Given the nature of fandom – I’m becoming increasingly convinced that people don’t actually like to like things – there will probably be some consternation over the fact that there are spoilers ahead for…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 12: The Reckoning #1
Writer: Joss Whedon, Christos Gage
Artist: Georges Jeanty
Cover: Stephanie Hans
“Hey! Who wants to talk about the apocalyptic crisis event? Raise your hand!”
I was rather late to the Buffy party. I had watched a handful of episodes, but it was already in its last season by the time I started watching it regularly, though I quickly got caught up on the prior seasons via reruns and marathons on some of the channels that carried it in syndication.
Because I tend to avoid getting particularly involved in fandom – I don’t write or read fan fiction, I don’t hang out in fandom communities online or in real life, and I’ve never really had a lot of friends – I wasn’t really aware of the fact that many fans wished that last season, and a varying number of seasons before that, depending on who you ask, didn’t exist. (And some would insist that they didn’t. “Oh, you mean that show that only had three seasons?”)
For my part…meh. It was an entertaining show, sometimes more entertaining than others, and for whatever reason, the parts that weren’t so entertaining didn’t fill me with any sort of white-hot incandescent rage the way they did for others.
I also generally avoid licensed tie-ins to properties that aren’t part of the canon of the properties they’re tied to, so up until Dark Horse launched Season 8, which was intended as a canon continuation of the story and had the direct involvement of the show’s creator, I hadn’t read many Buffy comics.
As with the show, the various seasons of the comic have had their ups and downs – and managed to produce that same white-hot incandescent rage for many – but overall, I’ve enjoyed them.
It’s also worth noting that there has been a very public reconsideration of Joss Whedon’s place in popular culture and his public image due to some of the details of his personal life, which have implications on his professional life going beyond the standard “separating the art from the artist” considerations. This isn’t going to be about that. It’s not that it isn’t a subject worthy of discussion, but not everything worth discussing gets discussed in every discussion. I will just note that I understand that beyond some of the inherent issues of fandom, and matters of personal preference, there are other reasons that people would just as soon avoid this comic and any discussion of it. To which I say, I get it, but that’s all I really have to say on the subject, as I have no interest in arguing for or against Whedon and his behavior (In particular, I have no interest in arguing for).
Because I didn’t read the tie-in comics before Season 8, I don’t really know much about Fray, the future slayer who figures prominently in this story, but, thanks to this story, I’m learning more.
In short: In the 23rd Century, magic is mostly gone from the world. Vampires still exist, but they are confined to the shadows, no longer able to appear human, and are referred to as Lurks. Slayers are gone, too, and have been for two hundred years. That is, until a young woman named Melaka Fray becomes the first Chosen One in centuries. She carries the memories of every Slayer who lived before her, but through a quirk of birth, so does her twin brother, Harth. Unfortunately, Harth is a vampire, who, thanks to his Slayer memories is able to be the old-fashioned kind rather than merely a Lurk.
Four years ago, Buffy found herself transported to Fray’s future, and it was assumed that when she returned to her own time her knowledge of the future would prevent that future from happening. And yet, the future continued as it did. Will. Whatever.
In any case, this issue opens in that future, where Harth is the prisoner of a sorcerer who tells the legend of the Reckoning, the turning point at which the Slayers and the demons and most of the magic disappeared. The sorcerer is in possession of an artifact that will allow him to travel back in time where he hopes to be the Reckoning, drawing upon Harth’s memories of the event as an asset. Harth agrees that it’s a fine plan, though he suggests one alteration.
Back in the 21st Century, it’s been a year since the events of Season 11, and a world that had been shaken to its very foundation by the very public revelation of the existence of magic, and the ensuing policy debates and political action that resulted from it, is trying to move on and go back to pretending that magic isn’t real.
We open in our own time with a fake-out in which there’s an attempt to make us believe that Buffy has become a mommy, which raises a lot of questions, given that her boyfriend is a vampire. Of course, it turns out that Buffy is an aunt – the baby, Joyce, which, it’s nice that they’ve honored the late Mrs. Summers, but that is a terrible name for a baby, worse even than Linda, is the daughter of Dawn and Xander (cue fandom rage, and not entirely baselessly) – and that vampire is, it turns out, no longer Buffy’s boyfriend.
In these relatively quiet times, Buffy and Spike, despite putting a lot of work into building a relationship over the past few seasons, have realized that they don’t really know how to be a couple when the world isn’t ending.
As luck would have it, however, the world is ending. Or at least in crisis.
The action of the story takes place at a housewarming party for Dawn and Xander (and baby…Joyce), and two of the guests – Angel and Illyria – deliver the good/bad news.
They have intel about a vampire from the future who’s up to no good. Buffy immediately twigs that it’s Harth, and so the Scoobies – minus Dawn, who’s on breastfeeding duty, but plus Fatih, who they meet up with along the way – head to the offices of Wolfram & Hart, where Harth is gathering his forces.
The threat from the future, it turns out, has also brought a blast from the past, in the serpentine form of the Mayor, who managed to put himself back together after being blown up, but has been laying low for the past several years. This, of course, has as devastating an impact on Faith’s psyche as a blow from the Mayor’s tail does on her body.
The fight doesn’t go well, and the Scoobies beat a hasty retreat via a portal opened by Dawn, who, as a result of some of the alterations that have occurred to the rules and nature of magic, has regained some of the abilities that she derives from being the Key.
This, of course, was all according to Harth’s plan.
Realizing that, the Scoobies reckon that they have to find a way to counter Harth’s access to Buffy’s memories, and when Buffy reveals that in Fray’s time she encountered a massive library containing all of the combined knowledge of the Watchers, they decide that the future is the place to be. The books didn’t do Buffy much good in the time she spent there, but this time there’s someone who was trained as both a librarian and a Watcher who can come along for the ride.
(Giles, who, as a result of dying and being restored to life a few seasons back, had been de-aged and become a teenager once again, has, in the past year, apparently been restored to his true age. That may have happened/be happening in his solo book, but I dropped that because unlike the main books it had nothing going for it to make it entertaining.)
Illyria has the ability to move through time, but her control is not what it once was, so it’s deemed too risky for her to transport them, at least on her own. Willow determines that, since Buffy has been there before, the “energy” of that time is inside of her for Willow to use to help navigate. Dawn, who was annoyed at having to sit out the last adventure, is pumped for the trip, both figuratively and literally – she’s pumped her breasts and left plenty of milk to allow Xander to stay behind on feeding duty. She pairs up her portal-opening abilities with Illyria’s time travelling abilities, and with Willow’s guidance, they soon find that the future is not what it used to be.
I think one of the biggest problems in fandom is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt, and the more you love something, the easier it becomes for that something to disappoint you. Thin line between love and hate and all that.
If something goes on long enough, the odds of the people behind it doing something that will piss off its fans increases exponentially, and beyond that, the shine wears off everything eventually. Old ideas get revisited over and over again. Tropes and clichés emerge. Tone-deafness sets in. What once was fresh inevitably decays.
I mean, I get it. I don’t intend to be judgmental, but the fact is that subjectivity plays a role in how and when a popular property hits the point of diminishing returns, and for my part, I tend to give a lot less weight to certain perceived issues of quality than others do, particularly when it’s something I’m not that invested in to begin with, as with Buffy.
I liked the show well enough, but I was never particularly fanatical about it in the way that I am about other properties, so there was a limit to how angry or disappointed the show or the subsequent comics could ever make me, and so I stuck with the show through the end, and the comics (minus Giles) this far because the entertainment value has managed to outweigh everything else.
That said, I am glad that the series appears to be moving towards an endgame, though I have my doubts that it will remain ended. (I suspect that there will still be tie-ins and “Untold Tales” and the like, even if there are no new comics driving the story further forward.)
As with the show, Whedon seems to have less and less direct involvement with the comic, serving as “Executive Producer,” though this is one of the first in a while in which he’s given any sort of writing credit (“Story” with Gage, who is credited with the Script), and his involvement is clear in some of the interactions between the characters, one of which involves a lampshaded (and poorly-executed) reference to a classic Buffy (the show) moment:
That’s actually one of the issues I have with the issue; it’s a story that involves the future, but it seems very heavily-focused on the past. I loved the Mayor as a villain on the show, but his time has passed, and I wasn’t thrilled to see him return, particularly given that the biggest part of his appeal for me was the performance of actor Harry Groener. As a kind of generic-looking snake monster here he’s less-than memorable.
Speaking of appearances, I’ve never been particularly fond of the work of Georges Jeanty on Buffy. I like his work with the vampires, but everyone and everything else is generally a bit off. Here, most of the characters are off-model even from his own model, which tends to stray pretty far from the actors who portrayed them, in most cases.
His big action scenes tend towards being overstuffed and difficult to follow, and his anatomy and proportions often prove distracting. One of the advantages of telling a story in comic book form as opposed to on TV is that you don’t have the same kind of budget constraints – though obviously there are still some constraints – particularly when it comes to exciting magical and superhuman action. That lack of constraints ultimately proved to be a problem in Season 8, as it led to going overboard in some significant ways, but here, the artist just isn’t able to deliver on the potential.
Still, there are obviously things I’ve enjoyed over the seasons, such as the sharp dialogue, the snark, and some of the personal and interpersonal drama, and this definitely has that. Like I said, however, I am glad to see it moving towards an end, but I am at least interested in seeing that end.
Of the post-TV show comics, I’ve probably enjoyed Angel & Faith more than most of the others, so check it out. Or look for anything else you might be interested in; I’ll get a teeny-tiny cut if you buy anything via the link below.
That does it for the Spotlight. Be sure to check back on Saturday for the Showcase.
Oh, and maybe you could see your way clear to support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon?