Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8
"Time of Your Life"
Script: Joss Whedon
Pencils: Karl Moline
Inks: Andy Owens
Colors: Michelle Madsen
Letters: Richard Starkings, Comicraft's Jimmy
Cover by: Jo Chen
Also, special warning about spoilers: This review contains the 'surprising reveal' of the bad guy.
Page 01: We open on Melaka Fray. She's talking to someone, telling him/her that they've reached the place.
Page 02: That someone is her sister, Erin, a policewoman (and a 'her'). They're travelling next to a hover-van. Fray can sense that their quarry is inside. With her Scythe, she peels the side of the van open. Within are lurks....
Page 03: Mel tells her sister to access the routing orders of the van. She leaps over and engages the vampires.
Page 04: Mel demands the vampire she's currently tussling with tell her where Harth is located. She has grabbed the vampire from the van and they're currently falling to ground level.
Commentary: If you didn't read FRAY, like I hadn't when I first read this arc, then you have no idea who Harth is... he would be Melaka's twin brother. He was vamped a few years ago. He also received half of Mel's birthright. While she has the Slayer's physical powers, Harth inherited the memories and visions. He used these to deliberately seek out a vampire to bite him and then bit the vampire back on the face to draw blood he could swallow. His ultimate plan was to open up a portal that would allow the demons to return to the world that sometime - hundreds of years back - they were completely expelled from. Melaka stopped him, in the process bringing her law enforcement officer sister, Erin, into things. You see, Erin had been keeping a close eye on Mel because she's a professional thief and Erin was trying to keep her out of prison.
Page 05: The vampire hauling van crashes into a force field surrounding a statue of somebody. This might be a homage to Dr. Strange, but I'm not sure.
Commentary: He looks kind of like Gandalf, actually, but the hand gesture he's making is one of Dr. strange's most recognized "I am casting a spell" gestures.
Her target vampire falls onto a car hovering below them, with Mel on top of him and holding her Scythe over him. This saves them from being squashed. He whines that it isn't fair, that Harth promised him that a madwoman would save them. Mel demands answers about this mysterious woman, but the vampire can only tell her that she's lived for centuries, speaks strangely and has great powers. He begs her not to stake him, but it doesn't sway her....
Page 06: After the vampire encounter, Melaka decides she needs to research the weird woman who speaks in riddles. She brings Erin to a library containing copies of the Watcher's diaries from the past. We also meet 'Gates', a four armed primate of some sort (demonic monkey?).
Commentary: I think I need a bit of clarification here because none of this was introduced in the FRAY limited series I have. I don't know how Fray came by this library, but her former Watcher, Urkonn, did not show her this place. In addition, I've never seen 'Gates' ... So - quick side trip to the Buffy Wiki is in order:
"Gates was Melaka Fray’s four armed spider-monkey demon familiar and shared the name with the last great Watcher who sacrificed himself at the Battle of Starbucks. Gates met Fray when she was sent on a special grab by Gunther to retrieve a box from a rigid airship. As Fray was about to make the grab, Gates sprung forth from the box, stole her Scythe and exited the airship. Fray chased the spider-monkey demon to an abandoned apartment with a stylized red Scythe tiled on the floor and shelves of old Watchers Diaries. This apartment later became her home." - Information gleaned from 'Tales of the Slayers' And, thank you to the contributors for the information, PonyEnglish, Trebio and Gonzalo84.
Lastly, all of this is - I believe - deliberately trying to suggest that Drusilla is our madwoman and the visuals (especially her clothes) is intended - again, I believe - to reinforce this perception.
Page 07: The woman in question is even now meeting with Harth, the Slayer-vision enhanced vampire and twin to Melaka Fray. Harth tells the woman in the dress that he dreamed of fighting her, dreamed of being hurt by her. But, the dream was a Slayer-dream, and ergo he was "... the one, the Slayer of Slayers..." and that he also knows that she is coming.
The woman confirms that she is arriving that very night....
Page 08: Harth is concerned about the madwoman summoning the "Slayer of Slayers" (in itself an interesting and ambiguous turn of phrase) making Fray that much more effective. The woman, however, tells him that things need to happen in his time to cause his timeline... ripples, it is all about ripples in the timestream.
Commentary: This is all interesting because the term 'Slayer of Slayers', presumably referring to Buffy, at first blush strikes me as meaning 'greatest of the Slayers'. But, considering presumably Buffy's role in eliminating magic from the world for two centuries, one wonders if she's being referred to as 'killer of Slayers' ... we aren't told enough about the visions of this madwoman or the vampire to know exactly how to take Harth's phrase. I also find it interesting that the woman here also specifically states that "Vampires gain strength from each other. Slayers, ultimately, don't."
What I find fascinating about this statement is what it might mean in retrospect. On the surface, it could just mean that the Slayers end up unable to work as a collective unit sometime in the future. That Buffy's 'army' ultimately fails to remain united in the way that vampires can work in packs/families/groups. But, when we advance through the Twilight arc, where Buffy does grow stronger by absorbing the powers of fallen Slayers, it puts an odd twist on madwoman's words (and, yes, I've read the arc so I know who she is, but we're not to that point yet in the story, so I'll be coy for now). One wonders if this is purposeful foreshadowing by Joss for what Buffy is about to experience, and how she will be unable to keep her added powers at the conclusion of the arc?
I don't think that reading subtext into these things is inappropriate because of all of the talk about there being 'ripples' ... everything affecting everything else, whether future, present or past.
Page 09: Back in Buffy's era, Willow is feeling guilty, believing everything is her fault. Kenn tries to tell her she'll heal fine, but that isn't exactly what Wills meant. She's convinced that their demon has come from the future, and switched places with Buffy.
She thinks that her sending Buffy through the portal was a mistake, now, making anything that happens in the timestream her direct fault.
Commentary: Okay, I really just need to spoil the identity of madwoman here, in case you haven't already figured it out: Willow is correct that things are her fault, but it isn't present-Willow that is guilty. The future madwoman is HER. We'll get the reveal later in this issue. What's more, sometime (and it's hard to think that this wouldn't be related to Buffy's last stand somehow) she's turned dark again.
This leads to more questions - if magic was removed from the world during presumably Buffy's last action on Earth, then Willow must have also left the present plain, or she would have been stripped of her magical access (presumably). So, why did Willow become Dark Willow again - because something happened to Buffy and her friends after they banished magic and left Earth in the portal... or could it have been because Willow turned on Buffy during the events leading up to the magical banishment? Could Buffy's vision of herself lying on the ground wounded, having been deeply betrayed, actually have been future-Willow, despite present Willow's insistence she wasn't the betrayer?
What exactly happened during that last struggle that caused the Fray timeline, and how did Willow end up with enough magical power in a world without magic to survive 200 years? Or, how did she return to the future Fray time from wherever Buffy had banished them to? And, is this tied into (as all of the implications of ripples in time are eluding) to the Twilight arc?
Page 10: While Willow wonders what exactly is going on in New York, back in Scotland, Xander breaks into the heavily damaged Slayer HQ. Rowena is alive, yet, and she reports that most of the squad survived the intial blast and have escaped via tunnels under the castle. We know at least seven (whether all Slayers or including some mystics isn't specified) were lost when one of the towers collapsed.
Commentary: Interestingly from a character perspective, is Xander's response here. He takes a 'soldiers die, here's what we need to focus on' attitude here that is much different than the boy in Sunnydale. This is really in keeping with his S8 characterization, but I have mixed feelings about it. In one way, I think it reflects Xan's ability to keep Buffy on track from the TV show (here, doing the same for Rowena the Slayer) but on the other, referring to the dead as soldiers and being so blunt about what they're designed to do (die in battle) feels like he's minimizing the loss. I'm not sure if this is a generally more militant attitude in Xan, or if he's just trying to keep Rowena focused on their survival (after all, they were just attacked and it is possible that they're still under imminent threat). In the first case, I'd be really bothered by Xan's new attitude (Renee related? Or is this simply how he's changed since losing Anya and the Potentials in the last battle of Sunnydale?) but in the latter, I like that he's keeping his head and his cool.
Page 11: As it turns out, my observation about whether they're still under imminent threat is answered on this very next page. From the green flames lighting the HQ wreckage comes reptilian creatures, heavily armored and armed. Xander orders Rowena to retreat, while he takes an arrow through the shoulder.
He's disappointed in himself for not having a pun at the ready as he faces down the mystic-fire demons.
Page 12: Luckily for Xander, Dawn appears and uses her new hooves to kick the demon about to strike him with a heavy mace. Dawn tells him to get on and there is double-entendre going on with her command to "ride me".
Page 13: Dawn takes off with the straddling Xander... uh, yeah... complaining to him that he's yanking her hair/holding her mane. She retreats toward the forest surrounding the compound.
In the meanwhile, off in the future, Melaka and Erin arrive as some place. Slayer Fray tells sis that the books record that something happened at that place that changed the madwoman due to her magic reaching across time and space...
... While in present-day New York, Willow comes to a realization.
Page 14: In future-time, Fray is attacked by a familiar looking demon... the one with the huge spike for a hand. In voice over, Willow is telling Kennedy, Vi and her contingent that whoever arranged for Buffy to travel to New York has set them up. She reports that they must have magic more powerful than hers and that they have to retrieve Buffy before something awful happens that they can't undo.
In the meantime, in Fray-time, the demon disappears into the portal that opened in New York, while Buffy suddenly appears in Fray-time. Melaka attacks Buffy and they both go over the rooftop.
Page 15: Buffy and Mel land on a hovercar roof, where Fray nearly takes Buffy out with her Scythe. Buffy is able to get her to stop for a second, to convince her that she didn't shape change with the following:
"We both have Scythes. We both have awesome kung-fu moves. Turn-offs include smokers, insensitive men, and vampires. You with me?" (And, we'll just avoid making Spike & Angel jokes, Buffy.)
Page 16: Buffy quickly tells Melaka that she's time traveled and Mel very quickly recognizes her as the long-dead Buffy Summers (To the charge she's dead, Buffy cutely replies, "Occasionally."). They quickly agree they need to do less fighting and more talking.
Page 17: Buffy mentions to Fray that she's hoping that there will be something in this future that will help with her Twilight problem. She asks how many Slayers there are in this future and Fray responds, "One. Half."
Commentary: This is referring, of course, to Mel's inability to access the Slayer dreams or her heritage - those things went to Harth.
Page 18: Fray gives Buffy the quick lowdown on her problems with not having all of the Slayer abilities and Harth's part.
Page 19: Fray brings Buffy to her 'grab boss' ... the merman she works for when she steals, Gunther. He lets us know that Buffy is wearing orange-polka dotted underwear. Fray introduces Buffy, a little too freely, as a time-traveling Slayer.
Page 20: Melaka has brought Buffy here because nothing happens in Haddyn without Gunther getting some word about it. He reports that a woman has been about town who has been there since "ancient timessssss" (overstating it a bit).
In the meantime, recent events and what Fray has told her starts to hit her hard.
Page 21: Back with the shadowy madwoman, who've I've already told you is not Dru, but Dark Willow - though she has certainly raided Drusilla's closet at some point - tells Harth that she senses Buffy's weight on her shoulders - her loss of the world's bright future and her failure. Harth notes that Dark Willow sounds sad.
Willow wonders why he would be surprised at this and asks him why he wants to hurt his sister so badly. It's the typical Angelus reply ... he loves her, it's powerful, he has to crush her for it... blah, blah, psychopathic blah.
Page 22: Yay, finally Dark Willow in her Drusilla dress stands revealed. She tells Harth the only thing more powerful than love is time....
The Good: I certainly like the consistency between Fray the TPB (or limited series, whichever you've read) and Fray presented here, right down to the lavender skin tone on the lurks.
I like the ambiguity and melancholy surrounding the 'shadowy madwoman' and how it makes so much sense when we find out it's Willow.
I like Harth and Dark Willow coming together to fight Fray and Buffy - who else could it have really been (okay, Angelus would have been a cool villain here, too).
The clash of Buffyspeak and Melakaspeak is great.
I'm always a fan of continuity and Fray makes reference to her past adventures.
I really like the coloring scheme on this one with Dark Willow, Gunther's pad and the green fire/fire demons at Slayer HQ.
The Bad: Nothing struck me as bad. I did have to look at Wiki to tell what Fray was talking about at the library/her new apartment, but that's my problem.
The Score: I certainly like this issue and I like the mystery surrounding why Buffy was brought to the future. I like how Willow's part is handled - I don't think it was necessary to stretch out Dark Willow's identity as long as they did, but it wasn't obnoxiously done, or anything. Pairing her up with Harth and ergo bringing Buffy and Mel's problems together was a good choice, allowing both of their story arcs to progress while having them meet.
3.50 out of 5
BTW: I should have the latter two issues in this arc reviewed and posted no later than Friday Morning (but I'm shooting for tonight/Thursday morning), if you want to wait for the whole arc review to be posted before sitting down to read.