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Buffy The Vampire Slayer Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews - Page 1 of 3

"In every generation there is a Chosen One; she alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is The Slayer..."

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All Buffy GNs/TPB published by Dark Horse Comics

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Angel: Surrogates 2000 (SC TPB) 80 pages

Written by Christopher Golden. Pencils by Christian Zanier, with Marvin Mariano. Inks by Andy Owens, Jason Minor, Curtis P. Arnold.
Colours: Guy Major. Letters: Clem Robins, Amador Cisneros. Editors: Scott Allie, Adam Gallardo.

Reprinting: Angel #1-3 (with covers)

Additional notes: Afterward by Christopher Golden.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Based on the TV series spun-off from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", Angel is the vampire-with-a-soul fighting the forces of supernatural evil as a kind of Los Angeles-based private eye. His first (solo) comics appearance was in the mini-series, Angel: The Howler (also collected in a TPB) and this TPB collects the storyline that was serialized in the first three issues of the regular, on-going Angel comic. Written just at the TV series' beginning, it features Angel, Cordelia, and original cast-member Doyle investigating a sinister fertility clinic which one mother claims led her to give birth to a stillborn, inhuman baby.

The comic does a decent enough job evoking the TV series, which is no small feet given the circumstances. Although writer Christopher Golden had a history with Buffy (having co-written a few Buffy novels), the Angel TV series was still in pre-production and hadn't even aired when he was writing this. But thanks to some toing and froing with the series' producers, he was able to produce something that doesn't seem awkward or unfaithful. Although, given that, it's curious how little background Golden provides. There's a two page recap of Angel's history for the uninitiated, but no explanation for Doyle, so that when he gets one of his headache messages, or sneezes and briefly seems to morph into something less-than human behind Cordelia's back, it might be awfully bewildering for a novice reader (Doyle was part-demon, which Angel knew, but Cordelia didn't). Likewise, a cameo by police detective Kate is given little context.

Surrogates is an enjoyable action-suspense story, with enough quirky badinage to recall the show's humour. Granted, it's one of those stories that probably benefits from being collected between a single cover, because it's not exactly a stunningly complex or twisty story. The sections read better as chapters than as something that was stretched out over three months -- although I'm guessing the collected edition is actually more pricey than if I had just picked them up as individual comics.

The story is reasonably well done. It benefits from the investigative nature of the story, with the heroes going around, talking to characters, that allows the piece a slightly more sophisticated ambience than if it was just a collection of action scenes (though there are plenty of those, too). However, squeeze a few more panels in per page, trim a couple of extraneous scenes that never go anywhere, and the story probably could've been fit into two issues. But unlike some multi-issue stories that come to mind, that doesn't mean Surrogates comes across as slow, or padded -- it doesn't. It's a bit sedate at times, but that can be good.

However, one of the things I enjoy about Buffy and Angel (the TV shows) is that they still manage to surprise me. I've grown rather jaded over the years, reaching a point where I can often figure out a story, or whodunit, long before the end of a movie or TV show. But Buffy and Angel are often still capable of throwing that curve, that surprise twist, that I didn't see coming. That doesn't happen here. The story unfolds fairly predictably. I suppose there's a climactic revelation, but it didn't seem like much of a surprise, nor did it change our perception of anything that had gone before (like a good twist might). It's a perfectly agreeable story...but unremarkable.

In his afterward, Golden writes that he'd like to think the story has more depth than your average media tie-in comic (which, I suppose, isn't too presumptuous: he's not saying more than most comics, merely media tie-in ones which, to be fair, often aren't exactly comics at their best). Certainly the fertility clinic idea is unusual. Whether because most comics writers see their audience as juvenile or, more likely, because they themselves are stuck in a kind of arrested adolescence, a story dealing with, and playing upon, grown up fears of parenthood and the like are not exactly common. I'm not sure if Golden really invests the story with "depth", but it's certainly an atypical milieu for a comic.

Christian Zanier and Marvin Mariano illustrate competently enough in a way that seems to reflect the House style Dark Horse has settled upon for many of its Buffy comics. There's a slight cartooniness at times (characters, particularly in long shot, being kind of hastily sketched without detail) and some awkward positioning. The choice of panel composition generally gets across what needs to be conveyed, without entirely enhancing a scene. In my review of Ring of Fire, I commented that artist Ryan Sook was the first artist on these comics whose art seemed to enhance a scene. Surrogates hasn't made me re-consider that comment. They can generally evoke the physical type of the actors, so you can usually tell, say, Angel from Doyle, without really capturing their likenesses (granted, that's true of many media tie-in comics). I guess what I'm tip toeing around is that I wasn't exactly fond of the art, and I couldn't help thinking how certain scenes might've benefitted from a different approach...but neither did I dislike it enough for it to ruin the story.

Ultimately, I quite liked Angel: Surrogates: it was an enjoyable read that should please TV fans. I'm happy to have it on my shelf, even as it maybe wasn't special enough to make me want to run out right away and pick up the latest issue of the comicbook series.

Cover price: $14.95 CDN./$9.95 USA 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Blood of Carthage  2000 (SC GN) 120 pages

Written by Christopher Golden. Pencils by Cliff Richards, with Chynna Clugston, Paul Lee & Brian Horton. Inks by Joe Pimentel.
Colours: Guy Major. Letters: Amador Cisneros & Dragon Monkey. Editor: Scott Allie.

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1st Dark Horse series) #21-25 (2000)

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed; Nov. 2010

The Blood of Carthage is set within the TV series' fourth season -- at least, a nebulous fourth season. That is, though the monthly comics tried to echo the series' changes, because they operated at a different, slower schedule (the TV show would produce, generally, 4 episodes a month, while this one story was serialized over 5 months!) it both is and isn't true to the feel of the show. So, Buffy and Willow are in college, Spike has a chip in his head, and Anya is Xander's girlfriend...yet there's no reference to Riley or the Initiative, and neither Oz nor Tara appear. Though, just to add to the confusion, there are references to non-canonical stuff (ie: not part of the TV series) but presumably drawing upon earlier Buffy comics and even Buffy novels, as characters crop up whom Buffy already seems to know but never appeared on the small screen (like Lucy Hanover, the ghost of a former Slayer who appeared in some Buffy novels that were co-written by Golden, who wrote these comics).

Due to the TV series' heavy reliance on the on going soap opera-y character threads, and the comics' inability to keep pace, the idea of creating its own recurring characters to play around with makes a kind of sense. But, at least as depicted here, it's not like these characters are part of any on going sub-plots.

Anyway, the premise has Buffy and the gang becoming aware of various demon activity at work in Sunnydale, including a demon cult calling itself the Blood of Carthage, and an ancient demon called Ky-Laag. And in that way, Golden has concocted a story that's a little more off-beat than some other Buffy comics, in that there are different agendas at work, and at least in the early part, we're waiting to see how the different threads connect to each other. Along the way, he tries to throw in some character arcs as well. Buffy, feeling fatalistic, decides to quit university to devote herself full time to Slaying, while Willow reflects on her childhood with Xander, feeling a bit like he takes her for granted.

Unfortunately, though Golden admirably throws in character threads, they aren't that well developed, or connected to the main plot...nor do they seem entirely true to the characters, or at least where they were at this point in the series. Particularly the Willow-Xander stuff (surely by the fourth season, it was Xander who was feeling marginalized by his university pals). Buffy's life decision is maybe more justified, character-wise, but less so in the context of this plot, seeming a bit contrived, or tacked on as an after thought (her end decision to resume a civilian life has nothing to do with the events, and simply to a pep talk given by the previously mentioned Lucy Hanover -- in other words, it could've probably been used under any plot). There's also a certain tenuous logic at spots. Buffy goes off half cocked near the beginning, actually exacerbating the crisis, which is what leads her to conclude she must focus all her energy on Slaying...and then she kind of goes off half-cocked again! Nor is it really clear how she tracks a demon to its lair...or why she assumes it's at all connected to the trouble she's investigating (which, I suppose, is the narrative advantage to her going off doesn't really have to be justified logically).

Golden had written the occasional earlier Buffy comic, but this was his first long form tale in that medium. And no doubt landing him was seen as a bit of a coup, since Golden had by then been positioned as one of the chief writers of Buffy novels, and given the hierarchy of the various mediums, landing a (popular) Buffy novelist for the comics was probably seen as the next best thing to landing a Buffy TV writer. And there is some nice use of moody captions at the beginning, and a nice way the first few chapters are broken up. And, as mentioned, as a plot, there is some off beat ideas.

At the same time, for a guy with a history with the Scooby gang, I didn't entirely feel his characterization of them was always on target. And though he captures the style of the series' quirky dialogue and Buffy-isms...I'll admit, not too many of the quips and wisecracks actually struck me as that funny. But, admittedly, that kind of dialogue plays better heard than read.

And though the plotting does reasonably justify the page count, with some shifting alliances, and throwing in flashbacks, both to Willow and Xander's childhood, and to the history of the Blood of Carthage cult, and Spike's brief entanglement with them, it's still not maybe that complex or twisty for a five chapter saga.

The art is primarily handled by Cliff Richards, the chief Buffy artist of the day. I tend to bob up and down on his work. It's certainly decent enough, and he can vaguely evoke the regulars at least so you know who's who in a group scene -- at least the main ones. His Anya not so much. But his composition and storytelling is basically okay, nothing more. And there's a loose, open, slightly cartoony look to his style that maybe jars a bit with a property where we are used to seeing real people in the roles (Richards' style would improve -- or at least become more to my liking -- in later years). I'm also not sure if his wardrobe choices are always true to the characters...or at least, to the characters as they were by season four (Giles is still depicted in perpetual tweed when, by this point, hadn't he loosened up a bit?) But adding to a visual variety, the flashback snippets are handled by a couple of other artists -- Chynna Clugston, who handles the Willow/Xander scenes with a manga influence, and Paul Lee & Brian Horton who do the Blood of Carthage flashbacks. Neither artist quite clicked with me, but still, the gimmick of using different artists on different scenes adds to a sense of a grandiose tale.

Ultimately, the plotting generally sustains itself enough to keep you turning the pages, even if it doesn't exactly overfloweth with twists and turns. Not great, but a better-than-average Buffy-in-comics tale.

Original cover price:  $__ USA.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Dust Waltz  1998 (SC GN) 80 pages

Written by Dan Brereton. Pencils by Hector Gomez. Inks by Sandu Florea.
Colours: Guy Major. Letters: Ken Bruzenak. Editor: Scott Allie.

Extras: introduction by Dan Brereton; photo of Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Two very ancient vampires blow into Sunnydale with their respective clans to stage a kind of tournament between demon champions...a tournament that somehow involves the dreaded Hellmouth portal. Buffy, naturally, wants to stop them.

Based on the cult-hit TV series about a teen-age girl who has a destiny as a vampire slayer, this was the first ever Buffy story in comic form. Apparently Dark Horse Comics had initially intended to serialize this in a three issue mini-series, but decided to release it, instead, as an original graphic novel.

The first chapter kicks things off well. Brereton shows a good ear for the witty dialogue of the TV show and it's easy to "hear" the voices of the actors in your head, saying the lines. The plot unfolds intriguingly, posing enough questions that you're anticipating further developments and wondering where it's all headed... again, like the TV show. It even generates a touch of ominous dread. The art by Gomez was a little stiff, but reasonably evoked the actors. The colours were moodily effective, too (though Cordelia and Willow's hair weren't right).

Flipping through the first few pages prior to actually reading it, I had kind of convinced myself I wouldn't like the Dust Waltz thanks to the art and a sub-plot involving Giles' visiting niece (which seemed just a little too much like the sort of hackneyed TV plot Buffy, the series, would've avoided like the, ah, plague), but the first chapter won me over pleasantly.

Waitaminit, you say, why's he harping on the first chapter so much?

Well, the thing is, the ensuing two chapters are a bit of a disappointment. The plot developments peter out and we get more into just the action stuff, lots of running about, but nothing that engages the mind--or the heart, for that matter. Even at its best, the Dust Waltz is Buffy-lite, wholly missing the deeper, more profound aspects of the TV series.

In the later parts, Brereton still delivers some clever "Buffyisms" (like the "Deathwish Spice" quip), but they're fewer, with the characters less evocative of their TV originals than in the first chapter. Likewise, Gomez's art also gets rougher, and the figures don't really resemble the actors--sometimes it was difficult to distinguish one character from another.

Nitpicking, there are strange bits of dialogue occasionally that I couldn't make head nor tale of, the climax is a tad anti-climactic (and doesn't even make much sense), and the whole sub-plot with Giles' niece seems utterly pointless, as if Brereton had had something in mind when he conceived of her...but forgot what by the time it came to write the thing.

In the end, The Dust Waltz is breezily enjoyable. But it doesn't live up to the standards of the first chapter...and would definitely be considered a lesser episode. It's also probably best suited to fans--I'm not sure how well it'll read for those unfamiliar with Buffy and the gang.

It's also one of those modern comics which seems to average out to about 3 panels per page. You don't notice at first, the first chapter delivering a reasonable read, but when you can breeze through the final chapter before your milk and cookies have a chance to get warm, figuratively speaking, there's definitely a sense that you've been short-changed.

Original cover price:  $13.95 CDN./$9.95 USA.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Haunted  2002 (SC TPB) 96 pages

Written by Jane Espenson. Pencils by Cliff Richards. Inks by Julio Ferreira.
Colours: Jeromy Cox. Letters: Clem Robins. Editor: Scott Allie.

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Haunted #1-4 (2001-2002)

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Reviewed; Nov. 2010

Although comics based on movies and TV shows have been around for almost as long as the medium, usually they were completely separate entities. But in more recent years, there has been a greater collusion, and Buffy was at the forefront of that move (along with Babylon 5) as a few writers for the actual TV series have contributed some comic book stories (this even before the semi-official "season eight" comics). A case in point being this Buffy mini-series written by Jane of the principal writers for the Buffy TV series. Another gimmick is, apparently, it was the first significant use of Faith in the comics -- according to an introduction by editor Scott Allie published a few years later (in Buffy Omnibus 5), Faith had initially been left out of the monthly comic because her character changed so quickly from episode-to-episode, that the comics, with their slower production schedule, couldn't really keep up.

Though written during the later seasons, Haunted is a slightly retro tale, taking place in the gap between the third and fourth season -- essentially telling a lost tale, allowing Espenson to play with some characters one last time. Namely -- The Mayor, who was the "Big Bad" of season three, and died at the end of that season. The premise here is that The Mayor still exists as a ghost, and wants revenge on Buffy. It's a kind of neat concept, allowing the comic to both draw upon the familiar icons and mythos, while also taking it in a novel direction, and makes use of the narrative possibility available in comics, as we are treated to the Mayor's narration in a way that would be harder to do in a TV series voiceover. The Mayor can posses dead things, at first flittering about Sunnydale in the appropriated body of a dead bird -- making for some eerie scenes.

Meanwhile, Buffy is having some disturbing dreams where Faith (who is in a coma at this point in the series) keeps attacking her.

The story line starts out pretty good. As mentioned, there's some mood and eeriness to the premise. Espenson captures the idiosyncratic voice of the Mayor well. Like a few Buffy comics that come to mind, there's definitely a feeling we're leaning toward the brooding and sombre, rather than the light hearted -- though there are still lots of quips.

Admittedly, different TV properties seem to translate to comics easier than others. In the case of Buffy, I find few comics fully capture the "oomph" of the series -- even when written by series' veterans like Espenson. I mean, everyone's in character -- more or less -- and nothing seems radically inappropriate in tone or theme -- more or less. But I do find myself just reading it as a comic book of Buffy...rather than feeling like it really does achieve the sense of being a "lost" episode (the way, say, some X-Files comics have).

Part of that may be the visual choices, with many Buffy comics employing a similar style, from Joe Bennett, to Georges Jeanty, where there's some realism to the figure work even as there's an open, slightly cartoony style that maybe makes it hard to fully groove to the drawings as the characters/actors. Cliff Richards, a principal Buffy artist of the era, is certainly a good artist -- better than some. But the art may still be a slight handicap, particularly as his composition, his storytelling and storyboarding, though certainly decent enough, doesn't offer too many extra quirks. And a tendency to use a lot of long shots may add to my sense of the characters being short changed. His fidelity to the look of the series also varies -- the characters evoke the actors, without being spot on, and sometimes his use of sets is modelled after the series (Faith's loft) and sometimes not as much (the exterior of Giles' apartment), likewise his wardrobe choices don't necessarily seem as character specific as the series.

Still...all that's nitpicking, and the arc starts out pretty good.

Unfortunately, as so often happens, it starts out better than it continues.

For a four issue arc, Espenson hasn't really come up with a plot to justify the pages. There's the neat, ominous hook that the Mayor figures he can attack Buffy through possessed bodies, with Buffy ignorant of who her true foe is. But pretty soon it becomes obvious the Mayor doesn't have a larger plan, no scheme that is being teased to fruition. Indeed, it seems inconsistent. At one point, the Mayor remarks he must keep haunting Buffy forever if he wants to remain an earthly spirit...then, a chapter later, he just decides to kill her! Later, the characters clue into the fact that they've been "fighting this same thing, over and over!" -- except when you think about it, the Mayor had hardly attacked them at all, let alone "over and over". And the Faith stuff proves a bit disappointing -- and repetitive -- particularly for those eager to see her in the comic, or see some exploration of her rather multi-faceted persona. And that's because Faith isn't really in it! She appears as a dream/hallucination, rather than something we necessarily infer really is Faith. (Nor does it seem to be anything more than a coincidence that the Mayor and Faith both appear in the tale).

Buffy comics are often written assuming an existing familiarity with the series, as such there are plenty of bits and lines that will make no sense if you don't know the series. Because this is set between the third and fourth season, but written later, Espenson uses it not just to draw on third season aspects, but to foreshadow fourth season ones. So we have the Initiative running around in the story, too. On one hand, that can be kind of fun, the story acting as a bridge between the two seasons...even as that part of it feels like shaggy dog story, not really being that relevant in this particular story.

I went into this with some expectation -- both because Espenson's name was on it, and by drawing upon the Mayor and Faith, I thought it might feel comfortably like a lost episode. And it does start out well. But the bottom line is, it's a thin story. It doesn't so much build to a climax, as it just rambles toward an end. As much as I admire Espenson's talents, I can't help thinking if this had been pitched as an actual TV episode -- it would've been sent back to her for another few rewrites.

Original cover price:  $13.95 CDN./$9.95 USA.

Buffy - the OriginBuffy The Vampire Slayer: The Origin 1999 (SC TPB) 80 pgs. Dark Horse Comics

Written by Christopher Golden, Dan Brereton. Pencils by Joe Bennett. Inks by Rick Ketcham with Randy Emberlin, J. Jadsen.
Colours: Jeromy Cox, Guy Major. Letters: Ken Bruzenak. Editor: Scott Allie, Ben Abernathy.

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin #1-3 (mini-series) - with covers

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the 1992 movie, was a cute but uneven, tongue-in- cheek romp about a high schooler who learns she has a destiny to become a Vampire Slayer. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV series, most fans would argue is a much more ambitious, much more accomplished series that mixes witty one-liners with genuine pathos and intelligent plots, chronicling the further adventures of Buffy. Despite the fact that the TV series follows from the movie, beginning after the events in the movie, there were discrepancies in the mythos of the two. As well, Buffy creator, Joss Whedon, had long claimed the movie's campy tone strayed from his original vision.

It's unsurprising, therefore, that Dark Horse Comics has released a comic book adaptation that follows the plot of the first movie, but in a way that seems more appropriate to the series. Even to the point that this Buffy resembles series actress, Sarah Michelle Gellar, rather than the movie version, played by Kristy Swanson, and her original Watcher, Merrick, doesn't look like Donald Sutherland, the actor in the movie, but more like the actor who, briefly, essayed the role in a flashback in an episode of the TV series--Richard Riehle, I believe (now how's that for doing my homework, eh?).

The result is reasonably entertaining, though those expecting wild changes from the movie--as the hype for this implied--will be disappointed. It's been quite a while since I've seen the film, but as far as I can remember the comic follows it fairly closely, in scenes and dialogue. The main alterations involve lines relating to the mythos (in the movie, Buffy and Merrick were reincarnations of all previous Slayers/Watchers, not so the series, or this adaptation) and maybe a de-emphasis on the camp factor. Although, that's a subtler distinction when looking at words and still pictures on a page. It's all in how you choose to read it.

The story follows Buffy Summers, resident popular girl and air head, who finds herself dragged, unwillingly, into the battle with darkness as an ancient vampire, Lothos, moves into her town, creating a colony of vamps. Buffy begins to emerge as a better, more responsible person because of her nocturnal obligations. All this was in the film and the character evolution gives the comic a solid foundation for a story. Admittedly, the film, despite its short comings, may've conveyed Buffy's growth a bit more effectively.

This adaptation does a fairly good job of telling the story without seeming too disjointed or choppy, the way some comic book adaptations of movies can, when the writers and artists are trying to shoe horn a longer story into limited pages. At the same time, there are still spots where it can seem a bit rushed or as if things might be missing. Near the end, Buffy's snobbish friends turn on her, remarking how odd she's been acting...but there was only one scene that her friends witnessed where her behaviour was out of the ordinary. In another scene, a beatnik character named Pike comments how strange things have become...but likewise, he hasn't seen much strangeness. Well, other than his friend showing up as a vampire. But that scene remains, as in the movie, extremely awkward since it's unclear how much Pike is supposed to understand.

The dialogue, much of it lifted from the film, is generally good.

The main problem is Joe Bennett's art. Bennett employs a slightly cartoony style that I'm not especially fond of, and brings his own visual interpretation to things. Namely, he likes to draw vampires as completely inhuman looking. In other words, for a comic that's intended to be more in keeping with the series, it diverges in its own way from the TV program. As well, Bennett's storytelling technique isn't the best, not always portraying scenes with clarity. Mood wise, the story opens with a panel showing a quiet, deserted street, that then is supposed to explode into violence. It's a very cinematic concept. But Bennett has the figures from the "action" panels spilling into the "still" panel, anticipating the violence and rather negating the intended effect. Sure, it's nitpicking, but he's supposed to be a pro, a master of his craft, and there are spots where one feels he's drawing what he wants to, rather than what the scene needs. There were other spots where I had to re-read a sequence just to figure out what was going on, with Bennett indulging in close ups at the expense of establishing the elements of a scene.

With that being said, there are other spots where Bennett does a perfectly respectable job, my quibbles with his style notwithstanding. Particularly some conversation scenes are well laid out.

As well, writers Dan Brereton and Christopher Golden don't employ any text captions, relying only on dialogue balloons. But text captions, aside from adding extra nuance (imbuing comics with smells and textures and esoteric asides that can't be readily conveyed just with images) can serve as segues between two panels that might, otherwise, seem disconnected. In other words, Bennett is trying to relate a 90 minute movie in 66 pages, and the blame can't be laid entirely at his feet if there are choppy bits.

Despite my above grumbling, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin is a better-than-average movie-to-comics adaptation. Fans of both movie and series should enjoy it, though no one should expect too radical a departure from the film.

Original cover price: $14.95 CDN./$9.95 USA

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