Back, once again, to the Hellmouth, for the first time.
It’s fair to say there was some trepidation going into this new start for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The transition from Dark Horse (the home of Buffy comics for close to 20 years) to BOOM! Studios meant a reboot, a term that doesn’t always sit easily with fans. With talks of a new beginning on the small screen for the Slayer, too, it seemed as though Joss Whedon’s shining star was no longer sacred. While the cult TV series ended in 2003, its world continued 2007 with Dark Horse's canonical Season 8. That ran until last year, when Fox pulled the comics license with Season 12. This BOOM! relaunch has more than two decades of continuity to contend with. Does it stand a chance?
Yes, actually: Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1 is amazing, relevant and important. It feels immediately as if readers have been thrown back to the beginning, permitting them to experience it all over again. It's quintessentially "Buffy’" in a way that later seasons weren't. Writer Jordie Bellaire and artist Dan Mora are clearly using the TV series as a starting block, before sprinting off in their own direction, the seeds of which are planted here.
With the (unfounded, in retrospect) trepidation also came the questions: Is this a new universe? Is this a full reboot or a soft relaunch? Will it be all-new characters or something familiar? The answers become clear as you work through this issue. This is all-new, but it’s also familiar. It’s a full reboot, right back to the beginning, but it’s set in 2019. Everything you know and love about Buffy -- the world, the characters, the humor, the heart -- are all here, but it all feels strange and, well, new. If you read the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers comics from BOOM!, you may be familiar with this feeling, as those comics pull off something similar, offering new takes on the setting, characters and stories beloved by fans.
There are a few cheeky nods here and there to what’s come previously: Xander’s “Grr. Argh” as he imitates a vampire; Buffy telling Willow that “even she” could be a witch if she wanted to be; Willow asking about werewolves. Yet there’s nothing that goes out of the way to appeal to longtime fans. It would be jarring if the past were repeatedly referenced in tongue-in-cheek ways. This is a new beginning for everyone involved, and Bellaire embraces that.
That’s not to say there aren’t things for longtime fans to love, however; the issue welcomes them with a warm hug. The faces and places look the same, and the character talk and behave the way we remember. The script has that perfect balance between weight and wisecracks, and the characters -- Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles (plus a few surprising faces) -- are all there like you want them to be. Mora’s art goes a long way to making this feel like home, too. The original actors have clearly been referenced, but not to the detriment of Mora’s wonderfully expressive style. There’s no awful photorealism; instead, this has the essence of the actors without literally lifting from scenes of the show. Mora injects energy into the characters that bring them to life in brand new ways, and the beautiful details in the establishing shots -- not to mention the backgrounds to every scene -- make it clear that Sunnydale is going to be as much a character as any of the cast.
It would be easy for Bellaire to retread old ground with this series, and especially in this opening arc, but to her credit, there are multiple times in this issue where we veer drastically from its source. This is a new start in every way, and while it’s fun to witness past events unfold all over again -- the growing bond between Buffy and Giles, which is still so cold and confrontational here; the development of Xander and Willow’s characters, already markedly different from what we know -- what’s more exciting is seeing what is done now that the slate truly is clean.
With this unpredictability is an energy that's not been felt in this franchise in years. Even the later seasons of the show didn’t shine as brightly as this issue, which might be considered sacrilegious in some circles, but nevertheless true. Whether you’re a new fan or old, reading through this debut feels like the first exciting step on a new adventure. Welcome back to the Hellmouth, Buffy. We’ve missed you.