Bringing successful television franchises into the comics medium is always a difficult path to navigate. By definition major character development is near impossible and every story borders on the realms of the apocryphal. And, of course, what works on screen – those crucial elements that may be pivotal to a show’s success – may not necessarily translate to another form.
Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer has managed to circumvent some of those obstacles in very different ways in both its comics’ incarnations. With its long Dark Horse run continuing a saga that had reached a natural conclusion in its original format it had the freedom to take the characters’ in new and dramatic directions. With the license now at BOOM! Studios a reboot was, of course, always far more likely than a relaunch. And Jordie Bellaire and Dan Mora’s re-imagining resets the characters’ world from the very start.
This is a Buffy at once familiar but notably different. The same narrative infrastructure remains largely in place; Buffy is the new girl at Sunnydale High, making friends with Scooby Gang pals Willow and Xander while learning about her role and duties as Slayer from Giles, and sorting out the local vampire population on the side. Some things are subtly different, however, with later developments from the TV show already in place here and nuanced differences in characters’ personalities. (Whedon himself is credited as having given “guidance” on this new run.) The most noticeable difference for many will be that the story is set in a contemporary world rather than its original 1990s timeframe.
This initial trade paperback collects the first four issues of the new series – it’s not a story arc and it ends on a rather gripping cliffhanger – bringing Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander into the paths of some old, familiar villainous faces and hinting at new Big Bads. It’s a similar portrayal of balancing the perils of supernatural antagonists and problems in school/home life that made the original such a refreshing juxtaposition of domesticity and melodramatic horror, as the Hellmouth welcomes a potentially entirely new audience to its environs.
Therein lies the conundrum at the heart of this re-imagining. Who is it actually targetted at? For the long-term fans it’s obviously a retreading of old ground, shorn of the mythos and history they’ve invested in. But for newer readers it’s still steeped in that daunting Buffy iconography. Where it does undeniably succeed, though, is in bringing an element of jeopardy back to Buffy’s world and a sense that in this restructured reality anything can and will happen to the characters.
Dan Mora’s visuals ably capture the essences of the cast of characters without slavish and stifling devotion to photorealism, with action sequences and an expressive line in visual characterisation being particularly memorable. Raul Angulo’s colouring, meanwhile, shifts perfectly in tones to match the emotion/theme of each scene. And while Jordie Bellaire’s dialogue never quite has the pop and fizz of the TV series (a difficult chemistry to recapture here admittedly) her story moves along at an engaging pace with an emphasis on allowing us into the characters’ mindsets that suits the form here far more.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, of course, a show with horror elements that was really concerned with friendship, finding our places in the world and coming of age. Reboot or not, these first four issues have not lost sight of that essential quality. It will be interesting indeed to see just what new territory this creative team take these old favourites as their run progresses.
Jordie Bellaire (W), Dan Mora (A), Raul Angulo (C), Ed Dukeshire (L), Matthew Taylor (CA) • BOOM! Studios, $19.99
Review by Andy Oliver