Review: ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate’ by various
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate
Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty
Dark Horse, October 2008, $15.95
I have to admit something right up front, by quoting myself:
Not only have I never read any [[[Buffy the Vampire Slayer]]] comics, I’ve never seen the TV show – or the movie it spawned from, or the [[[Angel]]] spin-off show. Nor have I played any Buffy card games, fondled the increasing number of muppet-y creatures, written BtVS fan-fiction, or attended Buffy-centric conventions.
So I came to [[[Wolves at the Gate]]] a complete innocent. Sure, I have a vague sense of who Buffy and the rest of the Scooby gang are – see? I even know the term “Scooby gang” – but not much more than that. I was surprised to see the guy named Xander has only one eye, for example, and I imagine most of the people reading this have had entire conversations about whatever episode it was when he lost the other one.
I didn’t think that would be a big problem, but one of the first things I realized after opening Wolves at the Gate was that it wasn’t aimed at people like me. When the plot synopsis on the inside front cover says things like “these Slayers must prepare for an impending war with humans and a mysterious new Big Bad, Twilight” and “Also, Dawn: still large-ish,” it’s clear that this series is to let those who are already fans revel in their knowledge and have some more stories about characters they already love.
And that’s cool for them, it’s just that, y’know, I have to figure out how to review this thing. (My apologies: the aggressively colloquial, post-Mamet cross-talk is infectious.)
Wolves at the Gate is the third collection of the Dark Horse Buffy series, collecting issues #11 through #15 – the single-issue story “A Beautiful Sunset” (written by series creator Whedon) and the four-parter “Wolves at the Gate” (written by Goddard). It contains the famous Buffy lesbian sex scene, the death of somebody I think is important, Buffy’s first run-in with that Twilight fellow, the return of Dracula, several big battles, Mecha-Dawn, and more side jokes and pop-culture references than most of us see on network TV in a week.
“Beautiful Sunset” is clearly transitional, a pause between bigger stories: Buffy chats with Xander, goes out on a vamp-hunting mission with a Slayer named Satsu to have a chat with her, and then ends up fighting this mysterious Twilight guy to no real result. It’s a whole lot of character stuff and set-up for future plots without any real plot for that issue.
“Wolves at the Gate” seems more substantial, but, at the end, there’s no major change. Yes, some nasty new vampires steal Buffy’s “scythe” (which looks more like a fancy fire-axe, but don’t mind me), and use that to power their fiendish depower-all-Slayers machine, but they lose in the end. (Funny, isn’t it, how naughty dentists always make that one fatal mistake? Aaaargh! They’ve got me making arch comedy references again – I’m telling you, this Buffy stuff is like a snark brainworm.)
There’s a weird mixture of things that have incredible consequences – like the death of the person I won’t mention, and Buffy’s general sorrow-of-the-captain demeanor – and things that have no consequences whatsoever – such as Xander enlisting Dracula to help them out. It’s hard to tell what’s arch flippancy, and what’s true emotion, since the two are intertwined in the same panel. To put it another way, if everything is both deadly serious and a joke, what’s the real emotional pitch of this story? (Even Spider-Man doesn’t make quips all of the time.)
The dialogue is sprightly and funny, even though it does read like Hollywood-speak rather than real people most of the time. Most of all, Wolves at the Gate reads like TV – glib and knowing, like it’s already been rewritten to within an inch of its life. I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t really engage with it.
Jeanty’s art does a tough job well – he has to accurately depict the faces of about a dozen real people regularly, plus many more people of his own creation, plus switching from action scenes to two-shots every other page (or doing them both at the same time).
So I appreciated Wolves at the Gate as an entertainment, though I couldn’t quite enter into it as a story. It’s more adventures of people I don’t know, and they do their best to keep me at arms’ length in this book. So I’ll just leave them be, I guess.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.