I was shopping at Borders – let’s all take a moment to shed a tear for the fallen – when I saw it. They had a little Buffy the Vampire Display, showcasing the novel Queen of the Slayers and the latest installment of the BtVS magazine, which featured a smarmy Spike on the cover. Having finally bought all of the DVDs earlier that year, I was fresh off of a full rewatch of both Buffy and Angel – for my dollar, the two finest television shows in the history of the medium – so I was beyond excited to get both of these. Queen of the Slayers was set after the final episode, and though it wasn’t a continuation official plotted by or sanctioned by Joss Whedon, I needed more of these characters. In the car ride home, though, as I skimmed through the magazine, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. First, know that this was a long time ago – somewhere in late 2006. I didn’t obsessively check geeky news site, or even Joss’s own fansite Whedonesque, like I do today.
I remember that my hands began shaking when I read the article that revealed that Joss Whedon was retuning to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He was doing Season Eight in comic book form. Now, get this. Back then? I didn’t read comics. I had a box from my childhood that I enjoyed then, but the only one I reaaally loved was Stephen King’s Creepshow. Beyond that, I didn’t really connect with the superhero stories or the pulp stuff I’d been given. I loved reading, but I was a prose guy. But now that Joss himself was returning to Buffy, I knew it was time to dive headfirst into the world of comics… and, considering writing them is currently what I do for a living, I guess you can say I fell in love.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is currently in its tenth season, including seven televised seasons and three comic book series. As we near the end of Season Ten – by, it seems, all accounts, the strongest so far – let’s look back at the journey Joss Whedon and his team of creators have taken us on since the first issue of Season Eight debuted on March 14th, 2007.
I prepared myself for Season Eight’s arrival by reading all of the Angel comics I could find. They were being published by IDW at the time, and those initial stories about Angel, Spike, Wesley, Illyria, and Gunn were what showed me the depth of what comics could do. When the first issue of Buffy, “The Long Way Home, Part One,” came out, I couldn’t get enough. I was on the forums, I ran what eventually became a decently popular review blog, and I spent my spare time having fascinating talks with whatever writers and artists that I could find. The beautiful thing about comics, I realized, was how thin the wall between reader and creator was – unlike with television writers, for the most part, I could log on and have a conversation with the people who worked on the comics I so hotly anticipated.
Anyway, you get the point. I was in love.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in its first comic book season, fully embraced the lack of budgetary constraints. Willow’s magical fights have advanced from the television special effects to all-out, mid-air, Earth-shaking mystical combat. Buffy became a superhero on par with any of Marvel or DC’s heavy hitters. Dawn was a giant, and then a centaur. Angel and Buffy created a new reality by fulfilling an ancient sex prophecy. The United States military and an army of monsters declared war on Buffy and almost everyone she knows. Gods emerged from the depths of the ground. Oz returned. Ethan Rayne returned. Amy and Warren returned. Buffy traveled to the future.
Hell, when you think about it, it would be harder to think of something that didn’t happen in Season Eight.
Fans have been retrospectively critical of Season Eight, and even my interest wavered around the sixth volume, but looking back now at the entire, complete series… it’s a stunning, staggering achievement. It ran for forty issues, successfully turning Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a cosmic superhero comic. In some ways, it was removed from the heart of the show – which Joss addressed in a poignant afterword in the finale – but again… looking back, it’s Buffy as hell. Every time the plot got too weird or something happened that made me question what was being done with my favorite characters, Joss did something to reassure us that his Buffy was still our Buffy. When Buffy herself went full on superhero and acquired essentially the bulk of Superman’s powers, Joss immediately dialed back on the large scale plot for a subdued, romantic one-shot focusing on Buffy and those around her. As far as the big scale action was from what the television show was like, it was abundantly clear that Joss and his team were always focused on the girl.
One thing that was very similar to the way the television show was done is clear in Season Eight’s structure. Joss is credited as Executive Producer – not a common credit in comics, though I’ve seen it used a bit since then. He wrote some of the major arcs (including the season premiere The Long Way Home, the Fray crossover Time of Your Life, and the finale Last Gleaming, along with a few other one-shots), but he figured out the beats of the story in a writer’s room, assigning the various arcs to writers from the actual show like Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard as well as comic book writers he admires like Brian K. Vaughan and Brad Meltzer. The team took big chances, while also paying homage to what came before. Buffy’s most iconic villain is Angelus – the soulless version of Angel, who terrorized Buffy and her friends while trying to suck the world into hell. Angel is the Big Bad again this season, but instead of taking on his Angelus persona, he allows himself to get taken over by a cosmic deity called Twilight on his quest to do good. While Buffy’s final fight against Angel reduces the vampire with a soul to a mere puppet for fate, it was Angel’s decisions that got him there, personifying the core theme of this season: There are big consequences to big actions, even if your intentions are good.
It’s a messy, overwhelming, tragic, and triumphant run. Season Eight is well known for its perceived missteps, and it wears them on its sleeve, never attempting to hide the fact that it wasn’t trying to just continue the show… it was trying to give us something bigger. Say what you want about the results, but apart from being ridiculously entertaining, it’s ambitious in a way that’s hard to come by in any medium.
As per Joss’s Season Eight afterword, things changed for Season Nine. He took Buffy “back, a bit, to the everyday trials that made [her] more than a superhero. That made her us.” Season Nine followed through on that promise with a story that, by and large, could have been filmed, as is, for television. Another big change was the format. Angel was back under Dark Horse’s roof, after a long and stellar run, and Joss had plans to incorporate the title into Season Nine. Instead of a single Buffy book, Season Nine had two core titles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel & Faith, both of which ran for twenty-five issues concurrently, along with two miniseries with Spike: A Dark Place and Willow: Wonderland, as well as some short stories. Another big difference was that each series had a single creative team (for the most part). Joss plotted Season Nine with his writers room regulars, but after writing the first issue and co-writing the second, he passed scripting duties off to Andrew Chambliss, who worked with Joss on Dollhouse. The two-part “Billy the Vampire Slayer” arc was handled by Jane Espenson and Drew Z. Greenberg, and Dark Horse editor Scott Allie co-wrote the “Apart (of Me)” storyline, but Chambliss otherwise wrote the series on his own, with Season Eight’s mainstay artist Georges Jeanty handling the art.
This season saw Buffy very much on her own. Xander and Dawn, who had coupled off in Season Eight, began dealing with Xander’s repressed anger issues, while Willow and Spike left on their own journey. Giles was dead, killed by Angel’s hand in Season Eight… and both Angel and Faith were in London, trying to resurrect Giles – a storyline covered by Angel & Faith, by Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs, who would go on to become fan favorites.
That left Buffy to navigate her life mostly on her own. There were some familiar faces, like Illyria (!), Kennedy, and even Wolfram & Hart, which satisfied a longtime itch for fans of Angel. The Big Bad this season was less of a focus this time which, considering Joss’s mission statement to focus squarely on Buffy, made sense. Simone Doffler was the season’s primary villain. She was a slayer with an axe to grind against Buffy but, unlike Faith, she couldn’t be reached. She was a slayer extremist, and yet another personification of the consequences of Buffy’s actions. Though the season doesn’t really focus on her until the end, the final arc — aptly titled “The Core” – reunited the core cast and pits them against Simone in a huge battle that ended the season on a strong note.
And now, we’re in the thick of Season Ten… which is far and away the best of the bunch. Angel & Faith is still going strong, with Victor Gischler (writer of Spike: A Dark Place) at the helm, with Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs moving from their acclaimed run on that title to the core Buffy book. Nicholas Brendan, who played Xander on the show, is also on board for co-writing duties on a good amount of the issues. Buffy’s tenth season is going to run for thirty issues, and the nineteenth came out last week. If Season Eight’s focus was sprawling mythology and Nine’s was on Buffy herself, Season Ten’s focus is on the Scoobies as a family.
The main cast is Buffy, Willow, Xander, Dawn, a newly resurrected Giles who is now a pre-teen, and Spike. After years apart, Angel even guest-stars in one of the strongest arcs in any Buffy or Angel comic. Christos builds incredibly well on years of character growth and tension, keeping the action-adventure thrills high, but focusing the majority of page time on the lives of these characters we all love. Rebekah Isaacs, who blew everyone away with Angel & Faith, is, along with the stellar Megan Levens, making the most beautiful Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics ever published. These characters haven’t felt and looked so much like their television counterparts since the finale of Season Seven.
The Big Bad this season is sort of a spiritual sequel to Season Six’s major villain: life. Adulthood is the looming evil this season, and – along with some old ones and an ancient vampyric beast with connections to Spike, Angel, Darla, and Drusilla – it looks like Buffy has her work cut out for her.
Season Eleven hasn’t been announced, but with Buffy going strong, especially with those oversized deluxe collections, I can’t see Season Ten being the last season. I don’t know if Christos Gage will stay around for the next run, but he’s been an invaluable addition to the Buffy team. Though, with Joss free of his Marvel duties, I’d love to see what he has in mind for Buffy and her friends next. Because, knowing Joss’s work, her story isn’t even close to being over.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Family Pets, Charmed: Season Ten) and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He will be at New York Comic Con next week, signing comics and keeping you from getting to that panel you really, really wanted to go to by showing you pictures of his cats.