My reviews looking back at “Buffy” Season 8 continue as we enter the second half of the 40-issue season with several standalones (to borrow TV show parlance), which nonetheless move the narrative forward, and one epic five-parter. SPOILER WARNING: If you are reading these issues for the first time, I will analyze the character of Twilight based on my knowledge of Twilight’s true identity, which isn’t revealed until later in the season.
A few years after “Buffy” went off the air, fans got the exciting news that the story would continue in comics, with Joss Whedon overseeing the project. Dark Horse even labels Whedon the “executive producer,” to provide a sense that this is another season of “Buffy,” in a different medium. Most comics prior to this became non-canon (with some exceptions, such as “Fray”), but while all Dark Horse comics from this point forward are canon (the situation with IDW’s “Angel” and “Spike” is more confusing), are they any good? Let’s begin our revisiting of the post-TV era of “Buffy,” which would eventually expand all the way to Season 12:
Often when a comic book series ends, that final issue will sit in its slot on the racks for a long time afterward, since there is no next issue to replace it. My enduring memory of “Tales of the Vampires” (December 2003-April 2004) is seeing Issue 5 on the rack for a year or so. It was the last issue of Dark Horse’s original “Buffy” run, leaving a three-year gap before Season 8 began in 2007. (It wasn’t a total dark age: There were “Buffy” novels throughout this time, and IDW’s “Angel” comics started in 2005.)
The most heavily marketed “Buffy” video game, “Chaos Bleeds,” got both comic book (June 2003) and novel (August 2003) adaptations. Usually video game tie-ins are red flags for readers, because there’s a danger they will be the literary equivalent of watching someone play the game. On the other hand, authors are often aware of this danger, and they have been known to dodge it. In “Star Wars” Legends, for instance, “Republic Commando” and “X-Wing” are among the elite book series.
A lot of comic series whimper to their conclusion, but “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Classic” is not one of them. It saves the best for last, ironically by going back to the start of the timeline and filling in the events between “The Origin” and “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (Season 1, episode 1) in its final three arcs. Here’s a look at the last two, which — like “Viva Las Buffy!” (Issues 51-54) — are rare spin-off yarns that qualify as essential reads if you want a full picture of Buffy’s hero’s journey.
“X-Men” veteran Scott Lobdell and “Deadpool” co-creator Fabian Nicieza become the third and final regular helmer(s) on “Buffy Classic,” following Andi Watson, who did uneven work while being handcuffed by continuity, and Tom Fassbender and Jim Pascoe, who found ways to tell creative stories on the comic pages. Out of the gates, Lobdell and Nicieza (who had previously written “The Death of Buffy: Lost and Found”) impressively raise Fassbender/Pascoe’s already high bar.
Tom Fassbender and Jim Pascoe wrap up their run on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Classic” with eight more issues that demonstrate their excellent knowledge of the TV show’s narrative and character arcs. They provide an emotional grace note to “The Body” (and Fabian Nicieza’s “Lost and Found” does the same for Buffy’s death) and give us the lead-up story to the resurrection of Buffy at the start of Season 6 — the most important “Buffy” spinoff fiction to date.
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.”
The “Angel” monthly writing team of Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski deliciously digs into Buffyverse lore and smoothly ties together the two titles with the comics’ first major crossover story. “Past Lives” (January-February 2001) goes from “Angel” Issue 15 to “Buffy” Issue 29 to “Angel” Issue 16 to “Buffy” Issue 30. Prolific “Angel” artist Christian Zanier contributes some great monsters and launches the character of Alexa Landry, a rogue Watchers Council operative who wants revenge on Angel. Her sexy skintight outfit is cleverly designed with a cross cut into the front.
For the Season 4 episode “Superstar,” Dark Horse created a “Jonathan” comic book as a prop, and inevitably, it later became a real comic – and a worthwhile one. The episode’s writer, Jane Espenson, doesn’t just beat into the ground the “Superstar” joke of an alternate reality where everyone loves the geeky kid.