Buffy the Vampire Slayer has existed in comic book form almost as long as it has existed on television, with the very first Dark Horse comics making their debut during the show’s second season. It’s now moved over to another comic book company, Boom Studios, to basically start fresh from the very beginning. And there have been Buffy novels for just as long, with the most recent having just hit stores this year, once again starting a new series in the universe of the show with a brand new set of characters. When we think of expanded universes in fiction and comics, we tend to think of the biggies like Star Wars and Star Trek. But one of my favorite things about being a fan of this stuff is that there are tons more stories out there told in the worlds of your favorite shows and movies, if you know where to look. There are nearly twenty Friday the 13th-related novels, for instance.
But Buffy is one of the biggest. All throughout the airing of the hit TV series, there were comics and novels being churned out on a regular basis, and after the show ended, they continued. In 2007, Dark Horse launched Season Eight, a canonical continuation of the show in comic book form with Joss Whedon and many of the show’s writers at the helm. That continuation wound up lasting longer than the show itself, ending with Season 12 this past year.
The world of Buffy is massive and there are so many references to things we never see that make its expansive role in fiction so perfect. There are so many things that we never see on the show that have been explored in both comics and prose. What happened to Oz in Tibet? There’s a novel and comic about that. What exactly is Faith’s traumatic history with Kakistos? There’s a novel about that. Buffy’s time in an institution? Comic.
These stories are perfect for fans because they let the experience continue beyond the show. In fact, if anything, the show is just the tip of the iceberg. They fill in gaps we never got to see, as well as evolving those characters and relationships well beyond what we last saw at the end of the series. There are many continuity errors because so many things were written as the show was still going on, but nonetheless, the stories can be great (sometimes they’re not) and the intent is clear. With that in mind, here’s just a taste of some of the best Buffy novels and comics we’ve seen over the years.
After the original Dark Horse Buffy comic series hit issue #50, it did a smart course correction by deciding not to try and keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of the TV series and instead go back to tell stories from before the events of the show, basically as a Buffy: Year One. The first arc of that is great, picking up after the burning of the high school gym, with Buffy and Pike fixing to run away together, telling the story of why and how their relationship ended. Slayer, Interrupted (yes, there was another comic using this same title in Season Nine) deals with a huge bombshell delivered not long before this on the show, in Buffy’s reveal that she once spent time in an institution after trying to tell her parents she was the slayer. This ran a risk of feeling like a retread of “Normal Again,” but instead feels very much like an early episode of the show, with Buffy realizing that there is a literal demon trying to keep these girls from recovery. It’s basically Buffy’s Dream Warriors.
One of the best flashbacks we ever got in Buffy history was in the flashback filled episode “Fool for Love” as Spike recounts his past and—in particular—his history with slayers. His subway fight with ‘70s slayer Nikki Wood will always go down as one of the show’s most exciting moments. It was revisited in the season seven episode “Lies My Parents Told Me” after her son, Robin Wood, found out Spike had killed his mother and vowed revenge. Blackout goes back to the ‘70s to detail Nikki’s time as a slayer and Spike’s pursuit of her, told against the backdrop of the ’77 New York Blackout. It’s a Buffy book that reads like a Pam Grier movie and that alone should be enough to sell it.
Tales of the Vampires
An anthology of stories set before, during and after the TV series, Tales of the Vampires assembles an A-list of comic book talent to give a nice mix of stories about familiar vampires from the show (naturally both Spike and Angel are given their own) as well as vampires we’ve never seen before. Anthologies like this are great because they get to truly explore every little corner of the Buffyverse. We get to see a vampire who was also Jack the Ripper as well as the beginning of Xander’s bromance with Dracula which would continue with maximum hilarity into Season Eight.
Oz: Into the Wild
Writer Christopher Golden did this same story as both a three-issue comic and a novel, but for my money the novel is a lot better. Oz wasn’t a character who always got his due on the show, even when he was one of the most interesting. Into the Wild really explores everything great about him at a time when the stoic werewolf was at his most conflicted. We pick up from basically the moment he leaves Sunnydale and Willow behind in the episode “Wild at Heart” and follow his journey across the globe to confront the beast within and conquer it so that he can come back home to the woman he loves. The book basically ends with Oz ready for the journey back home to reunite with Willow, but we know how that turns out, we know that she’s moved on, which makes the entire story bittersweet and almost heartbreaking.
No Future for You
While Season Eight brought back the great writing team of the show, it also brought in some A-list comic book talent, like Y: The Last Man and Runaways scribe Brian K. Vaughan. There was a lot of great stuff in this run, but No Future for You is the best story of the entire season and it barely deals with Buffy and her friends at all. This one’s all about Faith and is one of the best introspections of that character we’ve ever seen—which is saying a lot for such a complex character to begin with. This is Faith out of her element, infiltrating high society to take down a wealthy socialite who’s been hunting other slayers for sport.
Tales of the Slayers
Tales of the Slayers feels like the reason you do Buffy comics and novels. There have been hundreds of slayers throughout history, each with their own story to tell. This was the first time any of the show’s writers got to tell stories outside the series, doing whatever kinds of tales they wanted covering the slayers of the past or—in Whedon’s case—the distant future. Like Tales of the Vampires, this assembled some amazing talent, but it’s even better because the stories are wildly diverse in a lot of different ways.
Go Ask Malice: A Slayer’s Diary
This shouldn’t work because the idea of Faith keeping a diary is stupid. Having said that, it works. It works incredibly well. The diary is recommended by her therapist, something to pour her thoughts into so she doesn’t lash out with her anger as much. And the entire novel is set before Faith makes her first appearance on the show. That’s perfect, because when she’s introduced in “Faith, Hope and Trick” there’s so much backstory that never gets brought up again. Here, we see her history with Kakistos, what happened to her Watcher, her brief relationship with Kenny the drummer and it all flows pretty well as Faith continues to struggle with her anger and we see the seeds being laid for the dark path she’ll eventually take.
The Long Way Home
The first arc of Season Eight was amazing, especially at the time. The show had been over for years at this point and fans missed it. I missed it. A lot. Then the comic revival was announced and it was amazing that the creative team was returning to keep telling stories with those characters. Catching up with them, seeing the way their world had expanded, seeing that Dawn was a giant, and hearing Whedon’s dialogue coming from these characters again was absolutely amazing at the time. Plus, the story brought back villains like Ethan Rayne, Amy and even Warren, while setting up the larger arc of the series. When it first hit, everything about it just floored me.
A haunting single issue of Season Eight, “The Chain” is about as close as the comics got to something like “The Body.” The first issue of the series saw Buffy make an offhand comment that she had decoys all around the world, mostly to explain away the notion that she’d been in Italy dating someone named The Immortal after the events of the show in the Angel episode “The Girl in Question.” But these girls take on this role to protect Buffy, without ever getting the credit because they can never return to their old lives. “The Chain” is the story of a nameless girl who takes on the role of Buffy and dies without ever meeting the person she’s dying for, hoping that she made her proud.
When Buffy was still on the air, Joss Whedon knew that he wanted to do a comic book set in that universe, but didn’t want to screw with the continuity of the show. So he came up with Fray. Set in the distant future, it centers on Melaka Fray, the first slayer called in hundreds of years. Vampires still exist, but nobody knows them as vampires anymore, and most people just believe them to be nocturnal mutants. Her Watcher is a demon. She’s a thief and her sister is a cop, which puts them at odds. But it also explores what happens to a slayer who’s a twin. She has no frame of reference on the history of slayers or what a slayer is because her brother, Harth, got the dreams while she got the strength. There are so many clever inversions of the lore, while also setting up a world and characters that beg to be revisited in an ongoing series.