Monday, December 24, 2012

Better Left Undead—The Painful Demise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Long before he sat at the helm of one of the most successful movies in history—that would be The Avengers, in case news hasn’t gotten to that cave you’ve been hiding out in—Joss Whedon was working his magic on the television screen with a little tale called Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Originally a movie in 1992 starring Kristy Swanson and, since it was 1992, Luke Perry of Beverly Hills 90210 fame, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a tongue-in-cheek vampire romp about a girl named—you’ll never guess—Buffy, who was chosen to fight vampires led by Rutger Hauer…and Pee Wee Herman.

I’m absolutely not joking.

Today’s secret word is “facepalm.”

It was cheese in the purest sense, but managed a cult following and five years later, Whedon took his talents to the WB (now the CW) and cast Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role and had it pick up where the movie had ended.  No one really thought it would be a hit, as it was a midseason replacement and completely unlike anything on television at the time.

And then something crazy happened.

It was a hit.

And it lasted for seven years.

Her being seventeen kinds of hot definitely helped.

That’s right.

The little midseason replacement with the brilliant, witty writing went on to become one of the most storied series on television, spawning a spinoff series called Angel that lasted for five seasons, each series going over one hundred episodes.  Buffy Summers and all she entailed became an indelible part of modern pop culture.  Video games, t-shirts, Comic Con appearances, calendars, and everything that could be merchandised was, including comic books.

When the show ended, it wrapped up Buffy’s life in Sunnydale, California in such a way that it could theoretically continue if it had wanted to, but really didn’t need to.

And then it did.  And that’s the problem.

Just when they thought it was over…

A few years ago, Dark Horse Comics released Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, a canonical comic book series continuing where season seven of the show left off and written and overseen by none other than Joss himself.  At first, it was a dream come true, a way to get new Buffy stories after years of nerve shaking withdrawal.  But it lacked the same punch as the show.

Ideas started to become too wild, as if the unrestrained and unlimited budget type atmosphere of the comic gave writers a chance to just do things for the sake of doing them, like giving Spike a spaceships piloted by bugs.

Seriously.  A frikkin’ bug spaceship.

I really wasn’t kidding.  Remember when this guy was badass?

The season revolved around a mystery villain, comically called Twilight, that was teased only to have the secret revealed accidentally in solicits for the comic as none other than Angel and in a plot that made pretty zero sense, he and Buffy wound up killing all magic in the end.  And because they didn’t know how to quit when ahead, they recently started a season nine in the comics.

And now it’s off the rails.

The spinoff book, Angel and Faith, has been fine, but the main Buffy series has become a string of agenda driven PSAs, trying to shock and awe the readers into caring about issues in such a hamfisted way, they may as well be having the comic shop owners hit you with a hammer upon purchase.

That’ll be $2.99.  Now…hold still a second…

First there was the Buffy pregnancy plot, and her decision to have an abortion.

It was lauded as bold and gutsy that they had the balls to do this—especially after exactly one issue where she experimented in being a lesbian, as if it was a choice to be gay, that was never addressed again—and much was made of it.  And then the gimmick really kicked the readers by revealing all that hand wringing and controversy wasn’t for Buffy—it was for a robot that only thought it was a pregnant Buffy.  Control-Alt-Delete could have solved the problem, I imagine.

Now that vampires aren’t around—with no magic they’re zompires now; really, they are—Buffy is kind of aimless, and the writing is mirroring that and now there’s a new slayer named Billy.  And he’s gay.  Because the years of the Slayer being a girl and about female empowerment now mean nothing and anyone can be a Slayer.  It’s not Billy’s sexuality that’s the problem; it’s the professed agenda driven piece his creation is, admitted by Jane Espenson herself in an interview on Comic Book Resources.

The character has no depth and is written in a series of One to Grow On clich├ęs, from being bullied by big white Republican jocks to being raised by his kindly old hippie liberal grandmother, and the revelation that the coolest guy in school he’s been crushing over that could never possibly be gay totally is and loves him back.

It’s hackneyed and lazy writing at most, and really does a disservice to the inclusiveness its striving for.

EVERY gay guy I know talks incessantly about other guys, wears political attire, and fits every WILL & GRACE stereotype neatly.

By all means, put a gay character into a book and add a bit of real life—after all, we’ve had Willow and others for years in Buffy already.  And people who know me know I’ve had a long history of championing gay rights and the close bond I shared with my uncle who lost his life from HIV two years ago.  But they’re doing it in the gaysploitative way we’ve seen Astonishing X-Men and Earth 2 go, where the sales mean more than the quality.  They’re doing it in such a heavy handed way that it comes off as cheap and one dimensional, ignoring well developed characters like Wiccan and Hulkling of the Young Avengers, or Apollo and Midnighter of Stormwatch, or Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer and Stryker.

There’s a place for politics and social commentary in comics.

Whether it was Superman’s eventual emergence as the epitome of the immigrant success story or the X-Men’s mutant rights charge mirroring the race issues of 1960s America, it’s been a part of comics for years.

But when you admit it’s with an agenda, when you sacrifice good writing for something that reads like a fanfic PSA, you’re not doing anyone any favors.  Creating a one note character, or manufacturing a nontroversy you didn’t have the balls to go through with doesn’t make you revolutionary.

Buffy used to be smart, it used to be witty.  Now it’s just a shell trying hard to stay relevant and someone needs to put a stake in it if that’s all it’s got any intention of being.

“Thanks!  Your shallow pandering instead of thought provoking commentary on tolerance has solved all of our problems!”

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