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(Review) Spike: Shadow Puppets #1

24th June 2007 (01:13)
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Today I bought issue 1 of 'Spike: Shadow Puppets' and since I've been reviewing Season 8, I thought I'd do the same for this.  Brief précis: I enjoyed it, but not as much as some other people around here seemed to. :)  I'm rating it Decent.

Warning: this story comes after 'Spike:Asylum' in continuity, and so my review will include some minor spoilers for that comic as well.

Also, here's four free icons to share and enjoy. :) 

        

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The review

So: after a brief teaser we start with Spike getting into a fight with some demons in a bar. Which, curiously enough, is exactly the same way 'Asylum' started. Clearly since Passions got cancelled Spike's had to make his own entertainment... Speaking of the teaser, assuming the killers were wee little puppet ninja (WLPN henceforth), I liked that they're in character as Smile Time puppets ("Well duh. We've got swords.") rather than as traditional ninja.

Anyway, back to Spike getting the brush-off from a waitress he tries to pick up. Wonder if she's really gay or if that was an excuse? Still, Spike's internal monologue is nicely ironic as he wanders past the happy couples trying to convince himself he's content to be alone. Spangel fans will also doubtless be pleased to see that Spike is still All About Angel, from the design on his business card and his (later) Angelcentric pros and cons on why to go to Japan, to his self-introduction: "But as far as vampires go, I rank in the top two." (Mind you, personally I sometimes suspect Drusilla is far more dangerous than either Spike or Angel...) 

What I'm a little dubious about is the fact that in this comic, Spike is apparently quite happy to play second fiddle to Angel: from ranking himself in the top two (implying that he doesn't see himself as number one) to his later reaction when Marco calls him the B-team to Angel's A-team: he has a snappy comeback, but he doesn't seem too put out by the snub that would have infuriated him during Angel-S5. 

Last time Spike got behind on his debts he got chased by a shark with legs (and on land). Now it's a demon with a laser beam in its head; clearly he's come up in the world. Spike convincing himself that he's perfectly justified in running away like a scared little girl is amusing, but again doesn't seem much like the Spike we used to know. The idea of him cowering behind a hot dog cart because a car backfiring scared him seems particularly out of character - although it's at least consistent with the buffoon side of him that occasionally came out on the show (for example, him getting tasered in the middle of his "I will make your neck my chalice" speech in Buffy-S4). 

Anyway, at least Spike's neighbour seems nicer than Harmony's. When she says "Your kind like scones, right?" I do wonder what she thinks Spike's kind is: the implication is she knows he's a vampire, but she might also mean British people, rock musicians who look like Billy Idol, or who knows what...

Speaking of people's looks: thank goodness Lorne has green skin and horns, because otherwise I would never have recognised him from this artwork. Nor from his personality either: assertive, impatient, mocking, eager to help the helpless even if it means bullying Spike to do it. None of that seems much like Lorne, and especially not the broken, a-plague-on-both-your-houses Lorne that shot Lindsey, threw away the gun and walked away. I know Lorne played a part in 'Asylum', and he was much more in character then, having to be pretty much pressured by Spike into helping against his will. Maybe this is payback? Or maybe there's some secret agenda yet to be revealed? He certainly seems eager to go to Japan, so I'm guessing he has ulterior motives. Also, who sent the package? "For Spike (not the ponce)" actually sounds like it was written by Spike himself, possibly through some form of odd puppet-related timetravel...

On an upnote, I did smile at the comment about the Smile Time puppets rhyming in English even though they were speaking Japanese. :) And Spike's checklist of pros and cons ends with "probably a trap", which at least shows he's learned something from 'Asylum'. Of course, he goes anyway...

OK, one problem. The debt collector laser-beam demon shows up and starts blasting the apartment block, which is presumably full of innocent humans. What does Spike do? Apparently, keeps quiet and sneaks off. Let's hope not too many people got killed in the resulting fire.

Also, I bet Angel would have loved to have known about that demon airline during 'Surprise' in Buffy-S2. Instead of catching a slow boat to China and leaving Buffy alone for six months, he could have flown and been there and back in a couple of days. Still, I can sympathise with the writer not wanting to show Spike and Lorne hiding together in a cargo container for six months. :)

The running joke about the one-eyed Turk was amusing. And people catching an arrow in mid-flight is always impressive. (I think we've seen the Master do it in 'Prophecy Girl' and again in 'The Wish', Angel do it in 'Five by Five', and Buffy do it in 'Help'. Any others I've missed?)

I'm guessing that the WLPN are using "hai!" as a general exclamation, rather than shouting "Yes! Yes! Yes!! YES!!" in Japanese. :) Spike's reaction to fighting them was, for once, spot-on characterisation.

The appearance (and dialogue) of the Smile Time puppets was suitably ominous and menacing, which is an odd thing to say about kapok-stuffed felt muppets but nevertheless true. Unfortuantely, I don't think the comic format does the concept many favours: on TV, the felt puppets really stand out as being something strange. On the flat page where textures aren't visible, they really don't look all that different to the other characters. If, as I suspect, Spike and/or Lorne does turn into a puppet in a later episode, I wonder if the artist will be able to convince us he's actually changed?

The "official Smile Time cannon" and Spike's comment was wryly amusing in a breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of way. And Spike actually manages to look menacing as he gets up and dusts himself off.

And the ending is funny, in a "how is the TV news going to explain downtown Tokyo being overrun by thousands of puppet ninja?" kind of way. Actually, I suppose they're used to monsters attacking downtown Tokyo, so it'll be buried in item four of the local news roundup. I wonder if Gojira will show up next episode?

So to sum up: it was fun, and had some amusing moments and was frequently in character. The artwork was energetic and you could follow the action going on easily enough: but honestly, it's a good thing that the characters in the story are (a) a vampire with radioactive spiky blond hair and razor-sharp cheekbones (b) a green-skinned demon with red eyes and horns (c) a bunch of puppets - because if Urru was trying to draw normal human characters like, say, Buffy and Willow, I'm not sure I'd recognise them at all.

The question of canon, official or not, is an interesting one. Given the references to the Angel-S5 episode 'Smile Time' happening quite some time in the past, it's obvious that this story takes place after 'Not Fade Away'; possibly in the same timescale as 'The Long Way Home', in fact. But no hint is given as to exactly how Spike survived the battle in the alley; or for that matter whether Angel did or not. (It's strongly implied Angel's alive, if only because Spike's still referring to him and not in the past tense: but it's not specifically stated). There's also no clue as to why Spike still hasn't gone to see Buffy, and is instead wandering around Las Vegas and Los Angeles trying to pick up waitresses and strippers. (Incidentally, it's even implied that he's not had much success with them: which makes me wonder if the real Spike was killed in that alley, and has been replaced by a demonic clone who lacks his previously irresistable sex appeal?)

In fact, it seems to me this really defines the difference between "official cannon" and the spin-off comics: Joss's season 8 can actually move the story forward and provide significant changes in the lives (and deaths) of the characters. The spin-offs, meanwhile, are stuck in the same groove, repeating the same motions again and again like Lindsey and Gunn in the W&H holding dimension: the characters aren't allowed to develop and any change has to be reset at the end of each story.

Having said that, I wouldn't be totally unhappy if Beck shows up in Japan. Take several foam-filled felt puppets, add one pyrokinetic avatar of a fire god, and step back hastily. :)
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Comments

Posted by: magista (magista)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 05:44 (UTC)

The puppet!ninjas totally made me think of the SWAT teams from The Blues Brothers, rappelling down the building going 'hup, hup, hup' all the way...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 16:24 (UTC)

I thik that must be one of Britan Lynch's favourite movies: he references the same scene in 'Asylum ' too...

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 08:43 (UTC)
Puppet!Spike by moscow_watcher

Snagged an icon, thank you!

Also, we are obviously very, very different! To focus on the main points:

he doesn't seem too put out by the snub that would have infuriated him during Angel-S5.

Joss's season 8 can actually move the story forward and provide significant changes in the lives (and deaths) of the characters. The spin-offs, meanwhile, are stuck in the same groove, [...] the characters aren't allowed to develop and any change has to be reset at the end of each story.


Allow me to disagree quite loudly. The *reason* Spike isn't too put out by the snub, is because he dealt with a lot of his Angel issues in 'Asylum'. He has grown as a character since the end of the show, and we have observed that growth. The characters in s8 are far less accessible to me (except for Xander) and their new surroundings is alienating. Whereas Spike now has made himself a whole life that we can easily understand. You compare the beginnings of 'Asylum' and 'Shadow Puppets'. Yes they both begin with a fight, but in Asylum Spike was saving the girl just for the sake of it (and walking away, all Noble Hero), whereas now he's making money from it (and hitting on the girl). (Also the Monaghans obviously gave him the idea back in Asylum.) Lovely continuity and development - just the same way that Buffy seasons would always start in a cemetery with vampires, but the differences in circumstances would indicate how things had changed.

But no hint is given as to exactly how Spike survived the battle in the alley; or for that matter whether Angel did or not.
I'm presuming S6 will clear all that up. All we know is that they survived somehow.

And I have to run...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 16:58 (UTC)

Whereas Spike now has made himself a whole life that we can easily understand.

I think my biggest problem is that to me, he hasn't done anything of the sort; he's pretty much in a holding pattern from Angel-S5 after he met Lindsey (when, in turn, he was doing his imitation of Angel from S1). Yes, the fact that he's shopping at IKEA is funny (do they even have IKEA in California?); but with Buffy-S8 I'm anxious to learn how and why the characters have progressed since the end of 'Chosen'. With these comics, there's no real mystery. (Well, except for how they survived the alley...)

I'm presuming S6 will clear all that up. All we know is that they survived somehow.
They survived, and Spike wandered off to fight evil by himself? With no interference from Mr 'This is my city' Angel? I suppose...

Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate 'Shadow Puppets'. Maybe it's just a case of being disappointed bacause my expectations were built so high... Or, like I sdaid, because fundamentally I'm a BtVS fan, not an Ats fan. (And because I'm willing to forgive just about anything whre Willow is concerned, just like other fans are willing to forgive anything if Spike's there...)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 25th June 2007 13:07 (UTC)
official cannon by stormwreath

And because I'm willing to forgive just about anything whre Willow is concerned, just like other fans are willing to forgive anything if Spike's there...
Yes, favourite characters carry a lot of weight. :)

with Buffy-S8 I'm anxious to learn how and why the characters have progressed since the end of 'Chosen'.
And I'm just... not. Actually it occurred to me that maybe I ought to explain my stand-off-ish attitude towArds s8. First of all, s8 and I just hit it off on the wrong foot. Joss said: “It’s going to be canon!” and I said: “HELL NO!”

The thing is, I sorta need to put this in context, because really it has nothing to do with comic books. Do you remember a few years ago when it looked like the Spike-movie might happen? This would be a chance to see James Marsters himself on screen again, playing Spike in a story where he was the hero. And that is probably as close as you can get to a Holy Grail for Spike-fans. It would have been *incredible*! And yet... I was deeply ambivalent. It would be canon... ish. It would mess with NFA by trying to set down in stone what happened afterwards. And I didn’t want that. I love Spike, but... I love the show more. I didn’t want *anything* to interfere with the perfect ending we were given.

So... fastforward to now. Take out the onscreen factor, and the Spike factor (which were what made me squee). Replace with comics w. less than thrilling artwork, a story that doesn’t excite me and stupid ret-cons, and you have my reaction to s8. I didn’t have high expectations, all I wanted was good entertainment... a story to grab me like fics do. And it just hasn't. The Spike comics have - because they're fun. And the fact that underneath the fun there are serious issues being addressed is what makes them seem much closer to the show I loved, than s8. Also I love the noir factor. :)

Anyway, that was a lot of waffle and I'm not sure I said anything. Essentially, Lynch makes me care about Spike. Joss does not make me care about Buffy. Simple as that.

Posted by: azdak (azdak)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 10:44 (UTC)

(Incidentally, it's even implied that he's not had much success with them: which makes me wonder if the real Spike was killed in that alley, and has been replaced by a demonic clone who lacks his previously irresistable sex appeal?)

I don't think Spike was ever shown as being irresistible to female characters, was he? (The audience, of course, is a different matter...)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 16:22 (UTC)

Not only female characters: don't forget Xander in 'Intervention' ("Spike is strong and mysterious and sort of compact but well-muscled.")

And in 'Sleeper', he only has to walk up to a woman waiting outside a nightclub and say hello and she's dragging him off to the nearest alley. From later that episode:

BUFFY: Oh, uh, actually, I need some help. I'm looking for this guy. Bleach-blonde hair, leather jacket, British accent? Kind of sallow, but in a hot way?
BOUNCER: Yeah, yeah, I know the guy. Billy Idol wannabe?
BUFFY: Actually, Billy Idol stole his look from—never mind. Has he been here?
BOUNCER: This guy your boyfriend or something?
BUFFY: No, I-I just—I need to find him, as soon as possible.
BOUNCER: Yeah, he comes in here a lot lately. Every night leaves with a different girl. Chicks like Billy Idol.
BUFFY: (looks upset) How many girls?
BOUNCER: Look, this guy—this not your boyfriend guy—if I were you, I'd lose him. He's a real player.

OK, he was evil and controlled by the First at that point, but still...

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 12:06 (UTC)

I downloaded this one being curious to see the art. It’s not quite fair to compare to reading an actual comic but the storyline is much more straightforwardly linear than in Joss’s work so I don’t think it made too much difference.

I slightly disagree with you about the Spike characterisation being off when he’s running from the debt collector (he did leave Buffy to deal with Mr. Teeth). The unsuccessful hitting on people is straight from Soul Purpose. He’s pretty much all gruff anti-hero with a heart of gold, the vicious sarcastic edge he could reveal on the show isn’t very visible, and I did find the All About Angelness a little wearing. The writing feels so focussed on his not!Angelness that it can be hard to see the Spike of him.

If Urru was trying to draw normal human characters like, say, Buffy and Willow, I'm not sure I'd recognise them at all.
I find the way he draws women a little offputting to be honest, they all seem on the faceless cleavgely-slutbomb side and it took me several takes to recognize Illyria in the “Spike imagines nobody loves him” sections. If it is set post NFA I assume the person who wasn’t Angel was Wesley, which may be spoilery for the proposed S6. I think the art is a very good match for AtS but am beginning to suspect I’m more of a manga person. I’d rather have readable faces and dialogue than voiceovers and blank expressions.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 16:43 (UTC)

I suppose the thing about characterisation is that a well-rounded character with depth doesn't act 100% consistently in all situations... the problem comes when a writer looks at episodes A and B to decide how he'd behave, but the reader is remembering his very different behaviour as shown in episodes C, D, E and F... So yeah, maybe it's not quite as bad as my initial reaction.

Illyria appears? Where?

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 25th June 2007 08:20 (UTC)

Yes, I'd forgotten his success rate in the bars of Sunnydale. Maybe he's really just a small town hearthrob, a sort of Midnight Cowboy not able to make the cut in the big city. Or the rescuing people loses him his bad boy schtick. Or his heart's not it so he's subconsciously focussing on the impossible ones. Again.

The page where someone who looks like a young Angel is saying Spike died stupid. I think it's Illyria. Her hair is blue.

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 27th June 2007 16:28 (UTC)
Puppet!Spike by moscow_watcher

Or his heart's not it so he's subconsciously focussing on the impossible ones. Again.
Mostly I'm guessing he's broadcasting *this* message:

"Great Muppety Odin I miss that sex!"

He's not after a relationship...

The page where someone who looks like a young Angel is saying Spike died stupid. I think it's Illyria. Her hair is blue.
Not sure what comic you're referring to, but it's not 'Shadow Puppets'. No such line, no such characters.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th June 2007 18:33 (UTC)

Mostly I'm guessing he's broadcasting *this* message: "Great Muppety Odin I miss that sex!"

So that's why the Smile Time muppets have come after him?!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th June 2007 18:07 (UTC)

Light dawns. You were talking about the issue #2 preview, which I'd not yet seen.

I recognised Illyria, Wesley and Angel easily enough, but perhaps because I'd read your comment here and was mentally primed to expect them...

But given that this is Spike's imagination, it's not necessarily true that this is a present-day (as of 'Shadow Puppets') scene; it might be his imagination of the past.

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 15:39 (UTC)

It's nothing new that most Whedonverse women are immune to Spike's charms. Spike could only pick up chicks who were ditzy, evil, (Harmony, Sheila) emotional basket cases (Depressed!Buffy) or several of the above (Dru). It's only the audience that consistently thinks he's irresistable. (And I'm only half joking.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 16:31 (UTC)

I disagree: see my reply to azdak above. The truth is that most of the time, Spike wasn't interested in other women, except (when evil) as food. But if we look at him in season 7, he was constantly either fending off women making passes at him, or when brainwashed, taking them home or into alleys. The bouncer at the Bronze said he saw Spike leaving with a different girl every night.

In fact, I could ask whether, apart from Dawn - and Willow, Tara and Kennedy, obviously - any women on the show ever didn't see Spike as attractive? (Even if they also hated him for being evil?)

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 24th June 2007 17:11 (UTC)

Well, I said I was half joking. Realistically, yes, Spike has to be good at picking up girls because otherwise he'd have gone hungry a lot. However, the girls he picks up are for the most part portrayed as skanks (like Sheila) or as gullible and foolish (like the bar girls in S7).

The only time I can remember a major female character who was not immature/gullible/stupid/evil/trying to cover the fact she was searching his room/emotionally disturbed making a pass at Spike was when he and Faith have that flirty conversation in the basement. OTOH a huge point is made of how irresistible women find Angel. Mmmmmmm, Angel!

I'm not especially faulting the writers for this; if Spike were actually battling off thousands of women, it would be a lot harder to sympathize with his romantic woes re: Buffy.

Posted by: mikeda (mikeda)
Posted at: 26th March 2009 19:52 (UTC)

Dawn, of course, had a crush on Spike in S5 (and probably S6).

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 26th March 2009 20:13 (UTC)
dawn-squee

Now I'm trying to remember what I was thinking when I wrote that. :-)

I think that Dawn didn't really have a crush on Spike, so much as she saw him as a glamorous older brother type. But I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise.

Posted by: mrs_underhill (mrs_underhill)
Posted at: 27th June 2007 01:29 (UTC)
evil_penguin

Here from IDW board rec.
Nice review, and some valid points. Hope it's OK if I try to clarify some points which might make more sense of this comics.

Design on Angel's business card - there's a knife through an angel's head on that pisture. Yes, it's about Angel, but not in a remotely fawning way.
"But as far as vampires go, I rank in the top two" - he meant that he's not bad (in a moral sense) for a vampire. He didn't mean badass, he meant - a good person. And there are only two of them with souls, so only two of them can qualify. No problem on my end - he might think himself more badass than Angel, but as for who is a better person - not such an easy choice for him. And his relationship with Angel is very complex. He spends half of Angel-5 trying to get validation from Angel, sometimes beating it out of him. He wouldn't bother if he didn't respect Angel a lot.

As for being infuriated by B-team - he looked pretty pissed to me. And there's more of that in #2 preview. Fury off the chart, I'd say.

Running from a debt collector - I agree, a bit over the top. And how they got away from that guy without endangering neighbours? I wish it was made clearer. Why can't he just beat off his creditors? Maybe because he doesn't feel himself in the right? "I'm no welsher". Some kind of an honour code, maybe, which makes him to avoid the guys rather than kill them?

Lady with the scones meant that he's British (as in British people like scones).
And Lorne - it's implied in #2 that it's pre-NFA, so it addresses the issues with his character. Also, he is hiding something, it's made obvious on the plane. So there's a reason behind his urging Spike to go to Japan - we'll learn it soon enough.

As for not much success with waitresses and strippers, and wondering if the real Spike was killed and replaced with a clone without his previous sex appeal - yes, you could say that it happened on the show. Only not in the alley - in Africa. Let's not forget WHAT made Spike to seek his soul. After that he's never confident with women like he was before. The whole point of the First control in Sleeper was that he was acting OOC, against his post-soul characterization. He would never turn his former predatory charm on women again, I bet. Because thaht charm was for - you know - eating them. I see picking up waitresses etc. as more of the Champion image thing and just wanting to hang out with somebody, rather then trying to do real conquests.

And I agree about Beck - would be nice to see her again, and her friends. I bet we'll get more development, for the character and everything, in the next issues.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th June 2007 08:52 (UTC)

Thanks for the comments: you make some good points. (I've not seen the #2 preview yet). I'd not thought that he was contrasting "bad, bad man" with being in the top two vampires in a moral sense, but if that's true, it's certainly a lot more in character. Likewise the idea that he's running away from the debt collector because deep down he believes he' in the wrong and the debt collector is in the right - although unfortunately his internal monologue just makes it seem like cowardice, not honour.

British people like scones
As a British person myself, I've never really got this stereotype. :) Where's it from?

Posted by: mrs_underhill (mrs_underhill)
Posted at: 27th June 2007 13:37 (UTC)
evil_penguin

Hee, the scones stereotype? It's American. "Me British - me like tea and scones". It's funny how some other British people on IDW board also didn't get this reference. But Americans did. Whatever - I like tea and scones, and I live in America. :)

As for running from the creditor - what other choice did he have, if he didn't want to kill him? It's either run away or be killed (or pay him back -but it's hinted he's out of money). And of course running away is not something he's proud of, so he covers it for himself.
I thought about it because of Tabula Rasa - how he killed everyone there but not the Shark. He would consider it a hit on his pride, I think, to be known as a welsher. He might pay him back and then kill him. But killing instead of paying - he would see it as showing weakness, not worthy of a Big Bad. So it's not something honorable or altruistic, but a selfish thing, a matter of pride, which he had even pre-soul.

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