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Cross-dressing and Cyber-punk Slayers
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Slayers - Joss Whedon
Member Name: Kjartan
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Slayers - Joss Whedon
Date: 26/04/02, updated on 26/04/02 (342 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent stories by regular Buffy writers, beautiful artwork, and generally more Slayerness
Disadvantages: A bit on the pricey side
Like a first-time customer in a sex-shop I furtively fumbled with the Buffy merchandise leaving it and then returning to it several times but in a cool and casual way. However my Buffy secret was out when my friend shouted out from the other side of the store “Come and have a look at this Buffy doll, it’s fantastic!“ Her irony was lost on the staff who clearly frown upon their extensive Buffy stock and immediately put us down as ‘non-serious’ customers. I came across ‘Tales of the Slayers’ and plucked up the courage to let the mocking and sneering adolescent take my money off me.
I bought ‘Tales of the Slayers’ on the basis of its authors. The script-writing on the Buffy TV programme is of an exceptionally high quality and ‘Tales’ is a collection of 8 stories written by Joss Whedon (central creative force behind all things Buffy) and other writers of the TV series. One ‘Tale’ is told by Amber Benson, a Buffy actress who plays ‘Tara’.
For those unfamiliar with the mythological premise of Buffy, it follows thus:
“In every generation there is a Chosen One. One girl in all the world. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.“
It is this premise which is explored in the ‘Tales’ – each tale concerns the story of a past or future Slayer and each is illustrated in a different style of artwork executed by a variety
of artists. We are told the tales of the first Slayer and cross-dressing, Navajo, cyber-punk, revolutionary French, genteel English and Nazi youth Slayers.
In the mythology of the Slayer, “every Slayer subconsciously inherits the memories of all the previous Slayers“ and “When one Slayer dies, there will be another girl chosen. And then another, for always. And the Slayer will be in them and they in each other and they will never die.“ The ‘Tales’ develops this history and lineage of the Slayers. It is a history and future of female warriors all building upon or rediscovering their shared heritage. Like the TV series, the ‘Tales’ unashamedly celebrates its ‘feminism’.
One element of Buffy which provides common appeal is its exploration of tricky themes such as the nature of evil, what it is to be an outsider, self-sacrifice and loss, the pursuit of knowledge and the loss of innocence. In the ‘Tales’ these themes emerge in different contexts confronting each Slayer. By using the regular writers of the TV series, the ‘Tales’ remains true to the spirit and concerns of Buffy.
The Prologue was written by Joss Whedon and is the tale of the first Slayer (who will be known to Buffy fans from ‘Intervention’ and ‘Restless’). She is the first Slayer and she is alone. She deals with primal forces and battles with darkness and it is suggested that she is a primal force and has darkness within herself. This becomes a common refrain for all the Slayers we encounter in the ‘Tales’ – the hint of darkness within them and suspicion over the nature of their extraordinary powers. The experience of the first Slayer is that of an outsider – she is neither part of the ordinary world nor that of the demons.
The language used by Joss Whedon to convey these themes is stark and simple which is matched by the artwork.
The tale is beautifully drawn and coloured. This is the only Slayer to go from a TV version to a graphic novel version and she makes the transition well.
Similar themes are picked up by Amber Benson in ‘The Innocent’ and Rebecca Rand Kirshner in ‘Sonnenblume’ – both examine the possibility of evil-doing by the Slayer herself and the potential for others to abuse the powers of the Slayer.
‘The Innocent’ concerns the tale of a Slayer in Paris at the height of the French Revolution. It is a charming story told well by Amber Benson and illustrated with fine detail by Ted Naifeh. ‘Sonnenblume’ tells the tale of a Slayer in Nazi Germany who gets caught up in the Nazi Youth movement. The artwork here is strikingly different from the rest of the tales and is done in the form of wood-cuts by Mira Friedmann. It is very intense and jarred slightly at first but it does work and illustrates the story well.
The themes of loss and self-sacrifice are dealt with in Joss Whedon’s ‘Righteous’ and Doug Petrie’s ‘Nikki Goes Down!’. ‘Righteous’ concerns the calling of a medieval girl to her Slayer vocation and as misunderstanding of her powers turns to fear she is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice. Not content with demonstrating his unbounded talent through the all-singing, all-dancing musical Buffy in ‘Once More, With Feeling’, Joss Whedon goes one step further here and demonstrates his ability to tell a tale entirely in rhyming couplets – which works extremely well and is backed up with excellent artwork.
‘Nikki Goes Down!’ was the only story I didn’t really rate. The story was a bit tired and well-worn and the artwork seemed rather hackneyed and typical of standard graphic novel artwork.
‘Presumption’, however, was an excellent story by Jane Espenson but let down by the artwork wh
ich had little detail and left backgrounds often blank. The tale concerns a Slayer in ‘Somersetshire’ in 1813 and comments on the position of women in early 19th century England but also more generally on the necessity of the Slayer to maintain the secrecy of her identity.
Along with ‘Presumption’, ‘The Glittering World’ by David Fury rates as one of my favourite tales. It is the story of a Navajo Slayer and is told in the form of a Navajo myth by a priest to a ‘pioneer’ who is about to rebuild a new town in the American West. The artwork by Steve Lieber is fantastic and the colours by Matthew Hollingsworth are done in washed-out sepia tones that are beautiful and evocative of an arid Californian desert-scape.
The final story is ‘Tales’ told again by Joss Whedon. The artwork is vibrant with excellent use of inks. Here we meet a Slayer of the future who is completely alone, with no Watcher (the guide and tutor of the Slayer) and no knowledge of her heritage – centuries old vampires have greater knowledge of the Slayer heritage than she does. There is a very cool purple monkey monster in this story too!
On the whole the high standard of writing demonstrated in the TV series has translated effectively into the graphic novel format. The ‘Tales’ were an enjoyable read which I would recommend without hesitation to Buffy fans. As for the uninitiated (get with it!) the ‘Tales’ would provide a good entry into the Slayer mythology if you are a graphic novel aficionado.
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