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.
The Netflix NYC neighborhood of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ended too soon with “Jessica Jones” Season 3 (June), but I have to admit these series were starting to tread familiar ground. When watching these 13 episodes, I sensed that I was still watching prestige TV, yet I also understood where things were going long before they reached the finish line, thus enhancing the stereotype that Netflix MCU shows are slow-moving.
The fourth and final “Tales of the Slayer” collection (November 2004) is also the only one centered around a theme: specifically, the Cruciamentum – as seen in “Helpless” (3.12) — wherein the Slayer is weakened by drugs and forced to defeat a vampire via only her wits and fighting skills. Remarkably, these aren’t just eight tales of Slayers being betrayed by their Watchers and feeling horrible; the authors find a variety of angles with which to approach the concept. Here are my rankings, from best to weakest, although there isn’t a bad story in the bunch:
Writer Andrew Chambliss and artist Georges Jeanty stick the landing to conclude the character-driven yet suitably epic “Buffy” Season 9 with the five-issue “The Core.” It’s a crying shame that this marks Chambliss’ finale in the Buffyverse. He gets the saga back on track after the uneven Season 8 and keeps threads percolating for Season 10, to be written by “Angel & Faith” Season 9’s Christos Gage — who is really good, but not quite as good as Chambliss. Also in this post, I take a look at the season’s special issues.
In this next batch of 10 issues, Season 9 becomes slightly less Buffy-centric, somewhat to its detriment, but Andrew Chambliss continues to be a sharp writer and I trust he knows where the wider narrative is going. The only major misstep in this batch, surprisingly, is when “Buffy” veterans Jane Espenson and Drew Z. Greenberg step in for two issues to tell the origin story of side character Billy.
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?