No matter how good the guest writers are on this series, there's no joy quite like seeing Joss Whedon himself steering the Buffy ship. In the latest arc, Buffy finally gets to meet Fray, the future slayer from her own, Joss Whedon-penned miniseries published some years back.
You could be forgiven for expecting a gratuitous, self-indulgent crossover, but that's certainly not the case. Rather than being a throwaway piece of crossover fun, the arc promises to be vital to the ongoing Season 8 plot. As readers of Fray's series will know, the backstory for her timeline includes the extended banishment of all magic from the earth -- an idea that Buffy's current nemesis, the masked enigma that is Twilight, appears to be very keen on. Will the past and future tie themselves together before the story is finished? You can virtually count on it.
Most of the issue is dedicated to setting up the situation that throws Buffy into the future, though Whedon gives us a sizable chunk of subplot development regarding Dawn's situation (which is finally, hilariously given a new development in this issue) as well as a look at the machinations of the main villains from this series as they make a strike against Team Slayer's base.
While the plot isn't off to a particularly fast start, there is a lot of character material -- it's odd, then, that more time isn't given to Xander following the wringer he went through in the previous arc. While his emotional state is given some consideration, it does feel largely brushed aside so that the rest of the story can continue apace.
Returning to draw Fray, the character he co-created, is original series artist Karl Moline, also making his debut in the Season 8 comics. It's fitting that Moline should return for this arc, and his pencils offer a slightly more cartoonish, kinetic version of the regular cast that make for an entertaining change. It's occasionally a little jarring if you're used to Jeanty's tightly-rendered art style, but Moline's dynamic sensibilities and gift for portraying comedy material more than make up for the occasional stylistically-deformed face.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the series is how it places Fray's series definitively in-canon, and thus suggests plenty of questions to go along with that. What happened to drive magic away, for instance, and why is there only one Slayer in her time as opposed to the slayer-army of Buffy's? How did Buffy end up in the future? And, most importantly, who'd going to win the Buffy/Fray fight witnessed in the opening pages?
It's a more-than-solid first issue for Whedon and the Season 8 cast, but coming from this series, would you expect any less?