Friday, May 10, 2013

So Much Reading

You know how sometimes a blogger will disappear for a while, and then they'll come back and say "sorry, guys, but there was SO much going on in my personal life that was rough/awesome/in defiance of the laws of physics, but now I'm back and I'm not going to talk about that" and then never tells you what was going on?

Well, you're lucky, because guys, there was SO much going on in my reading life that was rough and awesome and in defiance of the laws of good taste, but I am SO going to subject you to all of it.  The only problem I have is that there are so many thoughts they are having trouble coming together to form coherent posts. 

I've been deeply immersed in Buffy the Vampire Slayer this year. I watched the entire series through the course of several snow-day binges and a few weeks of a very tolerant husband letting me do my two-episodes-a-night thing.  It was almost unhealthy, how into it I got.  But guys, it's a really, really good show.  The acting is great, the balance between the personal and the adventurous is excellent, and of course the writing.  I mean, if you're not already a fan of Joss Whedon--well, I'm not sure why you're reading my blog, because I can't imagine our tastes overlap much.

When I ran out of episodes, I tried to watch Angel, but that kind of sucked.  I suspect it's mostly just that the first season sucks, but honestly, I don't like Angel very much.  Tortured doesn't do much for me.  I might try some more when I'm desperate, but for now, I've turned instead to the comics.

Now, here I'm going to go about things a bit backward.  Again, I am so intensely immersed in this experience that I can't really sort out my feelings, so I'm just going to start in the middle, somewhere I can explain what I'm thinking: Angel & Faith.

So the Buffy comics start with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, which I'm not ready to talk about yet, but will be shortly, don't you fret. (Seussed!)  Sufficient for now is that it's deeply flawed, but also full of all those characters I loved and missed so much.  And at the end of that series (mildest of spoilers) Angel is a mess and Faith is taking care of him.

Thus begins the spinoff, Angel & Faith, which is part of the Buffyverse Season 9.  It takes place at the same time as the Buffy Season 9 stories, but they don't share any characters or story elements (yet). (Caution: things get more spoily as we go on.  No direct giveaways, but if you know the characters you might end up figuring some things out.)

Okay, so all that is the backstory of my reading life that has kept me from writing this post for so long.  Anyway, here's the thing about this series.  Buffy Season 8 was kind of a mess, plotwise.  It read very much like a bunch of people passing the story around between them--major plot elements fell out of the sky (sometimes literally), Important Truths about the Nature of Magic that had been previously unknown to everyone were revealed and then messed with.  It was story whiplash.  Here, in the first book of Season 9, you're watching a gifted writer, Christos Gage, dig his way out.

He does an admirable job, really.  He takes some of the prepostrosities (a word that I just made up, thank you, and am quite proud of) that he was left with, runs with them in the only reasonable (albeit ridiculous) direction, and then has someone in-story say, "wait a minute, this is kind of nuts."  And then suddenly it's not badly written nuts, but just post-traumatic vampire nuts.  He pulls things back from the edge quite admirably, and for that I am grateful.

Now, Eliza Dushku is as convincing an actress as a three year old with a mouthful of cookies.  I have always kind of liked Faith for her badassness, but Mike can't stand her, even in the comics, because he reads her dialogue with her stiff delivery.  I personally think Faith is the only role for Dushku--like Keanu Reeves in Speed, she'd be fine if she just stayed typecast--so I'm cool with that.  And her voice, of course, is captured full of its slang and catchphrases.

The problem--the whole problem--is Angel, in the long and short term.  As I said, I've never cared for him; he jerked Buffy around (mostly motivated by wanting a spinoff, but still), he turned into Angelus at the drop of a hat, and he actively shunned happiness because he thought pain made him sharper.  Sounds like a 23 year old living in a garret and writing his memoirs to me--not someone I want to know.

Here again, you have him actively facing his own suffering and refusing to come to terms with it.  I'm not against atonement, or even the notion that he needs his powers to do the good that constitutes that atonement.  It's all the little ways that he could be less-than-miserable while doing these things that don't make sense.  It's his totally counter-Buddhist insistence on focusing on the past at the expense of the present or the future. 

And see, that's something (Buddhism again) causes EVERYONE'S suffering.  Mine too--I do that!  But I know that trying to undo the past--as opposed to make the best future possible--is pointless.  I know it intellectually, even as I struggle to live it day to day.  Lots of people do.  But in a fantasy universe, you can get away with trying to undo things that can't be undone for a lot longer, and it's hard to tell a denial-like character flaw from a virtuous determination to right a cosmic wrong.  (Sorry to be vague; I'm actively Not Spoiling.)

Anyway, this was a problem with his TV show (to the extent that I watched it), as well.  I'm never quite on board with his logic, and I'm never quite sure if the writer wants me to be.  Am I supposed to admire his determination, or wonder if maybe he's a little, you know, insane?  On TV, I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to admire him.  In the comic, though, Faith frequently steps up to say what I'm thinking--"Maybe this isn't such a good idea."

Angel doesn't give up (of course), but neither is faith seduced into his world of Sisyphean struggle.  This makes the overarching tension one I'm really digging--the comic is looking askance at the same things I am!  My sensibilities, are being honored!  I'm all over this!

At least in volume one.  Halfway through volume two, we're pushing the other side of this balance a little; one's understanding of mythology allows one to recognize the bad guys and prevents one from siding with them, even when the good guys aren't making as much sense as you'd like them to.  It's like the X-Men problem--Magneto's politics seem way closer to justice and pragmatism than Xavier's.  When the Big Bad is making sense to me, I start to worry that the writer is going to a) try to make me change my mind, or b) duck out the back door with the logic and bring a convenient deus in from the machina to wrap everything up without addressing the real issues.

See how much I have to say here?  And this is just the SPINOFF series.  I haven't even begun to discuss Buffy, seasons 8 OR 9.  I'm exhausted just thinking about it.  Can you forgive me for taking so many weeks to post this? 

And, to begin a little overarching theme in these upcoming posts: what kind of name is Buffy, anyway?


Anonymous said...

Nice points--I'm with you re: trying to undo the past. It was one of the things that bothered me about Buffy S6, resurrecting Buffy rather than dealing with her death and moving on.

As for "Buffy" itself, I'm afraid it actually is a traditional short form of Elizabeth. It's on the list of bizarre short name forms, next to Dick = Richard. Why did Joss Whedon pick it?

LibraryHungry said...

It's the stereotypical LA flake name from the late '80s, so I think it was the perfect choice for the movie. I loved that movie when I was in high school, but it's very different in tone from the show--much more cartoonish and more heavily dominated by the Valley Girl/undead juxtaposition. So I get the choice; I'm more troubled that the name exists at all.

And yes, resurrection has always seemed like the worst idea ever, even when they're doing it. I don't blame Buffy for being a mess when she comes back, although it's a sharp switch into a kind of gloomy show. It's earned, but it's less fun.