For 21 years, from 1998’s short story “Maguffins” through 2018’s Joss Whedon-penned “The Reckoning,” Buffyverse stories unspooled in comic books – with Buffy always having a home at Dark Horse and Angel and Spike making a brief foray over to IDW in the middle years. For most of this time, four-color “Buffy” and “Angel” stories were fans’ lone source of further adventures.
From 1997’s “Halloween Rain” through 2008’s “One Thing or Your Mother” — and with the bonus of Kiersten White’s “Slayer” duology in recent years — the Buffyverse tie-in novels gave us a way to escape into the world of Slayers and vampires between WB New Tuesdays and after the shows went off the air. But with nearly 100 original “Buffy” and “Angel” novels out there (more if you count novelizations of episodes), it can be intimidating to figure out where to start.
In the penultimate “Buffy” book from the original run, Christopher Golden takes a noble stab at linking the books up with Joss Whedon’s comics (which started in March 2007) in “Dark Congress” (August 2007). That part doesn’t quite work, but it’s a strong story in its own right, and most notably, Golden allows a goodbye between Willow and Tara that was stolen from them by Warren’s stray bullet in Season 6.
With the tragic death of Luke Perry (1966-2019) from a stroke this past week, there’s been an influx of “Buffy” fans announcing that they loved him as Pike in the 1992 “Buffy” movie and they are rewatching the film in his honor. Some are even going so far to say they like the movie, giving it a bizarre short-term boost in cult popularity.
With “Buffy” and “Angel” on different networks, massive crossovers weren’t in the works on TV, but “Monster Island” (March 2003), by Christopher Golden and Thomas E. Sniegoski, rectifies that. Not surprisingly, the mixing of the two character groups leads to continuity errors (more on that later). Most of the novel, set in the early part of “Buffy” Season 6 and “Angel” Season 3, is good reading, although it has the usual problem in the “epic” novels of ending with a long, overblown battle.
It’s like an all-star writing contest when Yvonne Navarro, Mel Odom, Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder get together to write four novellas for “Tales of the Slayer, Vol. 3” (November 2003). At this point in my reread, they are four of the five best Buffyverse writers (with Jeff Mariotte filling the other spot). Here are my rankings of their contributions in this third “Tales” volume:
It’d be cool to read an “Angel” book of 12 short stories that each take place in one hour on the longest night of the year. “The Longest Night” (December 2002), unfortunately, isn’t that book. It claims to be that book on the back cover blurb, but the editors never told the writers. So the gang can be beat up or covered in demon goo the end of one hour and healthy and clean at the start of the next, for example.
Christopher Golden pens another of his excellent “Buffy” epics with “The Wisdom of War” (July 2002). While it feels a little too big for its britches as I try to reconcile this story fitting into the TV show’s narrative flow – for example, Xander nearly gets turned into a fish monster in a more serious reprise of “Go Fish” (2.20) and Buffy suffers a life-threatening injury in the final battle – it earns serious points because Golden nails Faith’s characterization in his first crack at writing the rogue Slayer.
Following the “Spotlight” series, IDW’s “Angel” comics line unveiled more stories focused on individual characters in the loosely Halloween-themed “Masks” (October 2006). The double-length one-shot includes stories about Puppet Angel, Illyria, Cordelia and Lindsey McDonald, all themed around the figurative masks people wear.
Perhaps you’re a fan of the “Buffy” TV series or the TV-series-plus-the-current-comics who is thinking of tip-toeing into the canonically muddy waters of the old Dark Horse comics, from 1998-2004. There is a ton of good stuff (and some not-so-good stuff) to weed through, but maybe you want to cut to the chase. Which stories tie in most closely with the TV series? Which ones enhance the narrative? In short: Which ones are essential?