Monday, January 30, 2012

The Art of Gravity by Jay Rogoff


The Art of Gravity by Jay Rogoff is a collection of poetry that drew me in almost from the first page. The first part seems to be mostly about dance but to imply that is reductive, to say the least, while the second part thematically focuses on death.  The title is perfect, suggesting both the beauty of ballet and the emotional weight of loss. 

There is so much to praise about this collection that I don’t even know how to begin.  From the first few pages, I found myself getting caught up in the metaphors and allusions which included everything from mythology to ballet choreographers and ballerinas to classical music and artwork.  Visually, the form of some of the poems has lines that dance along the page.  It is not necessary to be familiar with the names (Mr B, Maria Kowroski, et al) nor be familiar with the paintings (Degas, Picasso) mentioned but there’s no denying that some familiarity helps.  Knowing that Terpsichore is the muse of dance or that George Balanchine’s first American ballet was Serenade and that it, like Degas paintings, focused on the ballerina may give the reader a clearer frame of reference; however, the details are not essential.  The emotions of the poems remain distinct, with or without contextual awareness which can only add a shade of meaning to the driving force of the verse.  

Everything about these pieces is deft but the technique is never so blatant that the reader is forced into awareness. It takes a careful reader to recognize that there are forms (villanelles, sonnets) within the free verse that dominates other poems.  And it is this effortless perfection that left me breathlessly wanting to both immediately read the next poem while also wanting to linger over the one I had just finished.  Sometimes the desire to pause was inspired by a single line or image within a poem or rediscovered in a later one.

“The Code of Terpsichore” begins the collection and “Danses Macabres” makes up the second part with poems that remain flush left, suggesting a shift in theme and a heaviness that the first part visually does not carry.  Yet, there are hints of darkness even in the first part, of lust with sinister implications and benign images hinting at the malignant,while there are references to dance throughout the sonnets that dominate the second half.  By the second half, I found myself wishing I were in college and could find an excuse to write a paper on this single collection of poetry, to find the ways Rogoff uses an image and then uses variations of the same image, creating an emotional resonance reinforcing a coherence that too many collections lack. 

Can you tell I how much I love this collection?  My only regret is that I don’t own a copy because I would easily read and reread it, making little notations in the margins.  The pleasure of engaging with the text intimately is not often something I find myself aching to do of late.  I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the poet to come to Atlanta to do a reading.  Surely Thomas Lux could make it happen.  In the meantime, I’m adding this book to my wishlist and encouraging anyone and everyone who likes poetry to consider buying a copy as well.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures


Avatar:  The LastAirbender:  The Lost Adventures is a comic book collection of short stories, some as short as only two pages.  Anyone who has seen and enjoyed the television series Avatar:  The Last Airbender is bound to enjoy this collection of stories.  Visually, the style is evocative of the show, which is fitting as these stories are supposed to take place concurrently with the series.  Sort of like the bits and pieces that ended up on the cutting room floor and never made it to the screen.  The book is divided into the same parts as covered in the seasons: Water, Earth, Fire.  In fact, the stories are so tightly informed by the television show that I doubt someone who has not seen the show would be able to enjoy this comic. 

And therein lies this book’s greatest weakness because it limits the readership.  Of course, one could argue that anyone who would choose to read this comic has likely watched and enjoyed the series.  It is almost impossible not to read the stories and try to interject them where one thinks they “ought” to go between the series episodes. 

When I reached “Relics,” which is fairly early in the collection, I was pleased to see a more emotionally poignant story, all of the preceding ones being cute and even a bit silly.  Yes, the show was entertaining but there were moments within the series that provoked sympathy or even empathy, moments that made the viewers care about the characters.   

This collection seems to have forgotten this or has chosen to focus more on the goofy things that Sokka does or have Katara caught up in some silliness side-by-side with one or more of her companions. Even the stories that shift over to Zuko, whose story lines on the television series were the more serious and often emotionally wrenching, are mostly played for laughs.  My enthusiasm for the one story was never reached again because only one other story ended on a meaningful moment.  It seems the stories are aimed at a young reader.  As the creators themselves say at the end of the book “We wanted Avatar to connect with people of all ages, all around the world.”  They succeeded with the television show but this comic falls short of that “all ages” goal.  I definitely liked it.  I didn’t love it.  I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did the show.  And I’d recommend it to others but if the person to whom I was making the recommendation happened to be nearing the end of their adolescence, I’d forewarn them that the stories in this collection are more along the lines of the humorous episodes than the poignant ones.  Good for a chuckle, clearly amusing, but lacking the depth of the show.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes


The Sandman:  Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman is one of those classic graphic novels that everyone who appreciates graphic novels has read.  Well, everyone that is, except yours truly.  You see, once upon a time I heard about this “new comic” and I, being the traditionalist that I am, dismissed it off-hand, sight unseen.  After all, how dare anyone take Jack Kirby’s character and reinterpret anything.  Okay.  Sure, Kirby himself had redefined Sandman during his career but it’s one thing when a creator redefines a character.  Clearly, however, I finally broke down; I used some of the money that I earned thanks to all of you clicking on my links (thank you, again!), I bought the first book in the series.

As with many initial issues of any series, I can’t say that I loved this graphic novel but I absolutely love where I see it going.  Perhaps the fact that I’ve already read and loved Death: The Cost of Living is part of the reason my faith in what’s coming in future issues is so solid.  Or maybe it’s because I can see the foundation of this first graphic novel and how it fuels the praise I’ve heard for so long. Regardless, if I wasn’t excited by the story that makes up the bulk of the first few issues in the series, I’m excited to see where it’s heading.

Part of my ambivalence may be that the illustrations are not what I had expected.  Knowing that it is a gothic fantasy, I suppose I expected something more in line with what I loved in The Crow.  I did appreciate some of the lettering (leave it to me to notice the “lettering” of all things!) and there are some panels that I outright adored on a purely technical or evocative level.  The layout is often brilliant but sometimes confusing.  The strength for me ultimately lies in the story which hasn’t quite hit its stride; even at its weakest, it's still better than most of what was out there at the time and even surpasses most of what is out there now.

It will be a while before I can indulge in buying the next one in the series.  I’ll have to wait for a gift card on my birthday or something along those lines.  In the meantime, I hear there’s an annotated version of the series coming out, one that explains many of the allusions that are made throughout the series.  I have to admit, I’m almost as excited to read those annotated volumes as I am to read the rest but since the annotated ones aren’t in color, I’ll just have to consider whether it’s worth investing in both or not.  See?  I still resist this series, no matter how deliciously tempting they try to make it.  

Monday, January 23, 2012

New Spring by Robert Jordan


New Spring: The Novel by Robert Jordan is a prequel to Jordan’s ongoing fantasy novel series The Wheel of Time which I’ll be reading over the next year (and longer since I don’t have a lot of time for reading while I’m studying. The person who most recently recommended this series told me to read this book first and I think it was sage advice. This novel is shorter than any of the others, an expansion of a novella that first appeared in the book Legends edited by Robert Silverberg.

The novel begins by telling the story of Lan Mandragoran and Moiraine Damodred. At the novel’s beginning, Lan is battling the Aiel and Moiraine is an Accepted, living in the White Tower studying to be an Aes Sedai. Events gradually move to bring the two together as other characters are introduced. Many other things are mentioned that are not explained in full, none f which require an immediate explication. Ogiers and the Aiel, the Breaking of the World and the Three Ages are all dropped into the narrative but explanations are not necessary for this story and I already know, from having read the first seven or eight books in the series that many of these things will be explained much more clearly as we go along.

I immediately liked Moiraine and her friend Siuane Sanche. Their friendship reminded me of many of the powerful adolescent relationships girls build that last a lifetime. When Lan’s path finally crosses with Moiraine’s events move very quickly to the climactic ending. The entire novel moves far more quickly than any of the other novels but the other novels have many more characters and the frequent shifts from one to the other characters forces the later books to move less quickly. It is hard not to compare this (or any) fantasy series with Tolkien’s classic. In this case, New Spring is not unlike The Hobbit while the rest of the series is like the Lord of the Rings trilogy plus The Silmarillion. The later stories are longer, complicated, sophisticated. It lays the groundwork for the larger epic to follow and introduces some of the characters without overwhelming with too much information in background information or people or the rest.

I had read this book before and didn’t remember that this novel focused so much more on Moiraine than it does on Lan. I honestly thought it was more balanced. This is not a complaint—merely an observation. On page 313 I came across something else I had nearly forgotten. I quote: In spite of herself, she sniffed. I made a silent groan, having forgotten that Jordan has his women sniffing constantly in his novels. That he didn’t give into this inevitability. I didn’t read far enough to know if he ever managed to stop with all the sniffing but this prequel was written and published fourteen years after the first novel so I now have hope that the women will stop sniffing at the men and someone finally pointed out to Jordan how silly it is that all of the women characters do this. Once in a while, maybe, and even then only a couple or maybe four (given how highly populated these novels are) women at best.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this novel again. And I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of the series. If I weren’t in school, it would happen much faster than not but with all the studying I am required to do, I’ll have to pace myself in spite of myself. I’ll try to write my reviews so that there are no spoilers but I’m not sure if that will be possible going forward. We’ll see how that goes.

For all those who have never read these books and are considering doing so, I would recommend reading this prequel before trying to dig into the first novel but don’t assume this novel sets the tone for the rest of the series. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to read past the first three books in the series (including this prequel) if you aren’t already compelled to read the rest. The only reason I stopped is because I was reading the series faster than they were being published and I don’t like the endless waiting for that last novel comes out. I did it with Herbert, with Donaldson, with Rowling. I just don’t want to do it again.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Why Buffy Matters by Rhonda Wilcox


Why Buffy Matters:  The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Rhonda Wilcox is an academic look at the cult classic, each chapter drawn from papers the author presented at various conferences.  The first part of the book includes chapters that look at themes that can be traced throughout the series including names/naming, a comparison of Buffy Summers with Harry Potter, redemption, and more.  The second part of the text focuses on individual episodes, often alluding to the themes explicated in the previous chapters. 

Wilcox, who has edited the online Slayage magazine, is an adamant defender of television as art but she is equally adamant in not being inclusive, lauding this show in particular for its intelligence and mythic relevance.  Firmly rooted in Jungian interpretations as filtered through Joseph Campbell, she shows how Buffy and other characters in the series serve as hero archetypes, suggesting shadow aspects for the titular character (or even characters as she hints at some for Angel as well). 

Interestingly, in the chapter on one of the more humorous episodes (“The Zeppo”), Wilcox remains academic and reserved but most of the chapters include personal asides that are not unlike how the shows interject humor, undercutting the more serious or emotionally charged moments in the show.  Clearly, this author knows her audience well and doesn’t risk losing the reader’s interest. This does not detract from the serious overtone of this collection of essays. 

Not to state that obvious but this book is probably not going to appeal to someone who does not or has not read watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  For the fan who enjoys this show on par with most everything else that is currently airing, this book may seem tedious and overly intellectual.  But for those fans who take this show seriously, who delight in hearing Willow suggest that Dark Willow may be gay and who giggle at the incestuous implications of the relationship(s) between Spike, Drusilla, Darla and Angel, these essays will be a joy to read and explore.  Even the Freudian reader will smirk along with the writer as she points out the obvious phallic nature of stakes, a missile launcher, and even a car. 

In a nutshell, I loved this book, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with all of her observations or the reasons she gave for certain things.  Or worse, when she didn’t make observations I would have made but she either overlooked or didn’t want to include lest even the most die-hard fan feel overwhelmed.  Still, I’d like to see her try to overwhelm this Buffy fan.  After all, as Xander so eloquently explains, "To read makes our speaking English good."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lonely Planet Not for Parents (Rome)


Lonely Planet Not for Parents (Rome):  Everything You Wanted to Know by Klay Lamprell is a book aimed at the older grammar school student.  Colorful and loaded with photographs and images, sometimes placed askew or presented with added thought or speech bubbles.  The information given is somewhat quirky and even a little subversive, bound to appeal especially to boys although some girls may enjoy the book as well.

Throughout my reading, I knew that even when I was the age of the target audience, I’d have found this book immature.  But then I realized that I grew up with a mother who regularly took me to museums and bought me books written for adults which I loved to read.  Rome, as presented in this book, would have been too elementary, skimming merely the surface of information rather than digging too deeply with any one subject.

Even as I was reading, however, I understood that I was perhaps not the average 8 or 9 or even 10 year old reader and the intention of this book was not to give a lot of information about any of the myriad of subjects addressed.  If I felt that the deities, architecture, and other subjects were not covered thoroughly enough (and I did) then I had to put that in a logical context.

Which is why I asked my son to look at the book for himself and pretend he was 9 or 10.  My son, who is a reluctant reader even now when he is far from the target age group, said that he would have enjoyed the book.  Seriously, this is high praise.  He didn’t go into specifics but I think the offbeat layout and the quirky commentary appealed to his inner-child and this doesn’t come as a surprise to me in the least.  As I said, while reading it I could imagine the reader for whom the author was writing; I just didn’t have it in me to remove myself and my perspective enough to know for sure that this is a fun little book.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J K Rowling took me longer to read than the previous volumes and knew part of the reason was that I don’t especially love this volume in the series.  I don’t hate it but there are times when a novel series has a weaker volume that serves more as a transition, moving the plot forward and maybe introducing a few new characters but not a lot happens and after the big bang of volume 4 this book falls a little flat.

Having confessed all of this, there is still much to commend it.  Rowling does what too many writers never risk doing—she allows her hero to be obnoxious.  And it makes sense.  Harry is, after all, becoming a teenager and, as such, is bound to become more abrasive.  It doesn’t help that Professor Dumbledore is seemingly avoiding Harry and his godfather is outright miserable.  Adding insult to injury, unlike his friends, Harry has been left out of the loop regarding the Order of the Phoenix and he’s fed up with being an outsider.

Of course, feeling like an outsider is not unusual for teenagers.  Which is why I think it is an excellent choice on Rowling’s part to just let Harry be a brat.  It also helps that Luna Lovegood is introduced in this book.  She’s such an interesting character and her addition allowed for some softness and quirkiness, all at once. 

There is also the intrusion of Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts.  I confess that there is something truly sinister about this well-meaning yet horribly abusive person who seems cloyingly sweet and at the same time sadistic through to her core that makes her more frightening than anyone Harry’s had to face before excepting, perhaps, Voldemort himself. 

In spite of all of this, however, most of the book is a bit ponderous.  Nevertheless, having read the last two books, I can see why so much has to be laid out before the rest of the story can be told.  And Rowling does a masterful job of maneuvering each of the characters into place without compromising the integrity of the personalities nor manipulating the reader.

There is something, however, that is explained in this book, something that is virtually dropped from the movies, which has been hinted at in previous novels regarding Harry and Neville.  I certainly don’t blame the screenwriters for not including every detail from the books and I can even agree with the decision to leave such details out.  This is why, even when the movies are very good and lots of fun to watch, the books really are better because they offer subtlety that would be too easily lost on a big screen.

But the ending of this book more than makes up for whatever weaknesses there are in the story's tension.  The 

And so the Harry Potter rankings are as follows:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi


Persepolis 2:  The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi picks up where the first book of Satrapi’s memoir left off.  I was not sure that the second book could be as emotionally compelling to read.  After all, Marjane is no longer a young girl nor is she living in a country that is being ravaged by war.  It was hard to imagine that her moving to Austria and becoming a teenager would be as emotionally poignant as her getting on the plane alone. 

Somehow, Satrapi’s story continues to be compelling, even when her choices are self-destructive or naïve.  As an immigrant, she naturally feels like an outsider, at a time in her life when she would naturally be struggling with her existential sense of wondering where she belongs.  As she tries to fit in, she also struggles to make connections with people by pretending to be who she is not even as she is forced to hide her nationality at time when being an Iranian will inspire hostile reactions from others. 

When things become desperate in Austria, she returns home, knowing that things will not be perfect, hoping that she can pull her life together.  However, even when home again and surrounded by family and friends, she doesn’t quite fit in, having grown up removed from the fundamentalist mandates that have made her “home” something no longer recognizable. 

All of this adds up to so much more than I could have expected and, by the time I’d reached the end of the book I felt that it was even better than the first.  Naturally, both books should be read.  Still, it’s so refreshing when a book lives up to and even exceeds your expectations.  Will there be a third book?  I don’t know. I would like to think so.  Then again, I would prefer to know that her life is so banal it would be too boring to be made into a part three and another memoir will never happen.  After all, there is little to no drama in happiness which is why most people say they enjoyed reading Dante’s Inferno and few have finished reading Paradiso.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Two Graphic Books: The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings

Today I offer a two for one review because both of these graphic texts are from the same publisher with similar concepts which is to take a classic text and put its teachings within the context of contemporary life. 

The Art of War by Sun Tzu as adapted by Cullen Bunn and Shane Clester, with illustrations by Shane Clester, begins with a “mob boss” trying to determine how to protect his territory.  I was immediately put off by this because, while I appreciate the idea to put traditional martial arts wisdom into a contemporary and “real life” context I can’t imagine why the first choice the editors made was to apply Sun Tzu’s teachings to being a better godfather.  Other real life situations used to illustrate the classic text include running for political office, playing a video game, getting lost in the desert, making a critical decision, etc. 

In spite of the peculiar choice to use criminals as examples for how to apply the principles outlines by Sun Tzu, most of the comic is more based in reality than not.  On the back cover the publishers ask if the reader wants “to be more competitive but don’t have time to read the whole book?”  I despair at the thought that people would answer yes to this question because there are enough translations of Sun Tzu’s texts that make the traditional text more accessible.  However, I can appreciate that many people are intimidated by classic texts and I also understand how comics can be used as gateways to reach reluctant readers. 

In that context, of assuming that the target audience is the reluctant and not merely the lazy reader, I would definitely recommend this comic as a good introduction to the Sun Tzu’s teachings.  The artwork is strong, done in shades of grey and black and white.  Evocative although they are not highly sophisticated, they complement the text very well.  The book concludes with a quiz for the reader to assess how well they understood the material.  Of course, I’d like to believe that anyone who really enjoyed reading this comic would want to read the classic text, in translation.  I know it inspired me to read it.  I’d tried before but lost my copy in a move so I have a request at my local library for a copy and you can probably expect me to review that in the near future. 


The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi as adapted by Cullen Bunn, with illustrations by Mark Dos Santos, is also a look at a classic martial arts text contextualized in contemporary and real-life situations.  Unlike the previous comic, more of the teachings are illustrated in feudal Japan, complete with samurai and swords.  The contemporary situations are more tightly interwoven with the classic text’s teaching. 

Throughout this colorful comic, the traditional teachings are predominant with none of the characters who people the frames talking.  This actually proves to be more effective than how the text and contemporary context are used in The Art of War.  Musashi’s wisdom sparkles throughout and if some of his teachings aren’t immediately applicable, a reflective reader will take the time to consider the text, meditate on its meaning, and try to be open to how the text can be applied in whatever situation the reader is facing. 

Over all, both books are good and although the former is easier to see as useful the latter is the better comic creation.  I’ve been wanting to read the original text for a while so, once again, I found myself inspired to read the original text.  I’ve put in a request at the library.  And I sincerely hope that other readers will want to do the same.  If neither blew me away, neither comic disappointed me altogether.   

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Strange Allies by Ryder Windham with Ben Dewey and Mae Hap


Star Wars:  The Clone Wars:  Strange Allies by Ryder Windham (penciled by Ben Dewey and colorist Mae Hap) is a stand-alone graphic novella, meaning it’s shorter than most graphic novels but longer than a single issue of a typical comic book.  It takes place between episodes II and III, for those die-hard fans that want to know (and obviously since I know these things I may be outing myself a bit). 

I should confess here and now that I’ve never read a Star Wars comic before.  I pause now for the collective gasp of shock I know is inevitably happening right now but, apart from a few movie-to-comic graphic novels I have stored somewhere, I never invested in any of the Star Wars comic books, probably as a preemptive strike, knowing how many there would be and how expensive it would become to keep up with purchasing each and every issue.

I share this because I am writing this from the perspective of someone who is not intensely immersed in the Star Wars universe.  I chose to read this graphic novella because I trusted that I could dip in and out without being overly caught up.  Of course, had I found it to be an amazing read, I’d likely have been trapped in spite of myself. 

Fortunately, this was pretty much a mediocre addition to the Star Wars mythos.  The comic begins with the very familiar faces of both Chancellor Palpatine and Jedi Master Yoda before shifting almost immediately to the unfamiliar faces of the protagonists:  Padawan Nuru Kungurama and Gizz.  Nuru is sent by Yoda on a mission and he brings Gizz along, a brute of a sidekick making up the titular allies.  (One could also argue that there is a strange alliance between Palpatine and Yoda.)

But what they don’t know is that Darth Sidious is working with Lord Dooku to prohibit the Jedis from succeeding.  Add a Twi’lek and some orphans and the end result is an attractive but fairly mediocre graphic novella.   The story is predictable and the characters are fairly trite, including a drone, named Cleaver, that immediately made me think of Data (from Star Trek:  The Next Generation in the unlikely event that, at this point, you had any doubt of my being a hopeless geek). 

My expectations were that a graphic novel (or novella) would allow for a lot of action but there was very little.  I hoped it would add a sophistication that might even add some darkness to the ongoing story.  Instead the plot and characters are so cliché that only a younger reader who is a recent Star Wars convert could enjoy this book enough to praise it.  Or perhaps a truly die-hard fan which, in spite of the obvious and numerous allusions in this review, I clearly am not.  (For the record, I held back on referencing characters and such because I really didn’t want to overwhelm the non-Star Wars-fan who might be reading this and I know there are some of you out there although you make my mind boggle.)

Needless to say, I am not overly inspired or eager to read another Star Wars comic.  I’ll just stick with the movies which I have on dvd and can watch as often as I like.  Unless I want to see them in HD which means I have to take myself over to my son’s house and watch it there. Oh well . . . maybe the novels are better . . . ?   

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Re-Gifters by Mike Carey (illustrated by Marc Hempel and Sonny Liew)


Re-Gifters by Mike Carey and illustrated by Marc Hempel and Sonny Liew is a charming graphic novel about Dik Seong Jen, known as Dixie to her friends, a Korean American girl who has a crush on a boy, fights with her best friend, has two younger brothers (twins, no less!) who drive her crazy, and is certain her parents wouldn’t understand if she tried to tell them how she really feels.  In other words, she’s a pretty typical teenager except she’s also a black belt in hapkido, a traditional Korean form of martial arts. 

The illustrations are kept in black and white and shades of grey, perfectly complimenting the overall story.  Because of the martial arts, the artists can indulge in some action scenes and there are some very entertaining panels sprinkled throughout.

There are just enough cultural details, including historical allusions, to add some educational merit to what would otherwise just be a typical teenager's story of crushing on a boy.  Although the story is told in the first person, the writer carelessly has a few scenes that happen when Jen/Dixie is not present, which shatters the integrity of the text.  If the story could not be told without these scenes (and there are a couple that couldn’t be), then the story should not have been told in first person.  That an editor didn’t catch this and ask for a revision, is a surprise to me.   

Still, it’s a cute enough story and I would rather my daughter/granddaughter read this than some book where the protagonist is not an emotionally honest, healthy individual who has interests beyond obsessing over some guy she can’t have.  Okay—so Dixie does obsess a little and, if she doesn’t always make the best decisions, it all turns out well in the end.  A good character, a good story that’s not flawlessly told, and the ideal drawings for the story all add up to a fun bit of fluff aimed at tweenagers who will probably never notice the flaws.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8: Last Gleaming


Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight Volume 8: Last Gleaming is my first graphic novel reading in ages!  I chose to read this before any others so I could be in familiar territory since I loved the television series so much and had read the first seven volumes in the series already.  It didn't hurt that, unlike some transitions from television to comics, many of the television writers are on hand to continue the stories they helped define on screen.  Including, of course, creator Joss Whedon who is not unfamiliar with writing for comics.  I loved the work he did on Runaways and if not everyone appreciated his work on Astonishing X-Men, there are those who feel he did a great job there as well.

Now I am inclined, of course, to love season 8 because I miss the show so very much.  I miss the characters and seeing the choices they make, how they face and ultimately defeat the Big Bad of each season, and wondered if they ever would determine once and for all whether there is a plural for “apocalypse.”  I am, if not a fanatic, a devotee.  Which is why I am honestly going to say that I liked BtVS:S8 almost in spite of the content.  I think Whedon, and his other writers (Espanson, Meltzer, Petrie, et al) should have taken a page out of the “lessons learned” notebook of George Lucas, who still hasn’t learned that less-is-more.  Star Wars fans have seen, time and time again, what happens when Lucas has a bigger budget.  Bigger does not always mean better and rather than a big budget resulting in a better movie the results are merely a bigger mess.

Without the prohibition of production budgets, the writers and artists are able to kill as many demons in as large a scale as they like, without worrying about the CGI costs or the technical limitations of prosthetic make-up.  The result is that a lot can happen on the page that is too fiscally prohibitive on the screen.  When the series begins, the Scoobies and Company are scattered—Buffy and Xander are in Scotland, Giles is not too far away in England, Andrew is still in Italy (which is where he was last time we saw him on Angel), and Robin in the United States and . . . I could go on and list the potentials-turned-slayers and their various locations but you get the point.

The strength of the television series has always been the interactions between the characters.  The bonds that are made and broken, the conflicts that come and go, watching them grow from high school teenagers to young adults.  Although the various characters do eventually come together, the group dynamic is not dominant throughout and the end result is a bit convoluted. 

But before I was halfway through BtVS: S8:  LG, I could see that Whedon and his writers were down-scaling the narrative.  Because the writers know these characters so intimately, there is a trust the reader brings to the text that a hard-core fan of the show probably won’t carry.  The more casual fan, not having sufficient confidence in the writers, will doubtless have given up many issues ago.  I suspect that even a few devoted fans read season 8 wishing Whedon et al had left well enough alone.  Having finished BtVS: S8 I can only say that this is unfortunate because Whedon himself says at the end of the final that “I realized that the things I loved the best were the things you loved the best: the peeps.” 

So for those of you who gave up on BtVS, maybe it’s worth giving the season a second chance.  Truth be told, I didn’t like S1 the first time I saw it but now look forward to it every time I start missing Buffy again.  Or if you simply refuse to give season 8 a chance, then maybe be a little more open to the potential of season 9 because it promises to be less “ambitious,” for lack of a better term.  Again, to quote Whedon “Buffy’s best when she’s walking that alley, dusting vamps,” and I concur.  Now that it doesn’t cost his production team $5000 per dusting to make these things happen, the story can still be bigger with more vamps being killed without losing focus on the Scoobies.

I concede that season 8, in general, did not leave me enthusiastic for more.  Only the final volume, Last Gleaming, makes me say with absolute certainty that I will read season 9 with interest and follow it through to the end.  Because even when the writers have let me down *cough*Adam*cough* they always came through in the end.  I trust them because for 7 seasons they never let me down (or when they did *cough*the Initiative*cough* they more than made up for it *cough*Hush*cough*) and I’m willing to believe that S9 will fulfill in ways that S8 does not quite manage.

What’s next for me, the intrepid Buffy fan?  Well, I’m currently reading a scholarly look at the original television series.  Also, I’ve no doubt that, before the year ends, I’ll reread all of season 8.  Perhaps as with the Harry Potter books, my appreciation for the individual parts will be stronger. 

Footnote:  Whedon is ruthless when it comes to his people so it should come as no surprise that, during season 8, someone is lost.  After seeing Tara’s blood splatter across Willow and Anya being sliced through (not to mention other harrowing deaths in the Whedon-verse), it’s hard to believe that another loss would be able to hit hard.  But it does.  It really does. 
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