I know I promised Part II weeks, seemingly months ago, so I apologize at the start.
To recap: there has always been an interesting relationship between comics and TV, starting first with adaptations of comics for the small screen and in recent years a cross-fertilization of talent. And while comic books have been a part of popular culture for decades, they have generally been cast aside and seen as irrelevant or even just kiddy literature. But the number of people in the television and movie industry that consider comic books as important sources of inspiration should make us all pause and wonder.
The real breakthrough in this comic/television development came just a few years ago when Joss Whedon and Dark Horse Comics announced they would be printing Buffy Season 8. This was a new start, as far as I can tell. Sure in the past TV and movies continued their stories in other forms - I think of the books and comic books written after both Star Trek and Star Wars were no longer on the small or big screen. But Whedon's Buffy Season 8 was different in that this was a canonical extension of the television series and was organized like a season with Whedon acting as executive producer. Each story arc would be written by a certain writer, ala episodes, and some of the talent Whedon brought to the project were the same writers he had hired for Buffy and Angel.
I should pause and rewind to another Whedon project that proceeded Buffy Season 8 and that was the prequel to the movie Serenity. This type of comic book prequel has been seen before and since, I think of Bryan Singer's Superman Return prequel comics. While this may be a stepping stone, the idea of a canonical extension of a TV series, not just for a few issues but for the long run is exciting and new!
When the project was announced there were lots of questions around how long Season 8 would last. And many people wanted to label each issue like an episode or each arc like an episode. Once the first arc was over it became clear that neither was true and one could not find a direct one-to-one relationship between issue or arc and episode.
Buffy Season 8 was a hit, both critically and within the mainstream media. It garnered a great deal of attention and buzz and sparked some other projects including a post-Angel series. Angel: After the Fall was not structured like Whedon's other project. Whedon helped break the overall story and served as a pseudo-executive producer but the actually working of the issues was given to a Scott Lynch, a comic writer who had been doing non-canonical Angel stories for several years. I will say this about the issues I've read so far, they are far from being bad, but they miss much of what I loved most about Angel. Recently, Farscape has entered this realm with Rockne writting a limited edition series that may lead into either more issues or leap back onto Sci-Fi with webisodes. Also, after the success of Buffy there had been talks to continue Veronica Mars and HBO's Carnivale in comics, but nothing has come of either of those projects.
But back to Buffy.... it's a little hard to write a review of these story arcs so I'll provide more of my general impressions. When Whedon wrote the Buffy-verse comic Fray he created a world where demons were everywhere and where there was but one slayer. Whedon had a problem though, when he ended Buffy the show because he had created a world were there were slayerS. And that is what this season is about, trying to link the world where slayers are everywhere to the future world where there is only one slayer per generation.
Whedon's wit and drama leap from the page, but I miss the actors. It just goes to prove that writing isn't everything. That being said, it is a true delight to "hear" these characters again. To imagine the exact way Xander would respond to someone calling him Sir when he prefers being Sgt Fury. The first arc definitely set the tone for the series, and that was Whedon's intention but I was far more impressed by the second arc written by comic veteran Brian K Vaughn. He nailed both Faith and Giles to perfection. I only hope that we get to hear his voice again and see those two characters.
My biggest complaint is the issue of timing. I read them as they come out, issue-by-issue and I know many fans have opted to read the trade paperbacks, getting arcs in one swoop. I've been tempted to go that route but I feel it will hurt my comic book fan street creds! I'm getting impatient with the overall story development, particularly when it concerns the big baddy of the season, Twilight. What I do like is the way they've managed to bring in old favorites and in new and surprising ways. The end of the each issue of the first arc was just one surprise after another. And the way the most recent Fray arc ended was a revelation too, but where is it all going. I trust Whedon to get us there, I just wish it was quicker.