“Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in!” Totally overdone? M’kay, how about “I wish I could quit you!” Yeah, equally played out. Oh well, I thought it would be appropriate to open a review of the latest comic book “season” of Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer with some pop culture quoting. It seemed the Whedon-y thing to do, but he’s better at it than me, although the above sentiments are true; I can never seemingly stay away from the Buffyverse for long, now matter how mediocre the comics might get at times, as Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer remains not only one of my favorite television shows of all time, but one of my favorite things of all time, period. How did this show, which, let’s be fair here, started off pretty wonky, become the standard bearer of so much that is considered cool today? Although many great shows have come and gone since the end of the show eleven years ago, it seems so many of us are still “Chasing Buffy,” so to speak. No wonder we’ll gobble up the comics whenever they appear, even if they’re not always great. We’ll take our fix where we can get it.
The Buffy comics, at least those that are painted as seasons which continue the series in an official capacity, have been wildly hit or miss. Season 8 started with a bang, with series creator Joss Whedon writing many issues himself, as well as many of the former staff writers from the television show pitching in for an arc or two. The creative team took full advantage of the unlimited budget that comics provided, and that might have ultimately been to their detriment. No one loved Buffy because the battles and the creatures were so impressive, because they weren’t. It was the characters and the writing that had us coming back week after week. Season 8 had a little too much reinventing the wheel.
Then Season 9 had Whedon more in an executive producer capacity alone, after writing the first issue, being kinda busy making Avengers and whatnot. Instead of being written by Whedon and a host of former show writers, it was mostly written by Andrew Chambliss, who worked under Whedon on Dollhouse, and later became a writer on The Vampire Diaries and Once Upon a Time. Although being almost there in regards to his portrayal of the main characters… there was something kinda off about his version of the Scooby gang. Part of it was that the circumstances the story put the main cast in made everyone seem gloomier, but Chambliss’ run didn’t quite feel like the Buffy of yore. That’s now all changed, if issue #1 of Season 10 is any indication: new writer Christos Gage and new artist Rebekah Isaacs have given us the Buffy we’ve been waiting for, and I’d say she’s a bit overdue.
For those of you who want to get back into Buffy with season 10, this is kind of a perfect jumping on point, although some major stuff went down between the end of the show and now. For those out there who didn’t read the last few seasons (although you should, there’s some good stuff in there), here’s the Reader’s Digest version: In season 8, Buffy and her army of slayers that she magically empowered at the end of the series are fighting the mysterious forces of the seemingly evil villain named Twilight (this is before the movie Twilight hit, actually; that Buffy’s nemesis that season ended up being named with the same name as a series that could almost be regarded as the “anti-Buffy” is just a nice coincidence.)
Twilight is actually a sentient universe that wants to use the love between Buffy and her ex-boyfriend Angel to spawn a new reality, which Buffy and Angel then literally fuck into existence (yes, this actually is depicted on panel. I kind of loved it, most fans hated it.) Buffy and Angel then reject this new universe, and so Twilight possesses Angel and kills Buffy’s Watcher Giles. The season ends with Buffy destroying the seed of all magic in the world in an effort to stop Twilight, ending the Slayer line and cutting off all witches and wizards from the magic realms and unable to do spells. Lots of people are mad at Buffy now, even though she just saved the world again.
So season 9 is all about how Buffy needs to bring magic back, not just because the world is “off” without it, but because without it her magically created sister Dawn (now dating Xander) will cease to exist and everyone will forget her. Most of the Scooby gang is apart this season, with Willow and Spike off in their own mini-series and adventures, and Angel and Faith off in England in the companion book called, appropriately enough, Angel & Faith. At the end of season 9, which was about two years worth of storytelling, Buffy and company managed to bring magic back to the world, although the rules of magic are now almost totally different. Vampires in this new world can exist in the sunlight, turn into bats and other animals, and are just a hell of a lot more dangerous than before. Even worse, there are “zompires”, which are the vampires made when magic was gone, and who are just mindless animals, killing both slayers and vampires alike. Oh, and, like, regular people, too.
And this is the world which we find Buffy and the gang in as issue #1 opens, as a battle rages on in the small town of Santa Rosita, California, and Buffy and the Scoobies have teamed up with the local vamps to get rid of what’s left of the zompire infestation. What follows in this issue is classic Buffy, and for the first time in what seems like a very long time, this feels like an episode of the old series. One of the problems with some of the issues of seasons 8 and 9, especially the Joss Whedon issues, is that Joss’ writing style, for good or bad, has kind of grown beyond where he was at while writing Buffy the show. So while some of his issues were good (even great) it seems that he and everyone else who used to write for the show was trying really hard to be like the show, and yet not be like the show at the same time and show how they’ve grown as writers. Season 10 writer Christos Gage, who didn’t work on the television series, isn’t trying to do that, it seems; he’s here to deliver classic Buffy, and that’s what we got. This issue was structured as to have easily been an episode of the series, and that’s a very welcome thing.
Christos Gage has all the character’s voices down, and for the most part, everyone is in a better place than they were in season 9, so they’re more fun to read about too. Buffy has restored magic to the world, and feels a lifting of the guilt she felt in season 9 for changing the world in such a fundamental way. She’s back to her quippy self again, and it feels long overdue. Willow has magic back, and Spike seems to have come to a place of acceptance in regards to his relationship with Buffy (I said seems to… I don’t think Spike will ever be over Buffy.) Dawn is integral to the team and not-whiny, Andrew and even Faith are in this issue, and everyone sounds more like themselves than they have in forever. Cage has definitely studied the television series, and it feels like he’s arrived to give fans what they want. Angel and Faith was easily the better of the two Season 9 comics, and it was smart of Dark Horse to hand over the reins to Gage and artist Rebekah Isaacs for the lead title.
The art is another improvement over the last season. Artist Georges Jeanty, who drew the last few seasons, has moved over to the Serenity mini-series, and has been replaced with former Angel & Faith artist Rebekah Isaacs. Isaacs is very different artist than Jeanty, and although Jeanty did a great job more often than not, especially in Season 8, I could kind of tell by the end of Season 9 he was getting kind of over it; the pencils weren’t as tight as they used to be, and the characters weren’t looking as much like the actors anymore. Isaacs’ style is a little less detailed than Jeanty’s, but she’s a great storyteller and her ability to make the action flow might be a little stronger than Jeanty’s. She’s not quite as good at making the characters look like the actors as Jeanty is, but she’s better at creating a dynamic action set piece. I’d say it’s a fair trade-off.
Now, to explain the other reasons this one issue stood head and shoulders above almost all of the last season’s worth, I’m gonna have to get into SPOILER territory, folks. So go read the actual comic, then come back.
Okay, we good? On to SPOILER talk then. (You were warned!) The return of two characters absent from Season 9 (and one gone since the end of the show) made welcome returns, and in one issue showed just how crucial their voices were to the overall feel of Buffy as a series. Remember when I said everyone was in a much better place this season than last? Yeah, everyone but poor Xander Harris. In the last season, Xander was willing to betray Buffy to make sure his girlfriend (and Buffy’s sister) Dawn didn’t vanish into nothingness. Everyone understood why Xander did what he did and forgave him… everyone but Xander. So as we first encounter him in this episode, he’s talking to none other than his former fiancee, Anya, who, as you might recall, died in the TV series finale. Is she a ghost or just in his head? The return of magic makes it very probable she’s a ghost, and even if she’s not, having Anya’s brand of sarcasm and complete inappropriateness back is a joy. When I go back and read issues of season 8 or 9 now, I realize how badly Anya’s voice is missed. So while she is still “dead”, just having her trademark quips back makes a huge difference.
The other big return this issue is Buffy’s Watcher Rupert Giles, who died at the hands of a possessed Angel at the end of season 8. In Season 9’s companion series Angel & Faith, a guilt ridden Angel spent the two years that series ran moving heaven and Earth to restore Giles to life… and he succeeded, after a fashion. Rupert Giles is now a little boy, with all the adult version’s memories. I’m not gonna lie, the scene were Buffy and Giles make their way to each other through a big epic battle and tearfully hug it out made me cry. Like, seriously made me cry for reals. I’m misting up just writing about. If you’re a long time Buffy fan, it is worth getting that issue alone just for that one page. END OF SPOILERS.
If I have any complaint about this issue, it’s a small one. I wish that Dark Horse and Joss Whedon would allow real time to have passed for the characters. Season 8 took place a mere two years after the end of the show, and season 9 maybe a year after that. So, timeline-wise, we are maybe in 2007, 2008 at the most (the show ended in 2003.) Everyone is drawn to look the same as they did in the series, and no one is much older than mid 20’s. In reality, in 2014 the main Scooby gang would be approaching their mid thirties, and I wanna see what THAT Scooby gang is like. What would this group be like now? The last several seasons of the TV series and the last few of the comics seasons have explored “twenty something angst” enough. Let’s see what these guys are like with all that silliness behind them, and let’s see the other kind of silliness that one’s thirties brings. If not this season, then hopefully next season. Unlike other comic book characters, these guys don’t have to be frozen in time, except Spike and Angel, who kind of are frozen in time. Much of the fan base who originally watched the show is in their thirties now, and the comics would provide a perfect way for the characters to age along with them.
It seems many of my favorite fictional universes are making big, splashy comebacks; Veronica Mars got a movie to tie up the show, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles is coming back after over a decade, and even Star Wars is coming back with the original cast. And yet, if all I get are Buffy comics like these, I think I’m okay if Sarah Michelle Gellar never works a wooden stake again. If they can keep the quality as good as this first issue of Season 10, then I’m cool if all we ever get from now on are comics. I’m not even kidding when I say I hope one day Joss Whedon and Dark Horse bring us Buffy, the Menopausal Slayer and Buffy, the Geriatric Slayer. I know If I’m still around, I’ll still be checking in with my girl B for as long as Joss Whedon is involved and as long as she’s still slaughtering and/or sleeping with vampires.