StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS 8.32 'Twilight' Part 1

I know very little about traditional American comic books, other than what everybody picks up through cultural osmosis. I do know that Brad Meltzer is considered a big name in that field, and getting him to write an arc of 'Buffy' was a major coup for Dark Horse. Issue 8.32 is certainly powerfully written, with a real gut-punch of a twist near the end. The writing style is also very different to usual 'Buffy' - I liked the cute little captions introducing the main characters as they appeared, which I'm guessing is a comic book thing, and also the fact that many characters are given internal monologues.

On the other hand, this comic contains lots of in-jokes and references to comic books, which I'm sure would be very clever and funny to people who got the allusions. :-/ So instead, I spent the morning with Wikipedia researching what was being talked about.

Please note that as before, this review does not reveal Twilight's identity. I ask anyone commenting on the review to also respect that, for the benefit of anyone who is trying to remain unspoiled.

So we start with a close-up of a gun. People have already commented on the preview to this issue how ominous this is, and some wondered if the gun is Chekhov's. (Anton Chekhov the writer not Pavel Chekhov the Star Fleet officer). We also learn that Xander now carries this gun around with him regularly - something Buffy herself wasn't aware of and is not happy about. It's a nice bit of characterisation, part of the ongoing Wesleyfication of Xander and tying into Buffy's long-standing distaste for firearms, but made more pointed by the immediate relevance to the events of 'Retreat'.

Apparently this scene of Buffy and Xander joking and playing around a few days after a big battle where many of their allies and followers were killed has been controversial with many fans. For me, though, it's both perfectly in character and perfectly realistic. Remember the final scene of 'Chosen'? (Of course, that was controversial too.) But the fact is that black humour and joking in the face of danger are absolutely trademarks of front-line soldiers, paramedics, firefighters, nurses and other people who come into contact with violence and death on a daily basis. Buffy and the Scoobies have been watching their friends get killed, seeing people die, and in many cases killing people themselves since they were children; it's all they've known for over eight years. The only way they could possibly do that without going mad and curling up in a ball in the corner of the room forever is if they learn to disassociate and compartmentalise that part of their lives. It's a survival strategy many people in extreme circumstances have been forced to learn, and Buffy and Xander are no different.

Despite that, we see from Buffy's little moment of angst about the gun ("They keep killing my friends") that the recent deaths are weighing on her. For that matter, Dawn is also clearly unhappy with their casual approach to the situation - ironically, she'll spend the whole issue being dismissed as worrying about nothing, and turn out to be completely right. But for the moment, Buffy is loving her new powers and Xander is in geek heaven.

The whole set-up of them trying to find out whether Buffy is now faster than a speeding bullet was wonderfully funny. It seems like it's Xander's idea and Buffy is kind of doing it under protest, but still secretly enjoying herself immensely. I liked the way they showed time slowing down for Buffy, as Xander starts to say the word "fast", and Buffy runs after the bullet and catches it in between the "fa-" and the "-st" of that word. It took me a moment to realise that when Buffy says "Bugs in teeth. Not fun" she means she was running so fast that flying insects were unable to get out of her way quickly enough.

'Goonies never say die' is a quote from the 1985 film about a group of kids - the 'Goonies' - who go searching for pirate treasure to save their town from demolition.

In the next sequence, Buffy proves that not only is she faster than a speeding bullet, she is also more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. These, of course, are the powers traditionally attributed to Superman (the specific phrase being coined for a radio serial broadcast in the 1940s.) Xander's line "You've got me... who's got you?" is also from the Superman film - and, incidentally, was also quoted by Andrew to Willow back in 'Wolves At The Gate'.

Xander is taking Buffy's photograph with an iPhone, which I gather is deliberate artistic licence rather than a sign that this story takes place after 2007. Incidentally, I did like the way Jeanty drew Buffy stretching before she uses her new powers; very well-observed.

Dawn confesses her fears about Buffy's new powers to Willow, and her aggravation with the way neither of them seem worried that there might be a price to pay. She references 'The Monkey's Paw', a classic short story which was also an inspiration for the 'Buffy' episode 'Forever'. A man finds a magical artefact that will grant him three wishes. He asks for money... and his son promptly dies in an accident at work and he receives a large sum of money as compensation. The relevance to the current 'Buffy' storyline should be apparent. (For his second wish, he asks for his son to return to him... but realises after doing so that his son will be hideously mangled by the accident, not to mention undead, so his final wish is for his son to be dead again. That's the 'Forever' relevance.)

Willow's suggestion that Buffy received her powers as "the universe's reward for defeating the goddesses" doesn't make a whole lot of sense considering that Buffy needed the powers to defeat the goddesses in the first place. On the other hand, Willow received her own powers back in 'Turbulence' due to beforeshock from a cataclysmic mystical event in the future, so it seems like the laws of causality are already becoming strained around her and maybe this effect-before-cause thing seems logical now. Or maybe she means that the universe is letting her keep the powers as a reward. Or maybe she's too busy thinking about what she's doing, and only half paying attention to Dawn and not thinking through what she's saying.

At first I thought Willow was floating those candles just as practice now she has her powers back, but we later find she's setting up a spell. Some other interesting bits from this scene:

The caption box describes Willow as "Buffy's best friend", but so did Xander's caption box in the previous scene. So Buffy has two 'best' friends, it seems.

Dawn insists that not only was she a centaur rather than a horse, but specifically a girl centaur, because "there's a difference". One wonders what exactly she was getting up to on those frequent trips to visit her "woodland buddies" that Xander and Buffy talk about in 'Living Doll', for her gender to matter so much...

Dawn references her transformations as "a curse from a Thricewise", which confirms what both Buffy and Willow were saying back in 'The Long Way Home'; that sort of magical curse is an expected hazard when dealing with Thricewises.

At first I thought Willow was holding the phone between her ear and shoulder and the artist hadn't drawn it very well; then I realised he's drawn it perfectly, because it's actually floating in mid-air next to her head. Incidentally, a little later on Satsu addresses Willow as "Will", which seems to be a subtle sign she's now been adopted into the inner hierarchy.

Willow thinks Dawn is just getting upset because she's jealous of Xander spending so much time with Buffy instead of with her. That's a perfectly reasonable conclusion to reach given how 'BtVS'  storylines usually work, but Dawn gets frustrated because it's not why she's worried.

Shirley Hemphill was apparently an American comedian and actress, but I have no idea why Xander would be using her name in an exclamation. The magical lasso Andrew is painting for Buffy is a 'Wonder Woman' reference. "Every month on every Wednesday" is a shout-out to Buffy's line from 'OMWF', "Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday".

The scene with Xander adopting multiple poses as he asks Buffy if she has any other powers was cleverly done; a good use of the comics medium to do something a TV show couldn't do so well. Her reaction to the idea of being able to spin webs was a classic.

It was also funny how Dawn only just now realises that Buffy and Xander were specifically testing to see if Buffy has become Superman, with the "Faster than a speeding--- oh jeez" line. It's even funnier when Amy has the exact same reaction.

The next scene was one that I realised on first reading was clearly an in-joke, but since I don't read other comics I didn't get it. However, I did some online research and discovered that yes, it's an in-joke and actually a pretty funny one. The character Xander is describing who can phase through solid matter, and is cute and spunky and not afraid of anyone, is Kitty Pryde from the X-Men... and in an interview for Time magazine back in 2005 Joss confirmed that she was originally one of his biggest inspirations for developing the character of Buffy herself.

So what exactly are Amy, Warren and the General doing spying on the camp? They do offer an explanation later ("Twilight kicked us out"), but personally I think they were lying. Here they talk about Willow not knowing that "something's happened", just as Willow realises that, er, something's happened. It's not clear if they're referring to the kidnapping of Faith, Giles and Andrew or what's happened to the other Slayers outside Tibet. We do learn later that something else big is about to happen. Incidentally, I wonder why the General's name is "classified" - just a joke, a reference to the questions whether he's supposed to be General Voll even though he looks different, or something significant that will emerge later?

Willow exclaiming 'oy' in Yiddish when she realises something dangerous is happening is rather curious; maybe she learned the expression from her father? I felt sorry for Dawn having both Willow and Buffy simultaneously telling her to be quiet, and then Xander too oblivious to listen to her either. The next frame cuts away to Willow and Buffy, but we can still see Dawn in the background, arms folded, clearly still in mid-angry-conversation with Xander. I wonder what they're saying?

Buffy discovers she has yet another new power when she understands the language Willow casts her spell with. I wonder if that means she could also cast the spells, or if it's only a linguistic talent? It's interesting that Willow thinks Faith will be the easiest of the missing people to discover; we already know from 'Retreat' that Slayers broadcast a loud mystical signal that can be tracked through the right magic. Even more interesting that Willow - "not a fan" of Faith dating back to Season 3 - is now happy to go to her as "the Slayer who needs me most"; and Buffy feeling hurt that Willow doesn't think she is the Slayer who needs her most was cute. More Buffy/Willow subtext for those looking for it...

I'm not sure if Buffy's look of shock in the last scene is due to Willow's rather cavalier dismissal of her feelings ("Be serious"), or the possible implication that Willow doesn't number herself among Buffy's friends anymore (I don't read it that way myself, but it is a possible interpretation) or even the flat statement that Faith doesn't have friends (when based on 'Retreat', Buffy might be considering herself Faith's friend again now).

I liked Warren's cluelessness about what a 'klick' is, although he definitely loses geek points for not knowing. (A klick is a kilometre, 1000 metres - 'three klicks' is just under two miles; it's US military jargon since the US army, unlike US civilians, uses kilometres instead of miles to measure distances.)

Now we get to the big nasty revelation, though at first we don't know exactly what Willow finds... just an abandoned apartment building with blood on the walls and the chained-up corpse of a girl. The smell of old eggs - sulphur dioxide - is caused by bacterial decay of organic matter; urine is obvious and rusty pennies is the smell of blood. Though it's not spelled out yet, we can assume the girl is a Malaysian Slayer who was killed here, possibly along with many more Slayers. It sounds like they were imprisoned for some time, and maybe all killed at a precise moment.

What I assume is happening here is that Willow's spell was designed to take her to "the Slayer who needs me most"... but the Slayers who were imprisoned, possibly tortured and then killed need her more than Faith does, since Faith is alive and unharmed at present.

Buffy can now fly all around the world in seconds, but she doesn't know the difference between England and the UK, so is still clearly an American. :-D

The shipping container in Florida looks like it was also used to hold Slayers captive until they could all be killed at the right moment. I'm assuming a vampire wrote "Die Slayers!" on the inside of it, along with the 'V' symbol (which presumably stands for 'Vampires' rather than 'Victory'). We're not told what Willow finds inside the coffin; I'm guessing it's not just "a body" but something mystical which will be revealed in a later issue.

Now we discover what happened to Andrew, Faith and Giles. They were teleported to Twilight's secret lair, and are imprisoned in a room with a deathtrap which Warren apparently copied from a comicbook published in 1982.

We've already seen that Buffy herself was inspired by an X-Men character, Kitty Pryde. As for Willow, her Season 6 storyline was likewise inspired by another X-Men hero, Jean Grey who became Dark Phoenix. (Andrew compares her to that character in 'Two To Go', and in this issue of Season 8 there is another reference to Willow "going Dark Phoenix" in the future. The 'X-Men/Teen Titans crossover' Andrew talks about here involved both Kitty Pryde and Dark Phoenix, and an evil supervillain plotting to turn the world into Hell.

Since this seemed important to the plot, I researched exactly what happened in that story. People who are already knowledgeable about the X-Men universe can probably skip the next section of the review. (Or, feel free to correct me if I get any details wrong. As I said, I was only reading online synopses of the story to get an understanding of what happened.)

Jean Grey ('Phoenix') was one of the X-men, who had potentially unlimited mental powers. She was kidnapped by a bad guy hoping to exploit this, and when her friends came to rescue her she (mistakenly) thought her lover was killed in the battle. The shock drove her mad and released the full godlike powers of Dark Phoenix. She went on a genocidal rampage, destroying entire solar systems and billions of lives, until her allies managed to find a way to bring back the Jean Grey personality. (Spot the similarity to Willow in Season 6 yet?) However, when she realised her self-control was only temporary and Dark Phoenix would return, Jean killed herself to prevent that. (Unlike Willow, happily... although in 'Time Of Your Life' Future Dark Willow *does* commit suicide-by-Buffy, so maybe that will be her ultimate fate?)

In the sequel to this story, an evil god named Darkseid seeks to resurrect Dark Phoenix. He kidnaps the X-Men and uses a mysterious machine (the deathtrap Andrew talks about here) to suck out all their memories of Jean Grey, and uses these to summon back Dark Phoenix. She sets about destroying the Earth and converting it into Hell so Darkseid can rule there. However, the X-Men manage to escape the deathtrap and return to defend Earth. Although they're not powerful enough to defeat the bad guys, Jean Grey's former lover manages to break through to the traces of humanity still inside Dark Phoenix and convince her to help them. (I don't think he talks about yellow crayons, however.) She diverts her power away from destroying the Earth and instead uses it to banish Darkseid, but is herself killed (again) in the process.

So, the connection seem to be that in the Marvel comics story from 1982, the villain was draining memories out of the heroes and using them to empower a hero-turned-villain and give her the strength to destroy the world. Hmm.

Incidentally, Andrew's other geek reference - the Ceti eel - is to the cerebral parasites used by Khan to torture his victims in the second Star Trek movie.

Now we get the final revelation, as Willow discovers a killing field in a Louisiana swamp and a dozen or more dead Slayers... and one who's not quite dead. I'm not quite sure why Cori is so sure Willow can't cast a healing spell on her, although my earlier theory (told to angearia ) that Willow's most powerful healing magic only works inside the 'Golden Hour' after an injury is first sustained would fit perfectly.

Cori's last words are "Please don't tell Buffy we failed". To the very last, she doesn't want to let her leader down.

Until now, Twilight's killing of Slayers could be understood to be a simple act of war. His demons and soldiers and warlocks engaged the Slayers in fair fights, and casualties were suffered on both sides. However, what we're shown here goes far beyond that, into deliberate, systematic genocide. The imagery of containers - the modern version of cattle trucks - and bodies dumped in the swamp seems clearly chosen for maximum effect. I'm looking forward eagerly to finding out how the storyline will be twisted to make the person behind Twilight's mask a sympathetic character, if that's even possible...

I just want to touch on the argument that by empowering the Slayers back in 'Chosen', Buffy is now responsible for their deaths. On one level, it's perfectly true. However, I used the comparison to the killing fields earlier, and I think it's appropriate. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ordered the murder of anyone in their country with an education. If Cambodian women had never had the right to be educated, they would have been safe... But holding the people who passed laws and built schools for women responsible for their pupils' later deaths at the hands of a genocidal dictator seems... well, bizarre. Blaming the victim in its classic form.

Back to Buffy and co, still unaware of what's been going on. After spending the last two days explaining that she has no eye-related superpowers, Buffy suddenly acquires telescopic vision. Does this mean she's still gaining new powers, or that she's still discovering how to use the ones she has? Anyway, she notices the trio spying on her, and there's a confrontation. Amy claims that Twilight betrayed them, and now they want to help Buffy get back at him. Personally, I don't believe this; I think their presence there is all part of Twilight's master plan. But from her smile, Buffy does seem to believe it... or at least to believe that she can make use of the three of them even if she doesn't trust them.

I wonder what will happen when Willow comes face to lack-of-face with Warren again, though?

Given Andrew's comment later about Amy needing to teleport three people inside Willow's barrier in order to send another three people out of it, their presence could be as simple as that... though it doesn't really explain why Twilight wants Faith, Giles and Andrew at his HQ more than he wants Warren and Amy... No wait, any plan that gets rid of Warren and Amy is probably a good one. :-)

But now Willow has more important things on her mind... and finally, she agrees with Dawn and her monkey's paw reference. Just as in that story the protagonist gained wealth from the death of his son, Buffy's new powers come from the death of all those Slayers. Her reaction is, of course, utter and complete horror, made even worse by the fact that she's been enjoying herself so much through the issue.

It also explains why the power felt so natural to her... it's Slayer power, returned to her a thousandfold.

Of course, there are still many unanswered questions. I'm guessing that Twilight orchestrated the deaths of all those Slayers to happen simultaneously, which is why Buffy got the power-up when she did. It could be that any death of a Slayer empowers her, but given that Willow said that the killings were happening  in "odd places", and they clearly happened all at the same time, I'm thinking instead that it was a specific magical ritual that required multiple Slayer deaths to empower her. As for why, I'm guessing we'll find out sooner or later.

Another question left unanswered is whether the massacre sites Willow found mean that almost all the Slayers not with Buffy have been killed, or if these are isolated incidents. However, I did put the following question to Scott Allie in the SlayAlive Q&A:

"In Dr Horrible, Joss killed Felicia Day's character Penny. In Dollhouse, Joss crippled Felicia Day's character Mag. In Buffy, Felicia Day's character Vi hasn't been seen alive since 'Time Of Your Life'. Given the wholesale Slayer-slaughter revealed this month, should we be worried for her? Is Joss going for the hat-trick?"

-and his reply was "No" (followed by a joke that Joss is guest-writing an episode of 'The Guild', so Felicia's character Codex might need to start watching her back...) So hopefully Vi, at least, survived the purge.

And finally, our captured heroes come face to face with Twilight himself. And like any good supervillain, it sounds like he's about to explain his master plan. Also, I understand that next issue, he takes off his mask, and so I can stop pretending I don't know who he really is... ;-) 


Tags: buffy, review, season 8, season 8 review
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