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Buffy The Vampire Slayer Graphic Novel and TPB Reviews - Page 2

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All Buffy GNs/TPB published by Dark Horse Comics

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Oz 2002 (SC TPB) 80 pages

Written by Christopher Golden. Pencils by Logan Lubera, with Valentine de Landro, Herb Apon. Inks by Craig Yeung.
various. Letters: Vickie Williams. Editor: Scott Allie.

Reprinting the three issue mini-series (2001)

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

In addition to the regular Buffy comics (plus occasional mini-series) and Angel comics, there have also been occasional one-shots and mini-series focusing on supporting characters from the TV series. Such is Oz -- a mini-series focusing on the fan favourite character, the phlegmatic musician and sometimes werewolf, Oz (none of the series' characters other than Oz appear, save in a few brief flashbacks -- despite Willow on the cover). In the TV series, Oz left in an attempt to master his werewolfism and then later returned for an episode, explaining he'd spent time in Tibet -- this mini-series attempts to chronicle that sojourn. (Shortly after this, writer Christopher Golden wrote an Oz text novel -- Into the Wild -- in which he incorporated this tale into a larger story).

And it's an okay, if unremarkable effort. I read it all in one sitting, proving it was an easy, agreeable page turner...even as that maybe also reflects what a slight, simple story it is. Oz is in the far east, on a quest to control his condition, hooks up with a perky Asian demoness, and they head of into the hills of Tibet searching for a monastery that might help him. But while travelling through the countryside, they find evidence of murders and pillaging by -- no, not the Chinese -- by a demon horde (ever notice how Tibet may be a popular place in stories, and comics, for plots involving spiritual quests...but no mention is usually made of the Chinese occupation?) Anyway, Oz hooks up with the last surviving monk, who tries to teach him to control his inner werewolf, even as a showdown is brewing with the demon lord, Muztag.

Admittedly, on a visceral level the two concepts can seem a bit contradictory -- how can we have idyllic scenes of our hero seeking inner peace...even as a horde of demons are rampaging through the land, who he knows will return to the monastery sooner or later?

Oz is a tricky character to write for, his whole shtick being his taciturness, and his deadpan unflappableness (so well played by actor Seth Green). The Oz here maybe doesn't fully evoke that, even as he's not radically out of character either. He emerges as more just a generic -- but personable enough -- leading man. Writer Christopher Golden has had a long association with Buffy -- not on screen, but as a writer of novel and comic book spin-offs. So he's familiar with the milieu, even if I sometimes think he playes fast and loose at times himself. For example, in a flashback, the nephew that bites Oz (and so gave him the curse) is here a young boy...but I always kind of assumed he was supposed to be a toddler (admittedly, that was just my perception...and even if that was the TV series' intent, Golden's changing it is hardly a radical retcon!)

It's a fairly simple, rudimentary plot, without many surprises or twists. At one point a character remarks that Muztag seems bolder now, as if something had been holding him back, but no more. Yet it's not really clear what, or even if. Maybe we're supposed to infer it was the elimination of the monks -- yet surely the attack on the monks in the first place was part of this new boldness (Catch-22). Something happens toward the end that has Oz exclaiming: "Whoa, didn't see that coming." as if a surprise twist. But it doesn't quite work as a surprise because, honestly, we hadn't really thought about it one way or the other, the story -- and the characters -- sufficiently vaguely presented. Even the environment is a bit nebulous, as we cut between monastery, Lord Muztag's castle, and some local villagers...without it ever really being clear where these things are in relation to each other.

The art is of the modern cartoony, manga-influenced school, which I'm often mixed on anyway, and might not be the ideal choice for a media-inspired comic (where the reader might be hoping for a general likeness of the actors). And though it conveys the action, there's no real mood to it, as might benefit a story both about a search for spiritual inner peace...and a spooky tale of monsters and werewolves! Still, like the script, it gets the job done.

In the end, Oz is a perfectly okay little romp, an okay diversion for Buffy completists (even as, by focusing only on Oz, without the other characters, it isn't wholly a "Buffy" comic) and even non-Buffy fans could probably follow the action enough (save a few flashbacks to the series). Even as it's a fairly simple, throwaway little effort by the creators.

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

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Remaining Sunlight 1999 (SC TPB) 80 pages

Reprinting: Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1-3, plus a 10 page story from Dark Horse Comics Presents - with covers of the Buffy comics.

Written by Andi Watson, with J.L. Van Meter. Pencils by Joe Bennett, with Luke Ross. Inks by Rick Ketcham.
Colours: Guy Major. Letters: Janice Chiang, Steve Dutro. Editors: Scott Allie, Ben Abernathy

Rating: * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

Ironically, the high point here was that short piece, "MacGuffins", by Van Meter/Ross/Ketcham (from Dark Horse Comics Presents, printed here in colour for the first time). The story's just a gag piece, with Buffy alone at her father's home beset, not by murderous vampires, but by mischievous imps reminiscent of the Cat in the Hat, or the movie Gremlins. The art was nice and the story, though slight, induced a chuckle or two.

Unfortunately, the three main stories by the regular team of Watson/Bennett/Ketcham was less effective. Watson tries evoking the TV series' formula of mixing the characters' personal trials and tribs with the action-horror of vampire fighting, but doesn't really pull it off, delivering stories that are awfully thin. Thin on plot...and emotion. Xander takes a self-defence class because he feels inadequate (Wu-Tang Fang #1), Willow has a fight with her parents (Halloween #2), but sub-plots like that aren't really developed, and can't compare with the heavy-duty angst dished up by the series on a regular basis. The vampire-adventure plots are even less meaty in theme, intent, or even simple plotting.

And the attempt to mimic the witty badinage and humour of the series failed, for the most part, to strike me as, well, witty.

I had a (slightly) better reaction to the third story, Cold Turkey--maybe because Watson was getting a feel for the gig, or maybe I was adjusting to his take. It was still pretty slight, but the structure seemed better, and some of the gags got a smirk, if nothing more. Though even then, the whole thing seemed more reminiscent of Archie and his Pals n' Gals rather than an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Re-reading the first two stories, I enjoyed them more the second time through, getting a bit more in sync with the jokes and such (like the "multi-tasking" gag), but they still seemed awfully...thin.

Bennett's art was another sticking point. He's not a bad artist--far from it. But he belongs to that modern school of comics artist that seems as though he studied art by reading Japanese comic books and watching Saturday morning cartoons. It's a popular style these days, but it's not quite my cup of tea. Still, though the characters don't exactly fool you into thinking you're looking at the actors, you can usually tell who's who. Also, taking advantage of the limitless f/x available in art, the vampires don't look even remotely human which, if you're looking for fidelity to the series, might be awkward.

It ain't horrid, and I got a mild kick out of MacGuffins, but it remains a not especially memorable read.

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

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Ring of Fire  2000 (SC GN) 80 pages.

Written by Doug Petrie. Illustrated by Ryan Sook (inking assist Tim Goodyear).
Colours: Dave Stewart. Letters: Clem Robbins. Editor: Scott Allie.

Extras: commentaries by Doug Petrie and editor Scott Allie; sketches and storyboard samples by Ryan Sook.

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 2

Perhaps the main selling point of this graphic novel is that it was written by Doug Petrie, one of the writers of the Buffy TV series -- that is, not a comicbook writer trying to mimic the series, but someone who is part of the series. Of course, Buffy, more than many TV-to-comics franchises, has had a few talent crossovers over the years, culminating in the Joss Whedon overseen Buffy: Season Eight comic book series -- but Petrie may've been the first.

This story is also nestled more firmly in the show's continuity than some other Buffy comics, set back in the 2nd season when Buffy's vampire lover, Angel, had reverted to his evil incarnation of Angelus -- a retroactive implant, as the series was already a few more seasons along when it was published. Teamed with Spike and Drusilla, Angelus plots to resurrect an ancient demon. Meanwhile, Giles is still brooding over the death of his girlfriend, Jenny, leaving Buffy and her friends to face the current crisis without his guidance while he pursues his own ulterior agenda.

The result is, arguably, among the better Buffy-in-comics story to date (at least that I've read n' reviewed).

The plot is nicely handled -- oh sure, it's nothing the series hasn't done a dozen times before, but there are enough story curves and disparate plot elements to comfortably fill out its 66 pages of story -- not to make a complex masterpiece of twists and turns, perhaps, but at least it isn't draggy. It reads like a "lost" episode.

Ryan Sook's art is very effective. Heavy on the shadows, with a nice sense of composing panels, this is the first Buffy comic I've read which seems to comfortably exploit the medium, creating mood and atmosphere through the pictures, not just in spite of them. Close ups, long shots, thick pools of inky darkness, Sook is clearly thinking about how to bring out the nuances of Petrie's scenes. The colours by Dave Stewart also add greatly to the brooding atmosphere. A criticism I've come to level at the "Season Eight" comics is that the art tends to be bright, forgetting that, despite the jokes and action, Buffy is also a horror series. Sook (and Stewart) haven't forgotten that. Much of the accompanying commentaries are hyping Sook as a rising talent, describing this as his "first big project" (apparently, though, he had already worked in the Buffy-verse with a Spike & Dru special). What they don't mention is how clearly -- and heavily -- he was obviously being inspired by Hellboy artist Mike Mignola (the two later collaborated on the Hellboy spin-off B.P.R.D.). There's the same use of craggy, jagged-line realism with cartoony minimalism, the shadow-light contrast, the way a landscape might be suggested through a few choice lines rather than vividly detailed. Even Sook's use of panel composition and arrangement suggests Mignola, including occasionally inserting a cutaway to a peripheral object, such as roses.

Though you can at least tell who's who, his evocation of the actors is variable -- his Giles doesn't really resemble actor Anthony Stewart Head. His Buffy evokes actress Sarah Michelle Gellar -- but it's still more an evocation than an uncanny likeness.

Since it's set during one of the series' more sombre period (and some might argue the best, most emotionally-charged story arc), it's not surprising the overall mood is a little more serious. Even acknowledging that, though, Petrie doesn't always deliver the laughs you'd expect from a writer for the series. The quips are more often amusing than out-and-out funny -- though they are amusing (he has maybe the best feel for Willow and Oz). As well, Petrie maybe approaches the thing a little too aware of the medium, too aware that scenes in comics need to be tighter than scenes in a filmed story, unlike some new-to-comics writers. Unfortunately, his brevity can slide into abrupt. Plot elements sometimes seem to drop out of nowhere (like the ring of fire of the title, which isn't fully explained, but is a fairly minor aspect of the story) and scenes are a little too stripped down, characters a little short changed. You find yourself wishing for some wordier conversations.

The emotional emphasis is on Giles still struggling with the death of Jenny, and Buffy's pain at seeing her mentor distraught. Other character ideas are left largely unexplored, like the whole emotional quagmire of Buffy vs. Angel, or even the fact that the animosity between Spike and Angel was fuelled by a rivalry over Drusilla...but you wouldn't get that here. Drusilla isn't entirely in character, nor is Kendra (yup, Kendra crops up). That may be because, though Petrie is apparently a writer for the series, I'm not sure he was part of the show in the second season -- he might have no hands on experience writing for 2nd season characters like Drusilla and Kendra (it also might explain why he set this story in that period...he never got the chance to play with these characters the first time around). I half wonder if Kendra was written to be Faith, then someone pointed out Faith wasn't introduced by his point...and so Petrie just renamed her as Kendra but didn't bother to rethink her dialogue. Another continuity quibble is how Willow is referred to as a witch...although the second season was when Willow began tentatively experimenting with magic, she hadn't yet become an official witch.

If the above paragraph makes you go "huh?" then this probably isn't a good introduction for a non fan. Characters aren't introduced with any explanation or much background given. Give it another couple of years and even hard core Buffy-philes might have trouble orienting themselves, remembering who's what (I'm not sure Oz is even referred to by name at any point). Again, that relates to Petrie's no frills approach to the scripting.

Although a little more character depth would've been nice, Ring of Fire is still a decent, hauntingly atmospheric Buffy flashback.

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

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