Review by Tony Keen
Spoilers in review
And so the long saga of Buffy Season 8 comes to a close, continuing from Twilight. As was often the case in the television series, Whedon chooses to write the climactic sequence himself, though he’s assisted here by his editor Scott Allie. Penciller Georges Jeanty and inker Andy Owens continue with the artwork. The story brings Buffy full circle, not only returning her to Sunnydale, but returning one of her very earliest adversaries. The collection is rounded off by ‘Commitment through Distance, Virtue through Sin’, a one-off starring Buffy’s ex, Riley, by Jane Espenson and Karl Moline.
On the plus side, Whedon seems to have finally decided what he needed to do with Season 8. In the earliest volumes, it appeared that he was trying to complicate the lives of the new Slayer Army created at the end of the television series. By Last Gleaming, his object is instead to deconstruct what he had set up, and reduce Buffy to someone working on her own, rather than being at the top of a large organization; the last page of the main tale symbolizes this, by harking back to the very beginning of Season 8. All this is probably necessary for dramatic reasons, but it does rather negate a lot of what he achieved in the seventh TV season, where he had brilliantly subverted the rules of the universe he’d set up. But then he had done that with no thought of continuing Buffy’s adventures past the last moment of the final episode ‘Chosen’.
On the negative side, the conclusion to the saga is not entirely satisfactory. Ultimately, the main driver of events, the sentient universe which in Twilight Buffy and Angel brought into life through fornication, is a bit ridiculous when one thinks about it. Then there’s the death of a major character that seems a touch perfunctory when compared to deaths seen in the TV show.
As with other volumes in Season 8, Last Gleaming is without the sparkle in the dialogue that characterized the TV series. The biggest problem, though, with the whole of Season 8 is that it lacks the fundamentally optimistic attitude of Buffy on television. At the heart of the show was the idea that overall, things would work out okay, and get better. Season 8 is, instead, infused with the nihilism that was characteristic of Angel, the basic idea that everything is pointless, and will just keep deteriorating, and even when it appears things are improving, actually those moments of hope inevitably contain within them the seeds of destruction. All of which leads to quite a depressing read.
Jeanty’s artwork remains good, capturing the essence of the characters without being full of static photo-realistic images, but that doesn’t compensate for the weak plot. This volume no doubt fulfills the need of fans for more Buffy product – but one still feels that it might have been better to leave the Buffyverse alone.
This really marks the end of Whedon’s close involvement with Buffy. Though he would remain as “Executive Producer”, as his own film and TV career revived, he would have less and less time to involve himself in detail in the comic arising out of his creations, and Season 9 would be largely the work of other writers.