Buffy the Vampire Slayer, famous for its quirky blend of supernatural action, humor and strong, character-based story lines, has risen from the grave of television cancellation to give fans an eighth season of action. But this time, Buffy will be gracing the pages of a comic book instead of the small screen.
The new comic book series, which launched in March and releases its third issue (with Willow on the cover) on May 2, is billed as the official eighth season of the show. That makes it "canon" for fans — in other words, the events taking place within the series’ pages are officially endorsed as part of the Buffy universe created by Joss Whedon. And Whedon himself is at the helm of the project, penning several issues and overseeing everything from story arcs to art style.
"Joss’ contribution is absolute," said Jane Espenson, former co-executive producer of the Buffy TV series, who will also be contributing to the comic book series. "This is his baby."
Espenson wrote many of the TV series’ most popular episodes, including "Band Candy" (when a batch of chocolate turns adults — including Joyce and Giles — into hormonal teenagers), "Superstar" (in which Jonathan casts a spell that makes everyone believe he’s, well, a superstar), and "Conversations With Dead People" (a Season 7 episode in which everyone is visited by dead people). Espenson will be writing one to four issues of the comic book series.
Since writing for a comic is a bit different from writing scripts for television, the creative process behind the current form of storytelling in the Buffyverse is also different. "I think this varies from writer to writer," said Espenson, when asked how the process will now work. "Some will be very involved in pitching and discussing their stories with Joss. Others will take stories that have already been laid out for them." Some of the writers who will be contributing to the series include Doug Petrie ("Bad Girls," "The Yoko Factor"), Drew Greenberg ("Smashed," "The Killer in Me") and Drew Goddard ("Selfless").
Espenson urges fans who might be wary of the leap from to screen to page to take Whedon’s involvement as a very good sign for the project. "Since it comes from Joss, with his seal of approval, it has that shine of authenticity and, of course, that level of quality," she said. "I think the fans will certainly be satisfied because it’s going to be amazing, but I also think they wouldn’t turn down an actual televised eighth season if that were an option. Would any of us?"
It’s certainly a valid point. The comic does a remarkable job of recreating the Buffy series, but it’s initially difficult to swallow the transition. "It’s hard to replace the sense of reality that you get with actors," Espenson acknowledged. "But there are certainly story elements here that don’t lend themselves to television, so this medium should feel like the right one for these stories."
The comic — via its pacing, dialogue and overall storytelling — brings together the familiar Buffy feel. All the characters we see in the first few issues seem true to their live-action counterparts, and the writing is appropriately witty and Whedonesque. Whedon himself wrote the first four issues (and will be writing several more), and the first issue, which quickly sold out of its first printing of 100,000, is already in a second printing.
Buffy: Season 8 picks up not long after the end of the TV series, with 1,800 new slayers fighting evil around the world, almost 500 working with Buffy and her friends. Buffy herself is at the head of the new organization, taking crews of slayer-trainees out for adventures, along with a few — but not too many — familiar faces.
Whedon has spaced out the arrivals of the beloved main characters over the course of the first few issues, so each issue brings an element of suspense. Although it is a bit bizarre to imagine Buffy without the whole gang in place, the approach is effective at gradually reintroducing everyone and allowing the new story and world to unfold in a way that doesn’t feel forced or artificial. And Willow fans can take heart — she returns in Issue 3.