Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 25
Dark Horse (Vol. 1, 1998-2003)
Creators: Christopher Golden (writer), Cliff Richards (penciller), Joe Pimentel (inker)
Setting: Season Four
T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Willow, Spike, Giles, Xander, Anya
Major Original Characters: Vraka (demon lord); Xerxes the Blind (demon); Hiram (demon henchman); Xiu (vampire twin); Ky-Laag (ancient demon); Scipio (guardian; flashback only); Tergazzi (demon informant); Lucy Hanover (Slayer; ghost only)
Summary: Vraka tells the Scoobies the story of how he first encountered the ancient demon Ky-Laag centuries ago, when it was summoned by the Roman general Scipio to oust Vraka from Carthage. Meanwhile, Ky-Laag wreaks havoc on the streets of modern-day Sunnydale. The ghost of Lucy Hanover assumes temporary control of a human body and teams with Tergazzi to try to slow it down. Buffy and Vraka join the fight, while the Scoobies try to collect the ingredients to collect the binding spell for the second time. Xiu dies in battle, and Hiram is killed by Vraka in order to get the demon hearts needed for the spell. The spell works, and Willow casts an additional spell to make the residents of Sunnydale forget what happened. Vraka and Xerxes flee overseas, and Buffy decides to give college another try.
Review: Having Buffy and the Scoobies team up with a demonic order to destroy an even greater threat was an interesting and original plot point. Vraka grows a little more distinctive as the storyline continues, and I liked the twist that he survives at the end. Unfortunately, Ky-Laag is 100% generic ancient demon and his banishment is straight out of the Buffy bible. Still, Golden told a decent five-part tale and improved the series overall, especially with his use of small character moments and arcs, such as Xander adjusting to life as Willow's sidekick (loved the flashbacks) and Buffy trying to decide whether the college life was for her. Overall, not awesome, but a step up, and good groundwork for future stories.
* Cliff Richards continues bringing strong artwork--all the cast are easily recognizable without simply being traced from publicity shots. I would have liked a little more creativity with some of the demons, especially Vraka and Hiram. Ky-Laag, on the other hand, although boring in personality, has an awesome appearance, as this full-page panel indicates.
* The connection with Roman history was certainly unexpected, as was the idea that Mad Jack was actually an ancient general named Scipio.
* Next issue begins a "Darker. Scarier. Deadlier." theme for Dark Horse's Buffy books, trying to return to the concept's horror roots. Sounds like a plan to me.