"Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight" has been, easily, a sales and critical darling. Having show creator Joss Whedon head up the comic series was a smart decision, with him lining up stories and creators in the same way that he did seasons of the original TV show. And, for most of the series' run so far, it's run without a hitch. Unfortunately, sometimes lightning does strike twice in a bad way, and that's definitely been the case with the latest "Time of Your Life" storyline, which crosses over with Whedon's future-slayer mini-series "Fray."
When "Fray" was first released in 2001, the final two issues had a year's delay, causing a great deal of frustration for everyone who wanted to read Whedon and Karl Moline's story. It couldn't help but feel like deja vu, then, that the final issue of this story finally showed up over two and a half months after the previous installment. The problem is, not only is it late, but it's with a less than spectacular conclusion. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight" #19 is the first truly predictable issue we've had in the series; up until now there's always been an additional twist, or surprise, or unexpected sequence of events that continued to make the comic fun. Instead, the story just goes through the expected points along the chart, and for the first time "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight" just feels a little, well, flat.
Even flatter, though, are Moline's pencils. Looking at the difference in art between "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight" #16 and #19 is startling. In the first part of this story, the pages were sharp and vibrant, Moline's pencils full of energy and sharp layouts. He and Andy Owens have always worked well together, and I was reminded once again why I went nuts for Moline's art when we first saw it in "Fray," as well as why CrossGen comics made sure to snatch him up for their own comics. The last issue, though, doesn't have any of Moline's hallmarks. Characters seem listless and flat, and there's one action sequence at the very end involving blindfolded characters and a time portal that actually looks a little confusing. It's hard to reconcile this issue's art with the same person who could draw scenes of Fray falling through the sky and bouncing off of flying cars with such grace and ease. I applaud Dark Horse for delaying this issue until the art was done, but I'm now wondering if they should have just jumped ahead and published "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight" #20 instead, giving Moline more time to draw the comic at his normal standards.
In the end, it's a sad ending for this story. If it had appeared on stands the first week of October, I can't help but think that it might have been a little less disappointing. With the extra-long wait, though, the final result is underwhelming. Whedon, Moline, and Owens are normally so much better than this.