‘The Vampire Slayer’ tackles the elephant in the room amongst Buffy’s friends, as their actions meant to help the Slayer have come back to haunt them all in the most terrible way. This series is character driven through and through, spending a whole issue with the crew of characters bearing their souls in the most human and cathartic way possible. Anyone that is a fan of the Buffy world needs to be picking this book up.
Life is an overwhelming experience, where we made choices every moment that might benefit ourselves at the moment but hurt ourselves or others in the long run. A moment spent with one friend might mean pushing another aside. Sometimes those choices are not life-altering or threatening, but when one walks in the world of the Slayer, every choice might have dire consequences.
While I greatly appreciate so many of the aspects that Sarah Gailey has added to the world of Buffy that modernize the franchise, the interactions (or lack of) between the characters are one of the biggest. While they are all friends, it’s far too real that because of secrets and desires and choices the gang has essentially frozen Buffy out all in the name of thinking they were helping her out by stripping her of her destiny that was becoming too overwhelming. Instead, they left her alone and unprotected, ripe picking for a being that specifically loves to eat frightened Slayers as a snack.
This could have been any other standard book where the heroes are battling the forces of darkness every issue, essentially the ‘monster of the week’ format, but Gailey has been dialed in heavily at capturing the emotional and human aspect that the show was so good at tackling. I would say actually the way it’s handled in this book is even better than in the show. Part of that is because of different eras, but also there is just far more time given here and more room to breathe. This is a whole issue of friends together unloading their emotions and trying to make right a wrong that they committed because of something they thought was right. That’s just good storytelling right there.
A lot of it also speaks to how they’re allowed to just be people here, not held up as paragons of virtue or stalwart heroes like we might see them in our minds. Giles has abandoned his Slayer because he is just too guilty, Willow is not dealing with the new power and responsibility and cut her friend out as she slowly loses a grip on things, and Xander is in a not-great relationship and instead of dealing with it is hiding out with the bad boy Spike. Yet we don’t blame them or feel mad at them, because these characters are all dealing with issues as well as they can just like the rest of us. Except their issues also come with monsters that will kill them if they aren’t at their best, so there is that.
As noted, this issue is heavily leaning on the characters hanging around one or two spaces talking to each other with no real action scenes. It’s compelling because we care about them, and the right artistic team makes that pop even more which is what Claudia Balboni and Valentina are able to do here. I said in the last review that Balboni has a very slick smooth dynamic energy which works with the bright but also muted color palette that Pinto brings to the page and that is all still true. Just like that last issue too though, a lot of the power comes from how well Balboni not only captures the look of these characters (making them familiar without being clones of the actors) but how great the facial expression and body language work is here. We not only hear their regrets, guilt, sadness, humor, and every emotion within the words that we can read but we instantly feel it from just looking at how they present themselves through the issue.
All of the paneling adds to the energy of the scene, both in style and substance. Balboni keeps things moving by changing the point of view and angles of the space so that no two panels are exactly alike, even if featuring the same character doing the same thing as the previous one. Their shapes change too from standard ones to more obtuse shapes, keeping the eyes engaged and moving along with everything presented.
In the last issue, the ominous darkness was very omnipresent around Buffy as she dealt with things leading up to her capture. Here the first pages are a bit more bright with shadows on the edge, but much like the lurking spiders in the previous issue, a lot of the darker colors and shadows start to multiply and take up more space as the characters begin to become more upset and guilty as they attempt to find Buffy before its too late. It’s such a solid move because they were masking their guilt in many cases with shiny life things that allowed them to push Buffy out of the picture, and the darkness that was always there just starts pouring out now that they tore down the facade.
We’re shown things that still have a good bit of popping color from clothing to hair and other things, but Pinto dials it back some as the world becomes a bit darker around them each moment.
I mentioned it above that we very much hear what the characters are going through within the words on the page, thanks to Ed Dukeshire. It’s not just that the words spell it out and we can therefore interpret it from those words. It’s the other things that are done to make it clear like shifting font around in style or size so that we know what the tone or volume of a given set of words should be. Big giant words for yelling or smaller ones for quieter moments (the baby crabs little ‘raaaargh’ is adorable), rapid-paced and spread out in the best ways possible. Becoming part of the scene, never overwhelming or detracting from what is happening around it all.
This series is just such a delight to read month after month, as it really captures the feeling of the Buffy universe while doing something grand and new with it all. The Vampire Slayer #8 is now available from BOOM! Studios.