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Buffy - John C. Kirk

Nov. 6th, 2007

01:40 am - Buffy

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I enjoyed watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV, but I've been a bit more disappointed by the spin-offs I've come across in other media. I'm trying to be careful about spoilers here, so that you can read this if you're only part-way through the episodes, but the trade-off is that you may need to look up a few episodes to get the right context.

On the prose front, I've read the first two "Tales of the Slayer" anthologies. The idea is that each short story involves one of the slayers, so in the first volume they are all about Buffy's predecessors. I'd say that this book had decent writing but poor editing; each of the writers seemed to have the same idea, namely "What can I do with this slayer that I couldn't do with Buffy? Kill her off!" The second volume was a bit better, and the best story was a Buffy one by Jane Espenson where a few of the key cast time travel from season 6 to season 3 (inhabiting their past selves). I also have a set of philosophy essays, which I mentioned in Jan 2006, but I haven't made much more progress with it since then.

As for comics, I started out with the graphic novel "Ring of Fire", written by Doug Petrie (who was involved in the TV series). This was alright; it's set during the second half of season 2, and it's nice to see some of the characters who weren't around in later seasons. The characterisation is spot on, although some of the likenesses are a bit iffy; I'm not sure whether that's due to legal issues, e.g. whether they need Sarah Michelle Gellar's permission to draw someone who looks just like her. The main problem is that it all seems inconsequential. This type of story is always tricky, because it can't make any changes to the status quo; in this case, it basically falls into "monster of the week" territory, without really saying anything more. Novels often have similar problems, but at least they have enough space to tell a decent length story in their own right, whereas this one is quite short. I'd say it's worth reading, but not worth paying £8.99 for.

Next I tried the TPB "Note from the Underground", collecting issues 47-50 of the ongoing series. This was written by Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza; I've enjoyed several of Nicieza's previous comics (particularly New Warriors), so I was hopeful about this, but I think that Lobdell turned out to be the weak link in the chain. This is set after season 6 of Buffy, but apparently it's also during season 3 of Angel, so I'm not quite sure about those timings. I think that #47 was published in August 2002, and it's a bit tricky to reconcile it with the Angel episode Salvage which was first screened in March 2003. Without giving too much away, you really need to have seen the original TV movie as well as the ongoing series, otherwise you won't really understand the significance of everything that happens in this story. Overall, I'd say that it's a bit of a mess: some scenes have really clunky exposition (to tell you things that you'll already know if you watched the TV episodes), while other scenes feel rushed, particularly when they undercut earlier episodes without a decent reason. Actually, I think the best part of this paperback was the (prose) short story in the back, written by Nicieza. I definitely don't think that this book is worth the £8.99 cover price, and I wouldn't really recommend reading it unless you're bored (or researching an LJ post).

I then picked up an individual comic: "Reunion". This was written by Jane Espenson, and she mentioned it in one of the DVD commentaries, so I thought it sounded good. It's basically set in between episodes 4 and 5 of Buffy season 6 and Angel season 3. This was when the two programs were being broadcast on different networks, so Angel and Buffy couldn't meet up onscreen. I think the main problem with this issue is "truth in advertising" (or the lack thereof). I bought this comic assuming that it would actually show what happened during their reunion, but it didn't; instead, it had various other characters speculating on what happened there. I was quite disappointed when I first read it, but when I re-read it just now I enjoyed it, so I'd recommend it as long as you know what you're getting. (Cover price on my copy was £2.65.) I'd like to read the "Jonathan" one-off (also written by Jane Espenson), because it sounds quite fun; this is apparently similar to the episode Superstar.

After that, you'd think I'd give up on the Buffy comics, but I'm an optimist; I keep trying again, just in case this time it will work out better. My next TPB was "Willow & Tara", co-written by Amber Benson (the actress who played Tara) and Christopher Golden (who's written several other novels/comics, not to be confused with Christie Golden). This paperback collects a one-off comic ("Wanna blessed be") and a two issue mini-series ("Wilderness"); the first story takes place during season 5, and the second takes place during season 6. I'd say that both are ok; they don't really say anything new, but they're a pleasant enough way to spend some time, and it's nice to see Tara again. Mind you, some of the Latin seemed a bit iffy to me. Again, it's probably not worth spending £8.99 on, but I think that Amber Benson shows promise as a writer, so I'll keep an eye out for more stories from her. (As a side note, I also think that she has a great singing voice, based on the Buffy musical episode.)

The next TPB I bought was "Fray". This is a slightly odd case, since it doesn't feature any of the familiar characters; instead, it's set 200 years in the future, with a new Slayer. It's also written by Joss Whedon, which is a pretty good endorsement. Mind you, like many TV writers who've come to comics, he seems to have trouble with the concept of monthly deadlines. In this case, issue 1 was published on 6th June 2001, while issue 8 didn't come out until 6th August 2003; there was a year's gap between issues 6 and 7. Fortunately, this didn't affect me directly because I waited for the TPB. Anyway, it's very good, so I strongly recommend it; my copy cost £14.99, and I'd say that it was well worth the money. It's basically got everything you'd expect from a Joss Whedon story: jokes, plot, adventure, and things that make you care about the characters. It's also a story which benefits from being read a second time, so that you can pick up on all the things you missed first time round.

I then bought the graphic novel "Spike: Old Times"; this was written by Peter David, who is one of my favourite writers. I don't have the GN here (it's out on loan at the moment), but I do remember that I enjoyed it, so I recommend reading it and it was probably worth the £4.99 cover price.

After that, I bought "Angel: The Curse". This is set after the end of season 5 of Angel, so I was interested to know what happened next, but it doesn't really reveal anything specific (or at least nothing more than you can deduce from the existence of the comic). The basic premise of this story is that Angel heads off to Romania to get the "happiness" escape clause taken out of his curse. The thing is, there are only two options here; if he fails then the status quo remains intact, and if he succeeds then all we need is a one line recap in later stories. For that matter, changing the curse wouldn't preclude the re-appearance of Angelus later on, e.g. if there's a soul-sucking demon lurking around, and if he fails then he can always go and ask Willow for help (which would have been my first choice). So, this is a case where the journey is much more important than the destination, and I think that's where this story fails; it's pretty much an extended fight scene, with gypsy politics thrown in, so I found it rather dull.

I also think that the paperback suffers from poor production values. For instance, there's a footnote in each of the issues that says "* All dialogue translated from the Romanian - Ed." That's fine if you're picking them up individually, but it's a bit silly to repeat it five times in the same paperback, at seemingly random points in the story. Similarly, there's a caption at the bottom of page 92 which says "To be continued", and then the story continues on page 93, i.e. the facing page. This is somewhat redundant, so I assume that it coincided with the end of issue 4. I'll forgive things like this when old comics from the 1960s are being reprinted, but nowadays any decent publisher should anticipate reprints when they prepare the original issues. For that matter, I assume that they're doing their lettering on computer (using a program like Adobe Illustrator), so it should be pretty trivial to just remove the unnecessary boxes from those pages, revealing the picture from the layer below. I recognise that I'm being a bit picky here, but I like to see people making an effort. All in all, I'd say that it's not worth paying £12.99 for this book, and I'm reluctant to recommend reading it at all.

Next, I picked up "Spike vs. Dracula". I bought the first issue of the mini-series, and was sufficiently impressed that I later bought the TPB which collected all five issues. This was written by Peter David (like the previous Spike comic); the thing that first made me notice him was his dialogue, since I could read one of his Star Trek novels and hear the actors saying those lines in my mind, and he does an equally good job here. The story spans centuries, with each individual issue being a self-contained story in a different time period, so it avoids "decompression sickness" (when a story gets padded out to fit a paperback) while still having an overall arc. I recommend (re-)watching the Angel episode Why We Fight after chapter 3, and the Buffy episode Buffy vs. Dracula before reading chapter 5. So, definitely worth reading, and I was happy to pay £12.99 for this.

Finally, that brings me to the new Buffy TPB: "The Long Way Home", the first installment of season 8 (sort of). The basic idea is that these Buffy comics are "canon", i.e. they are picking up where the series left off, and they can continue the ongoing story however they like. In this case, the paperback reprints issues 1-5, which were all written by Joss Whedon, so that's a pretty good endorsement; I gather that other TV writers will be coming in later on. As I mentioned above, this makes me a bit cautious about the monthly schedule, but I figure that if I can pick it up in relatively self-contained chunks (paperbacks) then it shouldn't be a problem.

Actually, I'd say that this is more like season 9 than season 8, since it begins a year after season 7 finished. This means that it takes place after the end of Angel season 5, so there are no worries about synchronising events there. It also means that there's been time for things to change, and they're making the most of it. According to the back cover, this story "plunges Buffy and the gang into their biggest adventure - without the limitations of a small-screen budget." I've heard that claim before, but this is one of the few times when I really think that the creators have taken full advantage of the comic medium. All in all, this paperback is very good, so it was well worth the £10.50, and I'll be picking up the next volume as soon as it's available.