I've been thinking about the recent preview showing that Buffy is going to suffer a crippling injury in the April issue of the comics. My initial reaction was on the lines of "Do not want", but I've been considering what sort of story they might be wanting to tell, and I have some thoughts.
(Note that this is an adapted and extended version of something I originally posted on Buffyforums.)
One of the themes of season 9 so far seems to be *shit got real*. There's no more magic to act as a crutch or a reset button. No more army and castles and high technology to shield Buffy from the real world. And I can imagine Joss sitting at the writers' summit last year, or in his office, thinking, "How can we make the readers feel that? How can we bring it viscerally home to them that the world is different now, that the rules have changed?" Having Buffy suffer a crippling injury that can't just be handwaved away by Willow by the end of the episode (1) seems to me like a very powerful way of doing that.
It's also realistic. I mean, what are the odds that Buffy could fight hand-to-hand with demons night after night for over a decade and never once suffer serious injury? (2) I know Joss is notorious for hurting his characters for the sake of drama, but he's also said, in conjunction with both 'Chosen' and 'Serenity', that it just strains credulity if you have a huge battle with bloodshed on all sides, and none of the good guys get hurt. Or if they do, it's heroic and wins the day and they have a big cathartic and sentimental death scene and everybody cries - as opposed to what happens in real battles, where death or serious injury often seems stupid and random and unfair.
So it fits the overall theme; but of course it's also there to provide drama and angst, since this is a Joss story.
I'm going to go out on a limb (sorry...) and predict that Buffy's own feelings will go through initial disbelief, then denial, then deep despair, and then finally a fierce determination to start the slow, painful process of getting some sort of life back together. There's definitely a story there worth telling, even if it's a painful one. (As a child, one of my favourite books was the biography of Douglas Bader.) But the reactions of the other characters are likely to be equally interesting.
I'm guessing they won't all be 100% loyal and supportive because that wouldn't make for good drama, although I'm sure they'd all feel incredibly guilty about any negative feelings. Will Willow resist the urge to say, "Well, if someone hadn't broken the Seed I could have fixed your arm?" Will Xander be able to refrain from mentioning how Buffy basically avoided him when he lost his eye? Probably - they're not that callous - but we might get internal dialogue that shows they're thinking it for a moment. In Willow's case, guilt would then make her over-compensate; I'd see Xander as getting avoidy. Spike would probably be full of self-blame for not preventing it in time.
Heck, maybe there'll even be a political message in there: about how we send young people off to fight in our wars, but turn our backs on them when they come home crippled.
In short, I think there can be a strong story here if it's done right. (Or it might be done badly, of course; but I'm not going to simply assume that before it happens.) There might be a twist, of course, or a quick reset button like Spike got in 'Damage': but at the moment I'm predicting not. If Buffy does get a fully functional arm back (3), here's my guess: that it'll be shortly before the season finale, and there'll be some sort of cost or payback for it that comes into play in the finale itself.
All that is separate to the way Dark Horse markets the storyline, though. I think the amputation storyline (assuming that's what it is) and the way Dark Horse have chosen to market it are two entirely separate things, and should really be considered as such.
And no, I really don't think Joss and Andrew decided on the spur of the moment, over this Christmas holiday, that Buffy should lose an arm "to boost flagging sales", and asked Georges to hastily rush out a cover preview in a couple of days while Andrew rewrote the issue to include it...
It seems to me from Scott's tweet that it was a spur of the moment decision: Georges drew his cover for 9.08 according to schedule, Scott saw it and thought, "Hey, this is powerful and shocking. Maybe we should release it early to get some attention".
I sympathise with some of the negativity here; it does seem exploitational. I want to read stories where Buffy is heroic, not ones where she's victimised. My first reaction to that cover was more "Eww, no" than "Oh yeah!"; and while certainly it has got my attention, it's more in the looking-at-a-car-crash sense.
But on the other hand, I do kind of sympathise with Dark Horse here as well. It's their job to print and sell the comics that Joss and his writers create for them. We don't live in a communist utopia where comic book writers and artists and printers and their administrative staff are all supported by Society as a whole so they can provide their work for free: so sadly marketing and publicity stunts are inevitable. It's the price you pay for capitalism.
So if Joss has given them this huge, controversial and potentially shocking story to promote, aren't they failing in their duty if they shy away from that controversy?
In the end, the cover did its job: it got people talking about the issue. Hopefully in a few more months we can start talking about whether the writers handled the story well and respectfully, or if they failed.
(1) Willow couldn't have done that in earlier seasons, maybe - we're told that healing magic is very difficult - but by Season 8 she was certainly powerful and skilled enough. In 8.04 she healed her own lobotomy and repaired her destroyed eye, then went on to heal a few dozen soldiers who'd been hacked around with swords by Buffy and Satsu. Reattaching an arm - something even ordinary surgeons can sometimes do without the aid of magic - would seem simple for her in comparison.
(2) 'Serious' here defined as "still affecting her physically at the end of, at most, the following episode."
(3) There are several options here, of course. Magic is ruled out unless the season arc of S9 is about Willow, at least, getting her powers back; or maybe some other source of supernatural assistance is found. Then there's the super-science route: Andrew and/or Willow might make her a robotic arm. Or the mundane solution: either the surgeons re-attach her arm, or she get a conventional prosthetic. Either way, if the story is going to be at all realistic she'll need to spend a long, painful and difficult time re-adjusting to her new and restricted capabilities, over multiple issues of the comic. This ties in with the previous hints about her having to re-assess her life and move away from Slaying for a while, which I'd previously speculated was a reference to her becoming pregnant.