, Satsu, is in love with her. While struggling with her flattery from Satsu's love and her own feelings of being drawn to Satsu, Buffy is attacked by Twilight, whose whole purpose seems to be to undermine her moral compass.

While Xander and Renee investigate the appearance of numerous wolves on the moor, Willow flies Andrew in and Buffy and Satsu recover from their first night of lovemaking. Buffy's social problems, though, quickly take a backburner when a cadre of Japanese vampires with shapeshifting capabilities steal the scythe by which Buffy endowed thousands of girls around the world with Slayer powers. Buffy and her team quickly discern that the reason for the theft of the scythe and the abilities of the new vampires are somehow related and they look to the abilities for the clue as to who might be behind the rise of these new, more powerful vampires. This leads Xander and Renee to meet with Dracula and a showdown that changes the course of the Slayers!

Wolves At The Gate is a good episode and it makes excellent use of the comic book format while still maintaining the integrity of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer television series. There are, for example, limitless budgets for things like morphs as the Japanese vampires become wolves, bees and mist as well as take human form. The casting and acting problems that come from discomfort an actor might have or a budget to employ hundreds of extras for long shots - like Buffy looking over the army of Slayers or an assumed issue Sarah Michelle Gellar might have with doing a nude scene on Buffy with another woman - are eliminated in this medium, as is the cost of taking hundreds of extras to Tokyo for the final act, as this book does.

Also refreshing is how direct the story in Wolves At The Gate actually is. Buffy and Satsu have a rendezvous which both would like to keep secret, but rather than belaboring the secret, virtually everyone in the castle walks in on them while they are in bed. This turnaround works for the comedic aspect of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and eliminates the soap opera melodrama that could come with withholding such information between friends. Fans of the dramatic aspects of Buffy The Vampire Slayer will get that as well with the Xander and Renee storyline and the violence inherent to the Japanese vampire storyline.

But more than anything else, what makes Wolves At The Gate work is a very simple, direct and well-executed plot premise mixed with actual character growth. Buffy's enabling of the Slayers by releasing the power of an artifact leads to two crucial concepts: 1. Other artifacts exist which might have powers that could be released and dispersed over multiple people and 2. There might be a way to reverse the spell that enabled the army of Slayers through the same artifact that empowered them all to begin with. Dracula, it turns out, has an artifact that enables the Japanese vampires and their whole agenda is tied to the second concept. The book executes it remarkably well.

Mixed with this, though, is Buffy's burgeoning love for Satsu which is a huge character step. This is blended with Xander and Renee having their first date and Willow wrestling with the idea that Buffy has had a lesbian experience and it was not with her. There is decent character conflict here and the resulting exploration of it is a furthering of the characters, as opposed to putting the same characters in a new situation where they just do something new. Even Dawn, who is still a giant, has the chance to be heroic - something she was not given much of an opportunity for in the series - while the forces of evil call her out on who her character had been.

The only real weakness of Wolves At The Gate is the artwork. Characters are simplified and group shots are presented in a sloppy format. Even so, this is one of Gorges Jeanty's better Buffy The Vampire Slayer works and most of the characters are recognizable at worst. The new villains look cool and there are a few truly wonderful panels.

Anyone who likes Buffy The Vampire Slayer will find this to be an indispensable adventure in the Buffyverse and well worth one's time, attention and money!

For other graphic novels from Joss Whedon properties, please be sure to check out:
Serenity: Better Days And Other Stories
Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale
Serenity: Those Left Behind


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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