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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Pale Reflections” by Andi Watson and Cliff Richards

Title: Pale Reflections
Writer: Andi Watson
Artist: Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #17-19)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Here we go! The conclusion to the Bad Blood storyline began here and here. I have to say, despite a couple of rough patches in the middle there, it’s been a fun ride. It was mostly good to see the book get away from the “villain of the week” format and do a longer-running villain, even if it maybe stretched a bit in the middle unnecessarily. This conclusion, though, was absolutely top-notch. These three issues can be found collected either here or in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

These three issues are titled as if they’re two separate stories, with the first two going under the title She’s No Lady and the last being entitled Old Friend, but that’s not really accurate. These three issues are clearly a single unit, and I’ll discuss them that way. The Scoobies have been tasked by Principal Snyder with preparing a float to represent the school during Mardi Gras, (Which apparently is also celebrated in Sunnydale? Who knew?) which is taking a good deal of time away from the search for the origin of the super-vamps. Meanwhile, Selke and her pet doctor have managed to magic together an evil doppelganger of Buffy. Yep, things are heading for a showdown….

On the whole, this was great. The writing was back on top, and mostly there were no loose threads left hanging around. Spike & Dru show up again at the very end, but I suspect that that’s a seed for a future story rather than sheer randomness. The art was likewise stellar, and I think Cliff Richards has finally hit his stride. Chronologically, this happens soon after the previous story/soon after Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Vampire violence consistent with the Buffy television show. Some mild sexual innuendo…. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occultic due to their demonic nature, but it didn’t bug me.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Crash Test Demons” by Andi Watson & Cliff Richards

Title: Crash Test Demons
Writer: Andi Watson
Artist: Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #13-15)
Rating: **
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

The Buffy binge continues! This time we have the next three issues in the ongoing arc begun back in Bad BloodCrash Test Demons collects issues #13-15 of the ongoing Dark Horse series, which can also be found in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

We start out on a weird note in Love Sick Blues, with Cordelia deciding her image needs revamped and deciding to compete with Willow in the school’s “Quiz Bowl.” Yeah, you heard that right. Of course, to have a hope of succeeding Cordy’s going to need some supernatural help, and that comes with consequences….In the untitled following issue, things start to get serious as Buffy and Angel encounter several “super-vamps” that take a lot more killing than usual. Oh, and after Buffy saves his bacon, Todd (the creep from A Boy Named Sue) develops an unhealthy fascination with our favorite Slayer….Finally, Lost Highway sees Buffy attacked by a trio of super-vamps after a fortuitous (under the circumstances) hit-and-run. All the while, Selke and her pet doctor are trying to raise a new dark power in Sunnydale….

Meh. The art was great, with the briefly-confusing exception of a few moments where the super-vamp gang contains a member who looks just like Buffy. The writing though….not so great this time through. The first story was mostly okay, but the other two are plagued with unresolved subplots, like Spike & Dru showing up just long enough to work some mischief and (apparently, since they don’t appear again) disappear without so much as a how-you-do. The characters’ dialogue was all spot-on, but the plotting and pacing could use some work. I think they just tried to stretch this ongoing story a little too long, causing issues here in the middle of the tale. Timeline-wise, for lack of any other information this continues to follow the previous so many stories, in the slot between Buffy S03E10: Amends and Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Vampire violence consistent with the Buffy television show. Some mild sexual innuendo…. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occultic due to their demonic nature, but it didn’t bug me.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Bad Blood” by Andi Watson & Joe Bennett

Title: Bad Blood
Writer: Andi Watson
Artist: Joe Bennet
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #9-11)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

It’s been a while since I read any of these Buffy comics, hasn’t it? Got a bit sidetracked. Anyway, the Bad Blood collection contains a mere three issues (#9-11), the first part of a larger long-running arc. Andi Watson is still going strong as the writer, and Joe Bennett subs back in as the artist for this arc. These three issues are available either here or in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

Life goes on apace for the Scoobies in these three issues. Nothing too life-changing happens in the parts of the story focused on our favorite slayer and her friends, as these issues blend a fairly episodic approach to the Scoobies with a long-game story featuring Selke, the vengeful vampire who got torched back in Cold Turkey. Hey Good Lookin’ (issues #9-10) sees Selke recruits an amoral plastic surgeon to try and fix her “cosmetic issues” while Buffy tries to balance tracking a band of ghouls who have been using the local cemetery as a diner with her surprising new gig: modelling! Then in A Boy Named Sue (issue #11) Buffy and the gang have to deal with an arrogant and duplicitous something-or-other, frontman for a band that rivals Oz and the Dingoes while being utter tools. Todd Dahl has decided that it’s time to add another “S” to his little black book of conquests, and he’s settled on our favorite Ms. Summers despite the fact that she’s not interested. Amy is, though, and she can be quite vengeful when spurned….

My reactions this time are…mixed. The art is definitely improving, even Xander is mostly recognizable. Probably a mix of the artist improving and me getting over my grumpiness with his appearance in these books. Everyone else is pretty well done though. Kudos to Mr. Bennett, he’s put my complaints to rest. The writing is where I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s perfectly spot-on when it comes to dialogue and characters sounding like themselves. On the other hand, there are deep flaws in this story arc. I don’t buy that Joyce Summers would be considering plastic surgery–it just doesn’t seem consistent with her character. The plastic surgeon suddenly becoming adept at magic? Maybe, I can buy that, especially if he’s a quick study. He seems to accumulate enough arcane books quickly enough, probably from Selke. But being able to pull off a tricky translation from an ancient language? Not exactly something they teach at medical school. This is of course somewhat balanced by the sheer hilarity of his attempt to buy time by passing off a jar of mayo as some mystery salve. Why did he have a random jar of mayo sitting in his operating room? I have no idea, and for once I don’t care. The writing was occasionally quite abrupt, switching scenes without warning, and I think each of these issues could have benefited from another couple pages, but that’s not always an option. Timeline-wise, these still have to happen before Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread since Amy makes an appearance. Xander and Cordelia seem to be together, but that’s never explicitly said so I guess we just ignore that.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Vampire violence consistent with the Buffy television show. Some mild sexual innuendo, from tight clothes consistent with a comic book to a character attempting to seduce a girl (and then lying about his failure the next day), plus the requisite jokes when a male character gets magicked into a female. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occultic due to their demonic nature, but it didn’t bug me.

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Mini-Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Final Cut” by Andi Watson, Jason Pearson & Cliff Richards

Title: The Final Cut
Writer: Andi Watson
Artists: Jason Pearson & Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #8, extended re-release)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Once again I find myself with a publishing oddity while reading the Buffy comics. Issue #8 of the ongoing series is the only issue never collected in a regular trade paperback. Instead, it was expanded and included as a special hardcover graphic novel in the “Supernatural Defense Kit” collector’s pack Dark Horse released in early 2000. The Supernatural Defense Kit contained the expanded hardcover, Buffy’s cross necklace, a ring, and the vial of “holy water” that Angel gives her in the comic. (I suspect that the pages concerning that vial of holy water were some of the additions made, but I could be wrong.) If you don’t have a time machine or a lot of money to use on eBay, however, the expanded comic is also collected in Dark Horse’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Volume III.

You’d think that Sunnydale High School students would know better by now, wouldn’t you? Apparently not though. SHS student Marty is an aspiring filmmaker, so when he finds an old black and white film in a storage closet, he takes it home for a private viewing. This being Sunnydale, the character in the film stops mid-film and offers to make him a star…for a price….

This was decent, actually. In this format, anyway–I’m not sure how they got this to work in a shorter version, I only spotted a few pages that could have been cut without serious damage to the story. My only real issue with it is an intense mystification as to how the Scoobies avoided some serious police scrutiny at the end, but I’ll shut up about that in the interest of avoiding spoilers. The writing was pretty solid, and the art was some of the best I’ve seen from this early era of the series. With no real concrete clues as to it’s placement, I’m assuming it happens pretty soon after the events of New Kid On The Block, or just before Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread.

CONTENT: No profanity, some mild rude slang. Brief innuendo, but no real sexual content. Violence consistent with the Buffy TV show, both vampiric and the normal variety. Some brief appearances of Buffyverse vampires, as well as some unrelated sorcery.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Uninvited Guests” by Andi Watson, Dan Brereton & Hector Gomez

Title: Uninvited Guests
Writers: Andi Watson & Dan Brereton
Artist: Hector Gomez
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #4-7)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 1999

Uninvited Guests collects issues #4-7 of Dark Horse Comics’ ongoing Buffy The Vampire Slayer series. Andi Watson stayed on as writer for these issues, getting an assist on issues #6-7 from Dan Brereton, while Joe Bennett moved on to draw The Origin and Hector Gomez stepped in to draw the four issues collected here. These four issues are available either in this collection or in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume III.

In White Christmas (issue #4) we follow Buffy as she get’s a job selling popsicles at the mall to earn money for a dress for the big dance. Of course, there are supernatural hijinks afoot, and Buffy soon finds herself up to her neck in danger….Based on the fact that the Scoobies’ relationships don’t show any evidence of the train wreck that was Buffy S03E07: Lover’s Walk, I place this issue just before that episode (and by extension almost immediately after the events of issue #3, Cold Turkey). The difficulty with this placement is that we have to then assume it’s just after Thanksgiving and that it’s not quite as close to Christmas as Buffy implies. We could also place it just after Buffy S03E10: Amends, given that Oz and Willow make up again in that episode, but here Cordy and Xander seem to still be a couple, and that will never again be the case after Lover’s Walk. (Yeah, I know. I’m ridiculous like that. You should see the Word document where I tried to make the Star Wars EU canon make sense before they hit the reset button….) Happy New Year (issue #5) sees a rift in the ranks of the Scoobies in wake of one of Oz’s “episodes.” He got out of his cage, and Buffy was forced to subdue him, putting his arm in a sling. Thus, Willow is pissed. Oh, and there’s a cursed Puritan rifling through Giles’ library. Based on the broadcast dates, this is soon after Buffy S03E10: Amends, with supporting evidence being that Willow and Oz are (back) together. New Kid On The Block (issues #6-7) sees the Scooby gang with a new friend. There’s a new girl in school, Cynthia, and a teacher work day means that the Scoobies have time for actual fun for a change! Thus, they decide on a sleepover, which of course excludes Xander and Oz. Oz is cool with it. Xander resolves to crash the party anyway….but it looks like his hijinks are far from the biggest issue the Scoobies are going to have to face tonight. With no really relevant markers to help place this, I’m going to assume it occurs soon after the previous story–mostly in an attempt to leave room in the timeline for the large number of comics that still need shoehorned into this season.

I’ve complained a lot about Hector Gomez and his art in previous Buffy posts, but in this case he actually did a pretty good job. Xander’s still a bit “square-jawed hero,” but oh well. I’m afraid that will never change. Everyone was at least recognizable, even Oz, which was definitely not the case in the earlier issues. The writing was good for White Christmas, and it was interesting to see the comic foreshadow later events in the show as Buffy gets a job in fast food and muses on the impact being the Slayer will most likely have on her career prospects. Happy New Year, however, was much spottier. The first page was a mess, there are multiple places where I actually went back to the original file to make sure I wasn’t missing a page, and in fact the fate of one of the newly introduced characters is left completely ignored. He was last seen plunging over a railing with Willow. Buffy caught her, but what happened to him? We don’t know–I assume he’s dead, but you’d think that would put a damper on their holiday celebrations. Plus, there’s the cursed Puritan. Are we to take his longevity as part of the curse? “I curse you to be chased by this Hellhound until it catches you and rips you to shreds! As an unfortunate side effect, until he manages that you’re immortal. Oh well.” I’m just not feeling it. This could have been really good if it had either a.) had a throwaway villain that could be easily dealt with in the scant page-space leftover from the relationship drama they highlighted, or b.) saved that drama for another issue and focused on the cursed Puritan. Instead, they tried to do too much and failed. New Kid On The Block was back up to snuff, although you could pretty easily surmise that a certain character was not all she seemed.

CONTENT: No profanity. Some violence, consistent with Buffy. Some mild sexual innuendo, from the girls at the slumber party in flimsy pajamas to Buffy and Angel doing their best not to make out, but kind of failing. These are Buffyverse vampires, which means there’s demons involved, so take that as you will.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Remaining Sunlight” by Andi Watson, Joe Bennett, Jen Van Meter & Luke Ross

Title: The Remaining Sunlight
Writers: Andi Watson & Jen Van Meter
Artists: Joe Bennett & Luke Ross
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #1-3 + Dark Horse Presents Annual ’98)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 1999

The Remaining Sunlight is the first collection of the actual ongoing Dark Horse series. The previous stuff I’ve reviewed so far has either been one-shots, mini-series, standalone graphic novels, or the “Year One” arc they did at the end of the run just before cancelling the book. I’m trying to go in chronological order, or as close as possible given the information at hand, so that would be why this wasn’t the first review I did in the series. As for where to find these aside from this particular collection, the main issues here are included in the Buffy Omnibus Vol. III, while MacGuffins is included in Vol. II.

The first three issues of the ongoing series (collected here) were all written by Andi Watson and penciled by Joe Bennet. Wu-Tang Fang (issue #1) opens the series as an ancient Chinese vampire comes to Sunnydale in search of a worthy opponent. Meanwhile, Xander begins taking karate lessons because he’s tired of being pushed around by bullies and bloodsuckers. Given the relationships still in place here and the lack of Faith (not to mention the publication date), I’m sticking this tale in the increasingly-populated gap between Buffy S03E02: Dead Man’s Party and Buffy S03E03: Faith, Hope & Trick. Plus, if we assume Stinger happens just before this tale, it lends extra meaning to Buffy’s comment about bullies messing with Xander. Then Halloween (issue #2) has come again, and this time the bloodsuckers are staying true to character and staying in for a movie marathon. Unfortunately, they grabbed Willow first to serve as their snack break when the time comes. Based on broadcast dates, this falls between Buffy S03E04: Beauty And The Beasts and Buffy S03E05: Homecoming. Faith is still nowhere to be seen, but oh well. In due time Thanksgiving comes along in Cold Turkey (issue #3) as Buffy is stalked by a vampire with a grudge…and has to deal with last-minute grocery shoppers to boot! Given the broadcast schedule, this is set between Buffy S03E07: Revelations and Buffy S03E08: Lover’s Walk. The writing for these is every bit as excellent as you would expect, and everyone most certainly sounds like themselves. The art….well, Buffy looks right, and Giles is mostly ok, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that there are few artists who can get Xander to look right. I mean, this was better than some I’ve seen, but still not Dark Horse good. Oz, Willow, and Cordelia fared slightly better, but Principal Snyder didn’t look at all right, at least in his first appearance–if I didn’t know better, I’d say he was away and someone else was filling in for him. Seeing Xander dressed as Gary Oldman’s version of Dracula for Halloween, valentine-hair and all, somewhat made up for this though. The art did improve each issue though, and the vampires actually watching the 1992 Buffy The Vampire Slayer movie? I literally laughed out loud when I realized what was showing. I think Joe Bennett was actually just about to find his groove for the look of the supporting cast, but for whatever reason he was replaced after these three issues.

As a bonus, this volume includes the story MacGuffins from Dark Horse Presents Annual ’98, written by Jen Van Meter and penciled by Luke Ross, set during Buffy’s summer vacation between the first two seasons. Buffy thinks she has a pest problem with the house flies infesting her dad’s apartment, but she hasn’t seen anything yet…. A fun, short little story with stronger art than most of this early Buffy material can boast. I enjoyed it.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. Vampire violence, a bit bloody at times. No real sexual content aside from a couple scantily-clad vampire vixens. As I’ve mentioned before, Buffyverse vampires could be considered a bit occultic since they are partially demons.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Play With Fire” by Christopher Golden, Doug Petrie, Tom Sniegoski, Ryan Sook, Hector Gomez & Cliff Richards

Title: Play With Fire
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2003

Play With Fire is a collection of shorter stories from all over the place–special issues, one-shots, annuals, even TV Guide. As such, its somewhat inconsistent, and I’ve chosen to handle each story as a separate mini-review within this post. A couple of these overlap with the later collection Food Chain for some incomprehensible reason. None of these are officially canon, since Whedon didn’t have any direct involvement, but they don’t contradict the official canon unless otherwise noted. I’ll make note of where they fall in the timeline, as well as where you can find them aside from this collection.

Stinger (Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Wizard #1/2)
Written by Christopher Golden
Art by Hector Gomez.
Rating: ****
Synopsis: Xander is forced to fight a local bully, but both are surprised by a nasty scorpionesque demon that feeds on those who enjoy inflicting fear and pain.
Review: Well-written, but with mediocre art. The characters sound like themselves, and I enjoyed the story, but the art kinda bugs me. Hector Gomez also did the art for The Dust Waltz, and I wasn’t a fan there either. Xander’s look is a little bit too “square-jawed handsome hero” for my taste–the draw of the character is that he doesn’t look like that, but is a hero when the chips are down nevertheless.
Continuity: Since Cordelia and Xander are dating but Faith is nowhere to be seen, this happens between the second and third episodes of the third season of Buffy.
Where to find it: This story is one of the harder ones to find. To my knowledge, it was only reprinted in this collection, Food Chain, and Buffy Omnibus Vol. IV.

Play With Fire (Dark Horse Extra #11-16)
Written by Christopher Golden
Art by Hector Gomez
Rating: ****
Synopsis: Buffy is out patrolling with Willow and Giles, who is growing concerned with Willow’s dabbling in the Dark Arts. Events soon provide them with even more material for this discussion….
Review: Not outstanding, but not bad. The characters all seemed like themselves, though Giles is a bit more clumsy here than he should be. Staid British librarian or no, Giles can kick @$$ when he wants to. The root of this story is particularly interesting since it was published long before the events of season 6, where Willow’s magical abilities grow out of control. The art was okay, and Xander was nowhere to be seen so Gomez’s art didn’t really annoy me as much this time. It’s still not up to the regular standard I expect from Dark Horse, but it’s consistent with his other Buffy material so I feel like harping on it is getting unfair.
Continuity: This is set sometime during Buffy Season 3, with no real way to be more specific. Since I think Faith would have come along if she were in the picture, I set this between the second and third episodes as well.
Where to find it: Again, this is rare. Looks like it’s only included here and in Buffy Omnibus Vol. III.

The Latest Craze (Buffy The Vampire Slayer Annual ’99)
Written by Christopher Golden & Tom Sniegoski
Art by Cliff Richards
Rating: *****
Synopsis: There’s a new craze sweeping Sunnydale High–Hooligans, little stuffed monsters in the vain of Furby but twice as creepy and a hundred times more kleptomaniacal.
Review: This was a fun tale in the vein of Gremlins. References to Furby were in evidence as well, which makes sense. The art was excellent, as should be expected from Cliff Richards.
Continuity: I put this one just after Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread, given the relationships in evidence, the presence of “Pez Witch,” and the lack of Wesley. It’s a bit close to Ethan Rayne’s last appearance (Buffy S03E06: Band Candy) but that really just makes the jokes about him being a glutton for punishment even funnier.
Where to find it: This story is reprinted here, in Food Chain, Buffy omnibus Vol. III, and online via the BBC (link).

Dance With Me (TV Guide Special)
Written by Christopher Golden
Art by Hector Gomez
Rating: ****
Synopsis: Buffy skips a school dance to go out patrolling, only to run into the student she turned down eight times. Seems he knew she was the slayer, and got himself vamped in order to force her to pay attention….
Review: Again, I have no problem with Christoper Golden’s writing. This was incredibly short at five pages, but nevertheless captured the characters and their interactions pretty well. The art wasn’t bad, although I’m still not a fan of how Hector Gomez draws Xander.
Continuity: The credits page places this during Buffy‘s third season. Based on Cordelia and Faith being absent, I place it late in the season, arbitrarily placing it between episodes 15 and 16. Honestly, though, there’s nothing in the story itself to say that this isn’t happening during the first or second seasons.
Where to find it:
This one is really rare. So far as I can tell, its only reprinted here and in Buffy Omnibus Vol. III.

Bad Dog (Buffy The Vampire Slayer Annual ’99)
Written by Doug Petrie
Art by Ryan Sook
Rating: *****
Synopsis: During the full moon, Buffy finds Oz’s cage smashed and both Oz and Willow missing. Fearing the worst, Buffy and Angel set out to track them down….but the real enemy may not be Oz after all.
Review: Doug Petrie’s work is always spot-on, probably a benefit of being one of the writers for the actual show. Ryan Sook’s work here shows some improvement over his Spike & Dru stuff, but is not yet up to the level of awesomeness he achieved on Ring Of Fire.
Continuity: I set this tale just after Buffy S03E18: Earshot for no good reason whatsoever. Wesley is nowhere to be seen, but he could just be conveniently absent for the day. Plus, at this point his character is so useless that I wouldn’t put it past Giles and the others to simply exclude him.
Where to find it: This story is reprinted here, in Food Chain, Buffy omnibus Vol. IV, and online via the BBC (link).

CONTENT: Vampire & Werewolf violence consistent with the show. Brief sexual innuendo and flirting, but nothing explicit. Mild profanity. Buffyverse vampires, which could be considered occultic if you wanted to go there.

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