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(Review) BtVS 8.05 'The Chain'

26th July 2007 (20:27)

It's been a two-month wait, and I didn't even realise the new Buffy comic was out this week until I saw some other reviews appearing (although I deliberately didn't read any of them before writing my own comments here). And when I got to Forbidden Planet they'd already sold out! - thankfully I've got my copy reserved there.


So. My first reaction is that this was powerful, deep, emo, and rather weird. I'm not sure I can say I liked it, exactly; I can say that I read it through three times within the space of two hours; it was that compelling.

You know which episode it reminded me of the most?  'Passion'. It's got the voice-overs, the tragedy and the death. But at the same time it was strangely uplifting .... Thought-provoking, I think is the term.

Also, here's another of my compare-and-contrast pictures. What's the consensus? Two different people, or is the one on the right Rona after she's grown older, lost some puppy fat and matured into more of a leader? Me, I think the artist actually used this photo of Indigo as a base to draw her from...



Anyway, onto the detailed review. Incidentally, I'm writing *Buffy to indicate the protagonist of this story, since we never learn her real name.


Starting the episode with the death of *Buffy is certainly one way to let us know that this isn't going to be all hugs and puppies. I'm not entirely sure how she can still be narrating the story despite being dead. My first thought was that it's simply artistic licence. However, on close study, you can see that her eyes are open and staring in the scenes where the demon is holding her body aloft, and also when he tosses her aside. But on the very last page, her eyes are closed and she has a faint smile on her face. So, I currently think she was narrating the story to us as she lay there dying on the ground, made her peace, and died content.

Or alternatively, maybe the faerie eggs laid inside her skull somehow allowed her to survive death - perhaps her soul transmigrated into the eggs, and she hatched out as a fairy? :-)

A lot of people have said they found 'The Long Way Home' difficult to follow, because of the way it skipped between different scenes and locations. I hate to think what they'll make of this! We skip backwards and forwards between the day *Buffy becamse a Slayer, scenes from her training, the early part of her mission underground, and the fight where she is killed. It does make sense - at least, on thre second or third read-through. :-) And of course, if *Buffy is dying, what we have here is her life flashing in front of her eyes...

The fairies make an interesting addition to canon, as does the whole concept of the underground world with its varied denizens. Their reproductive habits are a classic Joss touch. I especially liked "It's not fatal"... The end of this scene, where the fairy says "I love you, Buffy", was quite powerful. On one level, we know this Slayer isn't 'really' Buffy, so this scene is based on a lie; but on a deeper level - as the episode's climax makes plain - names don't matter when set against what you actually do. In the end, *Buffy acted just as heroically as the real Buffy would have.

The school lunchtime scenes seemed very true-to-life and well-observed. I did think that the 'hazmat suit' comment was a case of Joss thinking of a witty line, then having second thoughts about whether a typical ~15-year old schoolgirl would know about such things, and covering himself by letting her add the disclaimer about "Is that what they're called?" *Buffy here gives a pretty good impersonation of being a bolshie teenager; she makes some cutting remarks to her friends, but the fact that they don't seem upset but carry straight on with their side of the conversation suggests this is just friendly banter. 

I assume the punchline is that Mike Billenger apparently wears girls' underwear himself? Or am I missing something? ;-)

The scene with the chain of Slayers has already attracted a lot of discussion. From left to right, #1 is obviously *Buffy; #2 is the First Slayer; #3 is unknown - my first thought was that it's Buffy herself (the real one) but Scott Allie does say in his editorial that she doesn't appear in this issue, so maybe it's just a blonde lookalike. Hey, maybe she's actually Rome!Buffy. #4 is unknown; her smock looks vaguely Chinese (or Peruvian) so maybe it's the first Slayer Spike killed; #5 is definitely Nikki Wood. The others I don't recognise.

Speaking of recognising people: the first time I looked at the cheesy commercial page, I thought it was an advert, not part of the story. After a couple of looks, I began to wonder if the guy with the gelled-up hair was Andrew in the same costume he wore in 'Storyteller' - then it hit me in a flash that not only is it definitely Andrew, but the woman was Vi - in fact looking at it now, I wonder how I could ever not see she looks exactly like Felicia Day. Once I realised this was an actual in-world video, not some sort of dream or hallucination, I first thought it was a spoof the two of them created to show at Slayer get-togethers; but now I'm inclined to think it was actually being shown on cable TV networks.  It sounds like exactly the sort of really stupid idea only Andrew could come up with...

Has anyone based in the US actually tried dialling 1-800-CHOSEN-1 and seeing who answers?

The induction and training scenes were a good Slayers-eye view of the process that we've already seen more of from Buffy's perspective in issues 1-4. I liked the way that *Buffy was rather cynical and suspicious at first, but became won over by the whole Slayer-sisterhood-duty thing. And even grudgingly admits that Giles' speech was "actually really articulate." (Nice cameo role for Giles there, incidentally.) The voice-over physically laid over Giles' speech balloon with some lines peeping through was very cleverly done.

In the alley fight scene, it did strike me that *Buffy could equally well have become *Faith instead, if Faith ever needed a stand-in. It's a tank top and dark hair thing, mostly. Also, judging by her purple hair with a tuft sticking up and her comment about guns, I'm confident in pronouncing that Simone in this scene is the 'Tank Girl' Slayer who was arguing with Andrew in 'The Long Way Home' #2

This scene actually bears some more detailed analysis. Names are a big deal in this episode. Apart from the school scene before *Buffy became a Slayer, there are only three names given in the entire comic: the demon lord Yamanh of Hoht, and the Slayer Buffy Summers.... and Simone here. Simone is clearly a good fighter; she defeated the big vampire with a sword, and two of the other Slayers are obviously awe-struck by her ability. But the Slayer *Buffy rescued sees straight through her pretensions; Simone only cares about herself. She wants to be a hero: she wants to make a name for herself. She might not even notice one of her fighting-companions getting her throat chewed on by a vampire. But *Buffy, whose real name we never even learn, proves to be the real hero in the end.

I'm slightly dubious about the idea of any other woman having to pad her bra to do a late-season-Buffy impersonation, but this is comics-reality (and perhaps Buffy's filled out more since leaving Sunnydale... less stress, better diet.) :-)  It's interesting that we learn the Buffy impersonation is purely a matter of clothes and hair bleach and so on, not a magical glamour - although as Rona (I'm going to assume it's Rona unless persuaded otherwise) says, she'll be dealing with people who've never actually seen the real Buffy.

As I said before, learning about the underworld with its slug-monsters and fairies and leaf-blower things was interesting. I wonder what the 'test' involved, other than getting naked and letting smelly slugs wriggle all over you; we're told the test can be fatal to those who fail it. And this is where we first see the true measure of *Buffy's heroic nature; she persuades two warring peoples to set aside their differences and fight side by side. The fact that they think she's real Buffy clinches the argument: we no she isn't , but she does what the real Buffy would probably have done anyway. (Except I can't see the real Buffy being willing to take her clothes off in public with so little concern, at least not if SMG was playing her...)

The scene with the runaway truck was clichéd but fun. It did suggest a new theory to me - that Potentials are Called not purely at random, but because a great danger is looming which a Slayer in that particular place and time would be in the best position to avert. When there was only one Slayer, they were Chosen to prevent apocalypses or fight vampire kings. With thousands of them now, they can be Chosen to save three schoolchildren from getting run over...

Then there's the final fight scene; *Buffy, the fairies and the slugs fighting the demon army. *Buffy dying. The fairy that went to get help coming back with an army of Slayers (led by Satsu, incidentally) - too late to save *Buffy, but (we assume) in time to defeat the weakened demons.

And the voice-over... the thing that really reminds me of 'Passion' or 'Becoming Part 1':

"In the moments that matter, even our own names are just sounds people make to tell us apart. What we are isn't that. 

"The real questions run deeper. Can I fight? Did I help?"

She may not think she needs to be remembered, but I think she will be.

Comments

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 26th July 2007 20:03 (UTC)

Re: Rona, that one image at least looks pretty OK to me; Indigo has a recurring role on my current favorite TV series, Weeds. Considering her character there is a few years older and has apparently had a tough life, much like Rona must have had in the last 18 months... yeah, that could be her. I think it's the eyes.

Can't comment on the rest as I haven't gotten the comic yet.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 26th July 2007 20:15 (UTC)

I noticed a few people on Whedonesque seemed to be taking it for granted that it's Rona.

Except in this comic, only the bad guys are actually named...

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 26th July 2007 20:52 (UTC)

I have mixed views on this one. Overall I would say it is botched feels very rushed not helped by the jumping all over the place.

I actually think it touches on some interesting concepts particularly in the panels dealing with the slayer wondering whether she has been chosen because she is strong or weak. Particulary as this relates to the scoobies ethics or obvious increasing lack of.

But the decoy concept doesn't work especially given her fate. If the demons had sought her out I think it would have worked better , a lightning rod analogy as it is it did not really serve any purpose. Just providing a rumour that she is dead which will be busted immediately she turns up again.

The advert is a really really stupid idea yes something Andrew would come up with and also indicating that the rest of the scoobies are definitely pod people to let him actually do it. Sorry still to much Andrew.

Overall it seemed extremely short. As for the comparison well the voice over is the only thing i has in common as in the end I didn't really care about a no name slayer biting the dust.

Art as per usual all over the place , Andrew and Giles only vaguely like them. Vi I got straight away . Rona could have lost some puppy fat certainly I assumed it was her.

As for being remembered she won't be she will be just another unkown casualty in the long war. Only Giles likely will remember her.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 26th July 2007 21:05 (UTC)

the panels dealing with the slayer wondering whether she has been chosen because she is strong or weak. Particulary as this relates to the scoobies ethics or obvious increasing lack of.

I think that was actually Rona speaking, not the Slayer... she was continuing her speech: "I gotta figure you want the truth. As in 'Why me? Did I get the hardest...'" It's also pretty clear that she took the mission because she thought it was the right thing to do, not because she was some nameless pawn to be manipulated and sacrificed.

And I've no doubt at all that Buffy would remember the girl who died under her name...

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 26th July 2007 21:23 (UTC)
Sorry that was me feel free to delete

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 09:06 (UTC)
Re: Sorry that was me feel free to delete

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 10:00 (UTC)
Re: Sorry that was me feel free to delete

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 14:22 (UTC)

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 15:02 (UTC)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 16:37 (UTC)
Re: Sorry that was me feel free to delete

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 26th July 2007 21:20 (UTC)

The woman in the picture doesn't look like Rona to me. I thought she was a Watcher anyway, not a Slayer.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 14:01 (UTC)

She's shown training alongside the other Slayers; I assumed she was just an older and more experienced one. (Where 'more experienced' means 'had the benefit of training while still a Potential').

Posted by: yourlibrarian.insanejournal.com (ext_57260)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 05:38 (UTC)

'Passion'. It's got the voice-overs, the tragedy and the death.

That's an interesting comparison, good point.

Actually from your character picture she looks more like Gina Torres to me.

I'm slightly dubious about the idea of any other woman having to pad her bra to do a late-season-Buffy impersonation,

Ha! I meant to comment on that myself when I made my post but forgot about it. Too true.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 14:02 (UTC)

The problem with the Gina Torres scenario is that I can't imagine Jasmine helping the Slayers. Also, there was a certain lack of maggots. :-)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 08:45 (UTC)

I assume the punchline is that Mike Billenger apparently wears girls' underwear himself?

Like Cary Grant he finds it more comfortable? I missed that being distracted by the conversation being a metaphor for the 'facisim' she would later come to embrace and the panties some signifier of idenity. "I wear the panties they don't wear me."


It did suggest a new theory to me - that Potentials are Called not purely at random, but because a great danger is looming

I've always thought Slayer powers are enhanced by danger - one reason for doing the empowerment spell in the cavern rather than before setting out would be that the presence of a massive demonic threat would amplify its effects.


This issue is growing on me but I still wish the artist could draw expressions other than vaguely grumpy less hamishly.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 14:09 (UTC)

the 'facisim' she would later come to embrace

??
As I read it, she was using 'fascism' as a synonym for collective punishments and being coerced into betraying and informing on your friends. I don't see how she 'embraced' that later on?

I did think there was some interesting commentary on cults of personality, with Giles and Buffy being seen as awe-inspiring celebrities even though from what we've seen they seem to be doing nothing to encourage that - and in fact Giles' speech talking about sisterhood and equality seems to be attempting to achieve the exact opposite. Ironic, really.

But the overriding message is that pursuing individual fame is wrong: our nameless Slayer does her duty and gets a heroes' death. Simone is forced to suffer a fate much, much worse than death: being posted to Italy and put under Andrew's direct command...

Posted by: tessarin (tessarin)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 15:04 (UTC)

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 27th July 2007 16:20 (UTC)

Posted by: cafecomics (cafecomics)
Posted at: 28th July 2007 14:48 (UTC)

The scene with the chain of Slayers has already attracted a lot of discussion. From left to right, #1 is obviously *Buffy; #2 is the First Slayer; #3 is unknown

Actually, they're the past slayers from the "Tales of the Slayers" graphic novel.

See here: http://fanficcafe.ifrance.com/bd/tales.html

Yup, the page is in french, but there's a scan for each story/slayer. #5 is indeed Nikki Wood but the first one is the medieval slayer (also seen on the cover).

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th July 2007 09:38 (UTC)

I'd seen that reference before, but I wasn't sure how much trust to put into it because the pictures of Slayers here didn't look much like the ones I've seen from 'Tales of the Slayers'. But I'd not seen the entire TotS comic, and I wasn't aware of the Hitler Youth Slayer and the Navaho Slayer, both of whom are definitely in this picture - so I'd agree now that the others are there too, despite their vaguer resemblance.

So thanks for that!

Posted by: cafecomics (cafecomics)
Posted at: 31st July 2007 11:23 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 29th July 2007 00:21 (UTC)

Couple thoughts now that I've actually read it:

- One more junior Slayer commenting that they'd like to have guns.
- Still think that's Rona. Too informal, too non-stuffy to be a Watcher.
- Lots of talk about what's real as opposed to what's just true-by-consensus, the meaning of names, etc.
- elisi remarked that this might be the first true stand-alone ep of the entire Buffyverse - as in an arc that begins and ends within one episode, with nothing carrying over to the next. Which would be weird. I'm not sure it is.
- The voice-overs and all that remind me more of "Becoming" than "Passion", in the way they're used.
- Who's the watcher giving *Buffy her first briefing? Is that supposed to be someone we've met before?
- Going by hair length, some time passed between her calling and her being briefed. Point to this?
- The utter randomness of her being "chosen" (hehe) to be *Buffy because she got bit. Is it just convenient - another physical similarity - or meant to show that she "deserves" this "honour"? ("You took the bite for me.")
- It's not about a Slayer, is it? In a way it is, it's her story, one individual (and, ironically, one individual posing as another) but it's also a representative of every Slayer. Yada yada sisterhood yada yada fighting for what's right yada yada personal choice yada.

I thought it was... interesting. We'll see how it plays on.

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 29th July 2007 00:32 (UTC)

Oh, and one more thought on the last point:

There's always been ONE Slayer (well, there was Kendra and Faith and presumably that situation has arisen once or twice before in the last 50,000 years, but...). Now there's thousands. The chain isn't a chain anymore, it's a... whatever you get when you have bunches of chainlinks scattered everywhere. Her job is to impersonate "THE Slayer", Buffy Summers. But she's not her. She's herself. It ties in to the ambiguity of Buffy's decision in "Chosen", and to Voll's speech in "The Long Way Home"; did Buffy do the right thing by giving all that power to all those girls, or did she do more harm than good? Did she empower or enslave them? Did she spread the Slayer line or destroy it? In short, is she Gandhi (she's been that, in "Anne"), Lincoln (she was that, in "Chosen") or... the other one?

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th July 2007 09:59 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 29th July 2007 10:05 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th July 2007 10:30 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th July 2007 09:54 (UTC)

Posted by: A. (inperfectpeace)
Posted at: 9th August 2007 01:44 (UTC)
Angel- puppet cute

I held off reading this until I read my copy of the comic. This was a great review and everyone that commented had some interesting things to say.

I feel that I need to read the issue again now! lol

Oh, btw, I agree that it is Rona. That was my first thought upon reading the issue. Also, I loved the "tv" add in the comic. That was such an Andrew idea!

Can't say that I liked it, but I didn't DISlike it either. *shrugs* It wasn't good or bad- it just was.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th August 2007 09:30 (UTC)

I think it's an issue that does benefit from re-reading; I was quite confused by it myself until I had. (And now I'm working on a more in-depth meta on the themes of the story).

Thanks!

Posted by: ibanezz (ibanezz)
Posted at: 10th August 2007 12:12 (UTC)

Hey,
I'm very glad I found ur journal. It has now become an important part of my Buffy routine lol. Reading ur detailed run down with ur opinions is every bit as enjoyable as reading the comic itself.
I just thought I should say thank you.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 10th August 2007 13:54 (UTC)

I'm here to serve... ;-)

Thanks!

Posted by: leseparatist (novin_ha)
Posted at: 5th January 2008 19:13 (UTC)
[buffy] counting

I'm slightly dubious about the idea of any other woman having to pad her bra to do a late-season-Buffy impersonation.

So am I...

Actually, this was, so far, my favourite Buffy comic. I only understood the timeline on my second reading, but I think that this is not so important, because the story - and the character - is so strong. Then again, I also loved Tales of the Slayers.

Thank you for the review!

Posted by: chianazhaan (chianazhaan)
Posted at: 2nd July 2011 12:15 (UTC)
Best issue of season 8

I absolutely loved this issue. It introduces faeries. It introduces a whole underground world. It shows us (one of the ways) how the new slayers were found. How the new slayers reacted to the explanation given, the bond they feel, and the purpose it can give them in life. It shows us how (some of) the Sunnydale survivors took up leadership roles.

I actually didn't have any problems identifying people. They identity themselves with their behaviour (or role) mostly. Andrew and Giles were very easy for me. It was Vi (thanks for pointing that out) I had a problem with. Rona also wasn't that difficult. It's obvious she's a more experienced slayer, so she probably fought the First Evil and she's black, so the most likely candidate is Rona.

I actually like the advertisement. It's so silly, that it actually works. Most (non-slayer) people watching it would dismiss it, but the new slayers would be curious. They would call the number. And receive the truth about their powers. (And I can't believe I'm defending Andrew here. He annoys the hell out of me. The only other time I liked him, was when he stood up against Angel and brought Dana home.)

I also didn't have a problem with the mission. To me, the mission is less as a decoy and more like an OSS/SOE mission. (OSS=Office of Strategic Services, SOE=Special Operations Executive, both from WW2) She does reconnaissance, tries to get two factions to work together and fight a common foe. (Think right wing patriots and communists fighting against the Nazi Germans.) Becoming Buffy, becoming a symbol, helps her mission.

This issue also emphasizes something that "The long way home" addressed. They are still finding and training new slayers. The Unknown Slayer rises through the ranks (just like Simone did) and gets chosen for this mission. Notice how Rona (or others? Giles?) picked her instead of Simone. The Unknown Slayer is competent enough, has the right attitude and can impersonate Buffy. They cannot spare another slayer at the moment.

And off course, the rescue comes too late for this slayer. But she made a choice. She helped the faeries and slugs fight the monsters. And she died making a difference.

I also like the symbolism of this issue. Very "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier" like.

HERE RESTS IN HONOURED GLORY A SLAYER KNOWN BUT TO GOD

(paraphrased from Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd July 2011 00:12 (UTC)
Re: Best issue of season 8
thechain-truth

I think it's my favourite issue of the season too.

In hindsight, I also think its message is crucial to the season arc. People always focus on the leader, the figurehead, and give them the credit or the blame for everything. But in fact, it's the "millions of people who make up a name" who really achieve things; not by grand glorious gestures but by each doing their own small part, by being a link in the chain. That applies to Buffy, to Angel, and to the season as a whole. (And is probably also Joss reminding himself of it too, in a "Remember, thou art mortal" kind of way.)

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