Some among you may recall that I went cold turkey on comic books for a good long while there. Among the many and various reasons I came back to the fold, with my tail between my legs, yes: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight. Which is to say the continuation of the television series that pretty much made my teenage years.
I adored Buffy all those bygone days ago, and my passion for it, half a lifetime on, remains largely unfettered. I love the series still... though I'll admit I've not dared to rewatch it since its misfiring final season aired in 2003. What if the (arguably) more adult me thinks it ridiculous, in retrospect? What then?
That's an eventuality I needn't fear for the moment, because I have Season Eight to take me back. And what a terrific trip down memory lane it is!
The Long Way Home picks up a year on from the events of season seven of the series in its original iteration. Buffy Summers has raised an army, and having quite exploded Sunnydale and its surrounding area, she and the surviving Scoobies - so Xander with an eye-patch, and Willow and Giles, though they've both AWOL at the outset - have taken up residence in a citadel in Scotland, the better to train their legions of baby slayers in peace and quiet. Or so they hope.
Oh, and Dawn - Buffy's little sister - is a giant. So not so little any longer.
This first collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight, which ran for forty issues between 2007 and 2011, contains two stories, one short and one long; Joss Whedon writes both. The longer of the two stories - that is the titular tale, "The Long Way Home" - serves to demonstrate that here in the Buffyverse, it's business as usual. Familiar old enemies return, if only to be handily dispatched by this older and in many senses wiser ensemble of idiots as Whedon refamiliarises his reader with the way things are.
And that isn't to do a disservice to the way things were. The Long Way Home is very faithful to the television series in that sense. The experience of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is intermittently thrilling and winningly quick-witted: it's fresh, funny, exciting, and good to look at, too... as ever, except now we've the art of Georges Jeanty to thank for that. I should say his pencils are a little too rounded for my tastes - all soft curves with nary an angle in sight - but he does the Scoobies real good, all growed-up as they are now, and frankly that's what matters.
The only issue I'd raised with regards to this fantastic first installment of Buffy the Vampire: Season Eight is that it relies perhaps a little too heavily on the reader. Evidently the author assumes readers will have a detailed knowledge of the littlest things in the Buffyverse as it was, and though I am, as aforementioned, a dyed-in-the-wool devotee of Whedon's wonderful worlds, and this one in particular, it's been a while, and several story points - not to mention one of the little big bads who kicks off in the introductory arc - completely passed me by. So it goes without saying that complete newcomers need not even apply.
Then again, I have an awful memory, a quick look at the Wikipedia page wouldn't have been such a horrendous hardship, and once I'd gotten back into the swing of things... well, The Long Way Home felt to me a lot like coming home.
Besides the fact that this show I adore is now a comic book I can learn to love all over again, the best thing about Buffy the Vampire: Season Eight is evidenced in the last story of this first collection. In "The Chain" - penciled by Paul Lee, who did fill-ins on Conan - Whedon is belatedly, brilliantly unbound. Able now to focus on characters other than the staples who make up the central cast, he explores the life and times of a potential new to the canon: an impromptu Buffy body double, not long for this world if certain dastardly dark forces have it their way. "The Chain" might be the most impressive single issue of any comic book I've read all year.
With such incredible new avenues for the series to explore, as it surely should, and Whedon in fine form - and moreover seemingly in control of where Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight goes, now that it needn't be about the same old Scoobies year in and year out - The Long Way Home makes for a fantastic start to an alarmingly smart comic book based on an alarmingly smart television series.
Welcome home, folks!