The 8th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes in for a lot of criticism here on LJ. Write a post condemning the comics and you'll get 15 people replying to agree with you before you've refreshed the screen. It's much rarer to see people talking about why they enjoy the comics, and praising the good things about them.
So that's what this post is about. It's about why I look forward to the first week of every month, and why I make a special trip into town to pick up my copy of Season 8 the day it arrives in the shops, and then read it twice through before writing my review. It's 45 reasons why I love Season 8.
The number 45 has no special significance. I just did a "Find" search on the piece after I wrote it to see how many times I used the phrase "I love..."
I love that Joss is willing to take risks with his storytelling. I love that he doesn't feel the need to explain every last little detail of background, because he trusts his audience to fill those in themselves. I love the way this makes you have to think about the story, work out what's happening and speculate on the reasons, rather than just sitting back passively and having it spoon-fed to you.
I love the opportunities for fill-in-the-blank fics this gives, where people can speculate on the real reasons why certain things came to pass - whether these are serious, tragic, or snarky. I've read some great ones. I've written some myself.
I love the jigsaw-puzzle plot development. The way the story starts in media res, and then little clues and elements of both the ongoing plot and the backstory are released to us bit by bit and the picture is slowly filled in. I love that there are no long, boring exposition scenes. I love the speculation on which references are important and which are irrelevant (although I do think it goes too far at times; fandom beats a passing story reference to death and then feels let down when the actual plot revelation is less spectacular than we'd worked ourselves up into believing it would be. And yes, I'm guilty of this too.)
I love that Joss can raise serious issues about power and leadership and organisation and the way the world works, without getting overly preachy and moralistic. I love that he can show that good things often have a bad side, and bad things can have a good side. I love that his answer to the question "Was Buffy right to create an army of Slayers to fight evil all over the world?" is neither "Yes" nor "No", but rather "It depends" or "A bit of both" or "Depends on whom you ask".
I love that he shows that power can corrupt people who start with the best of intentions, but that corruption isn't necessarily a slide into selfish evil mwuh-ha-ha villainry. I love that Buffy is still passionately committed to protecting humanity even if in the first half of the arc she was too focussed on that grand goal to care much about the individual humans she was supposed to be saving.
I love that canon is now open again, and the characters we know and love are moving forward. I love that Joss, unlike 99% of fanfic writers, is willing to introduce meaningful changes and growth into their lives. I love that we have new things to discuss, rather than only ever coming up with yet another interpretation of an episode of the TV show. (Which, I'm not knocking. It has its place. But so does talking about new stuff.)
I love the characterisation, the mix of development and continuity. These are still recognisably the same people, reacting in the familiar way to the issues and situations they encounter. But they're also not stuck in aspic; they've changed. In some cases they've grown and matured, in other cases they've simply changed - and I love that too, because real people do go both forwards and backwards.
I love that Buffy is now a better leader, delegating more responsibility and treating the other Slayers as real people, not disposable cogs in a machine. But she's still got her martyr complex, and she still pouts and whines about the burdens of Slayerness, because she's Buffy. I love it when she gets all firm and decisive and dangerous, and when she indulges herself in quirky wordplay, and when she lays her heart open to her friends about what she's feeling.
I love that Xander has matured into a self-confident and level-headed leader who's also compassionate and insightful - and yet isn't afraid to be dorky and geeky and compare himself to Snake Plissken or Sergeant Nick Fury.
I really love the personality developments Willow 's going through. The idea that part of her is longing to settle down, start a family, have a normal life: but she believes that her own past decisions have made that impossible for her now. She chose to resurrect Buffy instead of moving on and starting a new life with Tara. She chose to acquire almost-godlike magical powers, but that has made her "a force, not a person" in her own eyes, and she doesn't believe she can ever have what normal people have. And (unlike*koff*Buffy*koff) she's not especially self-pitying about it, because she knows it was her own decisions that brought her to that point. That's not a characterisation I've seen other (non-Joss) fic writers give her, but as soon as I read it I knew it was exactly right for her personality.
I love that Dawn is still resourceful and sarcastic. That she initially reacts to the magical curse she was put under with resentment and whining, but gradually learns to live with it and even exploit it to her advantage. And that she gets huffy when other people make jokes about it, but still recognises the funny.
I've even come to love the story of Andrew's slow transformation into a credible and sympathetic character, which wasn't something I ever thought I'd say when Season 8 first started. No disrespect to Tom Lenk, who was acting the role given to him and by all accounts is a great guy in person, but something about Andrew's voice and mannerisms on the show always set my teeth on edge. This is one time the comic format works to the characters' advantage. For someone who often seems to live in a fantasy world Andrew is actually proving to be perhaps the most self-knowing person in the ensemble.
I love the minor characters and new characters who've been introduced or featured. Yes, I wish there was more time available to spend with them, to learn more about their personalities and backgrounds. But I loved watching Satsu grow from the bizarrely-dressed but reserved and polite young woman to someone who is prepared to defy Buffy to her face and argue her down. I adored Renee's cute flirtation with Xander, and was upset when she died. Not 'The Body' or 'Seeing Red' level of upset, but it was a powerful scene. And it's fun looking out to see if Leah or Rowena or one of the other minor characters will get a cameo appearance.
I love the character interaction, especially the fun Scooby banter that was mostly missing from Seasons 6 and 7. I loved Buffy teasing Willow about Saga Vasuki, and Xander trying to discover what they were talking about. I loved Xander teasing Dawn about preferring guys with "no lower half", and her snippy reply that she "Hopes he dies first. With the most wounds." I loved Willow and Kennedy's banter when they first meet after a long separation, especially since a friend of mine who rather reminds me of Kennedy says the exact same sort of thing in similar situations. ("I hate you" and "Who are you again?" in a tone of voice that shows she means the exact opposite.)
In fact, as regular readers of my LJ will guess, I love that Willow and Kennedy are still together as a couple and in love, full stop. :-) And I love the slow development of the relationship between Xander and Dawn, the way they were shown interacting together right from the start, initially in a purely platonic way that gradually shifted into flirtation and banter and then into something more meaningful.
I loved Willow's reaction to the discovery that Buffy had experimented sexually with another woman. I love the way that Faith has matured into, in some ways, a better people-person than Buffy. I love the extremely begrudging respect that grew up between Xander and Dracula. I love the way Melaka Fray reacted to meeting a character out of the mists of legend.
I love the scope of the story. The fact that the Slayers are now operating on a global scale - and yes, sometimes they make mistakes when depicting the details of foreign countries, which can be an excuse for snarkiness. But at the end of 'Chosen' Buffy changed the world, and it feels right that we see that the world - not just one small corner of it - is now all different. But I also love that we still focus in on the little details. Xander makes Buffy a cup of coffee as she's sitting watching the monitors late at night. Buffy gets over-excited when she first goes to New York and sees the Empire State Building. Dawn, Buffy and Xander sit watching the TV together.
I love the variety of the plots. Some are minor - a band of vampires led by one named after a mediaeval torture device are terrorising a small neighbourhood. Others are epic or global in scale. Some people think that the lack of a special effects budget allows the writers to become self-indulgent, but I love that it means they don't have to hold back for artificial reasons. An army of a thousand vampires on the streets of Tokyo can actually look like an army, not the same ten guys in vampire make-up shuffling around in front of the camera to try and look like a crowd. They can set a scene on board a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean, or a forest in Scotland, or the top of a skyscraper, and it actually looks like that location rather than like the car park of the Mutant Enemy studios.
I love certain aspects of the artwork. :-) No, I'm not fond of the fact that sometimes the characters are hard to tell apart, because they're not photo-realistic depictions of the actors. But at its best Jeanty's artwork seems to have a luminous, vibrant quality to it that perfectly captures the characters' emotions. They feel like living, breathing people, not flat, motionless portraits. I love that you can see the subtle nuances of expression - anger, doubt, joy, sadness, surprise - sketched clearly on the faces. I love the sense of motion and movement in the action pictures.
I love the little touches Jeanty includes in his art, that reward a close study of the panels. The Slayer in the background of a scene who's casually slinging a fifty-kilogram bale of hay over her shoulder while chatting to a friend. The revelation that Willow's bedtime reading is 'Wicked' by Gregory Maguire, and that Kennedy is in the habit of just dumping her clothes on the bedroom floor when she goes to bed. And that Buffy has managed to acquire a replacement for Mr Gordo. And that Buffy sometimes wears a 'Serenity' t-shirt. And Harmony has a pink 'My Little Pony' poster on the wall of her room.
There's probably even more stuff that I love. But that list will do for now.