Another week, another chapter in the saga of Season 9 and this issue of the main title in the series – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 9 #16 – does not disappoint. This is the first time Buffy has been home-home in a while (not just home-on-planet-Earth), so it’s nice to see her getting back into the swing of things. But, if you haven’t been following the series so far…
The last couple of issues paired Buffy up with a new slayer. Note the lack of a capital S. This is a non-powered slayer named Billy. Yes, Billy the vampire slayer. He’s joined the ever-growing cast of Scoobies… Ever-growing in terms of the total number of people who have ever been a Scooby, but dwindling as well since long-time team members of Spike and Willow are off in their own miniseries with their own adventures (but we can assume that the end of their stories will eventually wrap back to the Season 9 main arc and we will see them return). So with help from Billy and Dowling (another new Scooby), Buffy is patrolling again when she comes across an uber-zomp and some of her henchmen attacking this one dude. What, an uber-what? Yes, instead of just vampires, Buffy and team are now dealing with Zompires… Zombie Vampires. Really. (What? Is it anymore ridiculous than Angel calling himself Twilight and killing Giles, who he is trying to resurrect? I think not.) Although the zomp thralls are staked, the uber-zomp gets away but only after breaking Buffy’s arm to slow her down. The trio sit there and catch a breather while Buffy begins to heal, and they call it a night. And that’s when the best thing of the entire issue happens.
Enter: Xander and Dawn. We haven’t seen these two in some time as Buffy has been elsewhere doing who-knows-what who-knows-where. But now they are back. And for those who haven’t read Season 8 or Season 9 so far, all I can say is this (in the voice of Professor River Song): “Spoilers!” Dawn and Xander are a couple. Seriously. Eyepatch Xander (who lost his eye at the end of Season 7 at the hands of Caleb (BAD Nathan Fillion!)) and formerly-known-as-the-Key Dawn are together. The first page that we see them sets the tone for who they are… and it’s dead-on perfect. Xander’s banter… When you can hear the proper voice in your head saying exactly that, you know it’s a great extension of the T.V. show. Dawn is not well… like sick-not-well, not not-well-in-the-head. Buffy goes to see her sick sister and causes another round of vomiting (it’s the flu) by making Dawn think of something that just set her off. But the discussion with Buffy and Xander was perfect. For the fans of the show, you know how Xander could succinctly summarize what was going on in about 30 words or less for any situation? That happens here. In a single panel, we get a high-level review of the entire season to date. Only if you were a fan of the show could you write that. And although there is a little banter between Buffy and Dawn about peanut butter, could this be the start of some other plotline for the season? (Buffy does not seem to remember that Dawn is allergic to peanut butter… She masks it as being away too long, but for fans of the show this is the kind of small detail the writers always tossed in that came back to bit you – pun intended – later in the season.)
Buffy is forced to leave the pair and join up with Billy and Dowling as they have found the nest of the zompires. Armed with stakes and a rope doused in holy water, they enter the nest. Dowling and Billy take on the thralls while Buffy goes right for the uber-zomp with the rope. Their plan: capture it and learn how it became so uber. This goes slightly awry, however, when the rope begins to burn the uber-zomp’s skin but then the Slayer gets distracted… because she knows the zomp from somewhere. Déjà vu! Unfortunately this sets her off her game and the zomp gets the upper hand, shrugging off the rope. Buffy gets a stake ready to take her out instead – erring on the side of caution – but then promptly vanishes from the nest. Dowling, trying to understand what happened, is himself distracted and manages to be bitten by the uber-zomp.
Meanwhile, Buffy is also confused about what happens. She appears in a room that looks like a hotel lobby (uh, oh!) and emerges through a door to look upon a vast city. She sees lights and immediately recognizes the city – Los Angeles. Buffy is (understandably) upset and approaches the woman who teleported her to L.A. With her stake still in hand. She gets frozen in mid-leap, however, as it turns out that (like a certain Slayer) magic still does exist in little pockets and Illyria is one such powerful creature to still hold some of that power.
To say that this issue, part 1 of “Welcome to the Team”, was a good book is an understatement. It was not perfect, but it was damn good. Writer Andrew Chambliss got the characters exactly as if they were s till on T.V. Well, those that were on the show to begin with. The discussion between Xander, Dawn and Buffy was great, and even some of the banter with Billy, Dowling and Buffy’s roommate was fun. When you can picture the comic on your screen you know you’ve done it well.
The artwork was just as good. Georges Jeanty never fails to produce with this book. The interiors don’t exactly look like the actors (unlike the cover art shown above by Phil Noto), but that doesn’t matter. The action is strong, the detail is great, and this isn’t supposed to be a to-the-letter duplicate of the show. But what stood out for me here are many of the little details that Jeanty put in and was assisted on by Dexter Vines on inks and Michelle Madsen on colors. First, when Dawn is sick, she is in the bathroom. Don’t look in the toilet. Second, Dawn and Xander’s apartment is what I would imagine Xander’s apartment to be: full of comic book and sci-fi paraphenelia. We see a Captain America action figure on a shelf, with a Dalek right next to it. The detail doesn’t need to be in the characters to showcase what happened, but the surroundings as well. And the full team (art and story) delivered admirably.
If you haven’t picked up Buffy yet, this is a good point to show up. It’s the start of a new arc, and all the previous arcs will be out soon (if not already) in trades soon. Don’t have them? Ask for them for Christmas! It’s only 2 weeks away! But if you are a BtVS fan, this is definitely an issue that brings it back to its roots.