Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Unfortunately Underwhelming Spike (And Peter David): Spike: Old Times

The Good: Most of the artwork, Basic concept
The Bad: No real character development, Devoid of clever lines, Dull plot
The Basics: A quick read, Spike: Old Times fails to capture or expand on Spike, Halfrek, or the deeper Buffy The Vampire Slayer mythos.

Lately, whenever I review a work by the author Peter David, I find myself having to mention up front that I like the author’s works. The sad truth is, the last few books (especially graphic novels) of his that I have read have not grabbed me as much as some of his earlier, prose works. So, while I have an affinity for his books and think he’s a wonderful guy (if you have a chance to go to a convention at which he is appearing, he is exactly as entertaining as his writing suggests he would be!), not all of his works are gems and Spike: Old Times is one of his flops.

That said, the initial concept surrounding Spike: Old Times is not a bad one. Spike: Old Times solidifies the implied idea that Spike, when mortal, met the vengeance demon Halfrek (then appearing as a human, Cecily). Peter David has long been known for taking apparently disparate elements of various genre works and finding clever connections for them. In the later seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!), the reuse of the actress who played Cecily in flashback scenes involving Spike’s origin story was seen as the vengeance demon Halfrek for Anya’s character arc. Peter David makes the alluded backstory between the two characters explicit in Spike: Old Times and while that is a charming idea, it fails to be more than a clever one-shot.

Flashing back to William The Bloody’s mortal life, where Spike was an unsuccessful poet, pining after Cecily, but driven to take care of his overbearing mother, William Pratt is goaded by bar patrons as he leaves to attend to his mom. In his wake, the bar patrons mock William in front of Cecily until one of them repeat’s William’s wish that the bar patrons be “the bloody ones.” Transforming, as vengeance demons do, to her natural state of Halfrek, Cecily grants the wish, killing everyone in the tavern and setting William on a collision course with Drusilla.

Flashing forward to modern times (an unfortunately ill-defined time period before Halfrek’s demise, but while Spike is in Los Angeles?!), Spike encounters Cecily in a bar and fights her, until she reveals her true nature. Realizing that Halfrek is, in some way, responsible for his getting vamped, Spike vows to stop her on her current quest for vengeance. He then encounters Lenny, a down-on-his-luck bad poet who is turning thirty that very day. Unfortunately, all the men in Lenny’s family die on their thirtieth birthday and Spike realizes that Lenny is the target of Halfrek’s vengeance. Vowing to keep him alive to break the curse, Spike must stop cars, demons and fireballs from killing Lenny for a few perilous hours.

Given that Lenny is unique to Spike: Old Times, it becomes a tough sell to get readers to care about the character based on a page of bad poetry. Of course, the book is supposed to be about Spike and him becoming a hero, but given how utterly unimpressive Lenny is, it’s virtually impossible to care about whether or not Spike succeeds in his quest. Fine, Lenny reminds Spike of himself and he feels bad because Lenny is at the mercy of Halfrek like he now realizes he once was. One would hope there would be something more to the story, but there really isn’t.

Also working against Spike: Old Times is the rushed nature of the story. It feels like there is a gap in the narrative after Spike defends Lenny from a demon, then they go on the run together. The conflicts happen very quickly and with minimal time for reflection. Spike’s big moment is realizing that Lenny is a descendant of the man who mocked him back in the day and continuing to defend him anyway. But the moment is truncated by plot movement and the book is ironic, but anticlimactic.

Moreover, the volume has a disappointingly pointless turn to it in the larger continuity of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The most important artifact to vengeance demons is their totem that allows them to grant wishes. When that totem is destroyed, their wishes are undone. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Halfrek did not have her wish-granting totem on her when she was killed in the final season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. As a result, not only would Spike: Old Times not have occurred, because William’s wish and longing for Cecily were never realized, he should not have fallen prey to Drusilla. Not only would Lenny not have been cursed, but Spike would not have been vamped . . .

The artwork in Spike: Old Times is generally good. The coloring is good, with decent depth and shading to the characters. Moreover, all of the characters are recognizable; the moment Cecily changes, it is obvious she is a vengeance demon to anyone who is a fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. While there is no extraordinary artwork in the book, it is all good, which puts it above any number of graphic short stories (I refuse to call the one-shot a graphic “novel”).

In the end, though, Spike: Old Times is not worth picking up on its own. Because there is a Spike Omnibus, one no longer has to!

For other Spike graphic novels, please visit my reviews of:
Lost And Found
Shadow Puppets
Spike: After The Fall


For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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