Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn (Writers), Siobhan Keenan (Artist), Shan Murphy (Colorist), Jim Campbell (Letterer)
Based on characters created by Amy Heckerling
August 23, 2017
Spoiler Alert: Plot details below
I like the movie Clueless. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s a cute if somewhat alien avatar of the mid ’90s in California. I say “alien” because it doesn’t really reflect California as I knew it then. It’s too glossy and polished, but that’s the magic of Hollywood. It’s still the kind of movie that I’ll sit and watch whenever it’s on, because it’s just so pleasant. Everything works just right, and that’s nice to see once in a while.
That’s why, when I first heard about BOOM! Studios’ Clueless: Senior Year, a comic book sequel to the film, I was, as Cher would put it, “buggin’.” It just seemed so unnecessary, you know? The film was released in July of 1995, meaning that it’s been twenty-two years, not a round twenty or twenty-five, the kind of milestones that might signify a sudden resurgence. I saw the cover for this book, shrugged, and thought, “Okay, I guess.”
Having sat and read through it, I find my feelings of confusion compounded. As a sequel-slash-adaptation, Clueless: Senior Year is everything I expect from such things in exactly all of the ways that such a statement can be meant. It’s faithful to the tone of the movie and the spirit of the characters while treading some entirely uninteresting plot waters, the type that originate when someone says, “Let’s do something with this licensed property,” instead of, “Hey, I have an idea for a story!”
If that’s way harsh, well, like I said, the book treats Cher and crew properly, feeling authentic despite the distance of time and the looseness of accuracy with regard to likenesses. A lot of that comes down to artist Siobhan Keenan’s style. Character’s faces are cartoony and expressive, a choice that honestly feels like the right one, since those faces can better convey the spirits of the characters they’re channeling whilst not pretending to be absolute likenesses. The artists also use some clever shorthand to help us identify with these iterations. For instance, cover artist Natacha Bustos features Cher in the same yellow tartan outfit she picks out in the beginning of the movie, and Keenan gives her the same fuzzy-topped pencil used in her ill-fated attempts to woo Christian. These artifacts anchor the world and our belief in it (even if there’s no way I believe Cher would use that pencil with the outfit she’s wearing on the same page—as if).
If these likenesses aren’t necessarily accurate, they’re at least empathetic. So much so that pages specifically having to do with Tai had me feeling a bit down, as I remembered the late Brittany Murphy. I was always fond of her as an actress, and her role as Tai was a large cornerstone of that; I empathized with Tai’s outsider status and attempts to assimilate. Even in this wistfulness the book is a success, as finding myself feeling that way only made me respect the stylistic choices made here even more.
I just wish I felt the same way about the story. It’s divided into chapters that spotlight one of the three girls at the movie’s center, with a final chapter to tie those together and end the story. Each chapter is narrated by the girl it focuses on: first Cher, then Dionne, then Tai. The trouble with this is that neither Cher nor Dionne have much of a story. Cher’s plot has to do with a question she’s asked by her teacher, Ms. Geist, about the kind of adult she wants to be after high school. It’s wishy-washy identity crisis stuff, with an answer so obvious that even the other characters in the story know it (and say it), and it especially feels like it should be a settled matter given how much of it is ground retread from the film. Cher has a subplot involving relationship troubles with Josh, which is disappointing—the more so because, between the movie and now this book, we don’t really get to see the pair actually have a relationship.Dionne’s chapter fared a bit better, but centers around a race for Student Body President between her and her own boyfriend, Murray. Murray feels especially faithful to his 1995 portrayal by Donald Faison, but in a way that’s often grating, since that film’s statements about the use of “woman” when referring to Dionne are again a case of settled ground that’s trod over once more. It’s also one of those things that carried better on film than it reads on paper; the permanence of the written word lends a different weight to a thing than when it’s spoken aloud.
The story doesn’t really pick up steam until Tai’s chapter, in which she’s found that a relative of hers has died and she’s inherited a farm. The three decide they’re all going to go out and take a look at it while Tai tries to decide between running the family business and going to an art school. It’s easily the most original, refreshing sequence in the book, because it represents such a significant step forward for Tai, whereas Cher and Dionne’s chapters leave them trapped in the infinite present of high school. We’re also treated to the story of Tai’s late Great Aunt Ellie and her neighbor Edwinna who also happens to be her lover. It’s a charming bit of representation, even if it’s a bit sad that we’re only meeting the couple after one of them has died.
The end of the story brings the three back to school to wrap up their respective arcs. With Edwinna around to help Tai with the farm, she’s able to keep it and also follow her college dreams. Dionne wins the election for Student Body President (near the end of her senior year), and Cher realizes what had been obvious both to readers and to her friend Dionne from the start. She doesn’t need to throw herself wholly into any one identity, because she is at her best when she’s simply being herself. It’s a little saccharine, but then so was the original film.
Overall, Clueless: Senior Year is fine, neither shockingly good nor horrifyingly bad. Like the movie, it’s light, it’s friendly, and everything works out. It doesn’t have quite the draw of the movie it’s related to, but it feels accessible. And it’s the kind of thing I hope that BOOM! is entering in book fairs or for greater distribution in other stores. It feels like a shame to keep this kind of book confined to comic shops.