EW is diving deep into the Buffyverse for an in-depth look at the beloved TV series’ comic book sequel. In this installment, Jenny Maas takes a look at issues #16-19, which consist of the “Time of Your Life” story arc. But before we get into the craziness that is Buffy being thrown into the future this week (yes, that happens) I want to briefly tell you why I am so excited to be recapping the Buffy comics.
Unto each generation a group of slayer fans are born, whether they have been with the series since it began in ’97, are just getting started, or are —like me—somewhere in between. And they are the reason Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still alive and still relevant over 10 years after its television finale. But now there is more than just seven seasons of Buffy episodes to binge on Netflix. You can continue with the complete seasons eight and nine comics, and then jump into the middle of the current season 10.
And if you haven’t started yet we’re here to help you out.
Many of you have mentioned in the comments that you have been avid readers of the Buffy comics for years. And so I won’t be surprised if most of you have also read Fray. For those of you who haven’t, a little background.
Fray was Joss Whedon’s first venture into the Buffyverse comic world. He worked on the project in tandem with the last seasons of the TV series and decided not to involve any of the major players from the show, as he didn’t want to monkey with canon. So Whedon decided to just go a few centuries into the future and tell the story of a slayer there: Melaka Fray.
I don’t want to give you any specifics on the plot of Fray, but I needed to bring up its existence as it syncs up with the story arc “Time of Your Life.” In fact the cover of issue #16 even says “The Return of Fray,” as readers had been asking for more Fray (which ended in 2003) before Buffy season 8 even started in 2007.
The only way Whedon could work Fray into “Time of Your Life” was to throw Buffy into the future or to toss Fray into the past. And he had to find a way to do that and keep it from becoming far-fetched.
Having Buffy interact with another slayer hasn’t been a new plot device since season two (remember Kendra?) and having her deal with a slayer the polar opposite of her came the next season when Faith appeared. But having Buffy interact with a slayer who is all on her own, fighting a losing battle, is something new. And that really seems to hit home with Buffy.
Meeting Fray, the last of the slayers in the future, reminds Buffy of how alone she feels. She felt alone at the end of season 7, and as much as she jokes around now, she still feels alone. She can’t really explain why. But then again, she didn’t really explain why whenever she was moody on the show either.
Now onto something from the TV series that both frightens me to my very core, and was one of my favorite plot lines: Dark Willow.
When Will went dark, it was for an understandable reason. Tara (R.I.P.) was murdered mere hours after they had reconciled. She died in her arms. Willow’s world was broken. So she wanted to break the world. And while attempting to do so she became one of the best—and most unexpected—Big Bads in Buffy history.
Unexpected because until Willow went dark, the “Trio” were supposedly the underwhelming Big Bad of season 6. But with Willow’s abuse of magic being a running theme all season, I couldn’t believe I didn’t see it coming sooner. Will did calm down in just a few episodes (due to a speech about a yellow crayon from Xander), but she spent the entire last season of Buffy afraid of her magic. Until that is, she went White Willow on us in the series finale and unleashed the power of all the slayers on Earth.
So just when it seems like season eight Willow is nothing but a good witch, along comes the story arc penned by Whedon himself, “Time of Your Life.” So, Will, are you a good witch or a bad witch?
Well, sending Buffy into the future gave Whedon a really great opportunity to show us some more Dark Willow, without jeopardizing the present. It also scared us into wondering: Will Willow really go dark again one day? And if she did, what was the thing that turned her dark, as last time it was the unfathomable pain of losing the love of her life?
Bored now? I didn’t think so.
At the start of “Time of Your Life,” Buffy and Willow are headed to NYC on the advice of the demon-snake-lady that Will isn’t keen to talk about with anyone. But before they leave we get to see Dawn shift from a giant to a centaur. Xander tells Dawn she looks awesome in a way that feels a little out of character for the usual big brother/little sister relationship they have.
Meanwhile, this season’s Big Bad, Twilight, is talking with Warren and Amy about their latest evil scheme to take down Buffy, a big scary magical-bomb-rocket that they plan to launch at Buffy headquarters.
When we get to NYC, we see Kennedy (meh) for the first time this season, as well as slayer Vi (portrayed by one Felicia Day in season 7 of Buffy) who is now in charge of their Manhattan based ops. Willow explains to everyone that they are there because she was tipped off to a portal to the future that will open that night that may bring something through to them, hopefully something helpful.
Back at Buffy headquarters, Xander and the team have been hit by the giant magical rocket and things aren’t looking good. They manage to get things under control by the end with only a few casualties, but any slayer casualties are cause for concern this season.
Buffy shows up that night (after a secret meeting) when Will and the team are getting ready for the portal to open. And then a giant green creature comes through and Buffy disappears, then reappears in the future. And that’s when she sees Fray.
Fray starts to fight her with the scythe. But Buffy also has the Scythe? Confusing, but she convinces Fray she is Buffy Summers: “Buffy Summers?” “Present.” “Buffy Summers is dead.” “Occasionally.” (Ha!)
In the future there are hovercrafts (of course), a weird new version of the English language, and apparently a madwoman who has lived for centuries, speaks in riddles, and wants Buffy dead. Great.
Fray is the only slayer left in the future and was the first called since Buffy’s time. Well, half of two, technically, as she has a twin brother, Harth, who is working with the madwoman. And Harth is a vampire, or a lurk, as they call them in the future.
Present day Willow is trying to figure out how to bring Buffy back, just as we get a glimpse of who the madwoman in the future is: DARK WILLOW.
Buffy, still stuck in the future, is starting to get really bummed as she sees what the dark and dreary Manhattan looks like and learns there is no mention at all of the race of slayers Buffy created in any of the lore books Fray has. She also gets her chance to drive a hovercraft, which Fray says she, “drives like a spaz.” Oh, Principal Synder.
Willow contacts her snake-demon-lady-friend, by uh, being “satisfied” by Kennedy. And while in that state she tells Willow that the rift will reopen that night, and Willow can reach across to bring her back. But she must promise to not look into the future while doing so. Willow doesn’t understand why. But we kinda do.
Dark Willow (veiny forehead and all) finds Fray, who was separated from Buffy in a fight with vamps. The madwoman tries to convince Fray she needs to kill Buffy. Fray questions why she would do that, as they both have the same goal: to kill lurks. But Dark Willow reminds Fray that the most important men in both her and Buffy’s lives are lurks (a.k.a. Harth, Spike, and Angel).
Dark Willow musters a tiny bit of magic (apparently the most she can) to show Fray how Buffy will end the world. Whatever Fray sees is enough to make her capture Buffy and bring her to Dark Willow. When Buffy wakes to find Dark Willow she is, understandably, pissed.
Buffy escapes and is headed for the rooftop where the portal is supposed to open, but Fray stops her and asks if her going back will end Fray’s world. As Buffy can promise her nothing, they fight it out. As the portal is opening, our slayer is fighting Fray and being blocked by Dark Willow, who tells her again she will have a hand in ending the world. But Buffy is determined to get through, so she stakes Dark Will with the scythe and Present Will reaches through to pull her back home. When the portal closes, Fray is still there in the future. So make of that what you will.
When we see Amy and Warren squabbling over who messed up the plan to crush Buffy’s headquarters, Twilight is quietly consulting with a follower of his. The man tells him he just met up with Buffy that night in NYC. And then we see it is Riley.
As I told my colleague Joshua Rivera a few weeks ago when we started all this, “Time of Your Life” is my second favorite arc of season 8. I know a lot of you don’t like season 8, and I will say the comics get better and better each season as Buffy comes into its own as a comic rather than a TV show. But this arc really is a great one with the mashup of the Fray series and Buffy. And God do I love seeing some Dark Willow. Especially because it isn’t in the present so she isn’t an immediate threat.
It goes without saying that because Whedon wrote this one himself we got some quality material as well. Though I don’t think Whedon is infallible, he IS Buffy. And when he writes Buffy you feel the difference.
This arc we have Karl Moline on pencils and I think he brings a “KA POW!”-like superhero look to the story that works out really well with the future setting and the serious amount of fighting scenes. Oh, did I mention that might be because he did pencils on Fray?
But I gottta agree with Joshua on Jo Chen’s cover art being one of the best parts of the comics, which continues to kill it. Especially with Dark Willow’s features on the cover of #19, as you can see in this post.
Next week: Joshua takes over for a bunch of standalone stories by a grab bag of other Buffy writers. See you then.