With Jane Espenson’s ‘Retreat’ coming to a close, Season Eight finds itself as that rarest of animals: a comic that reads better in trade form for plot rather than scheduling issues. It’s hard to think of any other story which has flipped on its head with such regularly, as each instalment quickly demolishes the themes of the episode which preceded it.
As the issue opens, the Slayers have the advantage in the long delayed clash with the Twilight forces from the book’s first arc. This triumph doesn’t last long, however, as it soon emerges that the forces they’ve unleashed acknowledge no distinctions between the creatures that they encounter. This event makes clear the feminist metaphor which has obviously lain at the heart of the arc- whereas it unexpectedly appeared that the slayers would find salvation through suppressing their identities, Espenson now shows such a situation as benefiting neither party, with the resulting rage working to the detriment of society as a whole. In abstract, it sounds like an overtly moralistic message, but the writer skilfully distracts the reader with an impressive number of character threads, as the supporting figures begin to fall before Twilight’s army. The decimation of the book’s cast is one of those rare plot developments which makes perfect sense in hindsight, with the main character having had far to little face time in recent months- the “next time” teaser makes clear that she’s now ready to reclaim the centre stage.
Odd as it sounds, it’s impossible to talk about the issue without at least a mention of the couple of pages of text tucked away after the story’s conclusion. I’m aware that I’ve had a go at the book’s extensive letters page on this site before, as the twelve issue gap between the professional content and the fan reaction affective drained the exercise of any purpose. Here, however, the write-in feature justifies its entire decision with a genuine intelligent debate between reader Ryan Sattler and the books editor about the approach taken to plotting Season 8, with the point made receiving a rather cheeky nod during the actual dialogue of the book. It’s a fascinating little exchange, which unfortunately leaves a clearer impression in the reader’s mind than some of the action which preceded it.