Writers Tom Fassbender and Jim Pascoe begin the second major run of consistent authorship on Dark Horse’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Classic” in steadier fashion than Andi Watson’s work early in the series. The new writers wonderfully capture the gang’s voices, and after getting their feet wet in the first five issues, they unleash confident, daring storytelling on the four-part “False Memories.”
“Cemetery of Lost Love” (Issue 28, December 2000)
“Cemetery of Lost Love” is a bit rough, but it effectively mimics the flow of a Season 4 episode, with the V-chipped Spike popping in with cigarette ablaze, making snarky comments and loving the fact that he can fight non-humans. Sunnydale is briefly swarmed by vermin, and Buffy battles a woman who aims for eternal life like a less-nice version of the actress in “Eternity” (“Angel” 1.17). The Slayer wins, but gets a wiggins from the whole day, fitting with the “Autumnals” theme running across Dark Horse comics.
“Out of the Woodwork” (Issues 31-34, March-June 2001)
After a detour to Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski’s excellent “Angel” crossover “Past Lives” for Issues 29-30, Fassbender and Pascoe return, but jump to the time period after “Restless” (4.22) for Issues 31-34. The new regular writing team wisely gives themselves more creative wiggle room: Whereas Watson had to cram his work into the overcrowded Season 3, Fassbender and Pascoe stretch out in the fertile ground of the summer after Season 4.
Although the authors put Riley in a coma, obviously not particularly interested in translating the boy scout to comics, they do strong work with the other characters. Giles dates a librarian named Rebecca, who is irked that Giles seems more focused on his former students who like to carry around medieval weapons. (From her POV, this makes sense.) Tara feels like the group hasn’t accepted her yet, but Willow protests otherwise, and ultimately Tara proves herself.
Spike chips in (pun intended), and Xander and Anya are the effective comic relief, although it seems it’s easier to capture the intonations of James Marsters than Emma Caulfield. For example, when Anya says to Xander “Let’s have sex to celebrate,” it’s not out of character, but it feels flat on the page.
Eventually, Buffy defeats the swarm of increasingly giant bugs with a Maguffin artifact and Tara’s magical bug spray. The bugs themselves feel like Maguffins: villains for Buffy to inevitably defeat.
Cliff Richards (pencils) and Joe Pimentel (inks) do their usual work that’s a mix of close-ups that capture likenesses and longer shots that don’t try to. The artistic highlight is the coloring by Dave McCaig on Issues 31-34. He is one of my favorite “Star Wars” Legends colorists, and his lighting and shadow effects are beautiful here. He visually captures the hot summer in Sunnydale with yellows and oranges during the daytime, and Buffy seems to have a sheen of sweat on her; the “heat” then flows into the blues and dark grays of evening scenes by extension.
“False Memories” (Issues 35-38, July-October 2001)
Perhaps to get away from Riley, Fassbender and Pascoe jump ahead to the period between “Into the Woods” (5.10) and “The Body” (5.16) for their next arc. This allows them the benefit of stable Willow-Tara and Xander-Anya relationships, the home base of the Magic Box and the awkward alliance between Buffy and Spike (who is crushing on the Slayer and generally hates himself for it). In other ways, this is a tumultuous time, but the authors aren’t scared of this fact. Rather, they dig deeper into the Season 5 narrative: Buffy and Giles know Dawn is a magic creation at this point, but the others (including the journal-writing Dawn herself) don’t.
A comic book is perfectly suited for re-imagining past scenes, and this four-parter features flashbacks to major events as they happened in the gang’s false memories. Buffy has these implanted memories like everyone else, but she’s armed with the knowledge that Dawn is a magical creation and she vaguely recalls how things really happened. For example, we see Dawn pull Buffy out of the water in “Prophecy Girl” (1.12). “Xander was the one who saved me,” Buffy says in a not-entirely-confident voice.
The writers don’t present a clear reason why Buffy should possess both sets of memories, but the notion does jibe with “Normal Again” (6.17), a future episode where Buffy’s brain-scrambled state is triggered by stress. The flashbacks to the false memories from Seasons 1 and 2 — Dawn is also caught amid the “Innocence” (2.14) showdown with Angelus – allow us to understand how the gang sees Dawn while we also feel a kinship with Buffy, who (like us, as lovers of those classic episodes) is fighting these memories.
A big reason why “False Memories” – again illustrated by Richards, Pimentel and McCaig — is so much better than “Out of the Woodwork” is the villains. The gang’s research reveals that there is a Slayer missing from the Council’s official timeline, and the story effectively plays the notes of this mystery, with even Giles hiding something. It leads up to the surprise (which I should’ve seen coming) that the ancient Japanese vampire hunting Buffy was once a Slayer, the one the Council pretends doesn’t exist. (It’s kind of surprising that the TV series never introduced a Slayer vampire, so it’s nice to see the comics check this box.)
Yuki aims to resurrect the Master, using Xander as a vessel, and also let the Master kill Spike for offing the Anointed One. Those are all nice tie-ins to the past, and after Dawn contributes in the final battle – leading Buffy to be both proud of and mad at her – the yarn draws to a tidy close.
Rather than being a jarring jump forward to Season 5, “False Memories” is a smooth transitional piece that has Buffy moving on from the departure of her boyfriend and bonding with Dawn – things the reader is asked to do as well. Since most of us already happily bid adieu to Riley and had grown to like Dawn (Season 5 had wrapped on TV by this point), there’s a bit of fan service going on, but this is still a muscular piece of storytelling that plays like a missing TV episode.