Drawing a better overall crop of writers, “Tales of the Slayer, Vol. 2” (January 2003) makes a huge jump in quality from the first volume. The authors have a blast playing with our expectations of how Slayers, Watchers and vampires should behave while using familiar Buffyverse beats to teach us about societies throughout human history. Here are my rankings of the 10 stories:
In addition to the 40 main issues and three one-shots, “Buffy” Season 8 also features five “MySpace/Dark Horse Presents” e-comics from the waning days of that social media platform. None of these short stories are essential, but a few of them reinforce this new era where vampires are celebrities instead of monsters.
In addition to the 40 regular issues of “Buffy” Season 8, three one-shots flesh out specific aspects of the saga: what it’s like to be a street-level vampire in this new era, how Willow gets her superpowers between Seasons 7 and 8, and how and why Riley joins Twilight’s organization in order to spy on him. SPOILER WARNING: I will discuss Twilight’s real identity in the “Riley” section.
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.
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.