Buffy the TV Slayer



New comic adaptation fails to capture original magic.

The eighth season of Joss Whedon’s acclaimed Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, in comic book form, is rather like a second helping of dessert on a full stomach: immediately gratifying, but probably not such a great idea in hindsight.

After Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon’s televised opus on feminism and growth as seen through a supernatural lens, concluded its seventh and final season in 2003, fans of the show were forced to wait patiently until March of last year for a legitimate continuation of the narrative. Produced and written by Joss Whedon with the help of guest writers, season eight of Buffy the Vampire Slayer picks up where season seven left off. The only problem: season seven didn’t leave very much to be picked up.

“Chosen,” the last episode of season seven, proved to be a beautiful and extremely well done ending to a show so fiercely loved by so many. As emotionally and intellectually satisfying endings are wont to do, “Chosen” brought a satisfactory resolution to the overarching issue moving the series while still leaving a (literal) road ahead for the characters to travel in the imagination of the reader.

By continuing the series, the message of such a strong resolution gets diluted. At the end of “Chosen,” Buffy Summers, the protagonist, makes the decision to overthrow the archaic patriarchal control over her life by working to share her power. The montage of girls and women all over the world, scared and beaten, rising up and making a stand against the backdrop of Buffy’s voice calmly asking, “Are you ready to be strong?” may be one of the most moving scenes in television history.

Yet, its effect is weakened, even distorted, when the eighth season in comic book form takes this metaphor for feminism and turns it into an abuse of power. Instead of staying strong and cohesive in the eighth season, slayers split up, rob banks, and kill each other off for fear of competition.

Because the eighth season was forced to continue from a series whose primary conflict had resolved, it had no choice but to pretend otherwise in order to keep the storyline going. Although the last scene of the last episode was of Buffy, surrounded by close friends and family, finally coming to grips with the fact that she was no longer alone, the eighth season does it best to continue an internal conflict that, for all intents and purposes, was already terminated. After having alienated her best friend for a very vague and unclear reason, Buffy has a conversation with Xander, another close companion, about the loneliness of leadership and power (both of which should have been moot points post-“Chosen”).

Many facets of the narrative in the eighth season of Buffy appear unintentionally vague, incomprehensible or unclear, not because of poor writing (what blasphemy it is to ever consider Joss Whedon and poor writing in the same context) but because of the change in medium. i>Buffy the Vampire Slayer was originally written for television. It was slotted roughly 40 to 45 minutes of time every week, a barely satisfactory amount of time to tell such an intricately crafted story. The eighth season isn’t allowed a fraction of that. A new comic, approximately 22 pages, is released once every month, and so great plot leaps must be made with each issue.

Although the comic book format allows for fewer restrictions to imaginative and innovative storytelling (many things can be drawn which, due to budget constraints or otherwise, cannot be viewed on a screen), it doesn’t have the immediacy of a television episode. As a comic book fan myself, it must be made clear that this is not a diatribe against any particular form of storytelling. There’s a very big difference between watching a 100-pound girl getting her ass kicked by a 400-pound demon on the screen, hearing every punch and watching every whimper, and glancing quickly at six panels of the fight on a page. Because it began and ended within a televised context, Buffy doesn’t carry quite as well over to the colored and paneled comic book page.

The comic book form does lend itself to one kind of storyline that television couldn’t spare the viewing time to do very well — that of the extremely minor and marginalized characters. When dealing with tales of epic proportions, humanity, and the balance of the universe in the hands of a select few, it is often best to leave out how the decisions of such great heroes and villains could affect the lives of less significant characters. The eighth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayerallots room for these minor characters, and the effect of such carefully crafted side tales proves more devastating and fulfilling than the primary storyline.

“The Chain,” the one-issue story of a nameless slayer’s death after she takes on the responsibility of being Buffy’s decoy, was Whedon’s writing and comic format at its best, creating webs of complex and intellectually stimulating meaning out of a few pages of little dialogue and a few snapshot images.

“The Chain” takes the personal and places it in a multi-structural universal, one where the metaphor is not only one of feminism but of war, of social duty, and of internal values pitched against an unmoving external reality as well. It’s the story of an ordinary girl, one you may have passed on the street without thinking twice about, and how she grew up, how she established an identity, accepted the responsibility that came with power, and saved the world along the way. That is what Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about.

In all honesty, for all its flaws, the eighth season of Buffy has proved tremendously successful because, for some die hard Whedon fans (myself very much included), all of these points prove moot against the deafening logic of one rallying cry. Stomachache be damned! Keep that sweet, sweet dessert coming!

Truc Doan ’10 (tdoan@fas) killed one hundred demons single-handedly.