Looking back on something you once loved deeply is a double-edged sword. Sometimes you revisit the past and find it not nearly as hospitable and compelling as you thought, and sometimes you find fresh new ways to engage with the material.
For this month’s Pull List we’re taking a trip down memory lane with two comics that take very different approaches to nostalgia. DIE asks what it means to confront the past while Buffy the Vampire Slayer excavates all the best bits from the way back when and pairs them with contemporary sensibilities. So when I tell you to call your local comic shop ASAP to place your order, you better be pulling out your phone.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
There has been a lot of chatter about the new Buffy comic book update, most of it some version of “OMG CAN’T WAIT!” I’m happy to announce that the anticipation and early praise are wholly warranted. Buffy puts the “grr” in “Jordie Bellaire has written a super great comic.” The first issue has teenage Buffy working at a fast food joint and already bored half to death. During a break she dusts a vamp in front of Willow and Xander, and the three teens quickly become a trio of besties. Anya runs a magic shop in town and uses immortality-granting jewelry to lure in bad men and kill them off in revenge. That is, until Drusilla gets wind of the jewelry and tries to take it for herself.
Writer Jordie Bellaire hits all the right tones of youthful sarcasm, quirky colloquialisms, and urban fantasy while avoiding the cliches, caricatures, and casual racism/misogyny typical of Joss Whedon’s works (and I say that as a fan who has rewatched Buffy and Angel so many times I’ve lost count). I’m glad Bellaire isn’t just rebooting the show but bringing the characters into the 21st century. She’s doing something spectacular and thoroughly current with an outdated property.
Dan Mora’s art is layered and detailed, and the character work is expressive and nuanced. In a way, it almost feels as if it was drawn to be watched, like we’re seeing it through a camera instead of sketches on paper. With his top notch coloring, Raúl Angulo adds depth and texture to an already rich canvas. Whether it’s a lurid splash of color against a night-time backdrop or the bright, cheerful tones of Sunnydale High, Angulo nails it. Jury’s still out on Ed Dukeshire’s lettering. I’m not sure how I feel about the blue and white narration boxes. And I really don’t care for the font—it gets hard to read in text-heavy speech balloons, and the emphasized words stand out oddly in bold.
I’ve been a Bellaire fan for a long time now, and have enjoyed watching her grow as as a colorist, artist, and writer. She’s worked on some of the best comics of the 2010s, and although it’s too early to tell where Buffy will fit in that canon of excellence, if the first issue is any indication it’ll be pretty high up. I just want to be alone and quiet in a room with my new Buffy comic and a chair and a fireplace and a tea cozy.
Writer: Jordie Bellaire; illustrations: Dan Mora; colors: Raúl Angulo; letters: Ed Dukeshire; designer: Michelle Ankley; editor: Jeanine Schafer. The first issue was released by BOOM! Studios on January 23, 2019.
Back in the 90s, six teens were sucked into a deadly fantasyland, but only five made it back out again. Two decades later, they’re pulled back by that friend left behind who has since taken over the game. The only way out is through, but playing by the Grandmaster’s rules means risking everything. Think Jumanji crossed with Gryphons & Gargoyles and set in Fillory but D A R K.
If you have even a vague conception of the contemporary comics scene, you should know how awesome Kieron Gillen is. From plot to pacing to character development, Gillen pushes them all to the edge. DIE expands slowly then all at once as Ash tells four stories simultaneously: what happened before they fell into Die, what happened during their years there, what happened after they returned to the real world, and what’s happens when they’re yanked back in. They aren’t the same as they once were, and neither is Die.
DIE would be interesting enough as a story, but Stephanie Hans makes it an unmissable comic. Her painterly style is a perfect match for the fantasy elements yet also gives the real world parts a hazy, dreamlike feel. It’s lush, gorgeous work, replete with uncomfortable angles, challenging color schemes, and haunting visuals. Clayton Cowles is a master of the lettering domain, and he’s working at his highest level on DIE. The font is visually appealing and simple to read, and the pitch black narration boxes outlined in a thin red line add punch to the script. It’s easy to miss, but even the choice of where to break a line adds weight and subtle emotions to the dialogue.
I’ve never played D&D (and still don’t feel particularly inclined to start), but even a novice such as I was won over by DIE. It’s a dark and unforgiving examination of adolescent fantasies, adult practicalities, and the dreams that either keep us going or crush our spirits. I hope you have room in your subscription box…
Writer: Kieron Gillen; art: Stephanie Hans; letters: Clayton Cowles; designer: Rian Hughes; editor: Chrissy Williams. The first issue was released by Image on December 5, 2018.
Alex Brown is a high school librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.