Today the final arc of season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer kicks off, and with Joss Whedon back at the helm this is definitely a must-read. In tandem with a recent marathon of the old TV series, I’ve been reminded how much more has been packed into just a couple of years of the comic book continuation. World travel, confrontations with all manner and scale of monsters and armies, sexual misadventures, lovers found and lost, entire epic battles…
A couple of years ago I bought that bigass boxed set of the entire run of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all seven seasons of the TV show. It’s ridiculous really, because now you can download them, stream them, or watch the repeats on some weird channel 15 times a week, basically it’s ubiquitous. But back when it started, I was the only lunatic I knew who wanted to watch a teenage girl beat up monsters. In fact, all of my friends wondered if I had some kind of problem. They accused me of everything from creepy lesbionic-pedo-tendencies to some kind of anti-feminist desire to see women getting hurt (which is ironic, since most of the time she was the one beating the mean guys up, which I actually did enjoy.) Somehow, after what seemed like an eternity, people came around to my way of thinking, and soon I was having large groups of friends over to watch the TV show as it aired, cheering on the valiant fight against evil and such.
When the series ended, I think we were all ready for it. Clearly the cast were outgrowing their roles, both physically and emotionally, and a hell of a lot of the stories didn’t seem to have anywhere to go at this point. It felt over, a good kind of finished. We were sad, but it felt right. I never imagined that I’d want more, and certainly didn’t expect to look forward to it.
Then season eight of Buffy came out, and this time it was a comic book. I’ll come clean here, and admit that I never read the comic before then. It just didn’t appeal to me conceptually, but when Whedon said that he was going to continue the series in the comic book, I had to give it a go. It did not disappoint. Exactly the same characters, speaking with the same voices, looking just as they ought to, and the stories… things had progressed. Suddenly there was more to do, more to find out. Outside of the constraints of a TV series, Buffy could go to all kinds of different countries to meet her various armies of slayers, zipping around the world at light speed (literally at times.) And this time when I say an army of slayers, I mean it. Unlike the TV show, an army wasn’t just 12 girls in her back garden, it was an entire bloody, world-wide army. Speaking of armies, when they went up against the real US army, they didn’t mess around there either. This army had weapons, and not just the odd rocket launcher, but nuclear bombs, jet planes, and entire, overwhelming battalions. So who did the army fight? They fought skyscraper-sized gods, multi-armed things, straight out of folklore. Speaking of giant monsters, what about the giant (epic, even) robot, or the disturbing Hello Kitty vampire things in Japan? Those terrifying little bastards with the bloody fangs which combined to make one massive monster, that worked for me too.
The list of physically impossible things goes on and on. These are things which no TV series would have the budget or time to create. At best we’d get some nasty, low-budget Sliders type nonsense, which would have been so bad that it would have pulled us right out of the experience. No, the TV show was right to stick to what it could handle. Whenever it stepped outside of that even on a very small scale, it became jarring, for example; the Initiative. Apparently we are expected to believe that the army operate out of a tinfoil-lined, empty swimming pool in the basement of Buffy’s college. There were a lot of silly things in the show (that was sort of the point), but that was too silly, and personally, I think it might be one of the reasons that the Riley episodes get such a bad rap. Maybe the only thing wrong was the damn tinfoil swimming pool. We’ll never know now.
What I do know is that Buffy the comic is working in ways that Buffy the TV show just couldn’t, and it’s not just about budget this time, it’s about content too.
It is possible that the TV show might have shown Buffy dreaming of dressing up as a nurse and having a threesome with her two vampire ex boyfriends, but somehow I suspect that it would have been frowned upon. TV shows aimed at young women tend to shy away from cosplay and group sex, unless they end in misery and danger. In a comic book though, especially one for a publisher like Dark Horse, those limits are pretty lax. Yes, there was that episode where Buffy and Riley shagged till they nearly died, but there again was the punishment. It basically a moralistic story about limiting contact so that you don’t accidentally cast a spell and kill everyone. In the comic book, there’s seems to be more space for the odd incident of pure, healthy hedonism on Buffy’s part, and I’m up for that. She’s got a crappy job, might as well have some fun.
Then there is the continuity. With the TV series, people got older, they got too thin or too fat. Sarah Michelle Gellar got so svelte that there were times I wondered how she could walk, let alone kick people, and when her stunt double came out, with all her muscles she was twice the size. Talking of twice the size, poor Nicholas Brendon was clearly just bored on set and eating for two, and considering he was meant to be an ageless, unchanging vampire Angel grew dramatically older and bigger over the course of the series. Naturally these people are only human, they’re bound to grow and change, but it did make it that tiny bit less realistic, and it is a problem that reading the comic book never presents. In the comic book Xander is aerodynamic again, Buffy has muscles again, and Angel and Spike haven’t changed a bit.
There are so many ways in which the comic book as a medium is showing itself to be vastly superior to the TV show, that I find myself wondering why so many excellent comic books are bothering to move the other way; from comic book into TV and film. Yes, there is a larger audience, I’ll give it that, but what joy is that audience missing out on? If you only ever experience Batman (for example) in The Dark Knight, no matter how good the movie is (and it is good), you’re missing about 90% of what makes that mythos incredible. This entire experience has shown me that comic books are a much richer, more versatile, more durable medium than any other entertainment medium. In all instances, there will always be good and bad stories, but at least in comic books, the limits are off. It is a visual medium where anything can happen, and if we’re lucky, it will.