The second issue of Buffy Season 9's Freefall arc marks the beginning of Andrew Chambliss' writing duties. Most recently known for his work on The Vampire Diaries, a show known for its action-packed twists and strong pacing, Chambliss also wrote one of my favorite Dollhouse episodes, “A Spy in the House of Love” (the episode effectively launched the Dewitt/Dominic 'ship, oh glorious subtext becoming text).
So how'd Chambliss do writing for our much beloved Buffyverse?
Well, Joss Whedon is a hard act to follow. The first issue set the season rolling, setting up the themes and plot for the next twenty five issues amidst dynamic characterization and gut-busting humor (“Don't say a ****ing word!”). On the one hand, this second issue feels a bit light compared to the season opener, but the's plot's beginning to catch traction as new characters are being introduced to our titular Slayer—our two detectives (Detective Dowling and...? Another name-drop would've been a nice reminder), Severin, and El Draco. And Buffy's still spending time with our fan-favorite characters, but I wasn't feeling the depth of emotional resonance in those scenes. The character interaction felt a bit on-the-nose, as if the cards Whedon had been holding back to build anticipation and tension just got laid out on the table and diminished that sense of mystery. Instead of hinting at the tip of the iceberg, tantalizing the reader to wonder at the deeper issues lurking beneath the surface, the relationships feel like they've been simplified. (You know what they say about 'less is more' in storytelling).
My greatest disappointment in this area comes from the change in Xander's characterization, who swaps his morose-bordering-on-antisocial behavior in the previous issue for his more typical comic relief role. I was so excited that the story was giving emotional gravitas to Xander's character only to be disappointed in this turn for humor (Xander's so easy to turn to for humor, isn't he?) which lost that fascinating internal tension. Whedon's last issue left me wondering about all the things Xander wasn't saying, at the depth of pain he was hiding but was too affected by to convincingly veil behind a chipper smile. That internal tension of characters fighting to hold back what they're really feeling, to say the exact opposite of what they actually mean, got turned on its head. Pushed out in the open. Simplified. And the Buffyverse has always been about exploring what lurks within, the mysterious and complex nature of the human psyche and how it manifests in contrary ways.
However, starting out simple might be the best course for the Buffy comic considering how complicated and, well, convoluted Season 8 became by the end of its run. Hopefully, Chambliss' straightforward style will keep the plot tightly written and en pointe (one of the noteworthy strengths of The Vampire Diaries). Straightforward is good with plot, less so with characterization. In addition to more complexity in the characterization (Buffy asks herself “What does the real world have against me?” as if she didn't already know the answer), I hope we see a boatload of humor. I was definitely missing the Whedony wordplay and witty dialogue for this issue – again, Whedon sets a high standard, one I hope Chambliss is ready to meet. Release your inner geek, Andrew!
Speaking of humor, I'd love to see more set up in physical humor. Take a look at Jane Espenson's penned comics and you'll see a lot going on in the background, like Giles' discomfort with the baby in the Retreat arc or the frisky stallion hitting on Dawn in Harmonic Divergence. Georges Jeanty has a gift for expressing humor, so I hope Chambliss' scripts going forward really put Jeanty to work, filling the story in the spotlight with lots of emotion, but also adding dimension to the background as well.
This issue feels like a solid place to start, like we're on firm ground moving forward, but I couldn't help but notice a sense of uncertainty while reading, as if the writer was playing it safe which ironically left me feeling worried. As for that new character fans have been speculating on, despite his supercool powers, I found his characterization to be a bit bland, the voice indistinctive and generic. If the introduction of this new character is meant to sail a new ship, I doubt it'll ever leave harbor.
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