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Reaction to reaction to the comics

7th April 2007 (14:51)
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Edited to add another free icon! (Note: views expressed in it may not be those of the management.)



This came out of a reply I wrote to elisi 's LJ, but I thought I'd expand on it here. There's been a fair bit of unfavourable reaction to the comics so far, which she summed up in this quote:
Both molly_may and thedeadlyhook comment on how all the men (even Andrew!) seem to be cool and in charge, whereas the Slayers are just a bunch of girls that need someone to lead them. And Buffy is all tied down and helpless...

I can sort of see the point if I squint hard, but I'm not really buying it. Xander seems cool and in charge, certainly - which I think is deserved after his character development in seasons 5-7. Even so, as soon as the excrement hits the rotary air impeller at the end of #2 he freezes up and panics, unable to help. Giles is cool and domineering, but I'm not sure he's doing much to win the respect of the girls he's teaching - Buffy's hands-on approach seems much better from that perspective. And Andrew is whiny, irrelevant and annoying, and fails to give proper answers.

As for the women - remember the very first scene of #1 was a group of new Slayers kicking ass. Leah, Satsu and Rowena did the cool abseiling out of a helicopter thing with Buffy, and Rowena's squad killed two of the big scaley demons while Buffy herself only got one of them - and while Buffy was back on form with the quippage, Leah got in a sarky remark of her own... at Buffy's expense, no less.

Mind you, Buffy's being a pretty effective leader here - showing not only excellent fighting ability (note that she can beat three Slayers single handed, and make it look easy) but a good grasp of tactics (the 'flank them' surprise attack in the cathedral in #1) and is also showing concern for the morale and feelings of her squad. Contrast her comments about Satsu's new hairdo here with the way she didn't even learn the Potentials' names in S7...

As for the supposed "pandering to the male gaze" - yes, I suppose the shot of Buffy tied to her bed could be considered exploitative, but I hope people complaining about it also complained about all the images of shirtless Spike or Angel being chained up we were given on the show. :) It's meant to be a nightmare image - very deliberately reminiscent of the old cliché of the virgin in a scanty negligee tied to a sacrificial altar. Joss starts subverting it on the very next page when Amy's dagger splits into fragments when she tries to stab Buffy. As for whether Buffy is a damsel needing to be rescued by heroic men - firstly, Xander seems pretty much at a loss at the end of the episode and if there is any cavalry riding to the rescue, it's in the form of a cute redhead in a flowy green dress and RenFair bodice, not a man. But given what we're shown of Buffy's dream, I've a suspicion that she's going to have to fight her own way out of the enchantment, by drawing on her own strengths, instincts and memories of relationships. Call it a feeling...

On a final note here, I think this quote from Mr Whedon from his introduction to 'Fray' might be relevant:
"I had come to Dark Horse with pretty much one stipulation: No cheesecake. No giant silicone hooters, no standing with her butt out in that bizarrely uncomfortable soft-core pose that so many artists favor. None of those outfits that casually - and constantly - reveal portions of thong. I wanted a real girl"
Of course, real girls do sometimes wear nothing but their underwear, especially if they're in their bedroom getting ready for bed. The gratuitousness only comes if they do it all the time, even when there's no apparent reason for it...


Secondly, a lot of people have dismissed the comics as "only Joss's fanfiction" - which quite frankly, considering how most people here write fanfiction, seems a rather self-denegratory thing to say. Do we really think so little of what we do, do we see it as so trivial and insignificant, that comparing Season 8 to fanfic is a way to ignore it as irrelevant?

Because it seems to me that writing anything takes the same skills of plotting, characterisation, dialogue and description. True, non-fanfiction requires thinking up original characters and world-building - but to paraphrase Terry Pratchett (because I can't remember the exact quote), "When people ask me 'Where do you get your ideas from?' I don't really know how to reply. I get ideas all the time, non-stop... that's not the problem. The trick is turning the ideas into an actual story that people want to read." I'm sure any fanfic writer will sympathise: plot bunnies breed like, well, like rabbits - it's actually writing and finishing a full-length story that's the difficult part. While fanfic writers have less original creation to do, they have instead the necessity to make sure their people and plots stay in character and believable within the context of the existing canon - which is a different skill, but no less a skill.

This, however, does point to the one big difference between fanfic and original fic: someone like Joss has the freedom to innovate. Fanfic sometimes does this too, but hesitantly and protected by a wall of 'AU' and 'non-canon' warning statements that put a lot of people off. Mostly, though, characters and situations from the original show are trapped in amber, unable to develop or progress or change.

16-year old Buffy had no sexual interest in Xander, so in fanfic Buffy can never have any sexual interest in him ever, or she'd be out of character. As the original creator Joss isn't bound by such limitations: he's free to choose what he thinks would make a good story, and then decide if and how this can be reconciled with previous character developments.

And if a relationship is encumbered with all sorts of issues and baggage and potential conflicts - why, I think that would make him more likely to set it up, not less. It's the way he works...

Comments

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 14:20 (UTC)
Fanfic by kathyh

Even so, as soon as the excrement hits the rotary air impeller at the end of #2 he freezes up and panics, unable to help. Giles is cool and domineering, but I'm not sure he's doing much to win the respect of the girls he's teaching - Buffy's hands-on approach seems much better from that perspective. And Andrew is whiny, irrelevant and annoying, and fails to give proper answers.
Yes - I meant to write something along those lines myself, but since today is a beautiful, sunshiny day, any moment I spend by the computer is seen as a betrayal of my love for my family... So thank you for writing this - and for elaborating far more than I would have!

Secondly, a lot of people have dismissed the comics as "only Joss's fanfiction" - which quite frankly, considering how most people here write fanfiction, seems a rather self-denegratory thing to say.
Hmmm - not necessarily. When I say it's like fanfiction, I mostly mean that I don't consider it canon (which it can't be unless it's on screen - comics are nice but not the same). And also it means that Joss has a lot of (very, very good) competition - I've read some truly spectacular fanfic and Joss has to work hard to impress me. So it's more a case of raising the bar, than dismissing him.

The problem with characterisation is that everyone has 'their' Buffy or 'their' Willow etc, and what one person might consider OOC, another wouldn't blink at (just look at all the Spike/Xander fic out there...).

But I must run - I hope that answered your question?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 15:17 (UTC)

since today is a beautiful, sunshiny day, any moment I spend by the computer is seen as a betrayal of my love for my family

Buy a laptop, set up a wireless network, and sit in the garden with them! Problem solved! :)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 16:07 (UTC)
sell my children by eyesthatslay

Sadly that would involve actually having money...

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 14:53 (UTC)

This, however, does point to the one big difference between fanfic and original fic: someone like Joss has the freedom to innovate. Fanfic sometimes does this too, but hesitantly and protected by a wall of 'AU' and 'non-canon' warning statements that put a lot of people off.

I think that's why for all the "it's not canon" protestations people know in their guts that it's not fanfic either. Fanfic is a much safer read, if you don't like it it has no impact on your own personal canon but these comics even for those who deny them raise doubts. On a different but related tack, if people were to criticise a piece of fanfic in the terms that have been used here there'd be the wank kerfuffle to end all kerfuffle's, I mean look at the response to the recent SGA-racism debate. This level of criticism and counter crticism is entirely routine for the source texts, however, and probably should be.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 15:21 (UTC)

I think you're right that there's an element of protesting too much going on. (When in my original review I compared Buffy coming on to Xander to the destruction of Alderaan I thought I was employing humorous exaggeration, not understatement...)

I think I must have missed the 'SGA-racism debate' - do you have a link or a summary or something?

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 16:44 (UTC)

Check the last few weeks of posts at metafandom

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 22:32 (UTC)

Ah. OK. I see now. :)

Thanks for the link...

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 14:54 (UTC)

Cannot really comment too much as I have yet to read issue two although the comment about Andrew being whiny and useless makes me happy.

On the male leadership thing issue one actually gave me the opposite concern in that the comic would overdose on female empowerment much like season 6 did. One of my concerns was that the male characters would again be reduced to useless hangons which was a problem in the last two seasons.

I tend to find Buffy works best when it doesn't get preachy and instead uses metaphor. It can leave preachiness to BSG or Trek.

On the fanfic thing. I don't agree with it but I can see where it is coming from. Giant Dawn would seem to be a sympton of this. JW running with a rubbish idea not out of place in fanfic as he doesn't have TV budgetary constraints.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 15:25 (UTC)

So far, Xander seems to have a pretty strong role, even if I suspect he's not going to turn out to be quite the paragon of manliness some people seem to be afraid of so far. Like I said elsewhere, there were some off-stage problems with the actors in the later seasons which might have impacted how much screen time they got. Just as Joss now has an unlimited budget for Giant Dawnlike special effects, he also doesn't have to worry about actors throwing tantrums, wanting to spend more time with their families in England, or hitting the bottle...

Posted by: The Deadly Hook (thedeadlyhook)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 17:18 (UTC)
Buffy Comic Portrait by awmp

Actually, my issues with the comic so far have less to do with story - as you point out, all of what we see now can be explained in a satisfying way or later reversed - and more to do with the comic format. I feel like we're being handed a chaptered graphic novel, and unfortunately quite a few of those chapters look like they're going to include misleading scenarios or scenes in which the heroine isn't doing much, in contrast to other characters. Buffy's current predicament isn't too far from Disney's Cinderella, where the wicked stepmother locks her in a garrett, and she's reliant on her friends, the house mice, to save her. That we have to wait until next issue for the reversal of this - not a week away, like in TV - means that for the meantime, it's cool to have the heroine of the book tied to the tracks like the Perils of Pauline. And that doesn't exactly say "Buffy's the hero!" the way it would if she busted loose in the same issue. Essentially, my problem is that I think Joss's storytelling style is kind of an ill fit for monthly comics - if he released this as a complete story instead of parceling it out, I'm sure I'd have a different set of reactions.

But this isn't a criticism I'm leveling only at Joss, by the way - the decompressed story format in contemporary comics has been bugging me for awhile. It's not uncommon to grab the first issue of a new series and the main character doesn't even show up, let alone get around to telling us what their deal is. And the part of me that wants to enjoy a multilayered, complex story, and the part of me that just wants to see the heroes be heroes without all the shilly-shallying, end up coming into direct conflict. Sometimes you have to wait a long time just to find out if the ride was going to be worth it, and sometimes... it's really not.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 20:07 (UTC)

Interesting thoughts - I know that for me, it is an odd experience having to read small installments at a time. I watched all but two seasons of Buffy on DVD first, rather than broadcast, so I was able to see them straight through with no gaps. Likewise, the only comics I've read recently before this - Fray and the Serenity one - were in graphic-novel format rather than the monthly issues. However, because this is a new experience for me, I've consciously told myself I need to approach it differently, and not jump to conclusions about the overall story based on one single issue. So far it seems to be working. :)

Mind you, I get the impression that people watching the broadcast episodes also had to wait, sometimes for weeks, between new episodes. In Britain the BBC had a nasty habit of cancelling showing the new Buffy episode in favour of snooker tournaments and so forth: I understand in the US it was even worse, with even bigger gaps sometimes. So it's not like this is a new thing for people, really, is it?

Posted by: The Deadly Hook (thedeadlyhook)
Posted at: 7th April 2007 20:40 (UTC)
Buffy Comic Portrait by awmp

So it's not like this is a new thing for people, really, is it?

No, not really, but it was certainly annoying then, too. There's this tension between the Rocketeer-esque serial format - aha, cliffhanger! Whatever shall happen next episode! - and consistency of character, which I do think ultimately suffers a bit if you go to that cliffhanger well too often.

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