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Joss Whedon. A slayer. A scythe. A watcher. Witty dialogue. Some vampires. A prophecy.


Sounds familiar, huh?


How about we throw flying cars, mutants, and a whole bunch of the future into the mix? Suddenly, things seem a bit different. This is the world that Melaka Fray, our eponymous slayer, lives in. As similar as the basics of her life are to Buffy’s, the fact that her story is set hundreds of years in the future isn’t what makes Fray original; Mel is very much her own person, and this is very much her own story.


And damn it’s good.


Fray begins somewhat similarly to the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie—mysterious guy tells girl she’s the Slayer, girl doesn’t believe it, girl has experiences to make her believe it, girl and mysterious guy train as the major conflict brews—but in execution it’s startlingly different. Melaka Fray is at once more of a hardass and more of a softie than Buffy Summers. She is an unrepentant thief. She’s been “grabbing” since she was a young girl, and now she works for a mutant named Gunther who has more in common with aquatic life than humans. He lives in a tank, it’s a thing. He is connected to everyone in the city, and he doesn’t judge anyone harshly, which means he’ll work with pretty much anyone. Unfortunately, this leads to Mel—unbeknownst to her—grabbing magical artifacts for a gang of vampires that doesn’t have the best interest of the world at heart.


The world of Fray, like that of any Joss Whedon work, is populated by fascinating supporting characters. There’s Gunther, the aforementioned mutant crime boss. There’s Loo, a five-year-old “rocketmouth” girl who is missing one arm and has one dead eye; of course, she is endlessly adorable and functions as the heart of the story. Then, there is Erin; Mel’s older sister is working with the “laws” and she has just been promoted to sergeant, which in Mel’s eyes has elevated her to an “upper,” a term that refers to the upper class. This causes tension between the sisters, though most of their issues stem from the death of their brother, Harth. Erin believes it was Mel’s fault, but we’ll get to that later.


Urkonn is Mel’s “Watcher” of sorts, though he would protest to the label. The Watchers Council, in Mel’s time, is full of lunatics. Urkonn, a horned demon who trains Mel, explains that the world was once full of magic and demons, but a slayer—heavy implications that it’s a certain girl who wears stylish yet affordable boots—fought a battle that banished all magic from this Earthly dimension. The Watchers went crazy, obsessively waiting for the demons to come back, which they did, in the form of vampires. Urkonn, however, is surprised to discover that the mass public doesn’t see vampires as the monsters they truly are. They believe them to be mutants hopped up on steroids; they refer to them as “lurks.” Urkonn explains to Mel that she’s the Slayer and that it is her destiny to fight and kill lurks, but Mel doesn’t believe him. When he asks her how she explains her strength, she shrugs it off, saying, “What. I’m good at stuff” (Fray #2). He counters, asking her about her inherited slayer dreams. Urkonn says, “In your dreams, you’re someone else. A slave. A princess. A girl in a sunlit school. In every dream you have great power. In every dream you fight them. The ones you call lurks,” ( Fray #2) to which Mel replies, “That’s amazing. I have no idea what you’re talking about” (Fray #2). She is the first slayer who hasn’t received the dreams, and that’s because they’re going to someone else.


Harth


“But wait,” you say. Trust me, I heard you. “But wait. Harth is Mel’s dead brother, right?” Right. And death in the Buffyverse is totally the end, yeah? No. Harth was killed by a vampire when Mel took him out on a “grab,” despite Erin’s protests. The vampire, Icarus, was a leader, one of the most badass vamps in all of Haddyn. However, when he sank his fangs into Harth’s neck, he set events into motion that would change the lives of all of the characters in Fray.


As Harth felt himself dying, he knew with sudden clarity that he needed to bite Icarus. And he did so, ingesting a chunk of undead flesh, becoming a vampire. A very special vampire, though…


Dear reader:


Joss Whedon’s importance in contemporary pop culture can hardly be overstated, but there has never been a book providing a comprehensive survey and analysis of his career as a whole—until now. Published to coincide with Whedon’s blockbuster movie The Avengers, Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters (May 2012) covers every aspect of his work, through insightful essays and in-depth interviews with key figures in the ‘Whedonverse’. This article, along with previously unpublished material, can be read in its entirety in this book.


Place your order for Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters, published with Titan Books, here.


Spotlight: Joss Whedon
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