Familiar faces in somewhat-unfamiliar places mean that there are spoilers ahead for…
“How many times must I remind old dudes that I’m 16?”
This was one of the heavier weeks at the comic shop, meaning that I had a lot of books to choose from for the Spotlight which can, sometimes, be a bit of a problem, what with the paralysis of choice and all that, particularly with the sometimes opaque – even to me – selection process I use which doesn’t have any sort of set rules, but does have some guiding principles.
For example, Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt #2 was, in many ways, more interesting than #1 – with some particularly cheeky digs at Watchmen – but I’m disinclined to do two issues in a row for any given series. There were some big developments in Heroes in Crisis #6, but I don’t want to overload this feature with books by Tom King. And it felt a little too early to write up another Conan comic.
So, while I had some misgivings, based on a lot of different factors, I ultimately decided to take a look at the new Buffy series, in large part because of one character and the changes introduced in this reboot.
That’s what this is, by the way: a reboot. For something like twenty years, Dark Horse Comics held the rights to Buffy – though for a time they didn’t have the rights to Angel – but the rights recently moved to BOOM! Studios.
With that move came the opportunity for a fresh start. While the Dark Horse series was a canonical continuation of the TV series, this new series goes back to – more or less – the beginning, and brings the Chosen One and her friends and foes into the modern era, taking the old and making it new.
I say “more or less” when it comes to going back the beginning, as this starts with a Buffy who is a bit older (by a matter of months) than young Miss Summers was at the start of her series, and, of course, the TV show itself didn’t really start at the beginning.
In any case, Buffy is a new arrival in Sunnydale, and is also the newly-selected Chosen One of her generation, with the strength to defend humanity against the forces of darkness.
As it happened before, she befriends two locals, a girl named Willow and a boy named Xander, and her Watcher, the member of a group tasked with providing guidance to the Slayer, works in the high school as a librarian.
But this new series deviates a bit from that basic setup right from the start. Here, we find a Willow who – because it’s 2019 – is already out and proud and has a girlfriend, and find Buffy toiling away in part-time job at a fast food restaurant.
In the first issue, Buffy had an encounter with a vampire who refused to let a little thing like a stake through the heart turn him to dust. The vamp escaped, kicking off a mystery for both the Slayer and the reader. The vamp was wearing some kind of mystical artifact that provides full immortality and protection from harm, which he picked up from a local magic shop run by Anya, whose exact nature and role is unclear to us. (After the vamp returns to the shop to confirm to Anya that the artifact worked as advertised, Anya puts the artifact back into storage and tricks him into drinking holy water.)
The mystery for Buffy, of course, is where the artifact came from and how it works. She’s not the only one interested, of course; the last issue ended with Anya getting an unwelcome visitor in the form of a much-more-lucid-than-is-traditional Drusilla.
This issue opens with Buffy having one of her prophetic dreams in which she has failed her newfound friends and her Watcher.
After she wakes from her dream we learn that her mother’s boyfriend has recently moved in with them, and that he and Buffy don’t have the best relationship.
At school, she meets up with Giles who is attempting to find out what he can – which isn’t much – about the stake-proofing magic and lectures Buffy, yet again, on what her role is and what his role is in relation to her – she basically wants him to make her decisions for her – and we encounter another familiar face: Cordelia Chase.
Cordelia, from what we see in this issue, seems to be one of the more interesting departures from her original depiction. There is some amount of passive-aggressive snarkiness to her, but she doesn’t seem to be the full-on “Mean Girl” of old. Her niceness seems genuine and sincere – or at least sincerely-attempted – with her filling the role of foil not by being the condescending and self-centered jerk, but by being too annoyingly perfect.
It may just be a facade, and I would hope there’s something deeper going on, but it was interesting to see her not being as overtly jerky as she was in the early days of the show. She’s a bit more like the Cordelia that TV Cordelia eventually became. I suspect it’s not – entirely – a facade, simply because we do encounter her on her own and she behaves in the same manner even without anyone around to watch.
I mean, could you imagine early Cordelia actually caring about a balloon getting away from her and chasing after it so that it doesn’t hurt a baby bird? This one does, and it leads her to an encounter with another familiar face.
Throughout this, Drusilla is busy trying to pry information about the artifact from Anya, and is indiscriminately smashing some of the merchandise in Anya’s shop to try to force her to talk.
This doesn’t work out so well.
Checking in on Buffy, she meets a cute boy during P.E. We’ll see where that goes.
The other narrative element threaded throughout the book is the quiet Incel pain of Xander Harris, who harbors a resentment that is not outwardly-linked to horniness towards Buffy and Willow because they each have their own “thing” and each has someone they can trust and rely on, while he’s got nothing.
Pulling the teen versions of the characters into the present day presents a lot of storytelling opportunities, and one of the biggest opportunities is taking a better approach to Xander, one that more honestly examines some of the toxicity of the character – now is an especially strong cultural moment in which to do so – and provide real growth.
I certainly hope that’s what’s going to happen, otherwise putting a focus on him this early in the run would seem like a missed opportunity and a waste of panels.
Overall, I think this reboot is off to a promising start, providing a good mix of new and old that makes it familiar and comfortable enough that even the most minor changes seem novel and exciting and make you wonder where they’re going to lead. (I mean, Joyce having a live-in boyfriend can’t lead anywhere good, right? This is Buffy, after all…)
Also while we’ve met a lot of familiar faces, there is one sometimes-bumpy face that is so far absent, and while it’s only the second issue, it does lead me to wonder if Angel is lurking in the shadows anywhere.
Granted, there was the opportunity to shake things up even more, and one could argue that this approach is too safe, but I think it works, and I’m hopeful that the story will take advantage of the cultural milieu in the same way that the TV series did, with the issues facing modern teens writ large as shadowy, supernatural forces.
Writer Jordie Bellaire is mostly known – to me, at least – for her award-winning work as a colorist, so I’m interested to see how she develops as a writer. So far she’s doing just fine.
She’s also known for starting the “Comics are for everybody” initiative, which is, of course, an idea that I can get behind, given that it’s only the whole point of this site…
I really like the work by Dan Mora here, managing to find a balance in which the characters are recognizable but are not too obviously reliant on photo references. They look like who they are without perfectly capturing the exact appearances of the actors who portrayed them.
If you’re completely burned out on Buffy, well, this probably won’t change that, but if you still harbor some affection and want to try a fresh start, this is the book for you.