[1 April 2014]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
How did Buffy The Vampire Slayer become the standard bearer of popculture cool? If you’ve read any of PopMatters’essays on series creator Joss Whedon or gone all in and read the book, Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, then you have an idea of the reasons. There isn’t just one.
Cultural identity, sexuality, female empowerment, good versus evil, corruption of power, high school, these are just some of the more academic topics that we critics have used to frame discussions of the Chosen One and her friends. And while we often go for a deep dive into the impact and meaning of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, we always come back to a solid point that resonates with the core audience: it’s cool.
Over a decade after the TV show aired its final episode, the universe of Buffy continues on in comic book form. It’s a nod to perpetual fiction. It’s a phenomenon of media branding. It’s a medium to fulfill fans’ lust for more without the overhead of filming and staging. And the Buffy comics that have been published since 2004 that continue the series, Seasons 8, 9 and now 10, have shown that even at their least creative, fans will still clamor for stories about The Slayer and the Scoobies.
I confess that I am one of those fans. No matter the quality I devour Buffy The Vampire Slayer comics. My unbridled fandom makes it very hard to be critical of them. Yet I can say without hesitation that like many others I found parts of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 to be trying. It was too grand in scope and lacked the connection to something deeper. Season 9 rectified some of those issues, and showed a renewed sense of bravado, but even that volume seemed off at times, especially when certain storyline resolutions crashed under the weight of their own build ups. The comics pushed the envelope just as the TV show did, but the lack of limitations that TV productions have seemed to stymie the creators involved. Too many opportunities for subtext and cultural commentary were left hanging or not developed enough, especially when a world without magic was the setting for an entire volume.
We like our Buffy to take us to hell and then back again, to resonate with common experiences of youth and life. The trials and tribulations of adolescence and beyond we all face, but with monsters, demons and apocalypses. And while barista jobs, making rent and dealing with roommates and ex-boyfriends certainly fit within the larger subtext of growing up in a world that is at times aggressively indifferent, the larger questions were merely stated without the satisfying follow-up that has been a hallmark of the Buffy universe.
Season 10, like any new volume to a long running book, offers the chance to expand on the successes of the previous volume and realign the characters with a stronger creative vision.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10 #1 sets a new status quo and then rather succinctly adds to it. Writer Christos Gage, who previously wrote Angel & Faith Season 10, establishes plot elements with aplomb, digging into some of the core aspects of Buffy and her gang of do-gooders, particularly the relationships between characters. It’s a comic from a writerly standpoint that enables many storyline directions for future issues, each offering an examination of the human condition just as the TV show did. But this isn’t about falling in line with the TV show, it’s about capturing the same spirit and adding to the legacy, and Gage does that without spiraling into too much exposition or distancing the more recent story points of Buffy comics.
Artist Rebekah Isaacs takes Gage’s cue and runs with a controlled fury of panel construction. She uses character movement, body language and fashion as visual weapons, creating energetic and lively pages that want to burst from their paper confinement. Buffy, who seemed in a fashion rut the previous seasons, is back to having her “stylish yet affordable boots.”
It’s an engaging issue in both aspects of the comic form, with a scope that is both large and scaled to the immediate. Its progression from direct contact point to larger issues and ramifications makes this particular comic issue an excellent opening to a new volume to any comic. Its tone that connects to larger aspects of adult life, like dealing with touchy romantic fallout, makes it an excellent Buffy The Vampire Slayer comic. Why can’t we quit Buffy comics? It’s because they are still just too cool.