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.