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Buffy Season Eight Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate

on Fri, 01/21/2011 - 00:00

For the third volume in the Buffy Season Eight comic book series, entitled “Wolves at the Gate,” creator Joss Whedon turned the reigns over to Drew Goddard. Goddard was a writer during the television show’s final year and many of the episodes he helped craft are considered amongst the best of that season. From “Selfless” to “Conversations with Dead People” to “Dirty Girls,” Goddard developed solid narratives filled with geek references that instantly made him a fan favorite. While “Wolves at the Gate” can be considered a stand-alone installment in that it does not feature the “Big Bad” of the season, the masked Twilight, it contains an entertaining storyline nonetheless that is likewise filled with Goddard’s trademark wit and an abundance of pop culture shout-outs designed to make any fanboy or fangirl squeal with joy.

At the end of the seventh season of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, Buffy Summers had witch Willow Rosenberg use the power contained in the mystical slayer scythe to “activate” all of the potential slayers in the world. “Wolves at the Gate” thus begins with a group of Japanese vampires attacking the Scottish castle that serves as Buffy’s home base in order to steal that very same scythe. While a normal vampire attack would have easily been thwarted by the numerous charges under Buffy’s command, these vampires prove to be more allusive as they can change shape and turn into wolves, swarms of bees and fog. In the end, the castle raid is a success for the enemy as they literally “run away” with the magical weapon and source of slayer power.

Buffy and the Scooby Gang quickly realize the abilities of the Japanese thieves mirrors those of another vampire that the group has done battle with in the past—Dracula. In addition to appearing in the Season Five episode “Buffy vs. Dracula,” the legendary vampire was also featured in a short story that Drew Goddard wrote for the six-issue Tales of the Vampire comic book. In it, Xander Harris stayed with the Count in-between the last installment of the television show and commencement of Buffy Season Eight. Given the bond that developed between the two of them, Xander is sent to Transylvania to uncover any information that Dracula might have in regards to the Japanese vampires. It turns out that the Dark Prince has been distraught ever since Xander left him and subsequently lost his mystical powers in a poker game to a cadre of Orientals. Insisting that his opponents cheated, Dracula agrees to travel to Japan with Xander and assist in the retrieval of the scythe as well as extract personal revenge for being duped.

Aiko, Buffy’s number one slayer lieutenant in Tokyo, is quickly able to identify the vampire leader who attacked the Scottish castle and is assigned the task of keeping tabs on him until Buffy and her army arrives in Japan. Although Aiko is cautious, Toru inevitably figures out he is being followed and corners his adversary in an alley. Using the reverse energy of the scythe, he reverts Aiko back into a mere mortal, kills her and hangs the dead body from a downtown structure as a warning to Buffy Summers. The alley incident was just a test, however, as Toru has constructed a large mystical magnifier capable of reversing the scythe’s original incantation for all slayers—a large contingent of whom have accompanied Buffy Summers to Japan. Upon discovering Toru’s plan, Buffy immediately prepares her troops to attack the office building where Toru has set up his operation.

Every good sneak attack needs a distraction and Buffy’s approach contains one as well. With the magical assistance of Willow, the 50-foot tall Dawn Summers is instantly transported from Scotland to Japan. “Hi,” she says upon her arrival. “Or, I mean... roar?” Like Godzilla in numerous old monster movies, Buffy’s “little” sister stomps through the streets of Tokyo and crashes her fists against the sides of the buildings that she passes. “Well there’s something you don’t see every day,” the nerdish Andrew Wells observes. Unfortunately Toru has already expected Buffy’s attack and taken countermeasures, luring the slayer and her cohorts into a trap.

Xander’s personal life has always been filled with tragedy throughout the television series and Buffy Season Eight is no exception as his latest love interest Renee is brutally murdered by Toru in the ensuing battle. As the grief-stricken Xander falls to his knees beside her dead body, he finds compassion in the most unexpected of places—within the heart of Dracula. Like a demon possessed, the Dark Lord lashes out in anger and slaughters his way through the maze of vampires while instructing Buffy to find Willow.

The Good Witch, however, has her hands full as she tangles with another practitioner of magick who is under Toru’s employment. It turns out that Kumiko was a pupil of the same mystical goddess that trained Willow, making her a formidable foe. Despite her fear of falling, Buffy leaps from the top of the Ashikaga Building that serves as Toru’s headquarters to assist her friend. The Japanese vampire, however, merely unleashes a new countermeasure.

There were a total of 15 Godzilla films produced from 1954 through 1975 and featured the giant lizard fighting everything from King Kong to Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster and a giant smog creature. In the movie Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, however, the “King of the Monsters” arguably met his greatest foe—a full-sized mechanical version of himself. Toru is obviously a fan of the film as his countermeasure against the 50-foot Dawn Summers includes a 50-foot mechanical version of Buffy’s younger sibling, a MechaDawn with a giant tail as homage to the original mecha-monster. “Well there’s something you don’t see every day,” Toru remarks in regards to his creation. MechaDawn quickly gains the upper hand on its human counterpart but proves to be no match for Andrew Wells.

“My giant-sized teammate is fighting a mechanized version of herself on the streets of downtown Tokyo,” he excitedly squeals. “I’ve been preparing for this day my entire life!” Andrew then tells Dawn that she can defeat MechaDawn by ripping off its head, a move that ultimately proves successful.

Dracula, meanwhile, has finally made his way onto the rooftop of the Ashikaga Building where Toru has installed his slayer-reversing magnifier. Once the scythe is safely recovered, the Count instructs Willow to use his sword to reverse the mystical elements that enable the vampires to shape shift—including his own ability to do so. “Just like an old man,” Toru taunts Dracula afterwards in regards to no longer having special powers. “He needs his cane.”

“Did you forget who I used to be?” the Dark Prince replies while chopping off the hands and feet of his adversary. “The vampire’s the least of your concerns. It’s the old man you need to worry about.” Instead of going for the kill, however, Dracula passes his weapon to Xander, who finishes off the Japanese vampire leader and gains a measure of revenge for the death of his beloved Renee in the process.

Although “Wolves at the Gate” contains plenty of action and adventure, it is also the installment of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which the main protagonist went “gay.” Buffy’s love life has always been complicated to say the least, and in the first volume of Buffy Season Eight, “The Long Way Home,” it took an anonymous kiss from slayer Satsu to revive Buffy Summers from a spell inflicted upon her by the witch Amy Madison. Buffy later warns Satsu of the dangers those closest to her inevitably ordeal but the two end up in bed together nonetheless. While they are discovered afterwards in true comic fashion—first by Xander, then Renee and Andrew, and finally by Dawn and Willow—the experience is not meant to be mere fodder or even represent a change in Buffy Summer’s sexual orientation.

“Connection,” the head slayer commented earlier while watching her army of new slayers. “Why can’t I feel it?” Although Buffy finds some comfort with Satsu, it is not a love meant to last as Satsu volunteers to stay behind in Japan and take over for the slain slayer lieutenant Aiko.

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show was able to effectively blend a wide variety of genres within its narratives, from horror to action and adventure to even comedy. While each season centered on a “Big Bad” to drive its main storyline, the series also mixed in a fair number of classic standalone episodes as well. With “Wolves at the Gate,” writer Drew Goddard has done the same with the Buffy Season Eight comic book series by crafting a plot unconnected to the overarching Twilight narrative that is also filled with its own special blend of action and adventure, love and romance, comedy and tragedy—with plenty of “geek” thrown in for good measure.

Anthony Letizia

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