Buffy The Vampire Slayer gets a brilliant, beautiful reimagining

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Every two weeks, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance.

This week, it is Buffy The Vampire #3. Written by Jordie Bellaire (Redlands, Batman) with art by Dan Mora (Klaus, Go Go Power Rangers), colors by Raúl Angulo (Go Go Power Rangers, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) and letters by Ed Dukeshire (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, The Woods), this issue continues to add depth to an exceptional modern-day reimagining of the Buffy TV series. Note: This review reveals major plot points. 

Reinvention is a fundamental part of Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s DNA. The TV show that made the property a pop culture phenomenon was a reinvention of a cinematic bomb, and after the conclusion of the series, the characters lived on for years in comic books. Twenty years after the height of the TV series’ popularity, the nostalgia wave is hitting Buffy The Vampire Slayer (BTVS) hard, with a potential TV reboot in the works and a new comic book that offers an updated take on the original high school years of Buffy, Willow, Xander, and the rest of the Scooby Gang.

With the Buffy license’s jump from Dark Horse Comics to Boom! Studios, there’s a new opportunity to redefine BTVS in comics. The approach for the Boom! BTVS series is akin to what Marvel did with its Ultimate line, holding on to fundamental aspects of the characters and concept while making changes that modernize the property for a new generation of readers and give longtime fans a fresh interpretation. Written by Jordie Bellaire with art by Dan Mora, colorist Raúl Angulo, and letterer Ed Dukeshire, BTVS is very familiar but gains new layers of complexity and intrigue thanks to significant alterations to the narrative. The emotional core of the series is still the relationship between Buffy and her friends, but Bellaire, working closely with editor Jeanine Schaefer, has redefined characters so that they begin with the extra dimensions they gained later in the series.

It took Willow four seasons to accept her queer sexuality in the TV show, but in the new comic, she has a girlfriend from the very beginning. Xander’s insecurity is pushed to the forefront of his character, and in a clever move, Bellaire has the series’ everyman narrate the first two issues to provide a more grounded perspective on these fantastic circumstances. Buffy’s home situation is complicated by her mom’s boyfriend living with them for a year, creating extra tension and bringing out more of Buffy’s teenage petulance. Her main father figure replacement, Giles, whips out his guitar in this month’s issue, introducing an element of his out-of-school life so that he’s not relegated to the stodgy librarian role.

The big bad of BTVS season one, The Master, is nowhere to be seen, replaced by a new Mistress, Drusilla, who has full control of her mental faculties and is presented as a stylish vampire in the vein of Lady Gaga’s American Horror Story: Hotel character. She’s still paired with Spike, and Bellaire recognizes that these two characters drastically elevated the series when they debuted in the second season, so why not have them around from the very beginning? The same goes for the beloved vengeance demon, Anya, who owns Sunnydale’s magic shop and has been alive since at least 500 BCE.

A lot of characters are entering the story earlier on, making the book feel like even more of an ensemble piece. The most notable absence is Buffy’s vampire paramour, which creates anticipation for his inevitable arrival. Will he be Angel, the brooding vampire with a soul Buffy falls in love with, or Angelus, the soulless mass murderer who terrorizes Buffy and her friends? While we wait to find out, Buffy gains a new potential love interest in Robin Wood, who was introduced in the TV show’s final season as the principal of Sunnydale High. He’s de-aged here to be one of Buffy’s classmates, a track star impressed by her beauty, wit, and superhuman athleticism. The addition of Robin also helps to remedy BTVS’ diversity issue, and while he’s still the token POC at this point, at least the cast isn’t entirely white anymore.

Bellaire started in comics as a prolific colorist, earning Eisner Awards in 2014 and 2016 for coloring a whopping 11 books in each year. Her first ongoing writing project, Image Comics’ Redlands, garnered another Eisner nomination for Best New Series last year, boosting Bellaire’s profile and making her an ideal writer for BTVS thanks to the book’s focus on horror-based female empowerment. Bellaire’s passion for this property shines through in the specificity of the character’s voices, and her dialogue is often laugh-out-loud funny. BTVS #3 is full of hilarious moments like Harmony asking if the giant talking bat escaped from the zoo, Spike lamenting the sound of Giles butchering a classic English song, and Buffy not knowing which part of Giles’ broken guitar she’s handing back to him.

One of the most challenging aspects of comics based on live-action properties is nailing actor likenesses while still imbuing characters with a sense of vitality. Dan Mora is a rare talent in this regard, drawing spot-on likenesses that make the series stand out in an era of constant reboots and revivals. Even with advanced CGI de-aging technology, you can’t do a live-action high school-era reboot of BTVS with the same actors playing their teenage selves without it being incredibly awkward, but this comic makes that idea possible with depictions that clearly read as those individual performers.

Dan Mora is a superstar artist who has surprisingly steered clear of working for Marvel and DC with the exception of covers, staying loyal to Boom! as the interior artist on Hexed, Klaus, and Go Go Power Rangers. His work on Klaus is astounding, and the annual Klaus holiday specials consistently reveal new facets of his talent as writer Grant Morrison gives him increasingly outrageous and ambitious stories to draw and color. Go Go Power Rangers honed his ability to draw convincing teenagers as it focused on the high school drama of the superheroes, and established his creative relationship with colorist Raúl Angulo, who matches the detail of Mora’s linework in his rendering while adding intensity to the page with bold palettes.

The opening nightmare sequence of last month’s issue #2 showed off how this art team switches up the visuals to enhance story beats, with Mora making his linework scratchier and Angulo pumping up the hot colors to create an infernal atmosphere for Buffy’s disturbing dream. BTVS #3 is the series’ first big action extravaganza, taking advantage of the unlimited budget of comics as it pits Buffy against a huge bat-monster wreaking havoc as it hunts vampires on the streets of Sunnydale. Angulo makes teal the predominant color for backgrounds, so the bright red bat pops on the page, and strings of lights add an extra graphic element that creates a stronger sense of motion on the page.

Willow and Xander show up toward the end of the fight to save Buffy from Drusilla, appearing in a dramatic panel that showcases their badass battle outfits. Willow looks a lot like Hack/Slash’s Cassie Hack in her monster-fighting clothes, and the general shift in her fashion says a lot about the change in her personality. In response to a reader letter in last month’s issue, Schaefer addressed Willow’s new style by explaining that 2019 Willow has access to a network of online peers who help her process her personal issues earlier in life, so her look has changed to reflect this self-assuredness. She’s more confident and outgoing in this series, fully embracing her queer sexuality, aggressively pursuing her interest in witchcraft, and playing a more active part in her school’s social dynamics by running for class president against Cordelia.

Sunnydale High’s resident mean girl has also undergone a significant personality makeover, presenting herself as a chipper friend to all until she finally breaks at the end of this issue, unable to keep up her nice facade when confronted with all the overwhelming weirdness. Cordelia is also the voice of each issue’s opening recap, which adds personality to the summaries while establishing Cordelia as the school’s big gossip. She’s keeping a close eye on everything, including Xander’s depressing blog, and that high level of engagement actually makes her a pretty great candidate for class president.

Michelle Ankley deserves recognition for giving the book a distinct publication design, starting with a recap/credits page colored with vibrant pink and purple and adorned with an image of a spell book, smartphone, and lipstick that showcases the combination of the mystical and mundane at the core of the property. The letter’s column for each issue is presented as the website for the Sunnydale High newspaper, complete with daily school bulletins teasing future events for the series.

The cover design for this series is also very striking. The main covers by Matt Taylor are outfitted with the signature BTVS logo, but Kevin Wada’s portrait variants replace the logo with the specific character’s name. The “Chosen One” variants spotlight slayers of the past, presenting the location and time period alongside evocative images that hopefully foreshadow the appearances of these women within the book’s narrative. This BTVS revival reveals how much potential this concept still has in a modern context, and the creative team has laid fertile ground to continue growing the property in surprising, engrossing ways.