Buffy the Vampire Slayer Volume 5: Predators and Prey
Georges Jeanty (Artist) • Cliff Richards (Artist) • Andy Owens (Artist) • Jane Espenson (Author) • Steven S. DeKnight (Author) • Drew Z. Greenberg (Author) • Jim Krueger (Author) • Doug Petrie (Author)
144 pages • Dark Horse • September 9th, 2009 [PB]
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Predators and Prey is the fifth collection from the comic book series Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Joss Whedon’s Season Eight, and it includes issues 21 to 25 of the series. 21 to 25? This series is of serious length. I reviewed the third collection, Wolves at the Gate, in the second issue of Polari. To briefly recap, in Season Eight Buffy is the leader of a group of slayers that now amounts to more than two-thousand. A base in the Scottish highlands, where she trains the slayers, is the head of global operations. In Predators and Prey there are five stories and five different authors. They range from the dramatic and emotional depths synonymous with the series to the esoteric geek fest moments that were more restrained by the medium of television. Think the Angel-turns-into-Xena fest that rounded off season two. Now stop thinking about it. Yikes! That was a close call.
The first story is a turning point in the series, and it sees two of the brightest comic stars of Buffy reunited: the writer Jane Espenson and the character Harmony. Harmony. She has to be one of the sparkiest of the returning characters in the Buffyverse. The alternative artwork for the cover, which features Harm on the cover of her own magazine, captures this. The story is about Harmony’s reality show on MTV, Harmony Bites, and how she uses it to turn its audience against the slayers. That is of course a by-product of her self-serving progress forward.
‘Harmonic Divergence’ is in many ways an attack on the right-wing propaganda machine, and the dumbing down of America that is essential to its progress. Right-wing propaganda is, to neatly summarise it, designed to get people to vote against their own interests through the combination of patriotism and fear. Harmony Bites is caustic observation of the reality-tv era. This low-level, low-budget form of television is perfect for the delivery of such propaganda. It relies not on narrative, or direction, but the simple formula of action and reaction. It is a diversion akin to the Sarah Palin juggernaut.
This raises an interesting point about the popularity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and why it held so much appeal to the smart set. The series was built around the use of metaphor. The monsters were not just monsters per se, they were metaphors for internal psychological and emotional conflicts. The mind is by its nature an interpreter of symbols. That is why the earliest of human belief systems were based around myth, stories that were not literally but symbolically true, that represented the turn of the season, or the individual’s place within the grander scheme. In the scientific age, when religion is interpreted in a more literal manner, and the inanities of creationism, for example, are given credence, the need for myth and for metaphor is greater. It enriches the mind, and it takes it beyond the realm of action-reaction.
‘Harmonic Divergence’ is a superb start to the collection. It is fast, funny, and deeply serious. Espenson once again proves her calibre as a writer. For those of you who snoozed their way through the recent Espenson penned Battlestar Galactica TV movie, The Plan, and thought, ‘What was the point of that?’, think on this.
Drew Z. Greenberg is on top form in the story from which the collection takes its title, ‘Predators and Prey’. It’s an Andrew-centric story, and sees our man as Buffy’s sidekick checking out a rogue slayer. The dialogue sparkles. The long journey to the renegade’s lair, which is punctuated by Andrew’s geek-babble, is vintage Buffy. This is where the geek fest is funny. And yet …
Steven S. DeKnight, one of the outstanding writers on Buffy and Angel, delivers something of a dud in ‘Swell’. (And what is it with writers and the middle initial?) takes the story arc of season eight forward, and it builds on the Harmony story, but its central device, vampire teddy bears that are evil and can control slayers, or some such like, is nothing less than lame. As is Doug Petrie’s ‘Living Doll’, which concludes the Dawn metamorphosis story. So, to recap, Dawn starts season eight as a giant; and later a centaur, and then a porcelain doll. What this pointless plot line is supposed to achieve is anyone’s guess. The metaphor idea falters somewhat here … I am putting it down to the Geek-Out-Of-Control element that at times seeps into the overall narrative. Move along, nothing to see here, as Officer Barbrady would say.
Nevertheless, the odd blip is a small price to pay in the grand scheme. Season Eight may falter at times but it does not lose its way. It does make one mourn, however, for a different age of television, and a time when a Joss Whedon show was not something that the Fox network would commission and then work hard to undo. RIP Firefly. And, in all probability, Dollhouse.