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?
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 “Tales of the Slayers” comics – a trade paperback in November 2001 and the “Broken Bottle of Djinn” one-shot in October 2002 – are primarily written by “Buffy” and “Angel” TV writers, which creates a high expectation level. These nine stories are fun, easy reads, but not as deep or substantial as one might hope for.
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.
Did you know that Buffy worked through her problems in a dream state at the end of Season 3, just like she did in the Season 4 finale “Restless?” And that the story was written by Jane Espenson? Such is the pleasure of the early “Buffy” comics – in the few cases where they tapped directly into the show’s timeline, they often hit it out of the park.
The 41 regular issues of the Topps “X-Files” comics featured many Monster of the Month standalones, plus a handful of issues that felt like mythology episodes (mostly during the Stefan Petrucha run) and one Scully character piece (“N.D.E.”). One notably missing style of “X-Files” story is the comedic piece. But the special issues – two annuals, three digests, one graphic novel and three weirdly numbered issues (Issue -1, Issue -2 and Issue ½), plus Dark Horse’s “Lone Gunmen” one-shot – rectify this oversight, as several of these stories are whimsical in tone.
“Gilmore Girls” Season 4 (2003-04, The WB) was the best of seasons and the worst of seasons. Although the first half is wonderful, it ultimately ranks as the most flawed season up to this point, but not for the reason one might assume.
Interviews with “Firefly” staffers often include the question of “What story ideas were never produced?” As such, we know they were kicking around episodes about Kaylee having to go undercover as a Companion, and the Alliance accidentally producing a herd of mutant zombie cattle (yes, for real), but we’ll probably never see those stories.
Even in comparison to “Buffy” and “Angel” — which had already built up complex mythologies by the fall of 2002 — “Firefly” arrived as Joss Whedon’s most completely detailed and believable fictional universe. He imagined a 26th century where corporations and government are one and the same, American-looking people swear in Chinese (and have Asian-sounding last names, in the case of the Tam siblings, or dress in Asian fashions, as with Inara), and where prostitution is legal and respected — so long as the government can regulate it, of course.
For the first time in a decade, two “Buffy” series are simultaneously building toward a seasonal conclusion. Back in 2003, TV’s “Buffy” and “Angel” were in the midst of Seasons 7 and 4, respectively. Now, Dark Horse Comics’ “Angel & Faith” and “Buffy” are working toward their Season 9 conclusions — the final installments of those 25-issue series are slated for August and September, respectively.