Friday, 19 April 2013

Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 9 #20

Writer: Andrew Chambliss
Artist: Karl Moline
Publisher: Dark Horse

Dawn is at death's door because of her Sister's decision to destroy the Seed of Magic in this world. To save his girlfriend from this terrible fate, Xander takes desperate measures.

Xander Harris has always had the short end of the stick when it comes to his role in the "Scooby Gang". He isn't a Slayer, he isn't a Witch, he isn't a Demon, he isn't a Werewolf, he isn't a Vampire, he isn't even a Watcher. Through nine years, the man has remained just that, a man. No different than any one of us reading this comic. In a way, he is us. Where everyone else has had fantastical stories, taking them further and further away from normality, Xander has been the character the audience can identify with. This detachment from the monstrous world around him is both a gift and a curse. While he gets to be their dependable rock in a crisis, their one lone island of sanity, he's powerless to help them. They live in a world that would be lethal to him. One lone moment with a villain and he literally loses an eye. Which makes stories like this one all the more impressive. When the average man isn't content to merely watch his loved ones suffer and steps up to the plate.

In seeing his girlfriend, Dawn, on the verge of death, Xander is compelled to take action. Throwing his hat in with some extremely questionable characters, with the best of intentions. This pair should be familiar to regular readers, being rogue Slayer Simone and power vacuum Severin. Two of the most dangerous original creations for the Buffy comic so far. This is them stepping up from Big Bads in waiting to full blown Mwah-ha-ha. The scariest thing is just how logical and convincing their pitch to Xander is. There's a distinct vibe of "sure, they're dicks, but this could actually be helpful". So I'm expecting it all to go horribly wrong in 3...2...1.

The plan itself is rather ingenious, assuming everyone is playing above board and telling the truth. Having usurped the visiting Illyria's time travel powers in a previous issue, Severin is now capable of going back and changing history however he sees fit. As all three of their problems started around the end of Season 8, they believe travelling back to before Twilight and ensuring the villain's rise never comes to pass, everything will be solved with a big bow on top. Giles won't die, Dawn won't die, Severin's girlfriend won't die, Simone can give being a Slayer one last try (yeah, right), etc. But that's just too easy. Not to mention, insulting to anyone who happens to have bought and read 40+ issues of this "Season" via Buffy, Angel & Faith, Spike, Willow. There's no way in hell they get to press that big red cosmic reset button, no matter how much they want to.

This issue also marks the return of one Williow Rosenberg, who has been absent for the best part of Season 9. Having struggled with losing her connection to Magic, Willow has spent the past few months travelling through various Demon dimensions in an attempt to harness their power and bring it back to our own world. This took her through a fair few issues of "Angel & Faith", as well as her own five issue mini-series. So she hasn't exactly been gone from us, just the usual suspects like Buffy and Xander (and boy did they screw up in her absence). Given the creepy addict vibe the television series reveled in towards the end, this quest of Willow's to bring Magic back to the world has always sat uneasily with me. She can dress it up however she wants, about how we're now lacking hope and inspiration, but I feel like she just couldn't cope without it. She's an addict and she needed her fix. When she gave up before, it was her choice and she knew it was still out there, should she ever need it. But this time, Magic was ripped away from her. It literally wasn't an option anymore and I would've loved a deeper exploration of those themes. This is more the light and fluffy version, where she turns up with Magic in tow and everyone's happy again.

With this issue, it feels as though Season 9 is gearing up for a big sprint to the finish. The villains are finally in play in a meaningful way, beloved characters lives are at risk and there are moral quandaries aplenty. If Andrew Chambliss can keep twisting that proverbial knife in their backs, we're in for a treat. Season 9 is most definitely living up to it's mantra of more personal, less fantastical. Xander being the living embodiment.

9 out of 10

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