"Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Volume 6 - Retreat" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James "Spez" Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Originally published as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 8) #26-30 and MySpace Dark Horse Presents #24-25
Written by Jane Espenson and Joss Whedon
Illustrated by Georges Jeanty, Karl Moline, and Jo Chen
2009, 144 Pages
Trade Paperback released on March 16th, 2010
Now that the world loves vampires and hates slayers, what are Buffy and her squad to do? They're scattered around the globe in hiding, but demons and soldiers are starting to hunt them down. Drastic times call for drastic measures and, thus, an all-out war is started. It's the slayers against just about everyone else, but the girls are outnumbered and outgunned and tensions are rising.
Retreat, the sixth volume of Buffy's un-aired eighth season is perhaps the most unusual volume yet as it delves deep into the slayer mythos and comes up with some stuff I hadn't known before. Buffy figures out that her group is being tracked because they're using magic. The only way to hide them completely is to stop using magic. After telling Willow and the rest of her wiccans to tone it down, they're still being tracked because the slayers themselves use magic. This is the part I didn't know. Granted, I've only watched the TV series once, but I don't remember the bit about the slayer powers being magical in nature. It makes sense. I just don't recall that being brought up. Obviously this comic is canon, so it's not like some weird fan fiction and it's certainly not something bogus like midichlorians. It just came out of left field for me.
Buffy hunts down the only guy she knows that has successfully suppressed magic: Willow's ex-boyfriend and current werewolf, Oz. The former guitarist for Dingoes Ate My Baby is chilling in Tibet with a wife, a baby (that's not a little dog, much to the surprise of the Scoobies), and a herd of werewolves. They're all channeling their power into the Earth and avoiding changing during the full moon. Buffy and the slayers study under Oz and learn to focus their energy as well. While they're able to hide, they lose their powers so they all become regular women again. This allows Dawn and Xander to step up and lead for the first time, as they've always been normal humans without any super powers. They're experts at staying alive in these crazy situations.
Of course, this book would be incredibly boring if Twilight didn't eventually find them and have a big 'ol battle. Since the slayers are de-powered, they all pick up guns and join the fray. While this volume has the feel of a Buffy story, the events themselves feel completely unlike any other Whedon-verse story I've seen or read. Slayers with guns? Shooting at civilian soldiers (even though they're being led by Twilight)? It just feels weird. In the hands of a less talented writer, this could have gone severely off-course. Jane Espenson is definitely right for the job here as she manages to push the story forward through all the uncharacteristic situations without losing that razor sharp wit that accompanies every good Buffy story.
Series regular Georges Jeanty illustrates all five issues of Espenson's arc. I have to say that he's getting better. The close-ups of people are great, but any time the panels get a little farther back, the details are lost and you end up with shaky images of people. The action scenes are where Jeanty gets to shine, though. The battlefield is gigantic with a lot of action as humans, slayers, werewolves (and more creatures that I won't name here for fear of spoiling story details) collide and he manages to capture all of this in each panel.
As with the previous volume, there are a pair of short stories from MySpace Dark Horse Presents included. The first is another Harmony story written by Espenson and illustrated by Karl Moline. The blood-sucking reality TV star appears on The Colbert Report explaining how vampires are really victims. It's a fun little tale that touches base with public opinion in the Buffyverse. Meanwhile, the second story is written by Joss Whedon and drawn by series cover artist Jo Chen. I've been hoping for Chen to pencil more than her awesome covers, so I was glad to see her get a chance at the interior of a book for once. This story, Always Darkest is another one of Buffy's dreams. This time she encounters Caleb, Angel, Spike and marries a very surprising former villain. It's a definite gag, but it's a great read and Chen really delivers on the art.
While Retreat is the most un-Buffy Buffy comic I've read so far, it had some great plot points. I loved seeing the return of Oz as he was one of my favorite characters from the TV show. Season 8 continues to challenge the status quo that was left at the end of the series. There are some huge changes in this volume, including some new powers for Buffy that I'm not too sure about yet, as well as a budding romance that I didn't expect, but really should have. With Twilight, Warren, Amy, the army and who knows how many demons hunting down the now de-powered slayers, Buffy certainly has a full plate ahead of her.