This week sees the wrap up of Dark Horse Comics’ Giles mini-series (written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and Concrete Park’s Erika Alexander, with the art of Jon Lam of Gotham Academy: Second Semester), concluding the tale of teenage Rupert’s return to high school and his noble attempts to stand against the forces of darkness while having fuzzy feelings for a cute and charismatic vampire. (Sound familiar?) While sharing similarities with its “mother series,” the Giles mini-series is very much its own beast, revealing not only another side to the Watcher that fans have followed for over two decades, but also shedding light on an unseen corner of the Buffy-verse filled with new characters, new threats, and new challenges.
The final two issues cover a lot of ground, including Roux’s past as a slave “rescued” from her bondage by being sired by a creature of the night. While the romantic tension builds between Roux and Giles, the former Watcher must find a way to defeat Seed, a demon using “weaponized telepathy” against the the attendees and faculty of the inner city high school, at the same time as he attempts to navigate the moral muddiness of Roux’s true nature, which lives she takes, and the question of whether she’s the real monster in this situation.
I have to admit, I’m so taken by the character of Roux that I would have followed this mini-series to the end no matter how it all ended up shaking out. Instead of giving us the predictable, Alexander and Whedon dig into some really interesting material in these last two issues, causing Giles to question both the legitimacy and nobility of his own resurrected existence, as well as his own right as a supposed “white hat” to question and/or judge the “evilness” of the actions of others . . . especially a former slave turned vampire who seems to be doing the best she can in a truly messed up world full of injustice and non-demonic based evil. While Giles has made numerous compromises and advancements to his Watcher-based beliefs in the past, excepting that the institution’s rigid, black-and-white view of morality and the supernatural are utterly flawed, these last two issues really confront his ideology regarding vampires, examining it as a privileged perspective. This is illustrated quite beautifully through his interactions with Roux who (through her own past experiences) challenges Giles on how one can really tell the difference between monsters and men when mankind embraces things like hate, racism, and slavery. When Roux asks both Giles and the reader to consider “what if men are the scourge,” those answering honestly must admit that the vampire could very well have a point. This conversation continues in issue #4, when Giles is forced to question whether, when viewed without bias, his resurrection through dark magic is really any different than Roux’s resurrection as an undead creature. Sure, it can be argued that a vampire’s nature is one of evil and death, but whether looking back at Roux’s painful past, the various historical horrors committed in the name of the United States, or those acts of evil implemented over the course of the advancement of humankind, are we really able to argue that human nature is definitively better or morally superior to a demon’s nature? Are those who die under a vampire’s fangs more worthy of revenge than those who die from police brutality? Is “stealing someone’s soul” somehow worse if it’s done via supernatural methods rather than forcing them into bondage, treating them as less than human, breaking their spirit, and working them to a literal death? The Giles mini-series doesn’t answer these questions (and nor should it necessarily), but they will stick with readers long after the finish the last page.
As with the first two issues, I can’t say enough about the awesomeness of Jon Lam’s interior art. He does a stellar job with the high school setting and the teenage version of our favorite Watcher, but his work just outright sings anytime Roux is on the page. Lam communicates her allure, her attitude, her vulnerability, and her deadliness all without missing a beat.
– I’m not sure if Whedon is prepping us for a bigger advancement in the world view of the Scoobies, but the gang has continuously moved away from the idea that all demons and vampires can be defined as straight-up evil. The elements in this Giles mini-series could be prepping us for what’s to come in the upcoming Buffy: Season 12 written by Whedon and Christos Gage (Buffy: Season 11, Angel & Faith). At the very least, Roux does seem to be another example of a vampire like pre-souled Spike who, despite committing evil acts and killing innocents, still seemed to maintain qualities such as love and compassion despite his supposed “soulless” state. There’s a lot to examine here regarding souls and how much they contribute to the moral compass of an individual. Surely, there are average humans (complete with a soul) who commit ultimate evils. Nothing in Buffy or Angel suggests humans like Adolf Hitler lacked the presence of a soul, and the interesting thing that this implies is that the redemption of characters like Angel and Spike had more to do with who they were than the souls they received. It also implies that one could ensoul a vampire and that vampire could remain as evil as any “evil” human being present in our current world.
– While I loved this mini-series, I really would have liked to see some time devoted to Giles realizing how little he understood about Buffy and Angel’s complex and emotionally wrought relationship during her high school years. Given that the blonde slayer told him that he has no idea “what it’s like to have to stake vampires while you’re having fuzzy feelings towards one” in Season 2 of the show, I was at least expecting him to relate to the shared hardships he now has with his slayer given his recent experiences with Roux.
– As a former resident, it’s always nice to see Pittsburgh make an appearance in the sequential art world. I always thought it seemed to be an appropriate town for vamps to hang in. I hear they dig Primanti’s.
– Why name the demon Seed and given him no connection to “the seed” that wrecked such devastating and instigated so many story arcs in the Buffy comics? Obviously, they don’t need to be connected, but the name seems fairly random, so I was anticipating some loose connection to the magic-powering bobble.
– Who doesn’t appreciate a good Tombstone reference? Props on that. Kurt Russell would be proud.
– “Living life is Heaven’s Hell.” Not only is that phrase beautiful, but I’d advise we all sit with it for a while.
FINAL VERDICT: Dark Horse’s Giles mini-series is not to be missed. It’s certainly a different flavor than the Buffy comics that have come before, with its full-on intriguing concepts, interesting character developments, and charismatic and badass vampire who is totally different than the Buffy bloodsuckers you know and love, but every bit as cool as them.
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