Comic Review: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 – Library Edition Volume 1” [Spoiler-Free]


As an absolutely enormous fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show (I own every season on DVD and have watched and re-watched them each at least a dozen times), it’s actually quite amazing that it took me this long to bite onto the Buffy comics. As someone who, only a short while ago, didn’t have much interest in collecting comics (that’s changed quite a bit!!!) I think I had this idea in my head that the comics wouldn’t be nearly as good as the show because, I expected, the people making it would be unrelated to the show in any way. Goodness knows why I made such an assumption, but I was eventually quite happy to find out that I couldn’t have been more wrong. For one thing, people who worked on the show did work on the comics, including Joss Whedon himself. And for another thing, the talent that was chosen to create these comics was phenomenal, even without prior knowledge of the show, which I’ll get into in a little bit.

There are a few options for BtVS comics, but I chose to go with the “official” continuation of the show, which is “Season 8”. Rather than attempt to track down individual issues (this run is not new…they’re currently pumping out “Season 11”!) I decided to opt for the “Library Editions”, which are large, hardcover compilations of large chunks of the season in question. Season 8 is compiled into four of these library editions, with volume 1 (which I’m reviewing today) bringing together issues 1 to 8, as well as a short entitled “Always Darkest”.

My first thoughts on the library editions were that they are enormous, physically measuring 8.3 x 1.3 x 12.8 inches, which takes up quite a chunk of room on a bookshelf! But with that said, the size ultimately impresses because it means that the comic pages themselves have been printed in a larger size, allowing the reader to enjoy more of the details of each drawing, as well as more easily read the smaller bits of text. This might seem like superfluous information to some, but as an art-lover who also happens to be getting older (ha ha) and gets headaches from reading small text for too long, I thought it worth mentioning.

Second thoughts are that the overall compilation of the book is gorgeous. It’s hardcover – which I’m not usually a fan of, but it works well for this style of book – with gorgeous artwork from the comics on both the physical hardcover and the protective sleeve cover. Inside the comics are compiled by story line, with individual issues separated by pages of artwork from various cover prints. Finally, at the back of the book we have a section of cover images, sketches, and other bits of artwork from the development of the comic, with notes from the artist about the process. All together it seemed like an excellent bang for your buck.

“But,” you’re probably thinking, “What about the important stuff? The story? The art? The pacing?”

Well, I’m pleased to be able to report that it was everything I could have hoped for.

The story begins some time after the destruction of Sunnydale. The gang has gathered more than a thousand new slayers and split into groups in order to train and fight the forces of darkness. Buffy and Xander manage a crew in Scotland, where they’ve somehow acquired an honest-to-goodness castle on the moors. Willow has been MIA for a while at the beginning of the story, and Giles wanders around, searching for more slayers who don’t realize what’s happening to them, as well as effectively commanding the Watcher’s Council. There’s a new Big Bad brewing, the USA military has decided to wage war on the Slayers, and, among other things, Dawn has accidentally become a giant. We also get to see Faith as she’s sent on a particularly nasty mission, and learn a few things about Willow’s time away that are more than a little emotionally jarring.

The story thus far does an amazing job of continuing where Season 7 of the TV show left off. It’s extremely well-written by Joss Whedon himself – as well as writer Brian K. Vaughan – and drips of the signature style of the show. I’ll admit that at first some of the dialogue was difficult to wrap my head around…fans of the show will know that there was always a certain mixture of intelligent articulation and teenage slang/nonsense in the way the characters spoke, and tone and inflection were an important part of the portrayal of those speech patterns. Because of this it takes a bit of getting used to in order to go from hearing the dialogue to reading it. This is a rather small complaint, however; fans of the show will soon enough get used to hearing those tones and inflections in their head as though the original actors are reading the words aloud to them, and that signature style goes a long way in making the comic truly feel like a continuation of the show.

The artwork, as well, is astounding. It must be difficult to translate real people into a comic medium, but Georges Jeanty does an magnificent job, despite apparently having never seen the show prior to being assigned to the project. Each of the show regulars are immediately recognizable, with personality and emotions coming through in the drawings so well that you’d almost feel you were actually looking at cartoon-ized stills from the show itself. One aspect of the comic that actually has a leg-up on the show is that creatures are able to be produced as real creatures rather than guys in suits and makeup, or poorly CG’ed creations. The demons in the comic go from lizard-like to absolutely fantastical, and you’re never taken out of the fantasy for a moment because there are no strings, no costume edges, and no failed computer-generated shading. That’s not to say that the TV show did a poor job with it’s monsters and devils, but it was a television show with a budget that ran in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, with all the limitations that that entails. Artwork, however, has significantly fewer limitations, and that can definitely be seen in the pages of Season 8. Characters are drawn in impressive poses that real-life actors could never hope to achieve, enormous dinosaur-like monsters exist in the same world as tiny fairies, and we’re able to truly believe that giant-ized Dawnie is really there right next to normal-sized everyone else, rather than being enlarged on a green screen. The overall presentation is simply beautiful and everything flows well together in a way that allows the reader to sink into this Post-Sunnydale world.

A random thought before I conclude: the “Always Darkest” short that was included in this library edition had me in stitches. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone who might decide to read it for themselves, but it involves a dream that Buffy has that is equal parts fan-service and pure hilarity, in my opinion, and fans of the show will definitely get a kick out of it.

In conclusion, I am thoroughly impressed with practically every inch of this book. It has allowed me to continue the story of a show that has long been complete, with characters that will always be very dear to my heart, and it has done so in a gorgeous format that I will happily return to gaze upon time and time again. On top of all that, it has done a fantastic job of making me long for the next library edition so that I can further the story and see what happens next.

I am absolutely in love with this series so far, and will definitely be picking up more of it in the future. I emphatically urge anyone who is a fan of Buffy and can enjoy a good comic to check it out. You won’t regret it!

Want to check out Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 Library Edition Volume 1 for yourself? Grab it right here!
Already read it? Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment section below!

Comic Review: “TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo” [Spoiler-Free]


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Usagi Yojimbo is a 72-page hardcover book celebrating the reuniting of Kevin Eastman’s Ninja Turtles and Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo in comic format after more than two decades of being apart on the page. Though I never read either of the iconic characters’ comics as a child, I have fond memories of the samurai bunny appearing in the original TMNT television cartoon, and he always struck me as such a fun character. Recently I was gifted this book by our good friend Derek, The Border Geek, which marks the first time I’ve enjoyed Eastman and Sakai’s creations together in comic book form.

There are a few different sections to the book, with the main one being an all-new story by Sakai featuring the Turtles joining Usagi in an adventure to save Japan from destruction. This short one-shot, called “Namazu” or “The Big Fish Story”, is based on an ancient Japanese story about a giant catfish called Namazu who causes earthquakes strong enough to destroy the island. The thunder-god trapped the creature under a giant rock, which pins him down and stops him from being able to flail around and cause these earthquakes. In the comic, a piece of that ancient rock has broken off, and Splinter tasks Usagi and the Turtles to help him return it to it’s place in the Kashima Shrine before Namazu can gain enough power to begin thrashing and destroy the island of Japan. Along the way the group meets resistance against one of Usagi’s nemeses, Jei – The Blade of the Gods – along with a huge group of brigands that Jei has gathered to his cause, and a battle ensues.

Having previously only experienced Usagi as a visitor in the TMNT cartoon universe, the first thing I have to comment on is Sakai’s art style, which is much different from what I was expecting, though not in a bad way. Without prior knowledge I had expected something akin to Eastman’s style in the original TMNT comics, but while some similarities can be seen in the design of the Turtles themselves, Sakai’s art style has a bit more of a cartoony tone to it. The world he created for Usagi is of an Ido-era Japan inhabited by sentient animals, and the art reminds me irresistibly of some of the older animal-based anime I saw as a child. In particular some of the character’s faces bring “Samurai Pizza Cats” to mind, although that show had a cleaner and brighter style, whereas Sakai’s comic has more of a sketch-and-shade style with bubblier bodies as opposed to lots of straight lines and strict edge-work. You can tell that Sakai draws the way he sees it in his head, and rather than trying to be very deliberate with things like body proportions, he has fun with funny faces and wacky poses when possible. It might take a little bit of getting used to if you’re a fan of a more serious style of comics, but if you’re a fan of older anime and manga, you’ll feel right at home among Sakai’s art.

The story line itself is cute and fun, with the titular characters fighting when they first meet before teaming up to tackle the task at hand. As I said, it’s based on a Japanese folk tale, and it’s fun to see how Sakai explains and animates the tale as it is conveyed to the Turtles. All in all the story is a simple one, short and straight-forward, a standard one-shot comic. There isn’t a huge amount to talk about here as the entire comic is only 38 pages, but it’s well-done and a lovely little tribute back to the days when Usagi and the Turtles fought side-by-side. Additionally, at the end of this one-shot is a page of text explaining the details of the folk tale on which the story line was based.

The remainder of the book is a collection of fun extras for fans of both franchises. This section begins with some character design sketches of the Turtles drawn by Sakai in preparation for the comic, and moves into a reprinting of the original crossover between Usagi and the Turtles, a short, 6-page one-shot titled, “Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew”. This black-and-white story first appeared in “Turtle Soup #1” in 1987, and features Leonardo being thrown into Usagi’s world for no particular reason, whereupon they both fight a group of brigands before turning on each other, at which point Leo gets unceremoniously popped back into his own world. It is the most basic, logic-free style of crossover with no explanation for the encounter what-so-ever, but at the time that was likely the point, and it’s a fun, silly little comic that was surely a thing of beauty for Usagi and TMNT fans back in the late 80’s.

The book then moves on into several photocopied pages of Sakai’s story outline notes for the “Big Fish” comic, and then into several pages of “thumbnail layouts”, which are very rough storyboard-style sketches showing the plan for the layout of the comic panels. Finally we are treated to several pages of alternate covers for the “Big Fish” comic, including several different drawings by Sakai, but also alternate covers by Sergio Aragones and David Petersen, as well as three special pieces of artwork created by both Kevin Eastman and Stan Sakai. All are beautiful pieces that would look gorgeous in a frame on a collector’s wall (although obviously I won’t be tearing them out of the book any time soon).

As a whole, the book is a beautiful item for fans of Usagi Yojimbo and TMNT alike, with some excellent extras through in behind the main comic. If you’re a fan of Stan Sakai in particular, this is a must-have, and if you’re a Usagi collector this gorgeous hardcover book would look beautiful posed on a shelf next to toys, art prints, or other beloved items relating to the samurai bunny.

Have you read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Usagi Yojimbo? What did you think? Feel free to share in the comment section!

Manga Review: “Gyo”


It is going to be quite difficult to say much about Gyo without peppering this review in spoilers and ruining the surprises for prospective readers, but I’ll do my best.

Right off the bat, I have to say that reading this manga will definitely make you wonder whether creator Junji Ito is a complete psychopath, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. I was first introduced to Junji through another manga of his – Uzumaki – which I devoured and found myself wondering what kind of lunatic could come up with such a twisted tale. Upon adding Gyo to bookshelf as well, I’m now convinced that Junji either has the most horrifying night terrors in the history of mankind, or he is communicating with some other Lovecraftian dimension that I want to stay as far away from as humanly possible.

Gyo opens with a young couple on vacation, and as they experience a bit of a frustrating time, arguing with one another, they are beset upon by a disgusting and frightening creature that followed them home from the ocean: a fish with strange, sharp, insect-like legs that allow it to skitter around horrifically. On top of the cringe-worthy creepiness of the creature itself wafts a disgusting rotten smell – the smell of death.

From the moment the “Walking Fish” first arrives, you’ll feel chills going up and down your spine, because Junji’s artwork is beautiful and horrifying in equal measure, and he does an amazing job of portraying a disgusting, deadly monstrosity that just screams “unnatural horror”. And it only gets better from there, as more Walking Fish begin to crawl out onto the beaches of Japan, followed by more, and more, and more, until it seems that the entire ocean is emptying of its inhabitants, who are now crawling over every inch of Japan, terrorizing the population.

If such an image isn’t nightmare-inducing enough for you, believe me when I say that it gets worse. Much, much worse. I refuse to give anything away, because the continual build of more and more horror is part of what makes the story so amazing, so please just trust me when I say that if you’re a fan of horror – and in particular a fan of Japanese horror – you’ll be delighted (in a terrifying way) by this story and the accompanying gorgeous artwork.

The single complaint that I have about Gyo is that the story did not come to any kind of a logical, satisfying conclusion. Given the nature of the story this could be a personal preference kind of a situation, but while some people prefer the unknown, I myself prefer some kind of an explanation – or even an attempt at one – as to what has actually occurred. While Junji’s Uzumaki was filled with weird, strange, unexplained insanity, there was also just enough of background and revelation for you to have a vague idea of what had caused the events, and they came to a kind of conclusion in the end. Gyo, however, ends much like a zombie movie that stops just as the outbreak begins to overtake the planet. There are bits and pieces of information that attempt to explain how a single Walking Fish may have come to exist, but zero explanation as to how millions of them would have come to exist. On top of that, there are strange characters introduced to further the plot, but their presence and purposes are completely glossed over, and we are additionally shown a strange supernatural phenomenon that may be responsible for how the Walking Fish are able to walk, but that’s all we actually get…an image with no further correlation or information as to what this phenomenon actually is. One could definitely make some educated guesses, but this is a story that leaves so much so open, that a reader such as myself can’t help but sit back and think, “GIVE ME MORE INFORMATION!” Again, this could be a personal preference, but I can honestly say that I finished the story with a twitch in my eye, wanting nothing more than to have some kind of link into Junji’s thought process so that I could understand where some of this had come from.

The particular version of Gyo that I have – the 2-in-1 Deluxe edition – also includes a couple of short stories tacked onto the end as a bonus. The first – The Sad Tale of the Principle Post – is a very short that makes your mind go blank as it struggles to comprehend how the subject of the tale could have ever possibly occurred. The second – The Enigma of the Amigara Fault – might give me nightmares for the rest of my life. It’s another tale with little-to-no explanation, but given the nature of the story and the outcome for the characters involved, this is a tale in which you may actually want to know less. In particular, if you have even the slightest form of claustrophobia, this short story might send you into fits of hyperventilation just thinking about it.

Long story short: Junji Ito is a master of the freaky, the disgusting, and the downright disturbing, and brings it all to you wrapped in a package of beautiful, exceptionally-detailed artwork that leaves little to the imagination. Gyo – and it’s accompanying bonus stories – is terrifying, chill-inducing horror that you won’t be able to put down until you reach the end, and is creative in a way that makes you shudder for the sanity of the mind that thought it up. From a horror fan who has found herself fairly desensitized at this point in life, I can honestly say that it creeped me the hell out, and that is high, high praise.

Want to check out Gyo by Junji Ito for yourself? Click right here to order the 2-in-1 Deluxe Edition!