BTVS: Season 8
Wolves at the Gate
Part I of IV
Script: Drew Goddard, Pencils: Georges Jeanty, Inks: Andy Owens, Colors: Michelle Madsen,
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Jimmy, Executive Producer: Joss Whedon
Cover by: Georges Jeanty, Dexter Vines & Michelle Madsen
Page 01: We open on a few as seen through binocular lenses. The view shows wolves with red eyes staring back. An off-screen voice opines that they may be panthers (but they're clearly canine, not feline).
Page 02: The voice, and the holder of said specs is Xander Harris. He says that he was right the first time, they're wolves... Wolves At The Gate, even.
On the parapet with him is Renee, she who he finds intriguing. She tells him she doesn't need him to look over her. She takes his being out on guard duty as a rebuke for the zombies overrunning the castle during Amy's attack.
Page 03: Xander corrects this mis-interpretation by making it clear he's there to spend some alone time with her. In meantime, he casually mentions the fogs coming up off of the moors. And we see the wolves approaching the castle gates in the mist.
Page 04: The Shocker; The Controversial Shocker.
Buffy is lying in tangled sheets on her bed. She is obviously nude underneath. Lying next to her, with her arm over Buffy's midsection is Satsu. It is obvious via dialog like "That was wow" that they've just had sex.
Commentary: How do I handle this revelation? It is really a matter of where you come in from... despite my love of a good Buffy/Faith music video on YouTube, I don't see Buffy as having gay sex. I'll start there. It's just like my love of Spander subtext doesn't blind me to the fact that Spike and Xander just wouldn't have sex. Subtext would remain subtext because of who they are and their contentious relationship within the Buffyverse-main Universe. That is fine and I accept that.
In the same way, I've always accepted that the Faith/Buffy subtext would never actually cross over into text. I accepted it as a fan-wank, which is fun to indulge in, but I wouldn't write to Joss and insist they hook up or anything. While Satsu's interest in Buffy was text and Buffy's soft feelings for Satsu were equally obvious, I did not see any text that there was sexual interest on Buffy's side toward her.
But here we have it as canon that Buffy and Satsu have slept together. Do I call OOC (as I have re: the bank robbery) for this? No. No, I do not. If circumstances were different, it's possible I would. But here, Buffy is isolated from anyone she could conceivably have a heterosexual relationship with, except Xander. We know by her dreams that she has in fact been considering (at least while asleep) sex with him. Her dreams seem to indicate that he's a bit too much in the friend category though for it to progress enough to actually reach the sex. That would indicate when she's awake, she probably doesn't seriously consider him (at this point, anyway) as a serious 'friends with benefits' option.
Otherwise, though, she's surrounded by nothing but women. One of these women obviously admires and is attracted to her. She also returns this admiration (as her admission to Satsu that she considers her a possible leader for the future). As well, she does feel great affection for her as well (see her gently wiping mud from Satsu's face), even if it wasn't sexual in nature.
She has made it clear to Satsu that she isn't gay. She can't have a romantic entanglement with her. Satsu doesn't consider this a problem (obviously by this panel) and she has offered Buffy a way to relieve some of the overwhelming loneliness she has always dealt with (which she's referenced in multiple episodes and in this series). In addition, she is a fellow Slayer. She understands instinctively the sense of responsibility Buffy feels to put her life on the line in a constant battle against evil, day in and day out. I don't find it particularly difficult that Buffy, faced with someone clearly understanding where she stands on their relationship but not having an issue with providing this companionship, would throw her reticence to the wind and take this step.
Again, if she were in other circumstances, it might be hard to see this. But all you need to do is look at any prison to see what happens when people are cut off from any possibility of physical relationships with the opposite gender for an extended period of time. And though Buffy isn't imprisoned behind actual bars - she certainly is isolated in a real way from any possibilities of having a boyfriend at the moment. We'll talk more later about some of the controversy from the letters pages and my response to them....
Page 05: At about the same time, Willow is flying Andrew to Scotland. As they pass over, they share banter about the Superman/Lois scene in Superman: The Movie (1978 - which I'll be reviewing eventually). We see Dawn's giant feet poking out of a barn on the Slayer premises.
Page 06: After Willow drops Andrew off at the front door, and he goes in, a figure comes out of the mist behind her. A girl grabs her around the face from behind.
Page 07: Back with Xander and Renee - she finally brings up him asking her out instead of finding reasons to 'guard' with her. He does so and she accepts. They decide that they need to deal with the mysterious wolf problem first though.
Commentary: I like their dialog in this scene and it feels good to like Renee since Xan is so interested in her. But I worry - about her - about him - about Joss' proven desire to ensure that no one can have a stable, relatively happy relationship without somebody dying....
Page 08: Back in the bedroom, Satsu and Buffy talk. Satsu wonders how they'll handle things in the morning. Buffy doesn't understand what she means....
Commentary: The dialog between Satsu and Buffy on this page and the next really soothes any misapprehensions I could have had about Buffy's opinions on this sudden encounter. There is going to be a lot of complaints in the letters pages about this development. I feel like those who wrote in to complain are missing these two pages. I think this goes very far in making this about Satsu's choice and Buffy's being upfront about what it means - this isn't an issue of Buffy 'using' anyone, as will be complained about - nor is this some sort of impulsive "let's try gay sex!" moment for the reasons I've outlined above. It is a direct consequence of these two women in this isolated situation with one of them being very clear about what she wants - and it wasn't Buffy. But, we'll talk more about this whole thing. Right now, I want to point you to STORMWREATH's commentary again.
Page 09: The conversation between Satsu and Buffy continues. Buffy tells her that she just isn't sure if there can be anything but the one night. Satsu takes this as her invite to go along back to her own room, now....
Page 10: The first two panels of this page is probably the reason that Buffy takes some fan-hits for her choice to sleep with Satsu....
Buffy tells Satsu to stay overnight, but she also asks her not to say anything to anyone else about it.
Commentary: Okay, to be fair, on first blush you do feel badly for Satsu that she's being asked to basically pretend it didn't happen. Buffy tells her it isn't because she's ashamed or embarrassed, but it's difficult to take her words at face value here. It could be for that exact reason as far as the reader is concerned. But, I offer another interpretation, which I think is born out, but we'll return to it to discuss it more later - my basic contention here is that it is possible this isn't about keeping an embarrassing situation quiet (which is what makes some angry - because why should Satsu have to keep her mouth closed), but is about Buffy's unique role as the leader of the troops (and this power differential is another source of contention for some fans). I believe that here, Buffy is thinking about how it is going to impact the other Slayer's views of her orders. I think she's already worried that anything she has Satsu do or not do from now on will be seen as a sign of her favoring or conversely trying to shield her 'girlfriend'. There will be no way she can win - if she gives Satsu assignments, she's showing preferential treatment by 'trusting' her more or giving her 'the glory'. If she doesn't give her a particular assignment (especially one that involves another Slayer being injured or killed) it will be immediately assumed it is because she's protecting Satsu from her share of the risks.
It is all going to be moot, however, since Xander chooses to enter her room without knocking.
Page 11: Things get more farcical very fast: Renee follows Xander to ask about an alarm raising regarding the wolves. Andrew quickly follows to report that he saw wolves run past his room just now - Buffy is in the meantime shouting for somebody to close the door and falling out of bed, while Satsu sits trying to keep the sheet pulled up across her chest.
Page 12: We get even more laughs as Dawn has come up to Buffy's window to complain about bees in her bed-barn, and sees naked Buffy throwing on a shirt, while Satsu sits in bed, unsure just what to do....
Page 13: Buffy yells that things aren't what they look like, even though they certainly are. Xander, relieved tells Renee he's glad this is all a dream. She replies she doesn't think it's a dream.
He tells her he's sure it is - it's a recurring dream of naked Slayers. He tells her he'll just wait until Willow arrives - which she does nearly immediately in that way that only happens in fiction - but through the ceiling!
She tells Buffy she thinks they're under attack, and then asks why she's got naked Satsu in her bed....
Page 14: With Willow having come crashing in, with blood from her nose. Buffy goes into all-business mode and asks just where the wolves that Xander, Renee and Andrew have reported are.
The answer is that they're outside of the room that holds the Slayer Scythe. And, with their shape changing, they're clearly not just wolves....
Page 15: In the background, we see Slayers fighting with bats and wolves. You can see mist on the floor and some sort of cloud above their heads....
Buffy in the foreground tells the intruders to get their hands off of her stuff. They're holding the Scythe.
Page 16: Buffy punches one of the sharply dressed men, and after he falls to the floor, he reveals he's a vampire!
Commentary: So, if you're not thinking Dracula by now - you really need to go back and review the BtVS television series. These vampires for reasons we don't know yet, have Dracula's shape shifting powers. Is this Dracula striking at the Slayer for his defeat several years ago (see first episode of season 5)?
Also, I like the humor here. Buffy told the vampire that she doesn't like it when people touch her stuff. So, the first three panels here is the Asian guy pointing an index finger toward the held Scythe. He touches it with this index finger and the looks at Buffy and shrugs smart-assedly. She punches him out.
Page 17: He backhands her and gives the Scythe to a panther - sending it running out of the door. "Okay, that's new" Buffy says as she watches her Scythe making its exit.
Page 18: The panther makes its way around the battling Slayers and jumps out of the window. Another vampire (the girl who knocked Willow out of the air) grabs it from the panther in mid air. As it (or he or she) falls, she flies out into the night with the Slayer weapon.
Page 19: A short time later, Buffy is meeting with the gang (including recurring Slayers, Satsu, Rowena (she of the baseball cap) and Leah (the red head, big haired girl with the brogue). Buffy wants to know how the vampires were able to enter without invites and she's concerned about the fact that the Scythe was obviously the target of their attack. This points to them being aware of the Slayer-activation spell, and its role in that.
Willow just says that a lot of things aren't making sense tonight, in a very obvious and ill-timed allusion to Buffy's tryst with Satsu.
Commentary: Actually, Willow sort of pissed me off with that comment. One, because they have a real crisis happening right then but more - it isn't any of her business who or why Buffy had ANYone in her room. If she feels the need to comment or question, she can do it when Buffy isn't surrounded by her troops. I don't like that Buffy is giving her this 'sorry' look, either, when I would have had her give Willow an irritated frown, instead.
Page 20: Willow wonders if they were vampires at all, with all of the shape shifting (no one but Buffy saw any of them in game face). She tells Buffy that she's never heard of vampires turning into bees. This leads to Buffy observing 'since when do vampires turn into...' and Willow and her making the Dracula connection.
Xander replies, "What? Why's everyone staring at -- Aw crap."
Page 21: Renee and Xander are in a helicoptor. Xan tells Renee she needs to keep any eye on him, since he tends to act wonky when he gets around 'this guy'.
Commentary: And, the coyness is why, now?
Page 22: At the castle they visit, we find... Dracula... (duh). He calls Xan 'manservant' in greeting, while Xander - against his obvious wishes replies with 'master' back.
Commentary: This leads to all kinds of questions which (future alert) will not be addressed to my satisfaction (end future alert). Like - why is Dracula allowed to even exist if they know where he is? Isn't he like, evil-vampire incarnate? Why send Xander to question Dracula if everyone already knows how vulnerable he is to him? And, why send only Xander and one Slayer to confront the Count, when for all they know, he's the baddie after the Scythe?
One would hope we'll get some answers that there has been some sort of truce (like a no-attack-humanity clause with him) that caused Buffy and Willow to not go with Xander, here and to allow this killer vampire to exist unattacked in the first place. After all, we know that at least a year has passed between the end of S7 and the first issue of S8 (I've read 2 years have passed as well - but I can't remember what the canon is, if it has been spelled out that succinctly). The timeline is tricky for S8, since we know that even though Buffy is going to be up in the mid-30's, but still the same season and we don't have a sense of how much time is passing between arcs... all we know is that everything is taking place within the same 1 year span of time. When we know exactly how many issues will comprise S8, before we move into S9, we'll be able to guestimate a timeline of events.
The Good: I've often complained about Georges' earlier penciling on established characters. Not here. I love the artwork all of the way through, including on Buffy, Willow, Andrew and Xander.
I think the pacing on this issue was excellent. The Satsu/Buffy pairing had time to breathe, but we didn't get bogged down in dealing with everyone's reactions, because the vampires attacked to draw focus from being a drama-rama.
Speaking of the vampire attack - I loved the mixture of power and childish humor present in the vampires. I love Buffy's confrontation with the Scythe stealer and I love that the Slayer Scythe is obviously going to be a major focus on this arc. I also love that Dracula is re-introduced into the Buffyverse (though as with much in S8 - with caveats).
The Bad: Nothing struck me as badly done.
Other Thoughts: I'll admit to some trepidation about Dracula's re-introduction, just because of the way it's presented here. It brings up a lot of questions as to why he's been allowed to be there unmolested if Buffy knew where he was. Presumably, he's still acting like a vampire... hopefully we'll get a sense as to why this situation exists.
About the Buffy/Satsu pairing - I remember having the shock reaction that you'd expect to this revelation. But I also remember having a far stronger reaction to the negative letters to the editor, than to the pairing itself. As already explained in commentary, I don't have a problem sympathizing with Buffy's sex life taking this direction under the loneliness, isolation and stress she's under. I do have concerns about how it will be handled going forward though... I just don't see Buffy as bi-sexual or lesbian long term and I hope they don't just kill Satsu as a way to 'get Buffy out of this'.
(Future Me - They don't take that route. We'll talk more)
The Score: I found this issue to be perfectly paced, excellently written and a great start to a new and exciting arc. I love the further complicating of Buffy's personal life and I like the Dracula-powers vampires. I also really dig the cover and the interior artwork. I was annoyed at Willow's barb, but not enough to include it in 'The Bad'. It wasn't that I objected to the writing in this case (like I do in the robbery flashback), just that I objected to her being snide: 4.25 out of 5
Go To Second Issue of Arc Review Instead....