Just when you thought 2003 was the last you'd ever see of Buffy Summers, Dark Horse Comics resurrected the vampire slayer in 2007 with a comic-based continuation of the hit TV series. Fox has responded by creating a series of motion comics for the first 19 issues of the comic series, and packed them onto Blu-Ray.
To be honest, I've never been a Buffy fan. Whether it was the fact that being a Canadian deprived me of having American TV channels like The WB and UPN, or the fact that I was more interested in Mulder and Scully's (and later Frank Black's) adventures on Fox. Plus I still haven't forgiven Joss Whedon for writing ALIEN RESURRECTION. But anyways, the series has found new life in the printed page, with multiple awards and the approval of the original cast and fans of the TV series. So how does this collection of motion comics stack up with the rest of the series?
For many fans, this is as good as a return of Buffy as they'll get, and they'll be happy with that. With Joss Whedon at the writing helm, there's a sense of security for fans, knowing that Whedon will keep things from going off-canon. I do like how the characters have essentially 'grown up' from their high school personas and moved into a more adult phase, which lends itself to the exploration of the characters' darker sides, such as with 'Dark Willow' and Amy. Also, going the comic medium offers up the freedom from budgetary restraints that would plague TV shows, allowing for situations (such as the opening of the first issue's 'paradrop' and the subsequent demon fight) that would have production companies reaching for film studio dollars.
Artistically, Whedon's choice to having Georges Jeanty rendering the series' characters to paper is a smart one. Rather than going the photorealistic route of recreating Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head et al, Jeanty presents the characters in a consistent 'comic book' way that's not obsessive over photorealism, but at the same time retaining characteristics of the actors that are recognizable by fans. In other words, it looks good and it feels like a proper representation of the characters fans have identified with and love. Coupled with believable voice-acting efforts by the likes of Kelly Albanese, Natalie Lander and J. Anthony McCarthy, and it's as close to an evening on The WB as you can get.
Obviously, there are going to be some nitpickers and unsatisfied individuals. Being that this is a motion comic, it's a little off-putting at times watching static images moving around amidst the music and character voices. Then there's that weird morphing thing in an attempt to make it look like the character is talking or part of their body is moving. I'm guilty of using it (I've used it for animatics), but that doesn't mean that I like it. Also, some fans may be put off by the absence of the original actors doing the voiceovers, especially when the character designs are made to look so much like the show's original cast, as well as the fact that this is a comic, not the actual show. Even more off-putting is the fact that Fox has only put together the first 19 issues of the series, which adds up to four story arcs with a couple of one-shots. Meanwhile, the current run of the comics is at 40 issues, which is what Whedon had settled on for the 'season'. Fox sure loves screwing people over.
Qualms aside, Season 8 of BUFFY turns out to be a worthwhile compromise for fans of the show. Whedon has written some great stories that hold the same humour and use of pop-culture references as the show, as well as evolving the characters in such a way that is believable for fans. Artistically, Georges Jeanty is spot on with his style, while avoiding the sometimes-off photo-realistic rendition of actors that some comic books fall into. It's not every BUFFY fan's ultimate wish, but it's a damn close one.
Video: Presented in 1080i 1.78:1 widescreen, the beautiful artwork by Jeanty gets the loving it deserves. Colours pop and the art is sharp. There is some colour banding and some shimmering of the artwork around some of the animated pieces, but it's minor.
Audio: The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does your imagination's job of enveloping you in atmospheric and ambient sounds while 'watching' the comic, though don't expect to be blown away with details like sound movement. Still, dialogue is clear with no distortion, and does its job of helping to bring the movement of the comic to life.
First up is Under Buffy's Spell, which centres on the topic of Buffy at the 2010 Comic-Con. Mostly, its fans of the show talking about how much they loved the show, and are now subsequently fans of the comic. Also included are bits of interviews from past BUFFY writers, but no Joss Whedon. It's a fluff piece.
Next is the Buffy Season 8 Motion Comic Test Pilot. Essentially, it's a rough animated pilot for the motion comic. Some of the sequences are different, but it's also interesting to see how things were initially conceived.
The Buffy Trivia Experience is another fanservice. Basically you answer trivia questions that pop-up onscreen as you watch the motion comic. Complete all 19 issues and see if your total score earns you the ranking of Slayer. Higher level rankings earn a special bonus gift. Obviously, not being a fan, I sucked.
While Georges Jeanty did the art for the comic, Jo Chen has been doing the comic book covers, which are absolutely gorgeous. Season 8 Comic Book Covers Gallery is just that: a gallery of the covers for Season 8, all in glorious 1080p.
As for BD Live extras, there's an interview with Jo Chen on the subject of his work.
The Standard Definition DVD replicates all of the extras found on the Blu-Ray, along with it's own exclusive: the option to create your own Buffy comic with Tooncast Studio DVD-ROM.
Finally, the Blu-Ray comes with an embossed cardboard replica of the Blu-Ray cover art (guess what sticks out the most?) and a miniaturized copy of the very first issue of Season 8.
Regardless of whether you're a fan of the show or not, these extras are nice, but kinda meh. With no input by Whedon in commentary or otherwise, or input from the original cast (or the voice actors!) on their new comic book personas and stuff like that, it's kind of a miss opportunity. Then again, what'd you expect from Fox?
Fans of Buffy will no doubt clamor for this set, even if they've snagged the comics. There's some great art by Georges Jeanty that brings to life the great storytelling by Joss Whedon, and the voice acting does the job of bringing the characters to life, too. While the animation might be a little strange for some, and the extras are kind of pithy, it really doesn't matter what I say, since fans will flock for it.