Why Buffy Slays Me
(This Stripped column originally appeared in the October 8-14, 1998 Long Island Voice.Click on the artwork for a larger image.)
by Beth Hannan Rimmels
I was a Buffy fan when Buffy wasn't cool. In fact, back in '92, I was the weird one: I liked the valley-girl-turned-vampire-killer movie that co-starred Luke Perry from Beverly Hills, 90210. I found the premise amusing, the film fairly well-executed and Paul Reubens hysterical as vampire henchman Amilyn. But I was definitely in the minority — Buffy the Vampire Slayer grossed only $16 million domestically.
I also remember the industry snickers when the fledgling WB network debuted the TV series, but Buffy creator Joss Whedon had the last laugh when it not only became WB's highest-rated show but a formidable Tuesday night presence and pop-culture phenomenon. Now Whedon is trying to conquer a new medium with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic book (Dark Horse Comics, $2.95). The first issue is pretty good. All the elements from the TV show are there: Xander and Cordelia's love/hate relationship, Giles' stuffiness and Buffy's desire to somehow maintain a normal life.
Dark Horse made two smart decisions: First, each issue is self-contained so readers can pick it up without worrying about having not read the previous issues. Second, it's staying away from anything that's tightly tied to continuity twists in the series. For instance, Angel will be in the comic book, but there will be no references to the developments in last season's finale, which sent him to Hell. Instead, the comic tells stories that could be dropped in between episodes of the TV show.
On the plus side, the comic book doesn't have a special-effects budget — ink costs the same regardless of what you're drawing — so it can have as many monsters as the writers want. The drawback is that the dialogue isn't quite as sharp as that of the WB show, but it's only the first issue.
In my humble opinion, that's what makes TV Buffy smarter than movie Buffy — and most TV shows for that matter. Let's be honest. Most episodes boil down to this: A creepy thing crawls out of the Hellmouth to molest Sunnydale residents, Buffy and her friends find out, hunt it down and kill it. What keeps it fresh are lines like Spike explaining to Buffy that he sees humans as "Happy Meals with legs."
Or when Kendra says, "This is my lucky stake, I've killed many vampires with it. I call it Mr. Pointy."
Buffy: "You named your stake?"
"Remind me to get you a stuffed animal."
The sharp dialogue is accompanied by savvy plot points derived from three-dimensional characters. For instance, at the end of last season, Buffy's mom is finally confronted with irrefutable proof that her daughter kills vampires, which she wants to discuss. Buffy blows her off by telling her to have another drink — not the normal TV quip. When mom gets indignant, Buffy lays into her about how many times she washed blood out of Buffy's clothes without comment. By the end of the scene, the viewer realizes that Buffy's home life would be dysfunctional all on its own, even without the little vampire problem.
So why am I cutting comic book Buffy so much slack? First, it takes time for any title to get into its rhythm, so I'm just being fair. Second, I saw of partial preview of writer Andi Watson's upcoming Geisha miniseries for Oni Press in San Diego, and it looks great. A writer this good has to improve. I think it's just taking him a little time to get into the characters' heads.
I'm also pleased because rather than do this as a quickie TV knock-off, everyone involved is trying to do it right. Buffy creator Joss Whedon OKs everything in the early stages so there isn't any weird out-of-character stuff common to comic book spin-offs, and Sarah Michelle Gellar has art approval of her likeness. Keeping close connections to the source material like this makes all of difference. Issue #2 will be out in time for Halloween, of course. A Buffy graphic novel by Dan Brereton (Nocturnals) and Hector Gomez is set for release any moment.
Media Connection: On 'Nuff Said this week, hosts Ken Gale and Ed Menje talk with Irwin Hasen, who co-created the comic strip Dondi in the early '50s, which he drew and eventually wrote until the mid-'80s. He was also the first artist for the character Wild Cat in Sensation Comics #1 and drew the golden age Green Lantern back in 1940. Recorded at the Big Apple Convention in New York City in Sept. 1998. 'Nuff Said airs from midnight Oct. 11 to 1 a.m. Oct 12 on WBAI-FM (99.5).
Column © 1998 Long Island Voice. Artwork © 1998 Dark Horse Comics. Buffy the Vampire Slayer © 1998