It's Wednesday (or "Hump Day" if you're an office dweller) and, for those of us who are nerd with the most capital of "N's", it is thought of first and foremost as "New Comic Book Day". For those keeping score, there are two comics for Whedon fans to get their filthy paws on and I've got both of them. I'll be talking about them in detail so, if you're feeling the fear of knowing before you know, then scatter yourselves to the wind. If not, then seek onward, Whedon solider, seek onward.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Riley: Commitment Through Distance, Virtue Through Sin
It's a fine day in the sun for our young Riley Finn, his wife, Sam, the much beloved Jane Espenson, and the generally well-liked Karl Moline. This comic is important for a few reasons. For one, it's the first Buffy comic we've had in a little while which means that fans are chomping at the bit for just about anything Season 8 related (whether it's to enjoy or to wail and flail about "crack fic"). For another, it's the issue where we finally get to find out how Riley and Twilight got hooked up together which is a piece of the puzzle that most people were scratching their heads about. Is the answer plausible? Are the character's actions believable? Can an elephant fly?
First things, first, I am of the opinion that Jane Espenson is at her best when she's given one issue only to do her thing. Retreat was, for me, the weakest arc of Season 8 while the Harmony issue was one of the strongest. Jane knows character, voice, and how to tie things up in a little bow even when there isn't much ribbon to use. That has never been more true than in this issue. Not only do we have a much better sense of who Sam is in just one issue, but we also get the reintroduction of another long forgotten character, explanations into both Riley and Angel's motivations, but we also get some great humor to boot. This is how a Buffy comic should be. If every issue were this good, there would be a lot more happy fans and maybe even a few more issues sold. But that's neither here nor there.
The secret character, by the way, is Whistler, or so we are led to believe. It's entirely possible that this is a Fauxstler, but let's not jump ahead. Whistler is here with one purpose: to help the audience understand why Angel has been up to no good. Now, in my opinion, if you're on the Angel hate train then nothing is getting you off but kudos to Jane and Dark Horse for recognizing that even those of us who actually like the comics still kind of wanted more explanation. The short version is that Whistler comes straight from the PTB and is the one who convinced Angel to keep Buffy out of the whole Twilight plan. I find it pretty believable that Angel would follow Whistler's instructions since, thus far, the guy has kind of led Angel down the right path. Whistler was there pre-Buffy. Hell, he introduced Angel to Buffy, essentially. So, yeah. if anyone can get Angel to stay away from Buffy, Whistler is the dude.
Meanwhile, Sam is the one who is pushing Riley to help Buffy by playing double-agent guy. I just loved the interactions between Sam and Riley. Who would have thought I would ever say that? They're love is just so palpable and Jane does a brilliant job of getting at the nuances of an adult relationship. Sam has her ulterior motives for getting Riley back in the game but Riley, too, has motivations of his own. And they trust each other! My goodness, I can't remember the last time we had a relationship in Buffy land where that happened. Has that ever happened? Anyway, it's a huge relief to see two adults working together to make their relationship stronger. My favorite moment in the whole issue is when, in the middle of an argument, Riley comes behind Sam to fix her collar. That's the kind of moment you don't see much in the comics and it's exactly what made this issue feel like Buffy.
I'll end up repeating this when I come to the Angel review but, let there be no doubt, the people who make the comics are trying to appease angry fans right now. In fact, I'm surprised they didn't just call this issue "Riley: The Olive Branch of Exposition as written by Jane Espenson (you guys love her, right?)" It's fan service from the first frame to the last. That's not a judgment. It is what it is. People wanted to know what the what was with Riley and they got it. People wanted to know why Angel would go against Buffy and they got it. People wanted the humor and the subtlety that the show did so well and it's there. Riley is thinking about Buffy and Angel is thinking about the fate of the world. I can get down with that.
Even though it's been meant to be kept under wraps, there is no denying that there's a gradual changing of hands on who is writing this book. Open the cover and plain as day it reads "Additional Scripting: David Tischman and Mariah Huenher". There's a lot I could say about that but, to be brief and fair, I think of this as the first issue of David and Mariah's story even though the story they penned on their own doesn't begin for a little while yet.
Let's talk about the issue in hand, though. We last left off with the revelation that Spike (apparently) is soul free in '93 and this issue picks up right from there. The whole affair is very fast-paced so there's not a ton of time to deal with Spike's current status other than for him to defend himself and for everyone to silently agree that they've got bigger fish to fry. That fish, by the way, is the soul eater who is one nasty little bugger. Most of the issue is dedicated to fighting her and, ultimately, (and this is a huge spoiler) she kills Dez before Angel finally finishes her off himself. Connor gets pulled out of the action to help the Sisterhood of the "sexy demons what wear armor" brigade, and James decides to pay a visit to a long lost character, Anne. It's all a big setup for a full on demon attack coming, presumably, in the next issue.
So! Lots to talk about here. The reason I made such a fuss about the scripting is that it's clear (at least to me) that this is a very different book with new and more capable people writing the dialogue. Is it perfect? No. I still think Illyria is a little more... colloquial than she ought to be but it's not easy to figure out where she fits or who she is now, if we're being totally fair. Laura gets a lot of page time which is great for me (I like her) but frustrating for those who want more time with the characters from the show and less with the newbies. Angel is very Angel, though and, while I'm sure not all will agree, Spike has sounded more like himself than he has in nearly a year. The action clips along at a solid pace and Elena is very good at expressing motion form panel to panel. If I might ask, though? What the hell is the soul eater wearing? Is she from the 90's? DO NOT WANT. Thank goodness she's dead.
Remember that thing I said about Dark Horse getting all mea culpa with the fandom? Well consider this to be part two of that particular tune. Spike standing up for himself, Angel taking action, Dez biting the bullet... all these things were done to get the show back on the proverbial road. Connor is off dealing with his destiny, who knows where Kate is, and the Bill Williams' side story just got a guest appearance from two vamps wot have the souls. The chickens are coming home to roost, fully roasted and it's clear that the folks at IDW are looking to get the more opinionated fans back on board before the next arc begins, the Spike comic starts, and Illyria gets a book of her own. It's several steps in the right direction but Rome can't be built in a day. It's nice to see we're getting to the goods and getting our focus back on the folks that matter. In short: the title of this issue should have been "Angel: Let's Ge tthe Show Back On the Fucking Road". If this is what Mariah and David have in mind, then I think IDW is going to finish out 2010 with a bang.