Wed
Jun 20 2012 4:00pm
Buffy Season 9: Dark Horse Lets Buffy Grow Up

I’m 32 going on 33. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer film (starring Kristy Swanson as the titular heroine, and the dreamy Luke Perry, riding high on his Dylan McKay fame) came out when I was thirteen; when High School was still new and exciting, and a sixteen-year-old like Buffy Summers seemed so worldly. I saw the film in the theater, and thought it so awesome that I immediately got posters and bought the tie-in novelization. By contrast, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar) came out when I started college. Suddenly, Buffy was two years younger than me, and watching her high school antics seemed more nostalgic than current. Over time, I fell in love with the show, mostly because of Joss Whedon’s writing and that of his brilliant team, but I didn’t watch at first, because the whole thing seemed a bit silly. What had once made sense to me as a high schooler suddenly felt cheesy.

Which is why I’ve been such a huge fan of the continuation of the Buffyverse in Dark Horse Comics. They allow Buffy Summers to grow up.

Buffy Season Eight, while welcomed by fans starved for more Buffy, got mixed reviews. Readers were confused by the new, military dynamic amongst the slayers; by the insistence on the abolition of magic; by Dawn being a Centaur and a giant; by Buffy having an ill-advised dalliance with a fellow slayer, then even more ill-advised sex with Angel that was apparently so powerful it created a whole new universe. Joss Whedon has said that Season Eight was pretty much him going “Wheee!” with the freedom that comes with not having to limit one’s story ideas because of things like a television budget. However, he’s also said that with Season Nine, his focus was in getting back to basics with Buffy; back to the inner-workings of the characters we love so much and away from the high-concept craziness.

While I prefer the direction of the Buffy story in the Season Nine comics, I enjoyed Season Eight, despite the craziness, because things like a Slayer Army, a global perspective, and an encounter with Fray (Whedon’s Slayer heroine in the future) seemed inevitable. What do you do when every potential Slayer in the world is suddenly called, as they were at the end of the television show? You organize them. What do you do when magic is causing all of the trouble in your world? You try to get rid of it. And what do you do when, after years of being The Chosen One all by yourself, hundreds of other girls are called to stand with you? You lead them. Despite some questionable plot points, Season Eight made a lot of sense, at least where the characters were concerned.

However, Whedon was true to his word when he promised that Season Nine would send us back to basics. Buffy is still a slayer among many, but in a world without magic, she is required to save the world a lot less. The slayers continue to contend with the vampires and dangers still in the world (like “zompires,” for instance—yes, they’re exactly what they sound like), but with little-to-no risk of new apocalypses, the characters are more free to have semi-normal lives. Buffy starts Season Nine as a 31-year-old barista in San Francisco, sharing an apartment with roommates like a normal person. Dawn and Xander share an apartment and have a mature relationship, complete with adult problems. Willow is dealing with the lack of magic in the world, but she’s not “going dark” or pouting about it. She is doing what she feels needs to be done like a grown-up — no fuss, no drama. The recurring theme for all of the characters is that they are no longer children; no longer the Sunnydale teenagers we first came to love. They are adults, and must live their lives accordingly.  

In Season Nine, writer Andrew Chambliss manages to move Buffy into the next stages of her life without sacrificing the story’s fantasy bent. Buffy deals with her desire for a more stable home life, her feelings about Spike, and even a pregnancy (yes, pregnancy!) all in a story that has influences as diverse as Battlestar Galactica and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s show, Ringer (one of the single-issue covers seemed like a call-back to the now-cancelled program). The tone of Season Nine also recalls more of the humor of the Buffy television show. Whereas Season Eight seemed to dwell more in the darkness, Season Nine feels more like the show we used to know, except that the characters are older, so their pop culture references and slips into snarky humor are more measured. They’re still there, but they’re evolving along with them. Artists Georges Jeanty and Karl Moline have aged the characters. They don’t draw them “older,” but they have thinned their faces a bit, giving them the gravitas of maturity. And one of the things that Season Nine does well that is a holdover from Season Eight is maintain a perspective beyond our Scooby Gang. Buffy and her friends have a big, bad world to deal with, which is exactly what happens when you’re well out of college.

They are defining who they are as adults, both within the framework of their demon-fighting duties, and outside of it. If the metaphor of the Buffy television show was that “high school is hell,” then the message of Buffy Seasons Eight and Nine seems to be that the Real World isn’t all that different, and high school is a training ground for the hell you’ll have to go through for the rest of your life. That sounds a bit disheartening, but it really isn’t. It’s just life. In Buffy Season Nine, there is the feeling that growing up is a good thing. There’s no fear of “getting old.” It’s about Being Mature, and that’s something I feel like everyone who watched and loved Buffy in my generation can relate to. It’s also something that teenagers and college students who are introduced to the television series can grow into. There are lots of things of which Buffy Summers could be afraid. Thankfully, growing older isn’t one of them.

So, if you’ve been staying away from the Buffy comics, because you’re afraid that the Buffyverse of the printed page won’t live up to the Buffy you enjoyed on television, I’d urge you to give Seasons Eight and Nine a try. Even if you don’t usually read comics, watching Buffy and the Scoobs grow up is a truly rewarding experience, and as much as Buffy might have meant to you when the show first aired, she can continue to be a role model as she lives through her thirties and beyond! I have to say, I’m looking forward to seeing what fifty-year-old Buffy will be like. Hopefully, Joss Whedon and Dark Horse Comics will let us find out!

 

Buffy Season Eight is already available in trade paperbacks. Buffy Season Nine, Vol. 1 comes out July 4th, containing issues #1-5. The series is currently on Issue #10 in single issues. And if you’re going to be at San Diego Comic Con and want to explore the world of Buffy comics more deeply, check out the “Once More, With Comics” panel, moderated by authors Katrina Hill (Action Movie Freak, GeekNation.com), Jennifer K. Stuller (Ink-StainedAmazon, GeekGirlCon), and Traci Cohen (CSU-Sacramento), and featuring Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow and Tara), writer/producer Jane Espenson, editors Scott Allie (Dark Horse) and Mariah Huehner (IDW), and actors Clare Kramer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bring it On) and Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cabin in the Woods)!


Teresa Jusino plans on slaying vampires until she’s way past retirement age. Her Feminist Brown Person take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming non-fiction anthologies, and her “Moffat’s Women” panel will be featured at Geek Girl Con in August! For more on her writing,  Get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

12 comments
Dr. Thanatos
1. Dr. Thanatos
Our local library has only the first half of season 8; I haven't been able to locate the rest yet. I like the idea of them becoming adults (although Dander--Dawn/Xander, for those who don't mush names together---is a concept I have to wrap my mind around). Hopefully I can find second half and nine somewhere...
Dr. Thanatos
2. TimeTravellingBunny
Buffy is not 31 in season 9, she's about 25. This has been confirmed by Joss and others from Dark Horse: the timeline of the comics doesn't synch with the real world timeline.

Season 8 started a year and a half after Chosen, according to Joss. Issues 8.01 - 8.39 lasted for a about a year. (During season 8, Buffy mentions that she's known Xander for 8 years.) Issue 8.40 takes place six months later.
Season 9 starts some time after 8.40 (according to editor Scott Allie, more than a month but less than a few months later).

This means that season 9 takes place about 3 and a half years after Chosen, i.e. a little less than 10 years since the series pilot. Buffy is in her mid-20s, while Dawn, according to Joss, is about 21.
Teresa Jusino
3. TeresaJusino
TimeTravellingBunny @2 - You're right. I'm going off of how old she would be now if she continued to age, rather than when the beginning of Season Eight takes place. Thank you for the continuity geekery. :)

Though the main point of the post - the fact that Buffy is an adult and that this is a major theme of the series in comics now - still stands. Hopefully, people will see that and not get too caught up in the numbers. ;)
Dr. Thanatos
4. Gardner Dozois
Is Dawn still a centaur? That would be kind of kinky.

Either way, I can't see Buffy being happy about Xander screwing her sister.
Dr. Thanatos
5. tucker_t
Sure signs of maturity (at 31 or even 25): getting your first apartment-share, having your first alcoholic blackout, having your first (non)pregnancy scare, and engaging the the same lather-rinse-repeat use-and-discard of the vampire-in-love-with-you as in the past.... I guess I don't get what you do.
Dr. Thanatos
6. Elysiarenee
This is an interesting perspective that will make me read the comics in a new light if I reread them. For me one of the biggest problems in the comics has been exactly the opposite: not letting Buffy grow up. While her inner circle more or less "get their shit together" Buffy herself is living in a sharehouse, working a crappy coffee shop job and well, I wouldn't call an unplanned pregnancy a sign of maturity (although the way she worked through it could be seen as such) comic book Buffy makes me sad in a way tv Buffy never did. It would be more interesting to me to see how she comes to balance her slayer responsibilities with other aspects of a whole and fulfilling life (passionate interests, career, community, love) in the show the best parts were when Buffy had to balance her friends, family, love or desire to be a 'normal girl' with her superhuman responsibilities. In the comics she seems to be drifting from friends and family, not going anywhere interesting with love or career and still just going through the motions with slaying. It's like her endless talk of wanting a normal life has been all talk because she isn't making any effort towards having one.
Dr. Thanatos
7. MatiasMiami
I liked Season 8, even with all it's hypes. Season 9 just sucks, they destroyed awesome plot lines with the Robot twist.
Shoshana Kessock
8. ShoshanaK
Season 8 had its issues. Like Angel/Buffy's magic-killing baby thing... lord, what a mess that storyline was.

But more than anything, I'm incredibly disappointed with Season 9 in general. First, the relationship between Dawn and Xander seems utterly bizarre to me and feels forced. A drunken party where she lets go for a bit? Yeah, who cares. But the plotline that threw me completely and made me put the comic down was the pregnancy scare.

Should they have wanted to do a pregnancy scare storyline, and even an abortion storyline, I would have gladly supported. But the unbelievable cop-out they wrote in to reverse the whole thing was a pretty awful attempt to introduce an edgy topic and then back off of it equally as fast. Lord knows we couldn't have Buffy have a child, that would complicate things. But equally, we couldn't have her have an abortion - that would be too controvertial. Then, I ask, why introduce the whole thing in the first place? The whole storyline was contrived, badly executed, and then in the end cowardly.

I feel very much like Willow did in Season 9 - this wasn't the world she signed up for and she's going elsewhere. So am I.
Dr. Thanatos
9. Rmsthakoer
So.... Where is everyone's favorite vampire Spike? I mean... He dies in Chosen, comes back in Angel season 5, then gets his own comics, then comes back in Season Eight, so where is he in Season Nine?
Teresa Jusino
10. TeresaJusino
Gardner @4 - Um, no she's not. :)

Tucker_t @5 - mature doesn't mean "perfect" or "never makes mistakes." Mature means taking responsibility for your actions, which is all Buffy has been doing in Season 9. She thinks she's pregnant, and rather than put the focus on finding out who the father is or placing blame, she acknowledges her responsibility in the situation, comes to a decision on what to do about it, and goes to a trusted friend to help get her through it. As for Spike - yes, they are still friends. He will always love her, and she will always trust/care about him. Just because love is unrequited doesn't mean she's "using" him when she asks him for help. He accepts that she doesn't want to be with him romantically, and she knows that he still loves her, but doesn't shun him just because it's "weird." They both care about each other enough to put their own feelings aside when necessary for the other. That has maturity all over it.

Elysia @6 - Buffy's just getting to the point (and age) where a "normal life" is more of an issue. When you're a teenager, a "normal life" is something you can take or leave because you don't even really know who you are, so what does a "normal life" even mean? Now, she's just at the point where she's able to figure herself out, and with no magic in the world, she actually has some time and space to do so. Season 9 is giving her the room to breathe that Season 8 didn't - so, she's only beginning to be able to make mature choices. I think the rest of Season 9 will be all about her deciding what a normal life means for her. But you can expect them to rush that. That, to me, would seem forced.

Matias @7 and Shoshana @8 - I had a problem with the robot thing, but not for the reasons you did. I just thought it came out of nowhere. Like, why would Andrew all of a sudden do that? However, I don't think it was a cop-out as far as the pregnancy, because of the point Buffy herself makes in the comic. She can't even have a normal pregnancy scare. As I say above, Season 9 is the beginning of her acknowledging that she wants a more stable life. She's starting to mature, but the rest of Season 9 will show us how she does that.

Rmsthakoer @9 - So, you haven't read Season 9 at all then, have you? :) Because he's all over Season 9.
Dr. Thanatos
11. BC Rice
I really could have coped with all the bad stuff in season 8, but that ending just still blows for me. I think the way it ended was them trying too hard for gravitas and in the end it really damaged the core of the book. And that missing element is really prevalent in season 9. It feels very directionless and skewed and there doesn't seem to be a real linear character continuity. Personally I think Joss may have moved on and they haven't yet gotten someone to fill his shoes yet. The book needs an exec producer (and please god not Scott Allie) who can really manage the season arcs. Season 9 feels very disjointed and confused and without leadership.

Hopefully they get their shit together soon.

Of course supposedly season 9 is only 25 issues (wtf?), so I don't see the recovery process being completely sound.
Dr. Thanatos
12. Estrangedcousin Bear
@BC Rice I just got around to reading the comics and I couldn't agree more with what ou said. The whole thing just feels directionless.

I feel like the person who wrote this article is viewing the comics through some rose colored glasses. She seemed to have more points against the books than for them, and as much as I still have a lot of love for BTVS season 8 for me was painfully bad for the most part.

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