Buffy Season 9 #14, Summary and Review
Four of the preview pages, introducing us to Billy and his friend Katie, who are having their conversation about Billy's crush, Cute Devon, while lounging on a car parked by the airport fence so planes are zooming over them. Inside the plane, in a casket that looks like it was designed a hundred years ago, is a naked zompire. I do not know why the zompire is naked, but it attacks and kills a few airport staff when they come to unload.
Back to Billy, just dropped off near his home, wearing his "NO H8" hoodie with the hood drawn up. He's stopped by a couple jocks, who start by teasing him ruthlessly (incidentally filling us in on a couple details about Billy's life: he was rejected by his parents and now lives with his "sweet old hippie granny"). One of the thugs grabs him by the hoodie; he escapes by slipping out of it and running to the house.
Inside we see they weren't exaggerating with the hippie descriptor. There's a dreamcatcher, beaded curtains, etc, and granny herself, who's in a floral bathrobe and looks like she's older than that coffin. The caption says, "When you find the family you're supposed to have, you know because they know when not to say anything." She gives him a hug.
The next page is another one from the previews; an example of how quickly zompires reproduce. Then we're back to Billy and granny, who he calls "Sky", the next morning. She makes him a blueberry wheat germ smoothie and is understanding when he hates it, offering him money for Pop-Tarts instead. She asks if he's okay and he assures her repeatedly that he is, opening his bag to reveal a pair of boxing gloves. Next we see him at the (school?) gym, working out with a punching bag and a jump rope. He's thinking about the right way to fight back, wishing there was such a thing as magic, and wondering if he's safer alone. A shadow advances slowly, startling him into tripping on his jump rope, but when he looks up from the floor he just says, "It's you."
"You" is Cute Devon. He helps Billy up, saying, "I didn't know you were a fighter," and Billy tries to play it down by saying he's just training and he's still new at it. Devon concedes that this is why it probably wouldn't help people leave him alone if they knew. As Devon starts toward the door, Billy asks why he was in the gym so early, and he says "Just looking around." Billy says he's sorry he isn't more picturesque, and Devon leaves with "You think so?", making poor Billy sigh in longing.
Next page, establishing shot of a store called Cubesmasher Video. It's boarded up. Inside are dozens of zompires wreaking havoc, seemingly killing a couple people although why there are people in a boarded-up store, again, I do not know. The caption informs us that zompires don't care about night and day, as long as they can find darkness. They never stop killing, eating, and multiplying. If you have one, you have hundreds.
Billy's walking home at dusk, talking to Katie on his cell, who seems to need assurance that he's safe. He says Post and Garron weren't in school today, that the mall didn't open because so many people were out, "Ha! I know. Those idiots probably ate them," and about his encounter with Cute Devon. As he's at his door, key in hand, he's stopped again by one of the bullies, who takes his phone from him and makes threats about the vampires coming when the sun goes down. He gives the phone back, but won't let Billy get past him, and Billy decides that he's done playing this game. He pulls back his fist as the bully keeps taunting him, but suddenly, the bully's eyes widen and a streak of blood appears on his forehead. On the next page, he falls, and the other thug shows up behind him - only now he's a zompire, and holding the back of the first guy's skull.
Billy gets into a fighting pose and thanks Sky for everything. The caption says, "Sometimes it doesn't come in a flash of magicks. But it still comes in a flash." We see a pair of hands hanging down behind Billy. As the zompire lunges for him, he kicks out, knocking it back, and the hands pull him up onto the roof. It's Cute Devon again. Billy thanks him excitedly and invites him in, as they're sitting by the window to his room.
Inside, Cute Devon tells Billy a few things he didn't know about zompires (and we learn that "Buffy's people" have been tweeting about them). Billy also doesn't know who Buffy is, but Cute Devon's sister has seen her in the coffee shop, and he knows she's scaled back her operations but is still at it. He says he studies this stuff, and he has an idea about who would make a great Slayer. Billy says, "Oh! My friend, Katie?" Cute Devon gives him an are-you-serious look.
Billy gets it, but objects on the grounds of Slayers having special skills. Cute Devon's reasoning is that zompires are dumber than vampires, so they have to be easier to kill, but there's a hand at the window, and before he finishes, the bully-zomp from earlier breaks through the window and attacks him. Thinking fast, Billy pulls a drawer from his dresser and smashes it into the zompire's head, then grabs a piece of wood from it and uses it as a stake. The zomp dusts and Billy is left hovering over Cute Devon when Sky opens the door. "Am I interrupting?" she asks. The caption reads, "It's always better to go with your instincts."
We're back outside the airport, only t his time it's dawn, and Billy and Cute Devon are sitting on the car. They're talking about how many zompires there might be, and Cute Devon says that it's not Billy's responsibility to take care of it; the town hasn't done anything to protect him, after all. Billy brings up the family that both of them have here, and says, "Next week it could be tens of thousands. By the time we get to Buffy, it could be unstoppable. This is the crucial moment. But...But I don't know, Devon. I'm not a real Slayer." He thinks a real Slayer is special, because she has superpowers, and they're always girls.
Cute Devon says he thinks Billy can fight like a girl, and that's a compliment. He asks if he's willing to try, if Cute Devon is his Watcher. They join hands. Billy says, "Okay."
So of course this issue generated a lot of buzz before it came out, because the publishers made sure it would. I wasn't all that enthused by the idea of a male Slayer, especially one without any powers, but when I read a quote from Scott Allie saying you've got to read the issue to understand why he's a Slayer and not just a vampire fighter, I thought that was fair and withheld judgment.
Well, here's the scoop: there still isn't any real reason to call Billy a Slayer. After musing on it for a couple hours after reading the issue, I think that what bugs me isn't that the mythology is being skewed, it's that there were good arguments to use here that were not used. The world changed. Vampires aren't the same anymore, so why should Slayers be? Under that logic, it makes perfect sense to say that the new generation of Slayers are either male or female, and that they're called by seeing a need and making a choice. This was implied, sure, but this is a case where it needed to be stated. Billy joined the fight for the same reason that Willow, Xander, Gunn, Wood, Tara, Fred, etc. etc. etc. did - it's the right thing to do, and they had the means to make a difference. None of them were Slayers.
But the world does need Slayers and will suffer for their absence once the current ones die off. They fill a specific function, and have kept the vampire population under control since the beginning of time. Until now, there hasn't been an equivalent specialized predator of zompires. This was rapidly becoming urgent, which Cute Devon must have realized, prompting him to look for a new warrior. Why didn't he say so? Running out of Slayers is a really good reason to reinvent them, don't you think? I just need to hear that this works because a different kind of Slayer is now a thing, not because Billy fills any of the former requirements.
One thing I did like about the use of the word Slayer was the installation of Cute Devon as Billy's Watcher (in addition to his new boyfriend). That's one thing they're taking from the old system that really works: one fighter, one researcher. I wasn't expecting a new Watcher to be given to us along with the new Slayer, and I think that makes their dynamic a lot more interesting.
Right. So they're a couple, too? Not entirely clear. It doesn't have to be, I mean, this is the first appearance of both of them, but I don't entirely get what Cute Devon's about. Billy didn't even know he was gay. Is he out? Why does he seem so chill about it, when Billy's getting routinely beat up and mocked?
Clumsy segue into the second part of my problem - there is no metaphor here worth its metaphing. Being a Slayer is a great comparison to being gay, yes...if it's the old kind of Slayer. We saw this way back in Season 2 when Buffy's mother asked, "Have you tried...not being a Slayer?" And all of us knew the answer, that no, she can't try that, she is what she is. It's the same as a sexual orientation. It's the same as a gender, which is why Buffy also gives us a wonderful metaphor for being female: we didn't choose this. There's a lot of good in being a woman, a lot of power and benefit and worth, but there's also a lot of hardship and responsibility, and it all comes at you from the day you're born without you getting any say in it.
For Billy, his new status as Slayer will be something he can wear as a badge of pride. He earned it, worked for it, made a conscious decision to go for it. He didn't do any of those things to become a gay man - that's just how he was born. Maybe that's what we're supposed to see in it, that this is something different and that he finally has a chance to shape himself for his own future, but if so, I'm not seeing a clear message that we're supposed to take from it.
There's a bit of a heartwarmer in the boys using "like a girl" as a compliment, but I've never been that jazzed about Slayers as a symbol of feminine strength. Real girls don't have superpowers. I don't want anyone saying that I can fight as well as or better than a man, because it's not true. Physical strength is virtually meaningless to me. I much prefer seeing the 'normal' female characters praised for their kindness, courage, or practicality. My favorite part in this issue was probably Billy automatically assuming that his awesome friend Katie would be a great Slayer. You can tell by the look of her that she's not any kind of athlete, but he thinks the world of her, just because she's there for him and they have fun together.
I'm glad they gave him a good friend and a loving parent-figure to balance the bullies of Billy's town, but he's wrapped in a few cliches anyway. The heroes and villains of this issue are very black and white: jocks and prejudiced parents are bad, grandmothers and open-minded teenagers are good. I'm not counting the zompires as villains; they're much more like a natural disaster. I liked Sky's weirdness, but the bullies in their team jerseys had me rolling my eyes, and haven't I seen that opening scene with the planes somewhere before?
The art was quite solid. I noticed back in Season 8 that Karl Moline has a habit of drawing a good panel of a character, and then within a few pages, drawing the same character from the same angle with the same expression. It's not a big deal, but when I remembered who the artist of the issue was, it kind of automatically answered the question I had been pondering about why Cute Devon only seemed to have one smile. He really is pretty cute, though. Cuter than Billy. In one of his not-Cheshire-cat-grinning panels, he reminded me of Oz, and I liked him twice as much.
So. I have my problems with it. I enjoyed it, though, and considering what San Francisco has been like lately, I didn't at all mind getting away from Buffy. Assuming the two of them meet (and I can't imagine they won't), I think they'll hit it off right away. Good for them, huh?