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(Review) BtVS S8: Always Darkest

1st July 2009 (20:08)

Always Darkest is a 3-page Season 8 webcomic written by Joss Whedon and painted by Jo Chen, and available for free on the Dark Horse website. Here's the review. But first, some icons:

OMG he's alive!  (8 more below the cut)

 


Shocked Buffy!  Needy Buffy!  Who's he? 
Boyfriend 01  Botfriend 04  They love each other really  
smooch!  spangel! 

The artwork is, as you'd expect from Jo, excellent, Her likenesses of the main characters are superb and all instantly recognisable. The pictures did seem rather simpler than her cover paintings - less detail and texture - but that's only to be expected given the different time constraints three pages of artwork impose as opposed to a single cover. If I have a criticism, it's that the images do sometimes seem a little lacking in energy compared to the normal comic artwork. It's as if the characters were asked to pose and hold still in a particular position for each picture, rather than being captured in the middle of flowing motion. Still, that's only a minor complaint and the artwork is, indeed, very pretty.

So what about the story? Well, I guessed fairly early on that this would be some sort of dream, with Buffy confronting figures out of her past rather than fighting a resurrected Caleb in the here-and-now. Which is not to say, of course, that Twilight might not actually be Caleb, and this is foreshadowing. It might even be a prophetic Slayer dream, although hopefully if so it will be to warn Buffy that Caleb is alive (and that Spike is alive, perhaps?) rather than to warn her that Warren plans to marry her...

Slayer-dream or not, the most important aspect of this story is the insight it gives us into Buffy's current state of mind.

So, she's fighting Caleb - but he tells her that she "can't kill what's inside you." That ties in to her earlier symbolic dream in 'The Long Way Home':

"I can't go outside, I'm afraid of the dark." / "Buffy, you are the dark." / "That's what I meant."

Buffy is afraid she's becoming her own worst enemy. In Twilight's words, she's losing her moral certainty: she's starting to wonder if creating the Slayer Army was a mistake. That she herself is becoming the Big Bad; that she's morally equivalent to Caleb. She blames herself for Simone's Italian rampage and agrees with the homeless child that it's "not fair"; she sees the people of the world turning on the Slayers and regarding them as worse than vampires.Now her subconscious is creating the image of Caleb and he (she) is accusing herself of having him "inside you".

The room where she's fighting Caleb is the same one she saw in the vision in 'Anywhere But Here'; she's also wearing the same clothes and has the same scratches on her arms as in that vision. Which either means that this dream is feeding on or repeating the vision and this scene is still to come later in the season - or that this scene is in fact the fulfillment of that prophecy.

Which would mean that when we spent all that time wondering what "Betrayal. The closest, the most unexpected" would refer to, it was actually a prophecy that Buffy would dream that Spike and Angel preferred each other to her...:-) I kind of like that solution.


Anyway, Buffy's subconscious conjures up her two favourite vampires, and the words she imagines them saying are to accuse her of abandoning them both. Whether that's fair is debatable, but it's entirely likely that Buffy would be feeling guilty about it.

A small detail - Spike isn't wearing the amulet, so Buffy isn't picturing him exactly how he was when she last saw him, but rather a more generic composite memory image.

The next scene is neatly posed so we can't tell if Buffy's "I missed you so much" is directed at Spike, Angel or both. They can't tell either... but they don't really care, since they're into each other far more.

This, of course, is almost certainly Joss's way of poking some gentle fun at the whole Bangel v Spuffy debate whilst continuing to avoid the question of which one she'll end up with - or rather, he tells us that she'll end up with Skinless Warren instead. That last bit is definitely a joke. I hope.

However, if we set aside the meta and take the story on its own terms... we learn (as if it were ever in doubt) that both Spike and Angel are still present in Buffy's thoughts, and she misses them. She doesn't specifically say to Spike "I thought you were dead", so that question is left unanswered - possibly forever. Buffy is ready to admit that she's feeling needy, which seems true enough. Also, though, her subconscious is telling her that she's no longer worthy of them. She's just a dirty girl, and they're very clean boys. It's just another sign that Buffy is no longer confident she's doing the right thing.

Angel calls Buffy a "bottle blonde". Is this finally the confirmation of a question that has baffled fandom ever since Season 1 - whether Buffy is a natural blonde? :-) Unless, of course, Angel was just saying that to wind her up and to flirt with Spike, who is canonically a bottle blond... Notice also another sign that Buffy is a fake - she's presenting a false appearance to the world, and that might not be limited to bleaching her hair.

"What the slashy heck" as an exclamation also implies strongly that Buffy is familiar with slash as a concept. Although since we already saw in 'Chosen' that the idea of Spike and Angel wrestling in oil gets her hot, that's not really a huge surprise. I wonder if she has an LJ, or if she's more a mailing lists and websites kind of girl?

And then we have the big wedding scene reveal. This is obviously over the top - the fact that Buffy is overjoyed at the idea of marrying Warren - slimy bits and all - shows that she's lost control of her dream now. It's proof, though, that she's seeing herself as a monster and a freak, only fit to be seen with other freaks.

Oh, and she blames herself for Tara's death and still feels guilty over it. Which is ironic because Willow also blames herself for Tara's death and feels guilty over it. And the man Buffy is marrying is the one who actually shot her... (And can I just say in passing that the idea of Amber Benson and Adam Busch going out together in real life still completely freaks me out?)

I couldn't recognise all the people in the wedding montage, although I've confidence that the comments to this review will quickly fill in the missing ones, since my flist is clever that way. :-) Still, going clockwise:

Preacher: Caleb.
Groom: skinless Warren.
Small green demon usher: ?
Best Man: Xander.

Groom's side pews:
Willow, looking odd (is she crying?) and being comforted by Future Dark Willow, whom Buffy killed.
Elvis.
The Judge. Didn't recognise the demon with him.
Clem and either the Invisible Man or the Mummy.
Sweet.

Bride's side pews:
Either Frankenstein's Monster or one of the Munster family?
Don't recognise the green eye demons.
Don't recognise the two boxers.
The Gentlemen.
The Swell.

Spike and Angel's clothes being discarded in the heat of passion.
Don't recognise the two demonic bridesmaids.

Maid of Honour: Tara, complete with bullet wound in her chest.
Bride: Buffy.

And finally, the reveal that it was all a dream. And Buffy's apparently been having these nightmares for a while and is fed up about it all. And she eats cereal for breakfast.

Interesting final note - usually, the artwork in "awake" sequences is more realistic and detailed than the artwork in dream sequences when a comic contains both. This one reverses that.


And what about the title? "Always Darkest" is of course the first half of the phrase "Always darkest before the dawn". Which might imply that something significant is about to happen to Buffy's sister, but it's propbably best to assume the more common meaning... This is Buffy at her lowest ebb, her worst self-doubt: she believes that even Spike and Angel would turn away from her now, and she's fit for nothing better than to marry Tara's murderer.

Whether she believes that consciously is another question, of course... despite her insomnia and increasing doubts (as shown in the last few episodes), Buffy seems to be pretty cheerful on the surface. I suspect the message we're supposed to take from this comic is that it's a front; that in her subconscious at least, Buffy is feeling increasingly guilty. The world has turned against the Slayers, and their suffering is all Buffy's fault...


Comments

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Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 19:55 (UTC)

f I have a criticism, it's that the images do sometimes seem a little lacking in energy compared to the normal comic artwork. It's as if the characters were asked to pose and hold still in a particular position for each picture, rather than being captured in the middle of flowing motion. Still, that's only a minor complaint and the artwork is, indeed, very pretty.

Heh. You didn't by chance catch my long analysis on Buffy Forums (mostly talking with Sue) comparing Chen to Jeanty and how Chen makes beautiful portraits instead of action comics, did you?



Also, though, her subconscious is telling her that she's no longer worthy of them. She's just a dirty girl, and they're very clean boys.

Yes, exactly. Poor Buffy; so tragically self-centered. I also love how the wedding scene plays as Buffy tying herself forever to the demon world. She's married to the demonic while her two loves are off getting it on elsewhere.



Oh, and she blames herself for Tara's death and still feels guilty over it. Which is ironic because Willow also blames herself for Tara's death and feels guilty over it.

Heh, I just wrote this Buffy-guilt-over-Tara into my Season 8 WIP two chapters ago. I WIN the interwebs.



The Judge. Didn't recognise the demon with him.

Well, I'm going to post this again because I think it's funny:

Ratio

Photobucket

+

Kenny


Photobucket


=

Renny, Ratio and Kenny's puppet/Thricewise love child (aka another slashing present)


Photobucket



This is Buffy at her lowest ebb, her worst self-doubt: she believes that even Spike and Angel would turn away from her now, and she's fit for nothing better than to marry Tara's murderer.

Which puts some more insight into why Buffy broke up with Satsu. She's unworthy now even of Spike and Angel, she's only worthy to be with those she views as evil and demonic. But it seems like only Buffy falls to this level. Satsu, another Slayer, is still above her. Heh, Buffy's guilt complex is growing by leaps and bounds.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:02 (UTC)

You didn't by chance catch my long analysis on Buffy Forums (mostly talking with Sue) comparing Chen to Jeanty

Now you mention it, yes... you were saying pretty much the same thing, weren't you?


Poor Buffy; so tragically self-centered

Well, this is her subconscious we're looking at, so I think it's allowed to be all about her... :-)


I did actually think that the demon was Kenny, until I double-checked. (Wrong number of eyes). And the resemblance to Ratio is definitely there too...

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:06 (UTC)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:10 (UTC)

Buffy is afraid she's becoming her own worst enemy. In Twilight's words, she's losing her moral certainty: she's starting to wonder if creating the Slayer Army was a mistake. That she herself is becoming the Big Bad; that she's morally equivalent to Caleb.

Buffy's subconscious has chosen to surround her with symbols of her mistakes and failures of judgment: dead Tara; one-eyed Xander; Willow apparently in the process of dying and being overcome by Dark Willow; wanting both Angel and Spike and losing them both (to each other, yet); Dawn nowhere to be seen. And there she stands, happily being married to one of her worst enemies by one of her other worst enemies, while other enemies look on approvingly.

Poor Buffy.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:15 (UTC)

Given the title of the comiv, I wonder if DAwn's absence is in fact significant after all? Other than just Buffy doesn't associate her with guilt, perhaps.

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:28 (UTC)

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:18 (UTC)
Xacula by beer_good_foamy

Cheese.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:21 (UTC)

Did somebody just try to take a photograph of you?

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:26 (UTC)

Posted by: Snick (snickfic)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 20:57 (UTC)
Buffy laugh

Angel calls Buffy a "bottle blonde". Is this finally the confirmation of a question that has baffled fandom ever since Season 1 - whether Buffy is a natural blonde? :-)

This was really the most pressing question on my mind when I finished. *g* (Although I don't count the comics in my canon, so I guess it's moot anyway.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 21:20 (UTC)

Well, it's moot for people who don't consider the comics as canon. For me and Joss, the question is settled forever!
:-)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 21:13 (UTC)

Oh, hey - cheers for the link, I didn't know about this.

Very interesting - I love the mix of funny and serious. But then, don't I always?

And slash! There's slash! *goes a bit nuts*

Err, I mean...THIS SHOWS BUFFY'S INSECURITIES LOL.

Anyhow. I do think there's something to do with Dawn, here - if not just that Buffy feels like she betrayed her the worst. I anticipate something big happening to her.

Please no details, cause I haven't read past Wolves at the Gate, but has Dawn already done the third stage of this Giant/Centaur/? thing? Cause if not, then I'd assume that's it...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 21:23 (UTC)

It's funny how everybody is getting excited about the slash and I'm thinking "Yeah, yeah, we already knew that..." :-)

The Dawn storyline has apparently been resolved now, yes.

And the 'Time Of Your Life' TPB is out. And issue 8.22 is the all-lesbian one, so you've got that to look forward to. :-)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 21:38 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 19:35 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 3rd July 2009 00:56 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd July 2009 18:11 (UTC)

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 3rd July 2009 18:45 (UTC)

Posted by: Shapinglight (shapinglight)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 21:26 (UTC)
spangel

Interesting. Yeah, poor Comics Buffy. She's obviously very miserable.

Posted by: shakatany (shakatany)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 21:29 (UTC)
7 count icon

Interesting final note - usually, the artwork in "awake" sequences is more realistic and detailed than the artwork in dream sequences when a comic contains both. This one reverses that. I thought that final panel was schizoid - Xander was very cartoonish while that Buffy was rather realistic.

Shakatany

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 19:37 (UTC)

True... it was an odd frame. Although Buffy's pose and expression seemed much more exaggerated and cartoony than the previous panels, even if the drawing of her itself was more realistic.

Posted by: Desperately Random (crossoverman)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 23:28 (UTC)
buffy season 8

I think these three pages finally pushed me past caring about Buffy's self-loathing. I wish Whedon would stop playing that over and over again.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 20:43 (UTC)

I didn't see self-loathing, I saw guilt. And where you see "playing that over and over again" I see consistent characterisation. So...

Posted by: Nicki (peroxidepirate)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 23:31 (UTC)

Thank you for linking to this! I haven't checked out the Darkhorse site in ages, so I would have missed it completely.

I've always been certain Buffy isn't that naturally blond, because her hair was somewhat darker in S1. Not many people are naturally BLOND blond, so it's more likely that the first hair color was natural. Or, I suppose, both colors could be dye jobs -- but in either case, she probably dyes her hair, and Angel probably knows that.

Otherwise... seems like any time a Buffy-verse character dreams (or fantasizes) about marriage, it's a sign of something bad.

I think the slashiness is ok, totally hot, even though I'm not usually a guy-slash fiend Buffy subconsciously wondering if she's as important to either of the guys as they both are/were to her. She's standing in a room with the "love of her life" (whichever guy that is), but he's lived more than a lifetime before he ever met her. No wonder she's a little insecure about it.

And my guess is that the unspoken "... before Dawn" does, in some way, relate to Dawn Summers. It's too good a pun not to use. But then, I like puns.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 20:47 (UTC)

The hair colour question was somewhat tongue in cheek of course, but it is something I've been wondering for a while. And my answer is pretty much the same as yours, I think - she is a natural blonde (unlike SMG) but her natural colour is a lot darker than we've seen it in all but one season of the show.

Maybe Dawn will turn out to be the key to destroying Twilight...?
The word 'key' was used deliberately in that sentence.

Posted by: mikeda (mikeda)
Posted at: 1st July 2009 23:37 (UTC)

Always darkest before the dawn

It COULD mean that the monks are about to give Buffy a second sister...

:-)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 20:47 (UTC)

The monks are all dead. Glory killed them. :-)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 00:01 (UTC)

Clearly, the stress of having to live with two separate stories at the same time is getting to the poor girl. ;-)

And it's interesting, given their (lack of) interaction over the last 25 issues, that her only actual family - Dawn - is not even at the wedding. What's that phrase of Spike's from "Fool For Love", about how Buffy's friends and family keep her tied to this world? Instead here, she has Willow being kept company/occupied by Dark Willow, Xander standing off to the side, and neither Dawn nor Joyce nor Hank nor Giles anywhere to be seen in what's supposedly an important part of her life. It's just her and the monsters.

I like your breakdown of it, though. This is the kind of thing I wish we'd have gotten more of in the comics; silly, but full of meaning in every image. Very nicely done.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 20:49 (UTC)

It is interesting that Buffy isn't imagining Dawn at her wedding. Dawn, of course, would see it as a clear sign that Buffy doesn't care about her. Maybe the real answer is that Buffy feels she doesn't deserve a real family?

Or... maybe Dawn is going to be significant in the season finale after all. Since if Buffy does end all magic in the world... she'll also destroy her sister.

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 4th July 2009 01:06 (UTC)

Posted by: lara beckinsale (larabeckinsale)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 13:10 (UTC)

This, of course, is almost certainly Joss's way of poking some gentle fun at the whole Bangel v Spuffy debate whilst continuing to avoid the question of which one she'll end up with - or rather, he tells us that she'll end up with Skinless Warren instead. That last bit is definitely a joke. I hope. <- I hope so too!

He's never gonna give us that answer *sigh*

As always, you do great reviews :D

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 20:51 (UTC)

THanks!

I do sometimes get the impression Joss wold just like to move on and tell a different story about Buffy, but knows his audience would never let him do that so he has to keep mentioning S & A.

Posted by: yourlibrarian (yourlibrarian)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 21:44 (UTC)

Nice icons. Snagging!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 23:37 (UTC)

:-)

Posted by: itsmrgordotoyou (itsmrgordotoyou)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 22:46 (UTC)

Thank you for posting this -- I'm another one who didn't know about Always Darkest until I saw your review. (I was actually here to check if your review of 8.26 was up yet.)

Aside from Dawn and Giles, there was another notable absence in the wedding dream: any other Slayers whatsoever. Significant? Maybe Buffy feels cut off from them because she has to be an authority figure to them. Or maybe deep down inside she just doesn't care about them that much.

The Spangel sound effects were hilarious.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd July 2009 23:40 (UTC)

I don't think not caring about the Slayers is the problem at all... caring too much might be.

(By the way, comics arrive in the UK at least a day after they're released in the US.)

Posted by: chic_c (chic_c)
Posted at: 3rd July 2009 16:30 (UTC)
spike-fun

Very interesting review, I don't follow s8 so I'm completely out of the loop, but I liked this one, especially the artwork.
Snagging a couple of icons, they're brilliant!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd July 2009 18:12 (UTC)

Thanks! :-)

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