“It’s a very distinguished list. It has people like … um … Judi Dench and Eleanor Roosevelt on it.” – Buffy to Willow
“I like blue jeans and irony.” – Dawn (sort of … you’ll see)
With this issue, Drew Goddard’s four-part story, “Wolves at the Gate,” draws to a close. And I have to say … this was easily my favorite plot arc of the season so far. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed Joss Whedon’s introductory four-parter (“The Long Way Home”), but by then, I hadn’t yet renewed my emotional attachment to these characters. And while Brian K. Vaughn’s three-part Faith story (“No Future for You”) kicked ASS, it was literally detached from the rest of the Buffy universe.
But THIS plot arc? Which starts with Buffy discovering a new side of herself, and ends with a Dracula that you actually find yourself rooting for? Absolute genius. Especially this issue, which is about as tight as a story gets, and has the frenetically satisfying pathos of a season finale.
The story picks up where it left off in the last issue, with Renee having just been impaled. Then Goddard and artist Georges Jeanty hit us with a touching scene that probably could not have been pulled off on TV without seeming overdone — the fade into death from Renee’s perspective, as we listen to the frantic thoughts inside her head. Then she dies, and we see Xander bent over her broken body, vulnerable, his back to the fighting all around him, tears flowing out of his single eye, and Buffy determined to protect him. But it’s Dracula who shines here, setting in motion the plan that will save the day/world. And in the moment that he vamps out, and says of Xander, “He’s not alone,” I have to admit, I kind of got chills. Because for whatever reason, evil or no, he considers Xander a close friend, and he will rip apart a room full of vampires if that’s what it takes to keep his friend safe from harm.
And that was just the first three pages!
Outside, in mid-air, Willow fights the vamp witch Kumiko, and we learn that there is likely something sinister about the intentions of Willow’s former witchcraft teacher, Saga Vasuki — not sure what yet. Anyway, Buffy kills Kumiko, and she and Willow land safely on the ground. On the ground, Giant Dawn lends a hand by squashing vampires with her foot like bugs, but learns that the Japanese vamps are prepared for her, when she is punched in the nose by (wait for it) a MECHA DAWN. Holy crap, I can’t even tell you how much I wanted to laugh out loud when I read those pages … but my wife was asleep in the next room at the time, so I had to restrain myself. “My name is Dawn … I am a teenage girl … I like blue jeans and irony … I cry a lot … I often let boys take advantage of my weak emotional states.” Pure comedy gold, especially with Andrew (“Hi, have you met me?”) coaching Dawn from the sidelines.
After a series of twists and turns, Dracula and Willow manage to turn the tables on the bad guys, using his demon sword (cousin to the Scythe) to cast a spell on the giant red lens, sapping all the Japanese vamps of their special transmogrifying powers, thereby making them much easier to kill. Which the slayers proceed to do, with a literal vengeance. “Cut them down as they flee,” Buffy orders. “Kill every single one of them.” But once again, it’s Dracula who steals this scene, with a chilling speech that ends, “The vampire’s the least of your concerns. It’s the old man you need to worry about.” He lops off the hands of the vamp who killed Renee, then hands Xander the sword to deliver the killing blow, bringing the battle to an end.
Cut to the epilogue. Dracula takes his leave of Xander, but not before Goddard squeezes a little more comedy out of their peculiar relationship. Xander then scatters Renee’s ashes, and again, I wonder what toll this loss will take on him. Willow meditates, as her “goddess” Saga Vasuki creepily watches on. Satsu asks to head up the Tokyo field office, and Buffy agrees, tying off that particular loose end … and then they have some more lesbian sex. It’s an emotionally satisfying exchange (the conversation, not the sex), and I’m glad that Goddard chose to give that story line some closure before his arc was over. Then, as if to punctuate the notion that Dracula was the star of this piece all along, Goddard gives old Vlad the final words of dialogue, which seem oddly prophetic when superimposed over panels that depict Buffy, Willow, and Xander each detoxing separately from the latest apocalypse:
“We have a cold journey ahead of us … find what warmth you can for now … and I’ll stand watch alone.”
Next issue begins Joss’s four-part “Time of Your Life” plot arc, co-starring Fray, the Future Slayer! (Once again, if you haven’t already read the Fray trade paperback, what are you waiting for?) And after that, in Issue #20, we get another cool treat, when guest writer Jeph Loeb revisits the Scoobies’ high school years with a story that involves the “Buffy Animated Series” that never was. After two four-part arcs, it should be a nice diversion.