So here we are, at the twelfth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the past five of which have been part of Dark Horse Comics’ comic book revival. At this point, Sunnydale’s scoobies have had about as many adventures on the comics page as they have a TV screen — but the original show remains the benchmark for judging every new story.
If the comics don’t feel like “proper” Buffy — like they could have been an episode of the show, with the familiar actors filling these roles — then your brain starts to question the line between canonical continuations and unofficial fanfic. And, friend, nothing gets in the way of enjoying a story quite like cognitive dissonance.
The names on the cover should go some way to putting those concerns to rest. This issue marks series creator Joss Whedon’s return to the Buffy comics, following a few years where he was apparently busy making movies about folks in costumes. He’s credited with co-writing the story, but the majority of the heavy lifting is being done by Christos Gage, who has written the past two “seasons.” They’re joined by penciller Georges Jeanty, who has drawn more issues of the revived Buffy than any other artist.
Unsurprisingly, Gage has an undeniably good grasp on the characters’ voices. In particular, he writes a great Giles — I was delighted to find Anthony Stewart Head’s voice reading out the speech balloons in my mind — but every character sounds like themselves.
Jeanty’s likenesses are a little more wonky. In individual close-ups, most familiar faces are recognizable, but in any panel which multiple characters share, you might have to do a bit of guesswork based on hair, clothing or — in the case of Xander — eyepatch. His Dawn in particular requires a process of elimination to identify.
This is perhaps inevitable, given Jeanty is drawing these characters half a decade after they left our TV screens. Dawn is no longer a bratty teenager, she’s old enough to be someone’s mother. Literally, as it turns out.
The meat of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 12: The Reckoning #1 picks up with the Scooby Gang a year after the last season, and we see how their lives have moved on — which also doubles as a handy catch-up for anyone who hasn’t kept up with the comics. (Skip the next paragraph if you’d prefer to be unspoiled.)
Buffy and Spike have broken up, Angel and Illyria are a couple. Giles was dead, then he was a teenager, but now he’s back to his normal role as the group’s elder stakesman. Everyone lives in San Francisco now. And Dawn and Xander, who have been together for a few seasons now, have a baby girl. However long it’s been, I still can’t quite get the “ew” of that last relationship out of my hair. Xander was Dawn’s first crush, before she was even in high school. Seeing him as a 30-year-old man ogling her pregnancy boobs doesn’t feel too far out of character, but it does kind of make me want to shower afterwards.
Whatever I personally make of these pairings, however, putting them front and center does feel appropriately Buffy. The issue manages to summon that lovely televisual feeling of catching up with old friends, with its scenes of old friends catching up at a housewarming party. But, with just four issues in this season, that can’t last too long.
Which brings us to what promises to be the overarching plot of Season 12 — the end of the Slayer line. The Reckoning, which gives this season its title, is something that was first teased in Fray, a 2001 comic where Whedon fast-forwarded to the future of the Buffyverse, and now we’ll finally see how it came to pass.
It’s not the first time these two worlds have crossed over, but by making it the focus, Whedon and Gage are making it clear that Season 12 is as rooted in the Fray comics as much as it is the Buffy TV series. It also feels like an attempt to ratchet up the stakes — pun, unfortunately, intended — to apocalyptic levels.
That was never Buffy’s strong suit. Finding the right Big Bad has always been a problem for the series’ comics incarnation, and even the TV show struggled when it focused too much on a single central threat. With only four issues, there’s no room for standalone stories, which were always such a huge part of Buffy’s charm.
The decision to dismiss serialized storytelling in favor of a single climactic blockbuster doesn’t take advantage of comics’ similarities to television. More importantly, it doesn’t feel like Buffy. Even if you can accept these characters as the same ones you remember from — oh god, seriously? — 20 years ago, it feels like they’ve been dumped into an alternate reality. On the plus side, that does allow me to erase those bits that gross me out from my own mental canon.