MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
Set during the first season of the TV series, Buffy: The High School Years - Freaks & Geeks tells the story of our young slayer (decked out in season one’s short skirts and high boots) still finding her place in Sunnydale while lamenting the care-free and somewhat shallow world of the “in-crowd” that Buffy has recently given up in favor of her calling. While Freaks & Geeks has fun by playing with the still-solidifying friendships between Buffy, Xander, and Willow and examining the very “high school-ish” concept of who’s cool and why, the real story here focuses on a group of recently turned teen vampires who just can’t get any respect from the local vamp community. Attempting to kill the slayer to boost their reputation, the vampires are easily defeated but open a psychological wound when they suggest Buffy is just another bully. Given that beautiful, popular girls like Buffy (and more likely Cordy and the Cordettes who are currently in their horrific prime) were the ones who mocked and victimized them in life, the vampires see the act of slaying as just further persecution by the attractive, entitled elites. Ultimately, this young version of Buffy is confronted with an enemy she can easily physically conquer but may defeat her in other ways when it comes to her own self-perception as a protector, hero, and decent friend.
Faith Erin Hicks does a masterful job of setting this story in a time period Buffy fans know and love and does so with a subtle thoroughness that shows an obvious knowledge and love of the material and large amount of respect for the readers and fandom at large. There may be no Angel, no Spike, and no Dawn in this self-contained Buffy tale, but that leaves the focus on the core Scoobies and just makes the book feel even more genuinely set in the show’s first season, as do appearances by Joyce Summers, Cordelia Chase (a.k.a. Queen C), and the multiple graveyards present in Sunnydale. The concepts and themes Hicks tackles (the “privileged” slayer seen as a bully, the debate over who really is the “outsider” and what it means to be one, when is it better to be an “outsider” than an “insider,” etc.) are ones that have been discussed and debated in the hardcore Buffy fandom for years, but seeing them manifested in a more digestible, one-shot story is both impressive and exciting. (For those who wish to further explore the subject, I recommend Smart Pop Books' line of Buffy and Angel essay books, especially Sarah Zettel’s piece titled “When Did The Scoobies Become Insiders?”)
In all honesty, it did take me a little bit to warm up to Li’s manga-influenced art style, but I quickly adjusted to this new “flavor” of Buffy and found myself appreciating the emotive and kinetic qualities present on every page. Li is able to seamlessly shift back and forth between the dramatic, the humorous, and the action-packed, and it’s always a special treat to see a new vision of our beloved characters and favorite franchise.
FINAL VERDICT: Buffy: The High School Years - Freaks & Geeks is an excellent choice for any tried-and-true fan of the slayer. In fact, this book would be an excellent selection for fans who enjoyed the TV show, but who have yet to dive into the sequential art version of Sunnydale, given that there are no extraneous storylines to catch up on. For those who are currently enjoying the “uncharted territory” of Buffy: Season 10, Freaks & Geeks won’t affect the wrap up of the current season, but it will certainly provide a much-appreciated trip back to first days of the Scooby Gang.
That’s all for now, my fellow comic book sniffers!
'Till the end of the world,
-Bryant the Comic Book Slayer