“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Returns

Buffy herself is adapting to the new world in typical Buffy fashion: ambivalently. At the beginning of Season 8, she’s enjoying her newfound power as the head of the new legion of slayers, but is also wondering if changing the world was really for the best. The comic opens with an image of her jumping out of a helicopter, weapon in hand, with a nonchalant, "Everybody calls me ‘ma’am’ these days." Butt-kicking Buffy is back in every way, right along with the killer one-liners she wields as deftly as she does a stake.

And true to the emotional core of the series, she’s still just as confused and contemplative as ever. Buffy has always been one of the toughest female characters in pop culture, but what captivates most fans is the fact that she’s also one of the most complicated, conflicted and emotionally real.

Espenson agrees. "Complexity is hard to write because you have to work so hard," she said, reflecting on her perspective on writing the leading lady. "And it’s hard to get more complex than Buffy. Fantastic character — hard to write really really well."

The same complexity carries into the new story arcs. Shortly after the opening of the first issue, we learn that General Voll of the U.S. military, a man who might just be connected to the newest cult/demon/conspiracy Buffy is attempting to unravel, is hunting her down. Meanwhile, Buffy’s attempts to adjust to her new role as leader of the slayers are thwarted by trouble at home (sister Dawn has become a giant — literally) and an old adversary, Amy the witch, is hell-bent on making life miserable for the slayer. It’s all very Buffy: The familiar mix of action and emotional growing pains punctuated with self-aware (and often geeky) humor feels just right.

The series takes great advantage of its new home within the comic medium, allowing for freedom and visual creativity to augment the story arcs. Artist Georges Jeanty has done a fantastic job evoking the Buffy feel while also giving the comic its own unique style. The art of the new series reflects Buffy‘s characteristic mix of spooky gothic flavor combined with superhero antics. And the characters translate beautifully onto the page.

The new medium allows the series to do things that never could have worked on-screen or within the show’s relatively small budget, particularly in its imaginative action sequences. The comic book presents a visual maelstrom, with legions of undead demons crawling up castle walls, slayers jumping out of helicopters, hell-like nightmare realms and other special-effects headaches used gleefully in absence of budgetary constrictions. This is Buffy without limits, and since the writing is so tight, it works quite well.

Buffy, of course, has always held a special place in the hearts of many lesbian viewers. In addition to of the quality of the writing and the likable cast of characters — many of whom were strong female characters who kicked a lot of undead butt — Buffy brought us Willow Rosenberg, who came out as a lesbian midway through the series in one of the best lesbian story lines ever presented on network television.

The romance between Willow and classmate (and fellow witch) Tara played out naturally, portraying the two as a typical young couple — their sexuality was never sensationalized. Both characters were (and continue to be) incredibly well-liked, and many fans — lesbian and otherwise — lamented both the death of Tara and Willow’s subsequent turn to dark magic. It’s undeniable that fans would still love to see Willow with Tara, somehow risen from the grave, and in a series about supernatural creatures, this isn’t impossible.

Of course, this brings up the issue of Kennedy, one of the new slayers and Willow’s girlfriend at the end of the television series. The couple was briefly mentioned in the last season of Angel, but their relationship still raises a few questions for fans.

But Espenson wouldn’t reveal any details about Willow’s romantic entanglements in the comic book series. When asked whether Kennedy was still in the picture, Espenson responded: "I don’t know this yet. But it sure is fun to speculate, isn’t it? I love how natural it feels to imagine that the lives extended beyond the show’s televised run."

Few television series have successfully survived the trek from one medium to another — TV to film in particular — and more often than not, these crossovers represent quick cash-ins on popular franchises. But very few of these projects are handled with the care and attention to detail that the Buffy comic is enjoying. The personal involvement of major players such as Whedon and Espenson is proof that this eighth season is the real deal, and if the first few issues are any indication, Buffy fans have a great deal to be happy about.

Find out more about Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 at www.darkhorse.com, and for more from Jane Espenson — including her favorite Buffy episodes — read our blog.

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