Creator Joss Whedon returns to the Buffy-verse with Dark Horse Comics’ new Giles mini-series. Joined in the story department this time by Erika Alexander (Concrete Park) and paired with artist Jon Lam (Gotham Academy: Second Semester), Whedon and company take everyone’s favorite Watcher, Rupert Giles, back to high school. Only two issues have been released so far, but, as I’m sure we all remember from the early season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, high school is hell (and a whole lot of hormones).
Giles #1 takes place concurrently to the “A House Divided” arc of Buffy the Vampire: Season 11 which wrapped just last year. In the first two issues of Giles, our former Watcher (and former adult after he was fairly recently resurrected as a teen) endures high school to avoid scrutiny from the government’s crusade against the supernatural. But, when teachers start to go missing at an inner-city, LA-area school and a mystical cause is suspected, Giles enrolls at Living Legend Academy Charter High School with a mission to put an end to demonic-related disappearances. Teaming up with Roux, a mysterious and charismatic protector who also hides a dark secret (Remind you of anyone?), Giles must figure out what unnatural force is preying upon the students and faculty while also battling the urge to make out with his attractive new friend (who hangs out mostly in the shadows and other dark places).
That’s right. If you haven’t guessed it yet (or read the first issue), Roux is a vampire. The characters’ flirtation provides an interesting reversal of the Buffy/Angel dynamic from the TV series. While with any other writer, this reveal would be an instant sign of “treading water,” Whedon has mined gold out of seemingly repetitive concepts (like two ensouled vampires in love with the same blond vampire slayer), so this type of situation almost seems his specialty. If anything can be criticized about their budding relationship, it’s that the Watcher who once referred to Angel’s love for his slayer as “rather poetic… in a maudlin sort of way” doesn’t seem to be reflecting on any potential parallels between his own circumstances and the complex teen love life of the girl he trained.
Much like Spike and Angel on the TV series, Roux tends to be the most intriguing character in the cast so far, and readers will find themselves waiting for her to reappear on the page. Guarding a girl named Blue for unknown reasons, Roux has super cute chemistry with teen Giles and also happens to be one of the few women of color characters in the Buffy-verse. Much like the slayer, Satsu, Whedon and Alexander have found a character with Roux who instantly feels like a genuine part of the Buffy-verse and can also stand toe to toe with one of the original members of the Scooby gang and not be completely eclipsed. Roux also serves as a positive form of body representation in a fictional world that’s often overpopulated with supermodel-esque slayers, vampires, and even high school principals. (I’m looking at you, Principal Wood!). Finally, she’s got a real cool hoodie, too, so bonus points for that!
When it comes to plot and tone, the Giles mini-series is an “odd bird” (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Despite the setting, the former watcher, and the vamps and demons, this book doesn’t feel very much like a traditional Buffy story (also not necessarily a bad thing). This could have something to do with our main character’s isolation from all that he knows (Buffy, books, slightly better less-than-adequate school funding) and his awkward second teen phase, but my guess is that this fresh and new feeling is all courtesy of co-writer Erika Alexander. For those who are unaware, Alexander is an American actress (Bosch, Get Out) who is also part of the creative team (along with Tony Puryear) behind Concrete Park, an award-winning sci-fi graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics. Given the unique feel of the Giles mini-series, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Whedon and Alexander do break the plot of each issue together, but that it’s Alexander doing the majority of the heavy lifting in the writing department. As has been mentioned in interviews like this one, the two writers wanted to challenge Giles by throwing him in a “fish out of water” scenario and force our former attendee of the prestigious Watcher’s Academy to deal with “thorny issues like class, gender, race, and privilege.” And also bullying, because one imagines that type of intimidation will always be the most common bane of high school existence. Alexander has spoken about how those raised in the inner cities can’t avoid these types of ever-present issues, but also have to deal with the standard teenage worries of things like “puberty, college applications, the prom.” As she explains, this environment of constant bombardment serves as an a persistent drain on the energy of inner city teens, creating a setting that breeds conformity and suffocates individuality. Given that we’re in the Buffy-verse, this metaphorical threat will obviously be given demonic form and continue to expand Whedon’s “high school is hell” thematic concept in new and interesting ways.
Finally, acknowledgement must be given to interior artist Jon Lam, as he’s seriously rocking when it comes to Giles. Not only does his style work perfectly for the high school setting and youthful-looking characters, but he’s also got the skills to turn Roux into a terrifying vampire at the drop of a hat (just as it should be). It might seem a bit silly, but looking back over the previous artists attached to Buffy-verse comics, the ability to translate Buffy’s terrifying vamp faces to the art board is not something that they all share, so Lam must be given some legitimate praise for this. No joke, Lam’s depiction of vamp Roux is so spot on that readers will be hearing those trademark vamp growls in their heads as they go from panel to panel.
– One cool thing Alexander and Whedon have included that other comics have also experimented with is a suggested playlist for each issue, including songs from artists like Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, and more. It’s not necessary to follow along, but it certainly adds an additional layer of atmosphere to the reading experience.
– What’s up with “Blue Girl,” the mysterious teen who Roux protects for unknown reasons? Other than a soul and a crush on a slayer (which seems unlikely in this situation), why would a vampire protect a teen girl? Is “Blue Girl” actually a teen girl? Given that the story arc is titled “Girl Blue” and the play list is named after her, too, it’s clear this character is more than meets the eye. (Maybe she’s a Transformer?)
FINAL VERDICT: Based on the character of Roux alone, Buffy fans should be picking up this book. Add in that it’s also a story about teen Giles with the blessing (and involvement) of Buffy creator Joss Whedon, why are you still reading this instead of placing your pre-order for the next issues right now?
Creative Team: Joss Whedon (writer), Erika Alexander (writer), Jon Lam (art), Dan Jackson (colors), Richard Starkings (letters), Jimmy Betancourt (letters), Steve Morris (cover art)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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That’s all for now, my fellow comic book sniffers.
‘Till the end of the world,
-Bryant the Comic Book Slayer