I’m 32 going on 33. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer film (starring Kristy Swanson as the titular heroine, and the dreamy Luke Perry, riding high on his Dylan McKay fame) came out when I was thirteen; when High School was still new and exciting, and a sixteen-year-old like Buffy Summers seemed so worldly. I saw the film in the theater, and thought it so awesome that I immediately got posters and bought the tie-in novelization. By contrast, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show (starring Sarah Michelle Gellar) came out when I started college. Suddenly, Buffy was two years younger than me, and watching her high school antics seemed more nostalgic than current. Over time, I fell in love with the show, mostly because of Joss Whedon’s writing and that of his brilliant team, but I didn’t watch at first, because the whole thing seemed a bit silly. What had once made sense to me as a high schooler suddenly felt cheesy.
Which is why I’ve been such a huge fan of the continuation of the Buffyverse in Dark Horse Comics. They allow Buffy Summers to grow up.
Buffy Season Eight, while welcomed by fans starved for more Buffy, got mixed reviews. Readers were confused by the new, military dynamic amongst the slayers; by the insistence on the abolition of magic; by Dawn being a Centaur and a giant; by Buffy having an ill-advised dalliance with a fellow slayer, then even more ill-advised sex with Angel that was apparently so powerful it created a whole new universe. Joss Whedon has said that Season Eight was pretty much him going “Wheee!” with the freedom that comes with not having to limit one’s story ideas because of things like a television budget. However, he’s also said that with Season Nine, his focus was in getting back to basics with Buffy; back to the inner-workings of the characters we love so much and away from the high-concept craziness.
While I prefer the direction of the Buffy story in the Season Nine comics, I enjoyed Season Eight, despite the craziness, because things like a Slayer Army, a global perspective, and an encounter with Fray (Whedon’s Slayer heroine in the future) seemed inevitable. What do you do when every potential Slayer in the world is suddenly called, as they were at the end of the television show? You organize them. What do you do when magic is causing all of the trouble in your world? You try to get rid of it. And what do you do when, after years of being The Chosen One all by yourself, hundreds of other girls are called to stand with you? You lead them. Despite some questionable plot points, Season Eight made a lot of sense, at least where the characters were concerned.
However, Whedon was true to his word when he promised that Season Nine would send us back to basics. Buffy is still a slayer among many, but in a world without magic, she is required to save the world a lot less. The slayers continue to contend with the vampires and dangers still in the world (like “zompires,” for instance—yes, they’re exactly what they sound like), but with little-to-no risk of new apocalypses, the characters are more free to have semi-normal lives. Buffy starts Season Nine as a 31-year-old barista in San Francisco, sharing an apartment with roommates like a normal person. Dawn and Xander share an apartment and have a mature relationship, complete with adult problems. Willow is dealing with the lack of magic in the world, but she’s not “going dark” or pouting about it. She is doing what she feels needs to be done like a grown-up — no fuss, no drama. The recurring theme for all of the characters is that they are no longer children; no longer the Sunnydale teenagers we first came to love. They are adults, and must live their lives accordingly.
In Season Nine, writer Andrew Chambliss manages to move Buffy into the next stages of her life without sacrificing the story’s fantasy bent. Buffy deals with her desire for a more stable home life, her feelings about Spike, and even a pregnancy (yes, pregnancy!) all in a story that has influences as diverse as Battlestar Galactica and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s show, Ringer (one of the single-issue covers seemed like a call-back to the now-cancelled program). The tone of Season Nine also recalls more of the humor of the Buffy television show. Whereas Season Eight seemed to dwell more in the darkness, Season Nine feels more like the show we used to know, except that the characters are older, so their pop culture references and slips into snarky humor are more measured. They’re still there, but they’re evolving along with them. Artists Georges Jeanty and Karl Moline have aged the characters. They don’t draw them “older,” but they have thinned their faces a bit, giving them the gravitas of maturity. And one of the things that Season Nine does well that is a holdover from Season Eight is maintain a perspective beyond our Scooby Gang. Buffy and her friends have a big, bad world to deal with, which is exactly what happens when you’re well out of college.
They are defining who they are as adults, both within the framework of their demon-fighting duties, and outside of it. If the metaphor of the Buffy television show was that “high school is hell,” then the message of Buffy Seasons Eight and Nine seems to be that the Real World isn’t all that different, and high school is a training ground for the hell you’ll have to go through for the rest of your life. That sounds a bit disheartening, but it really isn’t. It’s just life. In Buffy Season Nine, there is the feeling that growing up is a good thing. There’s no fear of “getting old.” It’s about Being Mature, and that’s something I feel like everyone who watched and loved Buffy in my generation can relate to. It’s also something that teenagers and college students who are introduced to the television series can grow into. There are lots of things of which Buffy Summers could be afraid. Thankfully, growing older isn’t one of them.
So, if you’ve been staying away from the Buffy comics, because you’re afraid that the Buffyverse of the printed page won’t live up to the Buffy you enjoyed on television, I’d urge you to give Seasons Eight and Nine a try. Even if you don’t usually read comics, watching Buffy and the Scoobs grow up is a truly rewarding experience, and as much as Buffy might have meant to you when the show first aired, she can continue to be a role model as she lives through her thirties and beyond! I have to say, I’m looking forward to seeing what fifty-year-old Buffy will be like. Hopefully, Joss Whedon and Dark Horse Comics will let us find out!
Buffy Season Eight is already available in trade paperbacks. Buffy Season Nine, Vol. 1 comes out July 4th, containing issues #1-5. The series is currently on Issue #10 in single issues. And if you’re going to be at San Diego Comic Con and want to explore the world of Buffy comics more deeply, check out the “Once More, With Comics” panel, moderated by authors Katrina Hill (Action Movie Freak, GeekNation.com), Jennifer K. Stuller (Ink-StainedAmazon, GeekGirlCon), and Traci Cohen (CSU-Sacramento), and featuring Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow and Tara), writer/producer Jane Espenson, editors Scott Allie (Dark Horse) and Mariah Huehner (IDW), and actors Clare Kramer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bring it On) and Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cabin in the Woods)!
Teresa Jusino plans on slaying vampires until she’s way past retirement age. Her Feminist Brown Person take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming non-fiction anthologies, and her “Moffat’s Women” panel will be featured at Geek Girl Con in August! For more on her writing, Get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.