Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 8, Issue 29
"Retreat, Part IV"
Script: Jane Espenson, Pencils: Georges Jeanty, Inks: Andy Owens, Colors: Michelle Madsen,
Letters: Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt
Executive Producer: Joss Whedon
Cover: Massimo Carnevale
Page 01: We open on a panel showing a tank being blown to pieces. A VO says, "Believe it or not..."
Page 02: "... this is the kind of thing we're talking about."
The speaker is Xander Harris. He's discussing the coming battle with Twilight's Army forces. At the same time Giles and Faith are pointing out that without magic, there will be injuries coming to the Slayers and no insta-healing will be available.
Andrew and Satsu add that they'll be losing people: people on both sides are going to die and the young Slayers need to be ready for it.
Buffy is pumping up her troops, when Willow buts in with the fact that they don't stand a hell's chance of winning this without the magic that they've given up. Buffy calls for a side conference with her.
Page 03: Willow, now separated from the troops, goes on a rant at Bayarmaa about how she told them they were re-directing the magic, not giving it up completely. Now that they need it, she can't access anything and she's pissed (and afraid, I'm sure). Bay is patiently explaining that she warned them that this wasn't a switch - you can't just turn the magic on and off. They may be able to re-access their powers, but it would take time that they probably don't have.
Willow is generally pissy over having agreed to be made weak because of Bay's advice.
"You brought an army to my peaceful home. Who has the right to be angry?" Bay says.
Commentary: And this is where I liked her, suddenly. I like it when people stand up to Willow -- she's become such a force in the Scooby Gang, that she's rarely confronted with righteous anger, anymore. It's nice that Bay does so, here. Also... the dog that I thought might have been a Pug mentioned in last issue's review... not even close. He's in a cameo here and he's more of a Shepherd or Alaskan Malamute. So much for my keen paying attention, right?
Page 04: Willow goes on with her rant about how angry she is at herself. She knew when she'd started letting the power drain away that it was the wrong choice. But, she also adds here that she knew she couldn't have a family... not really... she knows that she has to be killed in the future, despite her earlier assurances to Buffy that it was only one possible future that had been averted by her knowing about it.
Commentary: So, this is so interesting to me, not only for the pathos of it, but because it would also explain why Fray and Erin's futureworld didn't change after Buffy left. The future wasn't altered at all... everything played out as it was meant to, meaning that these events will still happen. Buffy and the Slayers will vanish through a portal at some point, slightly dystopian future will occur, Dark Willow will play her games with Harth, and Buffy will travel there and kill her friend, only to vanish into a portal another portal at some point causing the Slayer lore to be forgotten, except by mad Watchers.
Or, maybe anyway. Time travel is an inconsistent pain in the ass -- I've drawn this lesson from being a Star Trek fan.
Page 05: In a storage room (and I'm unclear on whether the Tibetans had these stored away, or if these were meant to have come from the purloined submarine), Dawn and Xander are introducing grenades, air-defense rockets, Chinese assault rifles and the ammunition to the girls. Andrew whispers a question about "something big" to Xan, but he tells him not to worry about it.
Commentary: My first thought was that there was a nuclear warhead purloined, too. Why the hell not, amiright? But it isn't quite that big.
Page 06: In another room, Buffy and Giles are standing together again. Buffy brings up her objections that Slayers don't need guns. Giles tells her she isn't a Slayer, anymore.
Commentary: I love this page. Buffy is still denying that she's a soldier fighting a conventional war against other soldiers. Giles is much more practical and prone toward any violence necessary to protect the others without any sort of hesitation about it, in keeping with the harder-edged Giles we saw since his confrontation with Willow in S6. But, he also takes the time to ask her how she is holding up... despite their distance from one another, despite her bitterness about his taking Faith under his wing, they still have the connection of former Watcher/Slayer and friendship.
Page 07: As Buffy is telling Giles that she has a plan, Dawn and Xander are showing the former Wiccans how to use radar in place of their mystic sensing skills....
Page 08: Buffy's plan is really just a delaying tactic. She has Andrew cook up some illusions of magic to make Twilight think twice about a direct assault.
Page 09: Buffy surveys the Slayer-troops waiting for the inevitable. Dawn tells Xander that even weak, her sister is strong. Unnoticed, Buffy sees Dawn and Xan hugging and is feeling extremely ambivalent.
There isn't time to deal with more personal drama, though, as ?Kennedy? spots a plane coming in on the radar screen.
Page 10: Three of the girls fire portable ground-to-air rockets and bring it down. But Bay reports that tanks are on their way in...!
Page 11: Xander yells out the warning and Dawnie has the autocannon placements take careful aim.
Faith takes a moment to steel herself. As she places the helmet on her head, a werewolf rears up on her, but it isn't there to attack her. In fact, this is Monroe. And, he's brought his wolfpack with him. Oz expresses surprise that he's joining their side, but Monroe tells him that he's joining up with those who are attacking the guys that want all magic banished... it looks to him like Oz, the Slayers, and the former witches are joining his crusade, instead.
Commentary: Muscular Naked Man! But also... I love the focus for two panels on Faith, staring down at her helmet. You can tell just through the way she's staring at it that she's considering that without the Slayer powers, this is it. And then, she does what Faith always does... takes a breath and gets down to it.
Page 12: The battle starts to heat up, with the Slayers going on the offense against the heavy troops crossing into Bay's compound/home/property. But it doesn't take long for the tanks to begin firing back. Faith shouts to her unit to not look at their fallen, to keep firing on the enemy.
Commentary: I've been dreading the moment when the Slayers have to fight off an army, because it just didn't seem probable that they wouldn't be overwhelmed in quick order. I especially didn't like Simone's issue with her rogue Slayers taking over that island, because it seemed ridiculous that the Italian army wouldn't have just swarmed over her half dozen Slayers and kill them with automatic weaponry and gunships.
The way it is ultimately handled here wasn't too badly done. The Slayers have a defensive advantage, being dug in. But it is also obvious that they're outgunned and losing ground fast, despite their preparations. It's also interesting to see Buffy and Xander really leading an army of Slayers, rather than tiny squads attacking demons.
I came away not feeling like they were being allowed to exercise their battle-death-exemptions at every page.
Page 13: In the trenches, Willow points out to Buffy that they're not even slowing the tanks down and she has to concede that Werewolves vs. Tanks probably wasn't a fair fight.
She summons Xander over and tells him to get out his big weapon... which he jokes about, but she is unamused. He points out that his sexual puns used to make her smile. She tells him to just go get it and use it now.
Commentary: And, clearly her new found unamusement at Xan's attempts to keep things from not seeming hopeless is less to do with the fact that things seem pretty hopeless and more to do with the fact that he's been kissing on her sister behind her back.
Page 14: The big, secret weapon turns out to be their last torpedo from the buried submarine - which they've placed on a sled. They send it down the hillside, right into a tank....
Page 15: There is much cheering over their torpedo plan working... but Buffy is still grim. It was one tank. One.
Page 16: Back in the temple that Bay and Oz call home, Buffy discusses the situation with Giles and Willow. They all know that they can't defeat the army and everything is a delaying tactic at best. Buffy tells them they need the magic back. Willow points out that Bay said it wasn't gone, just redirected.
Buffy takes off for Oz and Bay to find out how to retrieve what they have away.
In the meanwhile, Oz is on a hillside, where another Slayer takes a direct hit by an explosive shell.
He's holding Bay, who has a large wound in her side....
Page 17: Buffy helps Oz get Bay back to 'base', but peppers her with questions. She tells Buffy the magic was drained into Earth, but Buffy tells her she's not telling them the whole truth. She tells her that she's done some digging on the chants they've been using and it was invoking something other than dirt.
Bay weakly names the "wrathful goddesses" within the Tibetan soil. Willow gets a sudden look of comprehension.
Page 18: As Willow packs Bay's wound with bandages, she insists to Buffy that the goddesses names are just old references to 'Mother Earth'. But, Buffy wonders if Earth might not be a modern name that has replaced the goddesses' names. She theories that the reason they are able to drain their magic is because something has been feeding on it.
Bay tells her that the chants are like prayers... offering power and asking for protection. Buffy wonders if it might not be literal and right now, she figures they need to cash in.
Oz' wife then falls unconscious from her wounds....
Commentary: I like this issue... there's real energy in this tale and the battle going on in the background is actually providing some tension and excitement to the situation.
Page 19: Willow runs off for the scrolls that Bay has from the time when the Bon religion was getting tangled up with Buddism. Buffy orders Xander, Dawn and the Slayers and former Wiccans to fight so they'll have time to translate the information they need. Willow complains that she can't read any of them, but Buffy glares at the unconscious Bay with Oz tending to her and says with determination, "She can."
Commentary: This is another interesting bit to me, because it really echoes "Living Doll", when Buffy and Xander refused to go out after Dawn because there were bigger things at stake (well, they thought anyway ... the huge demon attacked turned out to be a small group of drunken vampires acting stupidly). Here, the threat isn't just theoretical, but is happening... an army is overrunning them in a hopeless battle. And not only is Buffy here refusing to 'guard' Dawn, or keep an eye on her (the way she would have hovered over her if this was S5), but she actually orders her into the field of fire for the bigger goal. Buffy has come a long way in being a field commander in her time since S7 when no one wanted to follow her orders.
Scene 20: Buffy shakes Bay way roughly, over Oz' protests. She echoes my commentary above by telling him straight up that it's either all of their lives or it's risking Bay's.
Scene 21: Out on the battlefield, the fighting is interrupted by a deep rumbling and thunderous boom. The land splits apart, consuming some tanks and soldiers in spouts of flame.
Three intertwining streams of energy come up from a chasm and begin to take on vaguely face-like shape, like forms in colored smoke in the air.
Scene 22: To the quite amazement of everyone, three inhuman and giant skull-ridden forms take shape before Slayers and soldiers....
The Good: I really like the writing in this issue with the strong character viewpoints, especially Willow's anger at following Buffy on this one and the way that Dawn and Xan step up as a team when the fighting starts.
I also really like the pacing of this issue and the way that the battle scenes are handled.
I like the small moments: the page of Giles and Buffy. The panels of Faith looking down at her helmet. Willow yelling at Bay because she's mad at herself. Bay pointing out that they were fine until the Slayers showed up and drew an army to her home.
The Bad: Nothing
Other Thoughts: I do wish that the creators would take the opportunity though to place our ongoing side characters in the action. Remember how Jonathon kept showing up at random in BTVS before he became a focus in The Trio in S6? It'd be nice if we had much more cameos of Rowena, Leah, Satsu, Kennedy, Vi and Rona.
I'm also wondering just how all of these troops were transported to Tibet by Twilight... again, the way magic is used as a shortcut thoughout S8 -- it can literally do anything a script requires with no muss and no fuss, unless some drama is needed -- still bugs the heck out of me. I also can't believe that the General didn't have a panel or two arguing with Twilight that he was about to instigate an international incident by bringing clearly U.S. troops into Chinese territory! China does have modern radar and satellite technology, you know.
The Score: Despite the real world logic being blithely ignored, though, this story is strong. It has some nice emotions going on between our characters, a real threat to them and an acknowledgement that war isn't "fun violence", like against monsters. I really think Bay comes into her own as a character who isn't just something to give tension to Willow/Oz, too, which I appreciate.
I think I want to give this one between 3.75 and 4.0 ... so, I'm rounding up: 4 stars out of 5.