I discovered Joss Whedon’s hit television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in college. It was my first year at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), and Buffy Summers’ first year at UC Sunnydale, a fictional knockoff of UCSC that adopted many of the names of our individual colleges on campus. For the next decade I devoured the show several times over, following its transition into comic book land, consuming all of the television and comic spin-offs, and eventually exploring Buffy fandom as part of my graduate research project. I was ecstatic when I learned that Boom!, the studio behind Giant Days and Lumberjanes, would be releasing their own graphic novel, but the results are mixed.

As promised, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, vol. 1, is a modern day version of the pop culture phenomenon, and a return to Sunnydale High. The Scoobies—Buffy and besties Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg—are back in high school, with a few changes here and there. Willow has a girlfriend and sports fishnet stockings instead of clothing picked out by her mom. Giles, Buffy’s beloved librarian Watcher, is kind of a dick, popular mean girl Cordelia is nice, and the kids all have smartphones. It takes a bit of getting used to, and not every reader will want to.

In the original television series, Willow’s transformation from insecure nerd to strong lesbian Wiccan was a huge component of the overall story, and to choose such a story line was a big deal in the early 2000s when positive lesbian imagery was rare. But this is not another coming out story, thank goodness, and Eisner Award-winning writer Jordie Bellaire deserves credit for recognizing that coming out is not the only LGBTQ experience worth telling. Boom!’s Willow is out and proud from the get-go, and it will be interesting to see what kind of path awaits her now.

Another major surprise is Xander. He is lonely and troubled, blogging about his depression, and is more hurt than he lets on when Buffy and Willow cancel plans. The original show spoke to this somewhat, but the nature of his feelings were significantly skirted around when you consider the fact that he grew up in an abusive household. Now these issues are being taken much more seriously, and speak to one of the major problems facing today’s society: disconnect and isolation in the age of technology.

Because of my personal experience with the show, I read the reboot with a very critical eye. And while things are noticeably different, I’m thrilled that many of the original elements are still intact. Not only are teenage concerns still at the forefront, but many of the extended cast and iconic spaces that made the show such a hit are still in place: lovable baddies Spike and Drusilla are vol. 1’s major villains. Anya, Angel, and the magic shop all make appearances, and there’s a good indication that we’ll see The Bronze at some point. Then there’s the gorgeous artwork, by Dan Mora and Raúl Angelo. The line work is crisp and clean, and the characters are instantly recognizable—an important feature when so many readers will be crossing over from the live-action show. The palette is bright and colorful, and, again, speaks to the series’ pop culture origins. Mora and Angelo have also hinted that they are a match for the story’s darker moments. In one scene, Buffy has a nightmare that includes an elongated Willow crawling out of a wall and a demonic Giles that calls to mind Stephen Gammell’s creepier illustrations.

It’s not a perfect start, by far. Willow’s girlfriend, Rose, is bland and two-dimensional, and it makes absolutely no sense that she wouldn’t be part of the Scoobies, or that Willow would spend more time with Xander than with her. It’s a bold move to bring back altered versions of beloved characters who have been around for twenty years, and I’m not convinced that it’s been justified here. Still, there is promise, and I’m eager to see if things start coming together more fully in the next volume.

The publisher doesn’t give an age range, but I recommend this series for teens and adults, especially those who enjoy supernatural stories, strong female characters, and shows like Stranger Things and Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, vol. 1
By Jordie Bellaire
Art by Dan Mora Raúl Angulo
ISBN: 9781684153572
Boom! Studios, 2019
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)

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  • Becca

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Becca is a Reference Librarian at the Public Library of Brookline in Brookline, Massachusetts, and a transplant from the West Coast who will never fully understand the physics of snow and ice. She was saved from a life of shunning graphic novels by a group of perceptive teen patrons who saw a geek in need and showed her the light (and the Marvel.) To them she is eternally grateful, and shudders to think what might have been. When she's not consuming media and graphic novels, she is actively working to provide inclusive library services and promote diversity. She's particularly fond of comics of the indie variety and those that seek to represent humans in all our many forms. Some of her other interests include archery (doing it), roller derby (watching it), and dark chocolate (eating it.)

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