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(Review) BtVS Season 9: Spike: A Dark Place part I

28th August 2012 (15:46)

Two posts in one day!!

Spike: A Dark Place is the first of the promised mini-series focussing on specific characters that are going to be woven in and out of the main 'Buffy' season 9 story line. Originally we were meant to get a mini-series about Drusilla written by Juliet Landau, but she'saparently too busy, so Dark Horse changed plans and gave us this instead. Apparently Spike was originally intended to be part of the main story with Buffy all along, but the editors realised that the shape of the plot arc meant he'd spend the next few issues not really doing anything exciting. Just standing around brooding and being ignored by Buffy as she struggled to find a sense of purpose in her life again. From that perspective, giving him a mini-series instead to go off and have his own adventure killed two birds with one stone. 

I've seen some fans suggesting that this is all a big plot by the evil Dark Horse and the sinister Scott Allie to finally break apart the Spuffy 'ship once and for all - and perhaps experiment to see if Spike is a strong enough character to stand alone in his own stories, the way Angel did after 'Buffy' season 3.  Other fans are equally convinced that this is chapter two of the standard-formula romantic comedy, when the hero and heroine are separated by miscommunication and each become convinced that the other doesn't love them. The writer of the arc seems well aware that the question "Will Spike get over Buffy, or realise he never can?" is foremost in many readers' minds, and indeed that seems currently to be the central plot element in this whole mini-series.

The cover logo is interesting (at least to me, maybe not to normal people...). IDW's 'Spike' comics written by Brian Lynch used the standard 'Angel' font from the TV show's credits for the word Spike. It looked a bit odd - and you just know Spike himself would hate the idea of his own comic title using Angel's font style! Dark Horse, however, are using a new style. It looks quite similar to the familiar 'Buffy' logo - which it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise is meant to look as if someone dipped their finger in blood to write the word 'Buffy' on a vertical surface, so the blood runs down to form the tails of the letters. The title of this comic also has the same 'written by a finger dipped in blood' style - but it's NOT the usual Buffy font. The letters are more abrupt and angular, less curvy and elaborate. You might even say it's inspired by the Buffy font, but in a more masculine style. Which is an interesting meta statement on Spike himself, come to think of it. :)

So, the story itself. The blurb gives us the background - this comic series of five issues is set after 'Buffy' 9.10. Spike is fed up with being "Buffy's only-in-desperate-circumstances fallback guy", to quote the introduction. At the end of the 'Apart (Of Me)' arc he challenged her about it, but she was unwilling to tell him what he wanted to hear, and is really being quite frustratingly opaque on the subject of her feelings about relationships in general. So Spike decided to get out of her life, at least for the moment, to give her space.

Speaking of space, that's where he's gone. It's strange: at the beginning of the season we were told that Spike's bug-ship (as introduced in Brian Lynch's IDW comics series) was only going to make a brief appearance in Season 9, presumably because it didn't suit the "back to basics" feel the season was meant to have. But here it is, still going strong more than halfway through the season. I guess the writers have decided they like the bugs as characters, perhaps? Or the spaceship is just too convenient both as a plot device and as a metaphorical way of characterising Spike's position in the series to abandon so soon.

So he's off to the dark side of the moon, and talks about Pink Floyd as he does. Apparently he's a fan of theirs. (To be specific, he's quoting 'Eclipse', the final track of the 'Dark Side of the Moon' album.) Victor Gischler, the writer of this arc, was asked in a recent interview what he thought Spike's favourite music would be. He listed the Sex Pistols, which is canon, and the Clash, who are an obvious choice given the first - but also mentioned that he could see Spike in his more reflective moods listening to 'Nights in White Satin' by the Moody Blues; but he'd never admit it to anyone else. I can see him having a secret liking for Pink Floyd as part of that - I wonder if he knew the band when Giles still played for them? :)

Spike is having an argument with Sebastian, who is apparently now the leader of the bugs - his arm is in a sling, which is a call-back to the last time we saw him, being kicked around by Simone. The bugs are concerned by Spike' behaviour, and are talking about him behind his back.

Spike has two whole pages of moping about Buffy. He mentions that he hates blokes who mope around, but it's "easier said than done" to avoid it. He can't avoid thinking about Buffy. He's still got issues with the whole 'robot double' plotline from the 'Apart (Of Me)' arc, with the implication that he doesn't now what part of Buffy was really her. And finally, he brings up the whole "dark place" issue that has been between them ever since Seaosn 8. (Are there still people who believe that Buffy telling Spike, "You're my dark place" in S8 was all in her mind instead of being something she actually said? Spike here certainly is acting as if she said it to him for real.) He believes that Buffy's place is in the light - as opposed to what he told her in S6 - and in a very literal expression of that metaphor, he got the bugs to set up a solarium in their spaceship for her when he thought she might be travelling in it with him. But now he's in full-on brood mode, he's convinced that his place is in the darkness, and he'll never be with her.

Back to the bugs. They're clearly getting even more uncomfortable with Spike's brooding, to the extent that Elizabeth proclaims that he is "in a state that makes him unfit to be out supreme leader". Uh-oh. Is mutiny brewing?

Sebastian confronts Spike and tells him to his face that he's unfit for leadership, and "steps will be taken". The spaceship lifts off from the (literal) dark side of the Moon, and a crowd of bugs grab Spike and carry him off bodily through the ship. It's implied they're taking him into the sunlight. 

While this could be a scary and sinister scene, it's actually played more for laughs than anything else. Spike doesn't seem worried, more blustering and confused. It's possible he just doesn't see the bugs as a real threat, rather than that he's suicidal because of his despair or anything like that. 

(On that note, these scenes with the bugs carrying Spike do make it clear how much smaller and weaker they are than a fully-grown human: that's not as obvious when they're not shown directly next to him.)

We have a mini-cliffhanger with the spaceship on th surface of a planet - I assume it's still the Moon, but the Sun is now in the sky and the spaceship is parked on the ground facing it. Spike is shouting "Noooooo!" in the best Anakin Skywalker fashion.

We now get a rather odd intermission scene with a group of humanoid creatures with shark-like mouths interacting with each other. Aliens or demons? I guess in the Buffyverse it doesn't really matter which. They seem to be on the surface of the Moon themselves, perhaps discussing the bug ship which just landed near them; although they seem to not need spacesuits. They're apparently having a conversation, as shown by their gestures and expressions, but there are no speech bubbles to tell us what they're saying. Maybe this is because there's no sound in space? :) I assume they're telepathic, or maybe just very good at lip reading.

The scene ends with the blue-skinned alien pointing to a giant space frog, which we'll see again.

And now the reveal - the bugs weren't trying to kill Spike after all. They've rigged up the solarium so he can use it too, as a surprise present to cheer him up. Awww. I like the cardboard sun hanging from the ceiling on a piece of string. More significantly, they've got hold of some necro-tempered glass that allows vampires to see the Sun through it without burning up. This was introduced in Season 5 of 'Angel' so it's not new, though I do wonder how the bugs acquired some.

I smiled at Sebastian's admission that they modelled the new solarium design on a beer advert (showing a sandy tropical beach) in "a periodical Miss Buffy left behind". Poor Spike can't get away from reminders of her.

In fact, after a brief digression on how advertising ('Madison Avenue', the home of the US advertising industry) is all fake chicanery, Spike decides the same is true of his own situation. He's let himself be fooled into believing a lie because he want it so badly. It's not explicitly spelled out that the falsehood in question is "Buffy and I will be together eventually"; instead he focusses on the fake cardboard Sun and the lack of a real sea to frolic in in the solarium - but it's an easy guess that's what he means.

The bug dressed in a grass skirt and lei bringing Spike a cocktail is funny in a grotesque kind of way. Is that Elizabeth? (I'm not even sure the bugs have gender as we understand it; or if they just go along with the genders Spike originally assigned to them. Though they apparently do reproduce sexually.)

Spike insists that the fake beach has to go, because it's all a lie. He can't necessarily get rid of Buffy from his heart as easily, but it's a start. But then suddenly the giant space frog we saw earlier attacks the ship! Drama! Danger!

Spike tells Sebastian to take a squad of bugs in spacesuits outside the ship to fight the frog. Sebastian isn't keen at all, though when Spike points out that the frog could damage the ship ("breaking off bits of spaceship we might need") he agrees to send out some people, but not go himself.

It turns out that the issue is that the bugs have an atavistic fear of frogs, perhaps because they resemble a major predator from early in their evolution? The bug squad starts heading out the airlock, but instead the frog breaks in that way and gets inside the ship.

I did like Spike's confession that actually he liked the fake beach, but he couldn't stand "feeling suckered". We get a call-back specifically to Buffy's pregnancy scare when she turned to Spike for support, and his dream that the two of them could "play at a normal life". Complete with very silly mental image of them in old-fashioned bathing costumes running along a beach, in reference to the bugs' fake beach. But Spike realises he's fooling himself - although his repeated protestations that it's time to move on and get his head out of his bum" ring a little false to me. I think he knows what he ought to be doing, but can't bring himself to do it.
Cue a big fight scene as Spike fights the giant frog because "Nobody eats my bugs!". He gets the upper hand, but then the aliens/demons from before intervene too - it seems they used the distraction of the giant frog attacking to get on board the ship. Spike is overcome by weight of numbers and taken prisoner.

The big leader goes to the ship's cockpit and orders them to take off into space. I did like the way the other two bugs both silently point at Sebastian when the alien leader asks who's in charge. And we end on a cliff-hanger when the alien leader threatens to dump Spike into space after they take off.

It occurs to me that vampires don't need to breathe, so being dumped into space won't actually harm Spike as long as he avoids direct sunlight. I wonder if this will be a plot point next month? I can imagine Spike panicking as he's thrown out of the airlock, before remembering that it won't actually hurt him...

We don't know why the aliens want the spaceship. My own idea is simply that their own ship crash-landed on the Moon and stranded them there, and now they want to escape. Maybe they have a more nefarious evil plan, though.

So that's the first issue of the arc. I thought it was kind of fun, but there's not an awful lot of depth to it. "Spike is depressed because of Buffy. He thinks he's lying to himself that the two of them could ever be happy together, and he believes he ought to be moving on. Any time now. As soon as he's ready. There's a fake-out that the bugs are going to overthrow his leadership, but really they're trying to help him. Some aliens come on board and capture the ship, after a really, really long fight scene with not much dialogue. The end."

I did think Victor Gischler has captured Spike's character pretty well, though. He's insightful into his situation, but can't bring himself to stop his behaviour that he perceives as self-destructive even though he knows he ought to. He's still sarcastic. He doesn't hesitate to leap into a fight - I still have bad memories of IDW's 'Spike' series starting with him hiding or running away from a fight and rationalising his behaviour to himself as still being a badass. (My version of Spike wouldn't run away unless the odds were truly unbeatable - and if he did, he'd be sardonically honest that he was running away, not try to spin it as something heroic.)
Gischler has said that he was quite intimidated when he got the job writing 'Spike: A Dark Place' because he was a 'Buffy' fan before he ever became a writer. From the interview he gave Dark Horse: "When I was offered the gig my first thought was “This is awesome!” And then a second later I thought, “Holy crap, I’m writing Spike. *The* Spike.” and that suddenly seemed like a lot of responsibility.” From reading his Wikipedia entry, he's apparently a crime novelist, weirdly enough. He published his first novel in 2001. More recently he's been writing comics for Marvel, which is presumably how he came to this position. I don't think he's off to a bad start but it'll be interesting to see where it goes in subsequent months.


Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 16:03 (UTC)

I've seen some people post that no self-respecting old-school punk would ever admit to liking Pink Floyd. But they forget that Spike was around for a century before the Sex Pistols, and even attended the Woodstock Festival (where he ate a Flower Person). I think he's more interested in the style and attitude of punk than the actual music... although he did have that Pistols tape that Harmony destroyed.

The sun would indeed destroy Spike if he were pushed out of the ship, unless something (like the moon) was interposed between it and him. In space, even though the stars are always visible, so is the sun. This was how Buffy killed the Zompire Xenomorph in the "In Space No One Can Hear You Slay" story.

I wondered why, if the demons intend to kill Spike, they would wait to take him into space and push him out an airlock. Why not just stake or behead him? The only reason is to give Spike time to come up with an escape plan, apparently.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 17:36 (UTC)

If there's one thing Spike is good at, it's re-inventing himself. I imagine that extends to his musical tastes as much as anything.

Johnny Rotten of the 'Pistols apparently used to wear a t-shirt saying "I hate Pink Floyd". They were seen as the epitome of stuffy, pretentious, boring and over-intellectual art-school musicians, compared to the working-class garage band ethos of punk, where actually knowing how to play the guitar was kind of a liability.

But then again, Spike like to see himself as a real rebel, not just a poseur rebel - so maybe he continued to like Pink Floyd even after they stopped being cool.

The sun won't hurt Spike in space as long as he stays in the shadow of the ship - or for that matter if they're still on the dark side of the Moon. It's only direct sunlight that kill vampires.

Maybe the hijackers don't want to leave litter (vampire dust) on the Moon? :)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 18:58 (UTC)

The way you can tell a real punk from a poseur is that the real punk would respond with "Don't tell me what I'm allowed to like and not like, you wanker."

I can understand... I like both the Sex Pistols and Pink Floyd, myself.

They seem to still be on the light side of the moon as of the end of the comic, but I guess it would depend on where they let him out. If their intent is to kill Spike, why not just throw him out now instead of waiting to get into space?

Demons just can't resist being cruel to their victims, I guess, fortunately for Spike.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 19:55 (UTC)

I actually got the impression on first reading that they were keeping Spike as a hostage to ensure the bugs' compliance. Though the text doesn't really support that explicitly.

Posted by: TimeTravellingBunny (boot_the_grime)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 21:21 (UTC)

Actually, Johnny Rotten/John Lydon has explained that he likes Pink Floyd. http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/feb/18/john-lydon-pink-floyd

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 22:38 (UTC)

To be fair, he does say he changed his mind after he actually met Dave Gilmour and got on well with him. and aged 35 years. :) (I think Lydon and Rotten are pretty dissimilar characters, rather like Spike and William Pratt...)

Posted by: TimeTravellingBunny (boot_the_grime)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 23:02 (UTC)

He changed his mind on them as blokes. But he admits he always liked (at least some) of their music, like The Dark Side of the Moon. He's also known to be a fan of Can and other Krautrock bands (that's when he was young, not just now - so I can see him having listened some of Pink Floyd back in the day). Which isn't surprising, someone who's into musical experimentation (as he was with PiL) couldn't have been just a fan of fast 2-minute guitar songs.

I don't think "Rotten" and "Lydon" are that different at all. Dissing pompous rock stars was a part of his contrarian attitude; the moment that punk rock became musically repetitive and the new fashionable thing image-wise, it makes sense that someone like that would get bored and look for something more challenging music-wise. I would argue that post-punk is the logical continuation of punk's rebellious attitude, in trying to do something new and different musically. And once that everyone starts wearing pins and saying that Pink Floyd sucks, what's the point of continuing to do the same thing?

I suspect that his "I hate Pink Floyd" was a bit like me "hating" The Beatles or The Stones: I actually like many of their songs, I love some, some don't do anything for me, but they've been built up so much as the best bands ever, and they're not among my absolute favorites, so I get sick of them.

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 19:08 (UTC)

Good review! Some comments:

1. Yes, there are those of us who still believe that Buffy didn't say those words to Spike in #37. That they are both using the same term is just a writing convenience to gesture at The Problem as it's being constructed in the comics. One could wank it and say it shows that Buffy and Spike are on the same page. (Just as one has to wank about how the term Zompire got half way around the world as quickly as it did). I prefer doing that wank that the wank I think it takes to read #37 as not being Buffy's fantasy. Obviously, you think the opposite!

2. I assume that the bugs got the necro-tempered glass from the same store room that had a beach lounger, a bunch of small umbrellas, a grass skirt, and a lei. It's a vaaaaast store room, obviously.

3. I agree that Spike is rejecting his self-deception about him and Buffy. But that adds a layer to my own take on the scene, which has Spike rejecting the fake beach, when in fact he's just been enjoying basking in the real sun. I think there are a lot of layers here, which is why I don't think that this issue lacks depth. Lots of real/fake imagery. Lots about self-deception and how that works, etc. I think it's more impressive on that score than a lot of the comics we've seen this season.

4. I think in the faux-mutiny scene Spike is also quite drunk. See right before then when it takes him a while to focus in on what Sebastian is saying to him. I think that's why he has a bumbling reaction to them hoisting him up.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 20:01 (UTC)


I can actually imagine the bugs owning umbrellas and grass skirts and so on anyway, or at least having the raw materials to fabricate them. But presumably necro-tempered glass is rare and special material. If they already had some, why didn't they use it earlier once Spike became their leader? Only remembered it now?

I have a suspicion you're more attuned to finding depth in Spike's personality, while I'm more focussed on seeing it in Buffy's interactions with Kennedy; and that's why our level of interest in these two comics was reversed. :)

Good idea about Spike possibly being drunk!

Posted by: Lisa (shipperx)
Posted at: 29th August 2012 16:04 (UTC)

I figure the bugs have technology. How do you make 'necrotinted glass' anyway? Maybe all they needed to do was blast it with some harmonic frequency, or anneal it with lasers or coat the glass with some mixture of argon and some other element. (Though honestly, I'm not sure why a simple low-e coating wouldn't suffice. It blocks out nearly all of the UV.)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th August 2012 18:12 (UTC)

Well, necro-tempered glass had better be technological, because if you make it using magic, they're out of luck...

As I understand it from the IDW comics, the bug ship is actually only an escape shuttle that was separated from the main ship. So it probably doesn't have the full range of bug technological solutions on board, even if they can clearly make NT glass.

Posted by: TimeTravellingBunny (boot_the_grime)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 21:25 (UTC)

Yes, I also think that Buffy only said "You are my dark place" to Spike in her head, and I don't see any reason to change that opinion. Especially since that's the only way that the scene ever made sense.

It's not like Spike never thought about "darkness" before. And the fact that the writers are enamoured by this phrase of Joss' and are using it as much as they can by no means implies that Spike heard Buffy say those words, any more than Fool for Love implied that Buffy knew that Cecily told William "You are beneath me" or that Lies My Parents Told Me implied that Buffy knew that Nikki Wood told Robin "It's all about the mission". (I've seen people argue the former though I never agreed with them, but I don't believe that there's anyone arguing the latter.)

But Spike realises he's fooling himself - although his repeated protestations that it's time to move on and get his head out of his bum" ring a little false to me. I think he knows what he ought to be doing, but can't bring himself to do it.

Well... I don't know. What should he be doing? :)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 22:45 (UTC)

He should be moving on, if he really believes that Buffy doesn't and will not think of him that way*. But I don't think he can: he's stuck in a loop of saying, "I've got to move on, I've got to move on" without actually doing so.

* Whether this is actually true is, I think, still up in the air. I get the impression Buffy herself doesn't know what she wants, and her love live is way down on her priority list, since she wants to get the rest of her head straight first. I also think she's guilty of taking Spike for granted and assuming he'll always come when she calls.

As for the dark place thing - I think the scene makes perfect sense if the conversation really happened and the only part that was in Buffy's head was the actual sex fantasy. But two years down the road, I'm not sure anyone will be convinced to change their minds...

Posted by: TimeTravellingBunny (boot_the_grime)
Posted at: 28th August 2012 23:05 (UTC)

As for the dark place thing - I think the scene makes perfect sense if the conversation really happened and the only part that was in Buffy's head was the actual sex fantasy. But two years down the road, I'm not sure anyone will be convinced to change their minds...

Well, I think it really doesn't makes any sense that Buffy and Spike are having this emotional scene and Spike is acting as a passionate and jealous lover and then moping and that Buffy is gazing soulfully into his eyes and going "You are my dark place, Spike", and then he just goes back to indifferently talking about the Seed and wonders why she's distracted. But I'm sure I've told you that before...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th August 2012 19:18 (UTC)

To me, though, that wasn't them "having an emotional scene", it was them having an exposition scene that was briefly interrupted by them shouting at each other, then making up again. Which is something they tend to do a lot. I actually think Spike's outburst here is prompted much more by his long-running sibling rivalry with Angel than by his feelings for Buffy.

So it doesn't strain my credulity at all that Spike would reply to Buffy's apologetic "You're my dark place" comment by shrugging uncomfortably, waiting for Buffy to sit down again, and going back to what he was saying before they started arguing - not realising that Buffy was drifting off in a private, glowy sexual fantasy.

Posted by: slaymesoftly (slaymesoftly)
Posted at: 29th August 2012 14:08 (UTC)

Interesting thoughts and well expressed. I enjoyed the issue, but am waiting to see where the story goes before deciding "yay, Spike!" And, I am one of those who (somewhat cynically?) thinks they are testing the waters to see if Spike can support his own comic. IDW had given him one, so there must be numbers out there to suggest he could.

Spike has lived a long time. Although we are only given his liking for punk in canon, I think it is silly to assume that he hasn't been familiar with and fond of many different types of music through the years. If nothing else, he would know about other bands and performers, whether he owned their albums or not. A true "rebel" wouldn't let someone else tell him what he could and couldn't like.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 29th August 2012 19:09 (UTC)


I suspect IDW spun Spike off in his own comic because they weren't allowed to put him with Buffy. He could either be "Angel's wacky sidekick" or the protagonist of his own story. Also, IDW's sales figures were generally lower than Dark Horse's, so they had a lower target to meet. I looked up sales figures for November 2010 to check:

Dark Horse: 'Buffy' Season 8 #38 - 41,189
IDW: 'Angel' # 39 - 14,449
IDW: 'Spike' # 2 - 9,262

(By comparison, Buffy S9 sold 27,490 in July 2012, and Angel & Faith sold 16,656.)

So I think DH will be looking a this more to see "Can we make money from spin-off books" in general rather than specifically, "Can Spike become hero of his own separate series"? After all, the fact that this book is about him instead of Drusilla was a last-minute change of plan as it is.

Spike went to Woodstock. I can just imagine him dressing as a hippy in the 60s. Hey, that was the counterculture back then!

Posted by: spuffy_luvr (baphrosia)
Posted at: 7th September 2012 03:14 (UTC)

Now I really want to see some flashback scenes of Spike as a hippie. Too bad it would have to be in the comics only. JM could make even ratty hair and bellbottoms sexy and badass.

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