It is really no secret that vampires are IN now. “Twilight” has taken over the mind of most every teenage girl in the country. HBO’s hit “True Blood” is gaining quite a following that grows with each episode. And there are a few vampire shows premiering on the networks this fall. But people are forgetting the originator of it all (or at least the one that paved the way): “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Still revered as one the best teen and sci-fi shows of the past decade (and one of the worst movies of the 90s), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has reached a cult status that some would argue is nipping that the heels of Trekkie/Trekker levels. But the show went off the air a little over six years ago. How could the flames of Buffy fever be fanned?

This post is about Season 8 of Buffy, the comic book currently produced by Dark Horse Comics and executive produced by Joss Whedon. This book is a real rarity in comics. Continuing popular stories is nothing new. The Star Wars universe has been in comic form since the first film with a series published by Marvel. The same can be said about the “Alien” series, the “Doctor Who” series, and the “Lone Ranger” series, among plenty of others. But where Buffy splits from comic series like those is that it is being done be the same people who wrote for the show. Joss Whedon wrote the initial four issue arc and oversees the book like he would a television show, having script input and creative control over the stories. Staff writers Jane Espenson, Doug Petrie, Drew Greenberg, Steven S. DeKnight, and Drew Goddard have all written stories for the book, as well as comic book heavyweights Brian K. Vaughn and Jeph Loeb.

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What’s great about this is that there really isn’t a misstep or learning curve for characterization. These are strong writers and all but Vaughn have a long history with the characters involved, so fans of the show can see that lines of dialogue could actually have come from Buffy or Xander or Willow. This is the closest anyone can get to having the flesh and blood actors return to their roles. This further helped by the art of regular artist Georges Jeanty. Jeanty has a knack of capturing the body language of the characters in a way that feels organic. His character design is spot on. While it’s not close to photo realistic (unlike the beautiful covers provided by artist Jo Chen), it’s almost as if the actors shot an episode and Jeanty used the still frames as his source.

But what good is characterization and art if there isn’t an engaging story. “Buffy” is known for its story arcs (Seasons 2 and 3 are my personal favorites) and Season 8 is no slouch itself. No longer hindered by budgetary or technological concerns, Season 8 is by far the most risk taking season of Buffy, but when there is only pen and paper to worry about and not flesh, blood and sets, that’s not too hard to pull off So far, there have been several large explosions, one main character who is skinless, a submarine teleported to Tibet, and a drag out fight between Dawn (who has spent most of the season as a literal giant) and a mecha version of herself in Japan.

It’s also a who’s who of the Buffyverse. No long hindered by actor’s schedules, basically every character still kicking it has made a comic appearance, with the only real hold outs being Angel and Spike (but more on those two a little later). This also extends to a few former villains who may not have been dealt with entirely during the course of the original series. I don’t want to offer any spoilers. Okay, I do, but that would take away from the story. The only person I’ll let out of the bag is Ethan Rayne, Giles’ old friend and professional pain in the neck, who figures into the first arc. These villains of old aren’t alone though. There is a new Big Bad threatening Buffy and the Scooby Gang: an enigmatic figure known as Twilight.

Immediately, my mind goes to the book series “Twilight,” the new vampire property to buffy3make vamps cool. But “Twilight” and “Buffy” have two completely different views on vampires. “Buffy” upholds that the way of the vampire is evil and demonic, that the people turned into vampires are essentially monsters, not humans. “Twilight” has taken the other path of sexualizing vampires, making their lifestyle attractive, even turning the main character Bella into a vampire in the final book (Thank you Wikipedia for the spoilers). One can’t help but wonder if the writers are taking a jab at the popular series, creating a small rivalry. The Big Bad Twilight is attempting to destroy everything Buffy stands for, hoping to kill off the Slayer line forever as well as remove magic from the world. To make matters worse (ANOTHER SPOILER) Harmony, the ditzy blonde vamp from both “Buffy” and “Angel,” has led a movement of acceptance of vampire culture through her popular reality show. This has also led to a backlash against the Slayer community, forcing them underground and creating hate and distrust of them. The world views the Slayer, created as the protector against the darkness of demons, as a fascist, paramilitary lifestyle. If the eventual triumph of Buffy happens, is this the writers saying that their vamp-viewpoint is the dominant one? Possibly or it could just be coincidence.

The main mystery of the season is “Who is Twilight?” There are a few theories that I’ve heard batted around. One has some legs, so I’ll share the link to that site here:

http://buffyfest.blogspot.com/2008/11/ive-got-theoryon-twilight.html

Also, I said that I would talk about Angel and Spike. The only appearance they’ve made in the present day was one highly sexual panel during the first arc. I don’t think the PD would really like me reprinting it here, so I won’t. But their absence isn’t that much of a loss because another publisher, IDW, has been putting out what is basically “Angel” Season 6. It’s called “Angel: After the Fall” and chronicles what happens to Angel and Co. following the open-ended finale of the series. The basic premise is that the Senior Partners, the main antagonist of the show, transported the entire city of LA (the place Angel makes his home) to Hell and everyone is trying to find a way out. The whole gang is there. Angel, Gunn, Wesley, Illyria, Spike and even with a tinge of sadness, Lorne (the actor who played Lorne, Andy Hallet, passed away suddenly this past March). It’s not as tightly written or hyped as Buffy Season 8, but Joss Whedon is still involved and even Juliet Landau is contributing to the current arc about the crazy vampire Drusilla, the character Landau played on both shows.

Dark Horse has said that Season 8 will go on for roughly 40 issues. Issue 27 came out this past week, part 2 of an arc called “Retreat.” All the previous story arcs are available in trade paperback. If you are a Buffy fan and haven’t been reading this, you are missing out on some prime Buffy experiences. This is exactly what Season 8 who’ve been like, only better.

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Painted art work by Jo Chen

Pencil and ink work by Georges Jeanty

Copyright Dark Horse Comics