“Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Willow Wonderland” #1 by Jeff Parker and Brian Ching follows Willow on her now-solo quest to bring magic back to Earth. The central conceit of Willow’s epic quest in “Willow Wonderland” is that magic is the source of life’s richness, both in artificial, creative endeavors (music), natural beauty (rainbows), sensory depth (flavors) and plain old happiness. This is annoyingly broad, ill-explained, philosophically lazy and contrary to what magic represented in the original seven seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” However, it props up the importance of Willow’s self-appointed quest and her accompanying self-righteousness. This idea was carried over from the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel and Faith” comics, so it’s neither Parker’s idea nor his fault. Nevertheless, “Willow Wonderland” #1 suffers from the burden of this poor concept.
Unless Parker gets truly subversive with reader expectations, my guess is that Willow will return victorious and restore magic to Earth. Thus, “Willow Wonderland” #1 gives readers a glimpse of a place with enough magic to siphon. Wonderland looks like a variation on the setting for every fantasy epic ever — a wilderness without technology, yet Earth physics and chemistry work, there is edible food and an atmosphere with enough oxygen to breathe. Besides Willow, the other three characters are a chimera and two anthropomorphic creatures, none of which represent a giant leap of imagination. I don’t expect every mystical dimension to look like Grant Morrison’s “Doom Patrol,” but Wonderland is very flat and mentally unchallenging, given both its borrowed name and its designated role as the deux ex machina pill that will cure Earth of its magical lack.
The action of “Willow Wonderland” is linear and also a little dull. Willow confirms Wonderland has magic and makes a very dubious ally of a fellow conjurer named Marrak. They tussle with a hostile creature, drink some abnormal water, and then meet a friendlier, more familiar character. It’s a soft, decompressed beginning for any new storyline, much less one that is supposed to restore magic.
I’m divided on Parker’s borrowing a name and a character from Carroll’s work. It’s fun, and Parker gets the voice of a beloved “Alice in Wonderland” character mostly right, but the problem with works that heavily allude to classics is that they seldom stand up to comparison, as is the case here.
Parker writes crisp dialogue and funny jokes, but oddly, Marrak and Willow have the same speech rhythms and Whedonesque sense of humor, despite their differences. Furthermore, Marrak’s characterization is heavy-handed, in everything from his appearance to his simplistic motivations.
On the positive side, there’s a promising hint that Parker might play around more with Buffyverse concepts of magic and morality. The single most interesting line in “Willow Wonderland” #1 is a character asking Willow rhetorically, “Tell me, do they have dark science where you’re from, too?”
Brian Ching’s attractive artwork has strong transitions and his drawing of Buffyverse characters strikes a great balance between recognizable faces and keeping his own distinctive line intact. Michelle Madsen’s colors are also easy on the eye.
However, the pretty art and snappy jokes in “Willow Wonderland” #1 are overshadowed by the lack of interesting action or characterization, making for a weak debut.