Today I bought issue 1 of 'Spike: Shadow Puppets' and since I've been reviewing Season 8, I thought I'd do the same for this. Brief précis: I enjoyed it, but not as much as some other people around here seemed to. :) I'm rating it Decent.
Warning: this story comes after 'Spike:Asylum' in continuity, and so my review will include some minor spoilers for that comic as well.
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So: after a brief teaser we start with Spike getting into a fight with some demons in a bar. Which, curiously enough, is exactly the same way 'Asylum' started. Clearly since Passions got cancelled Spike's had to make his own entertainment... Speaking of the teaser, assuming the killers were wee little puppet ninja (WLPN henceforth), I liked that they're in character as Smile Time puppets ("Well duh. We've got swords.") rather than as traditional ninja.
Anyway, back to Spike getting the brush-off from a waitress he tries to pick up. Wonder if she's really gay or if that was an excuse? Still, Spike's internal monologue is nicely ironic as he wanders past the happy couples trying to convince himself he's content to be alone. Spangel fans will also doubtless be pleased to see that Spike is still All About Angel, from the design on his business card and his (later) Angelcentric pros and cons on why to go to Japan, to his self-introduction: "But as far as vampires go, I rank in the top two." (Mind you, personally I sometimes suspect Drusilla is far more dangerous than either Spike or Angel...)
What I'm a little dubious about is the fact that in this comic, Spike is apparently quite happy to play second fiddle to Angel: from ranking himself in the top two (implying that he doesn't see himself as number one) to his later reaction when Marco calls him the B-team to Angel's A-team: he has a snappy comeback, but he doesn't seem too put out by the snub that would have infuriated him during Angel-S5.
Last time Spike got behind on his debts he got chased by a shark with legs (and on land). Now it's a demon with a laser beam in its head; clearly he's come up in the world. Spike convincing himself that he's perfectly justified in running away like a scared little girl is amusing, but again doesn't seem much like the Spike we used to know. The idea of him cowering behind a hot dog cart because a car backfiring scared him seems particularly out of character - although it's at least consistent with the buffoon side of him that occasionally came out on the show (for example, him getting tasered in the middle of his "I will make your neck my chalice" speech in Buffy-S4).
Anyway, at least Spike's neighbour seems nicer than Harmony's. When she says "Your kind like scones, right?" I do wonder what she thinks Spike's kind is: the implication is she knows he's a vampire, but she might also mean British people, rock musicians who look like Billy Idol, or who knows what...
Speaking of people's looks: thank goodness Lorne has green skin and horns, because otherwise I would never have recognised him from this artwork. Nor from his personality either: assertive, impatient, mocking, eager to help the helpless even if it means bullying Spike to do it. None of that seems much like Lorne, and especially not the broken, a-plague-on-both-your-houses Lorne that shot Lindsey, threw away the gun and walked away. I know Lorne played a part in 'Asylum', and he was much more in character then, having to be pretty much pressured by Spike into helping against his will. Maybe this is payback? Or maybe there's some secret agenda yet to be revealed? He certainly seems eager to go to Japan, so I'm guessing he has ulterior motives. Also, who sent the package? "For Spike (not the ponce)" actually sounds like it was written by Spike himself, possibly through some form of odd puppet-related timetravel...
On an upnote, I did smile at the comment about the Smile Time puppets rhyming in English even though they were speaking Japanese. :) And Spike's checklist of pros and cons ends with "probably a trap", which at least shows he's learned something from 'Asylum'. Of course, he goes anyway...
OK, one problem. The debt collector laser-beam demon shows up and starts blasting the apartment block, which is presumably full of innocent humans. What does Spike do? Apparently, keeps quiet and sneaks off. Let's hope not too many people got killed in the resulting fire.
Also, I bet Angel would have loved to have known about that demon airline during 'Surprise' in Buffy-S2. Instead of catching a slow boat to China and leaving Buffy alone for six months, he could have flown and been there and back in a couple of days. Still, I can sympathise with the writer not wanting to show Spike and Lorne hiding together in a cargo container for six months. :)
The running joke about the one-eyed Turk was amusing. And people catching an arrow in mid-flight is always impressive. (I think we've seen the Master do it in 'Prophecy Girl' and again in 'The Wish', Angel do it in 'Five by Five', and Buffy do it in 'Help'. Any others I've missed?)
I'm guessing that the WLPN are using "hai!" as a general exclamation, rather than shouting "Yes! Yes! Yes!! YES!!" in Japanese. :) Spike's reaction to fighting them was, for once, spot-on characterisation.
The appearance (and dialogue) of the Smile Time puppets was suitably ominous and menacing, which is an odd thing to say about kapok-stuffed felt muppets but nevertheless true. Unfortuantely, I don't think the comic format does the concept many favours: on TV, the felt puppets really stand out as being something strange. On the flat page where textures aren't visible, they really don't look all that different to the other characters. If, as I suspect, Spike and/or Lorne does turn into a puppet in a later episode, I wonder if the artist will be able to convince us he's actually changed?
The "official Smile Time cannon" and Spike's comment was wryly amusing in a breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of way. And Spike actually manages to look menacing as he gets up and dusts himself off.
And the ending is funny, in a "how is the TV news going to explain downtown Tokyo being overrun by thousands of puppet ninja?" kind of way. Actually, I suppose they're used to monsters attacking downtown Tokyo, so it'll be buried in item four of the local news roundup. I wonder if Gojira will show up next episode?
So to sum up: it was fun, and had some amusing moments and was frequently in character. The artwork was energetic and you could follow the action going on easily enough: but honestly, it's a good thing that the characters in the story are (a) a vampire with radioactive spiky blond hair and razor-sharp cheekbones (b) a green-skinned demon with red eyes and horns (c) a bunch of puppets - because if Urru was trying to draw normal human characters like, say, Buffy and Willow, I'm not sure I'd recognise them at all.
The question of canon, official or not, is an interesting one. Given the references to the Angel-S5 episode 'Smile Time' happening quite some time in the past, it's obvious that this story takes place after 'Not Fade Away'; possibly in the same timescale as 'The Long Way Home', in fact. But no hint is given as to exactly how Spike survived the battle in the alley; or for that matter whether Angel did or not. (It's strongly implied Angel's alive, if only because Spike's still referring to him and not in the past tense: but it's not specifically stated). There's also no clue as to why Spike still hasn't gone to see Buffy, and is instead wandering around Las Vegas and Los Angeles trying to pick up waitresses and strippers. (Incidentally, it's even implied that he's not had much success with them: which makes me wonder if the real Spike was killed in that alley, and has been replaced by a demonic clone who lacks his previously irresistable sex appeal?)
In fact, it seems to me this really defines the difference between "official can
non" and the spin-off comics: Joss's season 8 can actually move the story forward and provide significant changes in the lives (and deaths) of the characters. The spin-offs, meanwhile, are stuck in the same groove, repeating the same motions again and again like Lindsey and Gunn in the W&H holding dimension: the characters aren't allowed to develop and any change has to be reset at the end of each story.
Having said that, I wouldn't be totally unhappy if Beck shows up in Japan. Take several foam-filled felt puppets, add one pyrokinetic avatar of a fire god, and step back hastily. :)