Okay, so let me explain what’s going on here real quick, because the comic doesn’t actually do a particularly good job of it: it’s adapting Buffy into the current modern day, rather than the modern day at the time that it aired.
So: pushing the story forward by about 20 years. And seeing what still works, what changes, and what snaps under the pressure.
It’s an interesting idea. It’s not so far of a time-displacement that it makes everything different (which I think actually would have been a more cohesive project, but whatever), but it’s just far enough to change details that significantly alter the trajectory of the story.
Now, I’m actually going to talk about the first four volumes of this comic (issues 1-16) – because it makes more sense to review it with a bigger eye on the arc that’s happening.
The most fascinating thing, to me, about the arc that this comic takes is that it veers wildly between brilliant choices linked to the modernization concept, and very discordant choices where it’s not brave enough to diverge from the original series, or at least doesn’t seem to understand why particular plots worked at particular times.
– In a post-2008 economic crash world, Buffy needs a part-time job during school, and ultimately meets Willow & Xander there after the school year has started, revealing the existence of vampires to dumb teenagers in a fast food parking lot.
– In a post-Obergefell world, Willow is out already in high school, with a tertiary-character girlfriend who represents a more ordinary experience of Sunnydale.
– In the age of online gossip, Cordelia is superficially extremely nice, so that nobody can ever say anything bad about her behind her back.
– In a time when divorce is far less stigmatized, Buffy’s parents split up earlier, and Joyce has already moved in with a long-term boyfriend.
All of these add extra plot complications that feel organic: troubling slayer time-management, more people to hide the vampire truth from, and faster character development for secondary and tertiary characters.
But there are also some…story-breaking decisions, too:
– Making Spike sympathetic from the get-go, because he’s eventually going to be, de-claws an antagonist and reduces character arc potential.
– Making the first Master-arc villain Drusilla omits everything that made her a somewhat sympathetic antagonist, so instead she’s just the Master with a prettier face, and we’ve made no new story moves.
– Making Xander the first vampire-bite victim, but not being brave enough to kill him off, just axes his role as the human balance to a mostly-supernatural cast without leaving anything useful in its place.
– Cutting Willow’s early crush on Xander feels like the right move to make for an openly-queer Willow, but ultimately flattens the dynamic between our Core Three, by eliminating all the interpersonal tension in Willow’s corner. (Buffy is jealous of the other two’s longstanding friendship, Xander is jealous of Buffy’s attention, Willow is…here, I guess?)
– Failing to introduce Angel anywhere in the first few arcs, even if intended to build tension, means that our leads don’t learn anything about how vampires work. Ever.
And here’s the thing: I get why these narrative choices are made. But, unlike the purely-modernized ones, they only exist in contrast to the original story. And without anything actually replacing the thematic significance of the cut concepts, you end up with a narrative that doesn’t properly stand alone.
I think an independent story needs to be able to stand alone. Or, at a minimum, stand as a possible introductory point to a world.
And I think that’s indicative of the core problem, here: we meet everybody already mostly self-actualized in the dimensions we’ve seen them before, but we don’t pick new paths for them to develop along.
If Buffy is already self-confident…what’s her problem? If Willow and Xander are already self aware…where do they go next? If Giles already knows his limits, if Anya is already settled in a balance between her demon and human lives, if Cordelia is already calculating rather than manipulative, if Spike is already sympathetic, if Drusilla is already sane enough to plan…where do we go from here?
And I’m not saying there’s nowhere to go! Of course there are places! But we’d have to follow these characters on new arcs, constructed for a new story…and we just don’t.
We’re just already somewhere. The journey doesn’t exist.
And, weirdly, we don’t see the inside of the Hellmouth even though there’s no TV budget considerations to stop us anymore.
Anyway: the art was pretty, the newly-introduced characters were cool (I particularly liked the young Watcher-in-training, and Rose after she meets Kendra), and I really enjoyed the way that the ability to text message anywhere and anytime is integrated into the story. So there’s that!