Going to keep it brief this time. Billy and Cute Devon train and flirt for a few pages, but as they're about to have that all-important conversation about their feelings for each other, there's a news broadcast and Billy finds out his grandmother is in a zompire hostage situation at the library. The boys have the inevitable argument about whether to go save her, which comes to its inevitable resolution when Billy storms off to do it himself and Cute Devon follows and meets him at the war zone. They have their feelings conversation (and first kiss) in between the whole duck-and-run, dust-the-zomps action. They rescue Sky.
The line that Billy has been pondering about "the right way to fight back" is finished at the end of the issue by Buffy, who says, "...is to remember you are not fighting alone. Even when it seems you are." She and Dowling (that's Dowling, right?) are standing on a rooftop in San Francisco with Billy and Cute Devon. She welcomes him to his new team and gets ready to take him patrolling, and he muses about finally finding a place to belong.
This is actually the first time in my memory that New Comic Day has meant two purchases for me: the other one is Saga
, and I knew well in advance that it was going to be much better than this issue of Season 9. I tried to offset the inevitable disappointment by reading this one first, but the Dark Horse app failed me and I was stuck with a fresh reminder of how good comics can actually be.
That little summary I just wrote really isn't missing anything. There are a few witty lines and inoffensively sweet moments, and I can't say the action is sub-par except inasmuch as how many times have we seen a character stake a vampire in this series or defeat a zombie in another series, a lot, that's how many. Billy and Cute Devon are like a pair of Care Bears; they're cute, pure-hearted, and laden with important messages of love and tolerance, but you don't read comics about them, because you're an adult and they're freaking Care Bears.
If I had any doubts about whether Jane Espenson was adding to the Buffyverse or just using it to place a public service announcement where it would reach a lot of eyes, this issue erased them. The plot was nothing - nothing - just an entry-level set-up for action and drama, way below Espenson's proven writing capabilities. The only thing that made it new was the sexual orientation of the characters, and the only thing that tied it into the rest of the series was Buffy's appearance at the end.
And speaking of which, that hit a nerve too. I admit I was glad to see her, just because it was getting near the end of the book and I thought they weren't even going to bother. ("Coming next: another issue in which Billy does some traveling and fights more zompires and learns more about himself and his true destiny and oh yeah then he meets Buffy!" I'd tear up my copy. And it's a digital one.) But in a way, the Buffy we know still wasn't there. Aside from one line about how she's needed to remember lately that she's not alone, everything she said was in service to Billy's story - and it wasn't even the kind of service that moves the story along.
I know it was too much to hope for Buffy to have an objection to Billy calling himself a Slayer, even a knee-jerk, quickly discarded objection, but it would have been nice to see a little discussion about the novelty of the situation. Or maybe a warning that he was taking on a huge responsibility and she wasn't going to be able to watch his back all the time. Anything but this cardboard affirmation schtick. I don't mind seeing Buffy from a newcomer's perspective once in a while; Season 8 #5 is still probably the only universally loved issue of the comics and that's in part due to the new way it made us see the main character. But Buffy as a hardened general isn't new, and neither is Buffy as a compassionate leader. There's no glaze over the last few pages - she's pretty much directly speaking to gay teens and other readers who feel like misfits, telling them they're not alone and they belong. Forget the fourth wall, there's not even a third, and the second one's looking a little shaky too.
If the reasoning here is that Buffy has become enough of a mythical hero to give this message the power it needs, that's great, and in spite of everything that's happened in the comics I think she just might be at that point. Go ahead and let her speak. Just learn from the classics - when Spider-Man talked to his young readers about the dangers of molestation, he did it in ads between the pages, not within his own adventures. The Buffy of the past two arcs feels phony, as if I could snap her apart with my hands. Until she's real again, I can't learn from her.