Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Back and Good

BOOM! Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1, Jordie Bellaire, Dan Mora, Raul Angula, Ed DUkeshire, 2019

Unto each generation, a story is told—

When considering a comic book, it’s pertinent to consider its target audience and who it’s marketed to or for whom it’s easy to find. For a franchised book, or an adaptation of an existing success, the question becomes more interesting along with that relevancy: Is this just for those people who already like what it came from? Or is it not for those people; is it designed to catch newer, bigger audiences, and does it sacrifice some of that banked audience to do so? Does it “get things wrong,” or does it manage to freshen up the carcass without spoiling the taste of the meat?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was made about teenagers, for teenagers, in 1997. Now it’s 2019 and those kids are thirty-four. So why Buffy? Why make it again? The question is who it will work for.

BOOM! Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1, Jordie Bellaire, Dan Mora, Raul Angula, Ed DUkeshire, 2019 VARIANT: Kevin Wada - Buffy walks down a high school hallway tossing a stake in her hand, wearing a T-shirt with the slogan SLAY

So, shall I start with my credentials? Or is it better to pretend I’m objective? Am I the new audience or the old?

I’m both. I loved Buffy for accompanying me through five years of secondary school. I cried through the finale for that sweet sorrow of The End. And I got over her, quite fast, once we parted. I never turned my viewership into a box set rewatch fervour, though I read fan fiction and novels and Livejournal spoilers (the US got seasons well before the UK) and bought Fray and other comics while the show was current. There were other shows to watch, new adventures and girl-heroes to love, because the market was opening up and so was my access, and other ways to spend my time. I didn’t need her any more, and once I didn’t need her I didn’t want her. I said things like “If I watched Buffy again ever, which I hope not to,” and “I don’t miss Buffy in the least.” I thought the idea of a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic was quite bad. I thought the idea of the season eight Buffy comics was quite bad, too.

(There’s also the whole Joss Whedon: Gross Boss thing, which threw up some mud onto the hems of his output. But let’s take Buffy out of his hands and retain the work of the cast and crew who had to deal with him, if we can.)

I was out of the slaying game; I would never have glanced at Buffy2k19 without seeing one particular tweet that took me to once particular interview:

“‘Huge Changes’ With Emotional Resonance Coming” is the kind of headline I find hard to resist. Adaptation, as its own craft and its own certain art, is a matter of deep interest to me. As I grow more experienced with fiction and with franchises—as franchises become more and more dominant—it becomes the frame by which I measure artistic success. Did you manage to create something different yet identifiable enough that it distills, by existing in comparison, the essence of the original? Did you prove the original worthy of continuation by mining some incomparable ore? Did you identify what made it inspiring and distinctive and only change the rest? If the two products, old and new, are ground against one another, what is left unharmed, protected by the interaction of their matching peaks and troughs?

If a story is being used to say something about the cloth from which it’s cut and is also a good story in its own right… then I graciously allow it its life. Seeing a creative team work not only with the stuff of their subject, but with the nature of their work on that stuff, is a very satisfying thing.

Editor Jeanine Schaefer, in the interview linked above, says,

“Oh no, [the comic is] not [constrained by existing show continuity] at all. I think what’s awesome about it is that we get to quote-unquote update, and we get to play with dramatic irony. The continuity of Buffy is so rich and so wide, and there is still so much opportunity to explore it. I think we are really excited about using the dramatic irony, and subverting some of the stuff and enhancing some of the stuff…”

And that filled me with such hope and interest. Because Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t perfect, and it was dated, and because I’ve seen it all before and I’m not the only one. There’s no reason to make more of something that’s already happened, no need to turn a comic into a Wiki page best used to refresh a memory more quickly than watching a forty-minute episode. There has to be a point to this new lease on life. The creatives have to be having fun being adaptive. You have to live in the world that has changed, and translate the impact of the original across time. When the scripter for a project like this is much better known for a different element of the creative process, as Bellaire is, it’s especially reassuring to hear of such an active and layered creative stance being taken.

It’s a reassurance based in reality. Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1 from BOOM! is really pretty wonderful. The writing is brisk and emotionally grounded. Buffy’s new, downsized from LA and lonely; Willow is out, confident and comfortable; Xander’s likewise lost much of his nervous energy but keeps his easy alarm and… jaunty gentleness. Willow and Xander make friends with Buffy almost despite her, and certainly despite Giles. It’s a short but satisfying first issue, introducing some basic, concept-establishing problems (a vampire that won’t die, as opposed to most vampires which will), teasing some bigger ones (someone with the power to grant undeath; someone else who wants it) and the roots of some of their fixes: the main characters.

As character beyond protagonist, Buffy herself works much better for me as a girl with an internal monologue than the rather impregnable live-action heroine. Around the edges of the story, it’s nice to see plenty of female authority set up in counterbalance to Giles’. And no fear—the Buffster verbosity is in full, though not outrageous, effect. The lettering from Ed Dukeshire is both flexible and understated enough to benefit an adaptation from live actors’ delivery and helps the script “sound” right in the head. Differing tones of voices and strength of delivery are nicely flagged, but bubbles and sound effects never dominate a panel. I wonder if it’s intimidating colouring a book Bellaire wrote? Raul Angulo acquits himself nicely, with glowing teals and reds throughout.

BOOM! Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1, Jordie Bellaire, Dan Mora, Raul Angula, Ed DUkeshire, 2019 - Character sketches for Xander, wearing ripped black skinnies and a t-shirt with a plaid overshirt and green jacket styled over it

They’re styled differently, these new versions. Willow and Xander are much more fashion-savvy than their original counterparts (Xander’s clothes all fit him!), which seems a little like a loss for the truly nerdy kids still around out there but works better for a purely visual medium. It also serves to acknowledge the faster fashion and beauty tutorial access of today, which is part and parcel with the heightened worldly awareness that Bellaire and Schaeffer discussed so enticingly. Now is the perfect time to relaunch Buffy, as trends within highstreet and Influencer style are leaning well to the updated ’90s—half the visual adaptation is already done, with complete authenticity, before Mora even sets stylus to tablet. Starting at a confluence point is smart, because no matter how the look of the book develops, or how far from Buffy season 2/3/4 fashion moves, having started in the same place will lend the reboot a permanent sense of rightness. Even if by 2020 Buffy has a black bob and… I’m trying to think of something Buffy wouldn’t wear. I’m failing.

Presumably Mora’s grand luck on this score left him the time and focus to perfect the likenesses of the four most vital cast members (Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Xander), all of whom look terrific. Their scenes are absolutely, “effortlessly” immersive, and I can’t imagine success would have been anywhere near as likely for a Buffy-branded comic without the franchise presumably having secured these actor likeness licenses to bundle with the concept license. Other recurring characters aren’t quite so identifiable, with Joyce Summers appearing unfortunately generic and generically young, Anya appearing for a moment to be an older, wickeder Buffy, and Drusilla (who appears but is not introduced) being unrecognisable if not for the labelled character turnaround on the same linked interview. But the core cast and unidentified vampires’ expressive, fluid faces and body language are so good they actually outweigh these downsides in sum. They’re truly impressive. Rachael Stott has a contender for the Likeness Monarch crown!

Buffy is a little more like the loner-Buffy of Anya/Cordelia’s Wishverse than she is Sarah Michelle ReGellar: no stylish yet affordable knee-high boots so far, no lollipops, no prom queen up-dos. She wears a fast food restaurant uniform, hi-tops and jeans, a plaid shirt over a t-shirt. It’s a more subdued start that keys in faster, I think, to teenage ennui. You can’t have Buffy without her implicit “I wish—,” and having B register as the least put-together in the main triumvirate is a creative way to support that notion. It keeps the originally unbalanced social nature of their friendship intact, but contains enough inversion to say an old thing in a new way. If they’re dressed for who they want to be, Xander wants to be a cool enough guy, Willow wants to be a witch with a girl gang, and Buffy… wants to quit. A day off. A night to sleep through. Isn’t that her purest theme? All of these are recognisable character beats, each one of perfect relatability, and none of them are overplayed. They just tell us the kind of person each one is, and what they dream in secret.

BOOM! Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1, Jordie Bellaire, Dan Mora, Raul Angula, Ed Dukeshire, 2019 - Buffy in a TunaVerse fast food uniform, propping her face up in her hand and looking exhausted

Making Buffy tired of the calling before her story even begins should make the comic depressing (maybe it even would for a really new reader?) but starting right at the beginning, before she even has her friends, before Giles even talks to her without formality, it reminds you of everything good she has to come instead of all the heartbreak we already enjoyed. A teen girl who feels lonely and put-upon is going to grow a family, and learn how to treat it. And have exciting, athletic adventures. And meet glamorous, enchanting people. She’ll learn to love people enough to make sacrifices for them by choice. She’ll save the world… a lot.

Enjoying a good adaptation of something you enjoyed once introduces you to your adapted self. I’ll be buying this book on paper month by month, and remembering why I liked what I liked when I liked it. If it’s new for you, or if it’s old, it’s one thing: a story about the wistful desire to fit in.

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at clairenapierclairenapier@gmail.com and give me lots of money

One thought on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Back and Good

  1. I love how different our takes on the issue is! I thought Xander was very much his TV self, but you’re 100 percent right about Willow being bolder than she was in season one; I should’ve given her more credit for that.

    Also I absolutely would not have picked Drucilla out of a line-up either; and I agree that it feels very timeles vs grounded in the 2010s. Don’t know what I would’ve done to smooth that over though.

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