This is going to sound horrible, but I'm relieved that there are only three five-issue stories to go in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight." Why? Because it means that the series is going to have to start heading towards the endgame, and focus on hitting the planned conclusion. Increasingly over recent issues, it's felt anything but focused, and the end result is a little boring.
The sad thing is that the latest issue isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. Doug Petrie tackles the long-overdue story of what's happening with Dawn Summers' various transformations, and brings it to a conclusion. After twenty-five issues, though, it feels like a bit of a whimper. If we'd had this story a dozen or so issues earlier, I think it would have gained a lot of impact. Dawn's ever-changing predicament would still feel fresh and important, not something that had started to feel like an excuse to keep the character off the playing field.
More importantly, as the series gets closer to its conclusion, these one-off stories are starting to look a bit like filler, a stalling tactic to get all the way to issue #40. The sad thing is that intellectually it's easy to see that's not the case. The one-off stories scheduled for #21-25 were announced a long time ago, clearly part of the planned "season" structure since its early days. But in a 40-issue run that's built primarily on multi-issue stories, scheduling these five issues back-to-back, with hindsight, is a bit of a mistake. I think if they'd been inserted one or two at a time between the major stories, Joss Whedon and company could have still had these subplots and character developments slowly mature and play out, but not in a way that put all the big stories on hold for five months. It would have, in the end, been a much more welcome quick change of pace.
And of course, as said before, the story itself isn't bad. Petrie's script is a little too easily resolved in the end, and there are random story bits that feel grafted on as almost a distraction or a red herring to the main story, and which get quickly abandoned in the climax. Georges Jeanty and Andy Owens still do their usual fine job, though, and it's to their credit that even as a frozen-faced porcelain doll, they still make Dawn look like herself. It's so hard to get licensed characters to both look like real people and still have life and energy in the drawings, but Jeanty and Owens somehow make it look easy.
I suspect I'm not the only person who is glad that the comic is getting closer to its conclusion, though. I do feel bad for Petrie, whose script is going to get overlooked because of bad timing. Hopefully if there's a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine" comic, he'll get to tackle something a little earlier in its run.