By Andy Mansell | Contributor Published: 08/23/2013 10:00 am EST
Publish date: August 21, 2013 Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
The keys to the success of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show were its tone and its timing. Even if the show slipped into cliché you could count on Xander or one of the other supporting characters to comment on it. Thank Wes Craven’s Scream franchise for the over-used horror genre self-awareness, but with Buffy, more often than not, it worked.
The new Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow—Wonderland mini-series, which is a small offshoot of the Buffy Season 9 landscape, is a mixed bag. Stripped down to its essence, it is the same as any “superhero on a quest” book. We meet villains, we have an emotional twist, and we get a character who returns from the past. And that is just fine, but this could have/should have been a hell of a lot more. Perhaps my expectations were high because of that wonderful painted cover, or the idea that the book could have some strong literary overtones .
A really nice sequence occurs near the end of the story in issue 5 (in order to avoid spoilers, I will be quite vague). Willow is in a freaky area of Wonderland that is a direct swipe from dimensional landscapes from Dr. Strange created by the great Steve Ditko. It is drawn respectfully and the whole idea behind the dimension itself and its funky design proves to be a nicely-executed plot point. Told you I would be vague—but the payoff is nice. It works. It does not, however, raise the level of the book up to worthwhile status.
Regarding Brian Ching’s artwork: the drawing is pretty and the creatures are terrific to look at—the big monster from issue 2 is a cross between the subterranean menace from the cover of Fantastic Four #1 and the No-Face Demon from Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. However, Ching falls short with the narrative flow. There were a few times (several actually) where I had to stop reading to double-check who was doing what to whom. There is a beautiful half-page shot on page 48. The characters are ant size in the foreground of this stunning vista, but they have an important conversation and I had a bit of trouble figuring out at whom the speech bubbles were supposed to be pointing. Minor whining on my part, but I hate when the flow of an adventure comic gets upended for no reason other than lackadaisical storytelling.
Another section of the book where the execution disappointed me occurred when Willow contemplates how the loss of real magic has affected all of us muggle-types. Nothing is special anymore… the real world has lost its “magic”. It is a powerful idea, and writer Jeff Parker—through Willow—gives us a few intriguing (and sad) examples, but the accompanying pictures fall woefully short of the idea. This was a moment when the creative team could have kicked it up a gear, but instead, they shuffled Willow off to her next magical battle with yet another monster.
I gave the book to my 14-year-old daughter, who is a fanatical Buffyphile and fan fiction auteur. She read the book and enjoyed it quite a lot. Most importantly, she told me she felt the main character acted and sounded just like Willow. In other words, my little skeptic was taken in by Willow in Wonderland. So the bottom line is no matter what I felt (or wasn’t able to feel) about the comic, this book is an apparent success to the dedicated followers of Church of Whedon.
But a hookah smoking caterpillar does not a Wonderland make. I wanted more. Willow deserves more. The creative team behind this mini-series chose to ignore what the Dormouse said. Willow—Wonderland offers a lot to the eye; it gives us nothing to “feed our heads.”
Andy Mansell lived in Chicago for over 40 years until his doctors advised him that he would die soon unless he got as far away from the land of Italian combo sandwiches and soft serve frozen custard. He is currently growing rather old rather quickly in Charlotte, NC as a member of the Waistline Protection Program. He lives for four things: his family, baseball, opera, and of course great comics. He is also looking for a ride back to Chi-town for just one more breaded steak sammich. He will provide gas, guaranteed. Contact him at this address.