After last season’s chaos, the mission statement of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Season 9 was “Back to Basics,” featuring Buffy actually slaying, rather than leading an army, flying, or having world-shattering, universe spawning sex. And while last season certainly was a bit of a mess, it was at least a fun mess. This season has often felt, well, basic. All that is beginning to change however, with the development of a real Big Bad – a force to unite feuding friends or tear them apart completely, something to strive against, someone to challenge the inertia.
Issue #20 is a mostly Xander-centric issue, flashing all the way back to the end of last season. Xander watches in horror as Angel/Twilight kills Giles, as Buffy destroys the Seed of Wonder, as Buffy cries and Angel returns to himself. Then Xander gets angry, nearly killing the vampire-with-a-soul, until Buffy stops him. It’s that same sense of powerlessness that haunts Xander now, as he watches Dawn fade away, her life – sustained by magic – slowly evaporating in a magic-less world. It’s that same sense of powerlessness that causes him to fight with Buffy, and that draws Severin and Simone to him. The Magic Vacuum and Evil Slayer have a proposition: help Severin get the power he needs to time travel. With Illyria’s power and a sufficient power source, he can stop Twilight from ever existing. Countless lives would be saved, as would the Seed of Wonder – and by extension, Dawn.
Meanwhile, Willow makes her return to the main Buffy series, demonstrating her newly-restored (kind of) powers to her friend. Unfortunately, it is that “kind of” that makes Willow unsure whether she can truly help. And so Xander, in a desperate attempt to do something other than watch, agrees to betray his best friends to save the love of his life.
Buffy: Season 9 has improved categorically with the re-introduction of Severin and his subsequent acquisition of Illyria’s powers. There’s no more “Buffy is pregnant, no she’s just a robot!” hijinks going on. There’s no more “Let’s fight zombie vampires with the help of space bugs and cops!” silliness. This is what Buffy does best: throw the cast at a central villain. The audience gets to see them fail, to learn, to fight amongst themselves, to unite in the face of adversity, to reaffirm their love for each other, and eventually to win. The series finally has a real sense of momentum, and the very scattered pieces from earlier in the season are beginning to come together.
Art-wise, Karl Moline does an admirable job filling in for Georges Jeanty. Moline is no stranger to the Buffy-verse, having worked on Fray, as well as the Buffy/Fray crossover arc last season. The two artists’ styles are quite similar, providing an excellent sense of visual consistency. Moline’s Xander, in particular, looks great. Which is good, considering who the majority of the issue revolves around.
With only five issues left this season, Buffy is stronger than it has been in quite a while. Villains are established, as are stakes (no pun intended). They are both personal (Dawn’s existence) and monumental (zompires and magic). There’s betrayal and reunion. The heroes finally have some agency to move forward, thanks to Willow. And the supporting cast is coming together – such as with Buffy’s roommate and Billy. Hopefully it will stick the landing.