Issue 8.13 was... interesting. I can certainly agree that some parts of it are pure crack!fiction - but then again, so was the episode 5.01 'Buffy vs Dracula' in the first place. There's also some solid characterisation and plot development, and one of the scariest threats to our heroes that we've yet to see. Scott Allie even makes some thoughtful and interesting comments on his letters page. And Renee's changing expressions all through the comic are simply adorable...
"I agree with you that what's happening in this comic has plenty of moral ambiguity to it. Buffy's struggle is as much a battle of free will as right and wrong. Is the Slayer army a cult? Does she exhibit some of the same arrogance as the Watcher Council? I think it's pretty easy to argue yes to both questions."
"The book has more to do with Buffy's strength of character than her physical strength, and both get explored and defined only through the events of the story."
- Scott Allie, Editor, Dark Horse Comics
However, before going into the main review, let's come to a screeching halt. Let's look at the one line in this comic that hit me right between the eyes. About halfway through, we get this:
DRACULA: These powers you speak of-- they're part of the ancient magics. I risked my very soul to attain them. I am their worldly guardian.
Dracula has a soul? Like Angel and Spike? Now, it's possible that this was a slip of the pen by Drew Goddard, and will be retconned out of existence in a later issue. Or it could be that Dracula is talking about an evil, demonic soul, not a human one. But taking him at face value... he has a soul.
Thinking about it, it's not so unbelievable: Angel has his soul because he was cursed by gypsies in Romania, and Dracula lives in Romania and has special powers which Spike describes as "showy gypsy stuff". There's a connection. Maybe Dracula has the same curse Angel has, so consummating his relationship with Xander would be dangerous...
Of course, you can argue that Dracula still seems pretty evil. He kills peasants and hunts small Albanian boys, and his views on race are somewhat unenlightened. On the other hand, presumably the human Vlad Dracul had a soul, and the killings and maimings and impalements he inflicted on his victims far outstrip anything the average vampire gets up to. This vampire Dracula certainly seems capable of fairly subtle emotions, including affection.
He also needs to shave, which creates an immediate canon conflict with Angel:After the Fall 6.05. Still, according to my 'vampire hair growth theory', we can assume that Dracula was full-bearded as a human and has to shave to appear smooth-chinned. He also either uses a glamour to seem younger, or dyes his hair black...
The idea of a past-it, has-been vampire slumped in decadence is an interesting one. It's been suggested there's a deliberate parallel being drawn with Buffy. Yes, she's in her prime; but both of them are isolated and feel alone. Furthermore, both of them feel forced to put up a facade to the world and appear to be something they aren't for the benefit of the people around them.
Whether Xander is under Dracula's thrall is open to debate. I think there are a few moments where he does seem to be - like when he tells Renee "Watch your tone, Moor" - but he snaps out of that really quickly. My judgement is that he's still got his free will as long as he's on his guard, but if he relaxes too much he can fall under the 'fluence. For that matter, there are definite times when he seems to be deliberately playing Dracula himself; calling him 'Master' seems to be a deliberate ploy.
The slashy undertones, especially in the "you've lost weight" conversation, are very funny. Renee's reaction to them ("Oh, for the love of God...") is even funnier. I do get the impression that there's a genuine friendship between them.
As for how that happened, well... this is the crack!fic bit. To be fair, I think Drew is well aware of that, and approaches the issue head-on by letting Andrew try to justify it while the Slayers he's addressing express all the incredulity and doubt that we readers are feeling. ("Wait-- what?") The message seems to be, "Yes, I know this is out of left field, just go with it, okay? Then we can move on." Although I'm generally not an Andrew fan, I did think this scene was funny - the outfit, the big board, the audience reactions. Also, some facts to take note of:
1) Xander and Dracula exchanged letters? Say what? Seriously, somebody needs to write a fic in the form of these letters to tell us what they said. I do like the shout-out to the original Dracula novel.
2) Anya is mentioned, and the fact that Xander grieved for her is acknowledged. That should hopefully please a few people.
3) Dracula really is living in Transylvania.
4) One Slayer asks "Buffy just allowed him to go hang out with Dracula?" - which is an interesting assumption regarding the amount of authority the other Slayers ascribe to Buffy. I doubt that Xander himself would think he needed her permission to go anywhere. Like I said last time, it seems that a heirarchy of authority is building up around Buffy almost despite her wishes.
5) Notice the Slayer carrying a huge bale of hay in the background in one panel?
6) What, exactly, is "guy time" in this context?
7) One of the pictures shows a girl with purple hair and a tuft sticking up at the front. Surely that's not Simone, is it? Isn't she supposed to be in armed rebellion against Buffy's authority? It's probably a coincidence.
The next scene at Slayer Central does more to showcase Buffy's authority - not to mention her charisma and cult-leader status among some Slayers. Aiko is (was) clearly an extremely competent and capable Slayer, but she's also apparently a Buffy fangirl overwhelmed to be finally talking to her idol face to face. And then there's Buffy's treatment of Satsu - which to my eyes is pretty out of order. I don't think I'm alone either - Willow seems pretty pissed off at Buffy's curtness, and concerned for Satsu. The other Slayers seem to be looking quite shocked as well. Satsu is raising a genuine concern and coming up with a good suggestion, and Buffy not only refuses to consider it, but slaps her down for daring to show initiative.
It could be argued that this is proof that the Slayer organisation is exactly the sort of disciplined, heirarchical organisation some people were claiming it was last month. That's possible, but I'm not entirely convinced. The so-far-nameless black woman with long hair in the purple sweater is willing to stand up to Buffy ("My point, ma'am, is that..."), and apparently showed independent initiative by telling Aiko to stay on the line because Buffy would want to speak to her in person... she's not a subdued underling. The general attitude in the control room reflects this - we see lots of girls (including Leah) talking and looking at screens and reading papers and arguing and being proactive: this is a hive of activity with people taking the initiative, not a row of minions waiting to hear and obey Buffy's wishes. She's definitely in command, yes, but it still to me reflects the Scooby Gang writ large. Discussion and argument is fine until there's an impending apocalypse, when Buffy will take control and expect everyone to do as she says. As shown here.
So if Buffy doesn't normally expect instant obedience, why does she want it from Satsu here? I suspect personal reasons lie behind her extreme reaction. Perhaps she's afraid Satsu is trying to use their sleeping together as a way to increase her status in the organisation, and she's rejecting that. Or, more charitably, she's afraid the other Slayers will think so, and she's trying to make a point to them that she's not going to give Satsu any special treatment. There's also the classic Buffy trait of pushing away people who try to get close to her, and focussing on the mission at the expense of personal relationships. Maybe she regrets her experiment and wants to forget it ever happened, although there's no real evidence for that either way.
Turning back to Dracula, Xander and Renee, there's already been some controversy about the Dark Master (Bator)'s racism (the references to 'Moors', 'Orientals' and 'filthy yellow swine'.) In the original book, Dracula was certainly a believer in the racial superiority of Transylvanians over all the lesser races who tried and failed to conquer them. Frankly, to me his attitudes seem pretty much like a (slightly exaggerated) version of the sort of views that were considered perfectly acceptable a hundred years ago, anod they're intended to show how out-of-date and out-of-touch Dracula has become. (Plus, of course, to help us remember that he's not a good guy).
Question: is Dracula calling Renee a 'Moor' as just an old-fashioned word for a black person, or is this proof that her ethnic origin is actually from the Maghreb region?
So as well as black helicopters, the Slayer organisation also has C-5A Galaxy transport aircraft at its disposal. For the record, those things cost in the region of $160 million each... that's an awful lot of diamonds to steal. And I still want to know who's piloting the things. Unfortunately, because they go by covert means instead of a commercial flight, we don't learn if Satsu has a Japanese passport.
Willow's conversation with Satsu is a (controversial) highlight of the comic. Given her look of concern earlier, I'm pretty sure Willow has sought out Satsu deliberately. Her words seem to be friendly advice and sympathy to comfort Satsu, or at least stop her getting hurt worse; but I think she's also trying to defend and justify Buffy's actions. It's interesting that Willow buys into the "Buffy is the general" idea, that she's special and unique. Of course, that's not a new thing for Willow ("You're the Slayer, Buffy. Your stuff is pretty crucial" - 'Primeval' "Xander has the luxury of not saying it, but you're the Slayer. You have to say stuff like that." - 'Same Time, Same Place'). What's even more interesting is that Willow sees herself as one of the girls - "She's not like us" - rather than being, oh, say, the most powerful witch in the Western hemisphere and the one who cast the spell turning everyone into a Slayer in the first place...
I had to look up what HGOGA stands for in the Urban Dictionary. ('Hot Girl-On-Girl Action', if you were wondering.) I still don't know if it's pronounced "aitch-gee-oh-gee-ay" or "huh-go-gah". It's interesting that Willow is happy to use jokey euphemisms and circumlocutions for "lesbian" but is totally thrown when Satsu bluntly uses the term 'dyke'. (Which, when I was going through my political formative years, was one of those words you're only allowed to use if you are one. Don't know if that's still true.) More confirmation that despite her respectful outer appearance, Satsu is pretty down-to-earth and forthright when she wants to be.
The end of this conversation is one time when I do wish we could hear the actresses speaking the dialogue. Is Willow being pushy and inappropriate, or is she being mischevious and cute? Without tone of voice it's hard to tell. However her facial expression does seem conspiratorial, and while Satsu looks shocked, it does look to me like shocked-laughter rather than shocked-and-offended. And she's leaning in towards Willow in the next panel. I'm thinking giggly girly conversation, not uncomfortable prying. Remember, this is the Willow who pressed Buffy for "Details!" about her first night with Parker, and enjoyed her "vicarious smoochies" with Buffy and Riley.
I'm pleased to see it confirmed in canon that Willow has often thought about having sex with Buffy, and slightly disappointed to see it confirmed that she doesn't have first-hand knowledge of the experience. :-)
Okay, serious question. Can anybody remember any episodes of the TV show where Sarah Michelle Gellar made a "high pitched squeal" like the one Willow describes? Just for research purposes...
I do wonder if there's a part of Willow that's a bit jealous, so she's making it clear to Satsu that she's got nine years' intimate knowledge of Buffy. Also, since I think about these things way too much, I'm wondering if Willow has ever heard Buffy have sex. The reverse is certainly true, since Buffy had the bedroom just the other side of an internal partition wall from Willow and Tara in season 6 and Willow and Kennedy in season 7, but Buffy would surely never have brought Spike up to her own room in season 6. Maybe when they were roommates in season 4 Willow would pretend to be asleep when Buffy got back from a late-night patrol feeling hungry and horny? (There's a plot-bunny there, if a plot-bunny for a PWP isn't a contradiction in terms. A porn-bunny?)
The death of Aiko is pretty brutal, and makes it clear that these are serious opponents. The fact that the Scythe can apparently be used to reverse the Slayer spell and turn her back to a normal girl is also a nasty idea. I wonder if it's a permanent effect or temporary? Incidentally, the Japanese word Kumiko shouts when she casts the spell is 逃げろ (pronounced 'nigero') which means 'Run away!' That could be random, or a Monty Python reference, or she could be ordering the Slayer empowerment mojo to go away.
Politically, I'm wondering if the moral is that we should never relax. Women have received a fair measure of equality and empowerment today as compared to 30 years ago; but it's still possible for a reactionary social movement to come to power and sweep all those changes away, unless we're vigilant...