With the recent debut of Dark Horse Comics’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 and this week’s Angel and Faith Season 10 #1, Andy Mansell takes a look back at the entire Buffy canon to help bring newbies (or anyone in need of a refresher) up to speed. Aiding him in this journey is Anya (no relation to the revenge demon) Mansell.
One of my favorite moments on The Big Bang Theory occurred when Leonard—a comic book and gaming enthusiast—wanted to find a TV show both he and his non-geeky girlfriend Penny could enjoy together. In a moment of inspiration, he proposed they watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve got to agree with his logic. This is a girl-centric show that keeps the guys planted in their seats. My wife and daughter want nothing to do with my comic fandom, but they were willing to drop everything to watch The Avengers because it was a product of the mastermind behind Buffy and the spin-off Angel: Joss Whedon.
With Buffy, Mr. Whedon took all the horror clichés and turned them on their ear by spicing the episodes up with clever plotting, terrific music, and some of the funniest dialogue on TV. Once the show came to its end with season 7, the good folks at Dark Horse (in collaboration with the talented Mr. Whedon) began to publish Buffy Season 8 and Season 9. These comics are solidly entertaining. But for any who have never watched any of the Whedonverse, I offer to you the following primer. And we worked really hard to make sure there are no spoilers. Trust me—it was a lot harder than it appears. Enjoy!
SEASON 1: Buffy Summers, the chosen vampire slayer, enrolls as a sophomore at Sunnydale High. The school is built over the Hellmouth—the largest convergence of mystical energy in the mortal world. She meets Rupert Giles, her Watcher (the Slayer’s appointed trainer, tutor and ex facto guardian) who is acting as the school librarian. Due to happenstance, several friends and classmates become the slayer’s confidants and assist her with her mission to rid the world of vampires, demons, and all other forces of darkness. They christen themselves the Scoobies: Xander Harris—wise-cracking, devoted comic relief, Willow Rosenberg—quiet, dedicated A-student wallflower, and Cordelia—condescending HBiC and captain of the cheerleaders (natch!). And then we meet Angel, a 200-plus-year-old, hunky vampire (light years before Twilight, by the way) who’s not all bad because, unlike other undead bloodsuckers, Angel has a soul. He falls in love with the slayer. Buffy reciprocates her affection until she discovers he is a vampire and then she tries to nip this crucifix-crossed relationship in the bud—soul or no soul. He is a hottie, though!
The Big Bad: The Master, a centuries-old vampire out to destroy the world by opening the Hellmouth.
The Little Bads (minor, but still deadly foes): Darla, former paramour of Angel. The Anointed One, who is destined to lead the slayer to the Master.
Key Episodes: “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” “The Harvest,” “Witch,” “Prophecy Girl”
Favorite Episode: “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”
SEASON 2: The gang adds a new Scoobie: Oz, a bass guitarist who dates Willow and has a supernatural secret. Willow show some promise as a budding witch. Cordelia, perhaps the funniest character, gets more involved in the Scoobie goings-on. In Buffy’s junior year, her romance with Angel is rekindled and then she must deal with the consequences of that relationship.
The Big Bad: Angelus, a vampire who once had a soul, but loses it and turns evil (hey, we did the best we could!)
The Little Bads: Spike, the new hunky vampire in town; a bad boy’s bad boy who resembles Billy Idol right down to the sneer. Drusilla, the love of Spike’s un-life; an insane vampire who was once a lover of Angel.
Key Episodes: “School Hard,” “Surprise,” “Innocence,” “Becoming (Parts 1 and 2)”
Favorite Episodes: “Halloween,” “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”
SEASON 3: Senior year begins with the Scoobies trying to fight evil without Buffy, who has abruptly left town. When will she return? The Council—to whom Giles and all the Watchers and slayers report—interfere in the daily goings on in Sunnydale and eventually bring in a second Watcher named Wesley. Willow’s powers of witchcraft increase. We meet Anya—a vengeance demon in the shape of a lovely high school student who loses her powers and must get accustomed to mortal life in Sunnydale. We can’t begin to tell you how great this character is.
The Big Bad: The Mayor of Sunnydale, who has big plans for himself.
The Little Bad: Faith, a new Slayer who initially performs her duties extremely well, but then goes rogue and makes life difficult for the Scoobies.
Key Episodes: “Faith, Hope, and Trick,” “The Wish,” “Bad Girls,” “Graduation Day (Parts 1 and 2)”
Favorite Episodes: “Helpless,” “The Zeppo,” “Dopplegangland,” “Earshot,” “The Prom” (This is a great season)
SEASON 4: Buffy and the gang head off to college. Buffy begins to date Riley, a TA at the college she and Willow attend. Willow’s powers continue to grow and she begins to date fellow witch Tara (this was a HUGE honking deal at the time). Xander starts a relationship with Anya.
The Big Bad: The Initiative, a government organization that hunts demons and performs experiments on its captives. Spike undergoes an unexpected change thanks to the Initiative’s…initiative. Adam, the Initiative’s manufactured hired gun, makes trouble.
The Little Bads: Faith is still a pain in the ass (but in a good way). Professor Maggie Walsh, the gang’s demanding Psych 101 instructor.
Key Episodes: “The Initiative,” “The I in Team,” “The Yoko Factor,” “Primeval”
Favorite Episodes: “Something Blue,” “Hush” (many consider this one of the best episodes in the entire series)
NOTE: Season 4 also includes the single worst episode—“Beer Bad.” Avoid at all costs.
SEASON 5: The focus of the series switches to Buffy’s home life and we get to know her little sister Dawn, who becomes a key player in the show (ahem). Their mother Joyce deals with the challenges of being a mundane parent to a vampire slayer. Giles and Anya open a magic shop that becomes the Scoobies HQ. Buffy meets Ben, a local ER doctor (Riley is gone, thank God). Willow continues to get more powerful.
The Big Bad: Glorificus, the Hell God (“Glory” to her minions); unquestionably the best villain in the series.
The Little Bads: The Council returns. They’re not bad, they’re just really persnickety.
Key Episodes: “Family,” “Shadow,” “Blood Ties,” “The Body,” “Forever,” “Spiral,” “The Gift”
Favorite Episodes: “Triangle,” “Crush,” “The Body” (which is as good as you may have heard)
SEASON 6: Due to the events at the end of season 5, the gang all find themselves in some extremely dark places. Buffy’s incendiary relationship with Spike takes a drastic turn. Anya begins to change and Xander gets cold feet. Willow—more powerful than ever—has severe anger and relationship issues.
The Big Bad: The Trio—Warren, Andrew, and Jonathan—three humans who want to defeat the slayer just for sport.
The Little Bad: Hellfrek, a vengeance demon.
Key Episodes: “Bargaining (Parts 1 and 2),” “Once More, with Feeling” (all singing, some dancing), “Hell’s Bells,” “Seeing Red”
Favorite Episodes: “Life Serial” (kitten poker!), “Tabula Rasa” (one of the best of the entire series), “Older and Far Away”
SEASON 7: Buffy begins to recruit potential candidates for the Potentials—a world-wide Slayer army. Kennedy rises to the top of the class. A new breed of vampire appears. Andrew begins hanging around the Summers’ house somewhat against his will. We meet Sunnydale High’s new principal, Robin Wood.
The Big Bad: The First, the essence of the First Evil that ever existed.
The Little Bads: Faith returns, better than ever and annoyingly so. And Spike has some issues.
Key Episodes: “Conversations with Dead People,” “End of Days,” “Chosen” (series finale)
Favorite Episodes: “Showtime,” “Storyteller,” “Chosen”
And so the show ends and the comic begins…
SEASON 8: The first season of Dark Horse’s comic continuation takes Buffy and Xander to Scotland, where they set up their world-wide Slayer Army, all funded with a bit of creative financing by Buffy. But with great responsibility comes great pains in the butt. The Scoobies deal with renegade slayers, issues with Big Government (damn Democrats!), and a really bad Big Bad. Oz, Riley, and Harmony (huzzah!) return, and (say it with me) Willow becomes even more powerful. And far be it from me to judge, but Dawn gets a bit slutty.
The Big Bad: Twilight, the masked marvel who wants to do away with the slayers and bring an end to magic in our mortal realm.
The Little Bads: Amy Madison, crazed witch. Warren Mears, crazed mortal from Season 6. Lady Genevieve Savidge, crazed-titled debutante slayer.
Key Story Arcs: “The Long Way Home,” “Time of Your Life,” “Last Gleaming”
Favorite Issues: “After These Messages…We’ll Be Right Back!” (#20), “Harmonic Divergence” (#21), “Turbulence” (#31)
SEASON 9: Dark Horse’s second run finds Buffy, Dawn, and Xander living in San Francisco. The slayer and the rest of the gang are reeling from the events of Season 8. There is a new menace—hoards of zombie vampires (Zompires!). Kennedy returns with a job offer. Yet another mystical council seeks Buffy’s aid. Dawn is in really big trouble (and it has nothing to do with her Season 8 promiscuities). And what’s this about a male slayer?
Meanwhile, Spike leaves, Willow has to go off on her own (chronicled in the four-part mini-series aptly titled Willow Wonderland). In the Buffy companion series Angel and Faith Season 9, Angel and Faith (duh) have to remain in Europe and deal with a some major issues caused by the Season 8 Big Bad. Without giving anything away, the Angel and Faith comic is every bit as good as Buffy 9.
The Big Bad: The Siphon. I can’t spoil it, but perhaps his intentions aren’t that “big bad” (in theory, at least).
The Little Bads: Zompires! Simone Doffler, another rogue slayer (Buffy really needs to work on her interviewing skills), Whistler, Pearl, and Nash.
Key Story Arcs: “Freefall,” “Welcome to the Team,” “The Core”
Favorite Issues: “Freefall Part 1” (#1), “The Watcher” (#20)
Bring on season 10!!!