BTVS: Season 8
"Retreat, Part I"
Blurb: Despite Willow's best magical efforts, Buffy and the Slayer army are on the run as Twilight and his closest allies - Amy, Warren, and Buffy's former main squeeze, Riley Finn - continue to monitor their every move. Vampires and humans have found a way to live side-by-side while Slayers - the chosen protectors of humanity - are forced further and further into hiding. Over the course of just a few months, the Scotland castle and high-tech base of Slayer operations was destroyed, and their musty cabin in the woods discovered and abandoned. The most powerful Wiccans and Slayers are unable to defend themselves against the forces of evil, and Buffy must lead her troops to safety. But at what cost?
Script: Jane Espenson, Pencils: Georges Jeanty, Inks: Andy Owens, Colors: Michelle Madsen, Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Executive Producer: Joss Whedon
Cover By: Jo Chen
Page 01: We see a flock of gulls, one of which carries a large fish. They're talking.
Page 02: It turns out that the flock is Willow carrying Buffy and blending in with a flock of gulls going by. Buffy has also been masked. They head down to the Slayers' latest hideout. Buffy and Willow (in clumsy exposition) let us know that Buffy is trying to keep everyone hid away from the world, while at the same time Twilight has the demons amped up to taking on the Slayers wherever they're found.
Page 03: Buffy's big worry is that they keep being found anyway, despite trying to stay dark on anyone's radar. She wonders what they may not be doing. Willow points out that she has everyone with any magical aptitude keeping their cloaking field going 24/7.
This immediately caused Buffy worry that Willow is taking on too much, something that Will notices - as she tells Buffy that the Slayer has been a bit hovering lately.
Kenn jokes that Wills is irresistible, but Buffy is quick to point out that she just wants to make sure everyone is handling their 'going dark' for the time being. This causes Satsu to question just how long they think they can do this....
Commentary: I like this scene for a few reasons: 1) Satsu's back! 2) Buffy's concern toward Willow's super-magicking their hideout is specifically due to what she saw that she had become in 'Time of Your Life', and her having to kill her and 3) They manage to make Kennedy jokey, rather than psychotic-sounding.
Page 04: While Buffy, Willow, Xander, Satsu, etc. are hiding out in a fortress, Faith and Giles are under Berlin in a bunker.
Faith is complaining to Giles that hiding underground was a dumb idea, but he insists that they're more vulnerable to the people aboveground.... Until a demon army attacks.
Page 05: Faith gives him a 'I told you so' moment and then breaks out the Slayer-Fu. Giles makes it to another steel door and then helps pull Faith to "safety", with the army hot on their heels. Their outlook isn't so good.
Commentary: I have a few problems with the artwork throughout for Faith, but I really like the Slayer moves here. Especially awesome is the demon with the knife, who Faith kicks in the wrist, causing the knife to go up into his own throat.
Also, from future me - Giles/Faith team-up is criminally underused. Something that I will be repeating because it will stop me from a rant if I let it off in small bouts.
Page 06: Meanwhile, underneath Rome, Andrew's Italy Squad is hiding out under Rome in the catacombs. They run into a place where Martyr's bones are being displayed and the Slayers are jumpy and alert. They hear a noise and one of them wonders fearfully if the humans have found them. Andrew goes off alone to check it out.
Commentary: First, nice shout out to the horror movie cliche of 'the girl' hearing a noise and being afraid and 'the guy' going off to his doom... alone... into a dark place.
Second, how awesome that Andrew immediately puts himself before the Slayers by playing point-man.
Page 07: The noise turns out to be Warren... having found him, in a heap against the wall.
Page 08: Warren tells Andy that he's there to make amends. He tells him that he had been misled about what would happen if they'd killed Jon. He also reports that Amy has grown tired of him and is slowly removing the magick that is keeping him alive and pain free.
We also get a flashback to 'Storyteller' and Andrew, Warren and Jon dancing in the field of flowers to "We are as Gods! We are as Gods!"
Page 09: This could certainly be plausible since Warren and Amy's argument over his magic missile [not a euphemism]. But then he kinda blows it for me, if not Andy, by bringing up that Andrew should be feeling some shame, too. And not about his killing Jonathon - that would be silly.
No, about his hanging around with those evil fascist-Slayers.
Warren is about to propose an idea to Andrew, but then a Slayer's dead body is thrown into the room with Andy and Warren. Warren complains that Amy didn't let him finish his trickery.
Page 10: The Italy Slayers come under attack by another hoard of demons, as Warren is teleported out. Andrew grabs a femur bone and makes a funny about the demon not finding things so 'humerus' now, but the demon corrects him -- then gets whacked in the face as a reward.
One Slayer shouts, "Use the bones!"
Another objects that it seems so wrong.
A third responds with my favorite line of this issue, "They're Martyrs. They're into it."
Page 11: We're not shown how they escaped, but suddenly Faith and Giles are on a boxcar through Germany. The historical echo to the Slayers' current problem isn't lost on her.
Andrew and only a few of his team are on a truck being driven out of Rome.
At Slayer HQ, Willow and Kenn are in bed when Will awakens with sudden information for Buffy.
Commentary: The artwork for Kennedy is a bit off, too. She reflects Faith too closely, down to her hair style on this page. It's minor, but distracting.
Page 12: Willow, Kennedy (looking too much like Dawn now, down to their sleepwear), Dawn and Xander show up at Buffy's door. They all agree that it is good to knock before entering (humorous reference to Willow, Xan and Dawn all crashing in on Buffy and Satsu in 'Wolves at the Gate').
Buffy's alone though and is filled in that 'everyone' has found them. Willow clarifies that both Andrew's team, Giles/Faith, and the demons have located them.
Buffy orders them all inside, so Dawn clarifies not the demons.
Page 13: There are heartfelt reunions between Andy and Dawn and Willow and Giles. Satsu catches Buffy up on the situation, before tearfully hugging Giles.
Page 14: The HQ comes under a siege assault by the demon army.
Page 15: At first Xander is shocked that they think they can get through the Slayers' defenses with medieval technology, until Andrew points out they also have a tank.
Willow orders the 'bridge spell' removed, and it turns out that the whole bridge was just magic. Demons and the tank are sent into the Slayer moat.
Page 16: Xander again gets the "things can't get worse, oops, they do" moment when he watches the tank go into the moat. He tells everyone that all they have left is catapults so Team Slayer has already won.
Except of course, that the demons aren't just loading rocks onto those catapult launchers....
Page 17: He's much more worried when he sees the huge amount of modern arsenal they're launching - grenades, napalm, etc.
But the worst is coming, of course. The Slayer-Wiccans report that they've lost the second layer of mystical shielding ... of three....
And, that's before a massive, mystical fireball comes roaring over the parapet.
Page 18: A megaexplosion goes off, knocking aside the Slayer troops that were massed in front of the HQ. In addition, one of the Witch-Slayers suffers complete brain-fry.
Page 19: The demon hoard has managed to cross the water barrier, because Satsu reports to the rooftop that she has a prisoner. Willow immediately goes scary and abducts the demon for interrogation. This strikes both Giles and Faith is way wrong, but Buffy tells them she can't waste time debating battle tactics in the midst of a battle.
Commentary: And, here's the real rub of things because there is so much right/wrong in these few panels. Buffy has been struggling this entire season with not losing her moral high ground in the war on evil, now that she's a general. In the meantime, Willow's "she just pissed me off" back in 'The Long Way Home' was presented as a lighthearted aside between Will and Dawn, but since both "Time of Your Life" and this latest action, she obviously is not over her 'magic lets me do anything the easy way' personality flaw [which I have always contended was what her S6 arc should have been culminating in - Willow's personality flaw of wanting the easy way out of difficulty, not her addiction to magic per se].
Whereas with Faith, she's actually much more like early Buffy then Buffy has become. She's ready to uphold the 'Slayer Values', despite when things get dangerous.
Between these two views sits Giles. He's much more ready to turn to wetworks if necessary, but he doesn't want these things to touch the Slayer or the Scoobies. He's willing to go to dark extremes [such as targeting Genevieve in 'No Future for You'], but personally or with Faith, who he feels is already used to handling and keeping control of her darkest impulses at this point.
So - is this a good thing or a bad thing in regards to our storytelling? There is the rub for me, I guess. I haven't liked Buffy's direction all season and I haven't liked Joss allowing the character to be brought into these places. I still love Buffy, but ever since S6 I've felt like her basic character was besmirched. This got worse in S7, but I had hoped that it had been gotten out of Whedon's system and Buffy of S8 would be back to her basic 'heroic-ness'.
On the other hand, I love the changes in Faith and I love Giles' straddling of the moral line and his intrinsic desire to keep the harsher choices away from Buffy. And, I like that we're getting this glimpse back at Willow and how she hasn't really ever confronted her basic personality flaw [that, yes again, should have been her S6 growth].
It has made me ambiguous, but mostly liking S8 [but, man, the 'revelation' coming up is severely going to test my patience].
Page 20: Willow makes her return from wherever she went and reports that the "certain skinless demon" reported to her that Twilight's forces are actually homing in on their magicks. It is acting as a beacon for them, which explains why they've been found no matter where they attempt to hide.
Meanwhile, the Witch-Slayer contingent reports that the final mystic shielding has fallen. Buffy orders a retreat to the submarine. Andrew has a moment of unalloyed geek-joy that they actually have a submarine.
Commentary: I really like panel 1 & 2 of this page. One, because it is so subtle. Note that Willow is off-handedly commenting on her torture of the demon for information. She doesn't even try to hide the fact that she used the same technique she used to murder Warren. Also note here that Xander just goes on with the conversation, he doesn't even flinch. Meanwhile, Giles is standing with his hands on his hips and the suggestion of a frown (because of perspective, it's not drawn in enough detail, but it is suggestive).
And, the reason I like it is exactly because it leads directly into the next page where Giles will confront Buffy about Willow's magic use.
Page 21: Buffy tries to forestall Giles' complaint about what Willow just did, but he tells her that she's going to lose her again if Willow won't control herself.
Buffy confesses to Giles that he doesn't know the half of it. She gives him the outline of her trip to the future and how she feels to blame [of course, Buffy feels to blame for everything] for pushing Willow to use her magicks so much to help them.
Commentary: I love Giles, here, especially his call back to his habit of demanding an explanation and then immediately being skeptical of it.
Page 22: Buffy's heart to heart continues with her pointing out that if Twilight is detecting their magic, then he's detecting the Slayers themselves.
She also expresses her doubts about what she's been doing lately. She wonders if the Slayers really might be the bad guys due to all of the killing they've always done [Egad, don't tell me she's going to buy into Harmony's arguments].
Buffy gets an idea suddenly, however....
She tells Giles and the interrupting Faith that they need to go to the one person they know whose life is all about the being less magical.
Page 23: We cut to a temple surrounded by mountains and fields of oxen-type critters (my first thought was Tibet). On the porch is a boy meditating. A bell 'ting' draws his attention...
Page 24: ...only for him to see the huge submarine sitting in his front yard.
"Huh," he says with a quirk of his mouth...
...For naturally, this would be the one and only Oz.
The Good: Oh, that cover. It doesn't affect my scoring any, but it is gorgeous.
I like all of our gang being brought back together.
I really liked the Andrew/Warren confrontation and the way that we're left unsure what Andy would have done. Would Warren have been able to seduce him? [But, I do have a caveat under 'Other Thoughts'.]
I really liked the 'reunited scene', especially Buffy and Giles [but again, a caveat under 'Other Thoughts'].
The assault on the latest Slayer hideout was really good.
I loved the Giles confronting Buffy about Willow scene, especially Giles' dialog.
The Bad: Some of the internal artwork is really iffy - especially with the likenesses of Dawn, Kennedy and Faith not being given enough distinctiveness by using their actresses' features.
Other Thoughts: So, those caveats first: Even though I liked the scene between Andy and Warren, it was ultimately pointless since Amy jumped the gun. I also thought it weird that Buffy's last conversation with Giles and the last fist fight with Faith weren't so much as referenced. Even a panel showing Buffy having hesitate-face before embracing Giles or Faith looking between the two of them, biting her lower lip would have made all of the difference in this scene.
I do like that the nod to Willow's dark future if she doesn't get a grip on what she's using her magic for and Buffy's recognition of this fact, even as she's continues to rely on her do to what she's doing to help the Slayers. The discussion between Giles and Buffy was so S7-ish that I got a shiver and I could really hear ASH's voice in these panels. I am still bothered by how magic is treated in this title, though. Willow is a walking duex ex magicanatrix and it is annoying.
The Score: Not too bad, at all, for a beginning arc issue: 3.75 out of 5