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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angel–The Hollower” by Christopher Golden & Hector Gomez

Title: Angel: The Hollower
Writer: Christopher Golden
Artist: Hector Gomez
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angel miniseries)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

And so we come to Angel: The Hollower, Dark Horse’s first tale focused specially on everyone’s favorite vampire-with-a-soul. The Hollower was originally published as a three-issue miniseries, available either in its own collection or in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

According the the mythology of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the process of conversion involves a person’s soul being banished from their body and replaced with a demon. The resulting creature retains the memories and some of the emotions of that person, but without any of the pity or morality that comes with having a soul–the original person you may have known is dead and gone, and the vampire left in their place would just love to eat your face. The demon is the only thing keeping the vampire’s dead body alive and moving, and were it to be destroyed or banished somehow the body would disappear in a cloud of dust just as effectively as if a certain spunky Slayer had rammed Mr. Pointy through their non-functioning heart.

Angel, however, is a special case. After becoming a vampire he cut a swath of destruction and cruelty across the world, taking a perverse joy in torturing his victims to their limits before feeding on them or turning them into vampires themselves. All that ended when a clan of gypsies laid a cruel curse on him in vengeance for his preying on one of their own–Angel’s human soul was returned to his body, existing alongside the demon in a constant struggle for control. Even more torturous, his conscience was returned along with his soul. For the past hundred years Angel has lived a solitary existence, attempting to atone for all the pain he has caused while never allowing himself a moment of perfect happiness lest the curse rear its ugly head once again and return him  to the soulless killer he once was….

As it turns out, besides the Slayer, vampires have only one natural predator: the Hollower, a tentacle beast that exists by sucking the demons from vampires and leaving their empty bodies to disappear in a puff of dust. Sounds like a potential ally, right? Guess again. Once it has ingested enough vampires, it spews forth those captive demons once again to inhabit whatever bodies they can find, forming an army of enslaved newly-turned vampires. Angel fought the thing once before, back before he was re-ensouled, and merely managed to chase it away to feed somewhere else. Now its shown up in Sunnydale, and Angel is forced to face the possibility that this could be his final redemption, his way to escape the demon forever….unless he plays the hero and kills it before it can possess the entire town, of course.

On the whole, this was an interesting tale. There were a few inconsistencies, such as Angel stating that he thought the Hollower destroyed forever, then in the flashback detailing their earlier encounter stating that it was only injured and would someday return, but oh well. Otherwise I enjoyed it, and I’m always happy to see Spike and Dru make an appearance. The good news is that Hector Gomez’s art was stellar this time around, from Buffy to Angel’s Errol Flynn ‘stache he sports in the flashbacks, everyone was definitely themselves. The dialogue was always spot-on, and I thought Golden and Gomez even managed to nail a number of the characters’ particular mannerisms. Timeline-wise, this is set soon after the sprawling Bad Blood arc (detailed here, here, and here), or in other words somewhere in the middle of Buffy‘s third season.

CONTENT: Mild profanity. No real sexual content, but some flirting and innuendo as well as a couple instances of scantily-clad females. Violence consistent with the Buffy television show, both vampiric and otherwise. Occult-wise, these are Buffyverse vampires. I leave it to you to decide whether that counts.

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Review: “Dark Horse Presents #141: Buffy The Vampire Slayer” by Dan Brereton, Christopher Golden, Andi Watson, Joe Bennett, Hector Gomez, & David Perrin

Oh look! More Buffy. This is a special issue of the anthology comic Dark Horse Presents, focusing on Buffy and her friends. These three stories have apparently never been reprinted anywhere except Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV, so they may be hard to find….

Hello Moon
Written by Daniel Brereton & Christopher Golden
Art by Joe Bennett
Rating: *****
Synopsis:
Buffy cuts her patrol short for the night to go for a moonlight stroll on the beach. So of course she meets a fish monster and a quartet of vampires….
Review:
This was great across the board, if a little predictable in its resolution. The art was superb, though I think the vampire designs were a bit recycled from some earlier comics, be they Buffy or Blade….
Continuity: This is supposedly set during Buffy’s third season, but otherwise there’s no clue as to when it happens. I arbitrarily set it after S03E03: Faith, Hope & Trick.

Cursed
Written by Christopher Golden
Art by Hector Gomez
Rating: ****
Synopsis:
Buffy and Angel run into one of Angelus’ old comrades, causing Angel to flash back to just after his transformation as he stalks and kills his former best friend.
Review:
Aside from the fact that this is inconsistent with what we’ve seen in the show, this was actually really good. Gomez’s art still isn’t my favorite, but it didn’t bug me this time. And the story? It was good, an excellent exploration of Angel’s character and his own personal Hell. I only wish it was consistent with the rest of the details we know about the same period.
Continuity:
Like I said, this doesn’t fit. It’s supposed to happen sometime during Season 3 though.

Dead Love
Written by Andi Watson
Art by David Perrin
Rating: ***
Synopsis:
Buffy goes snooping for some light reading, and finds an account of one of Giles’ solo adventures.
Review:
Meh. It wasn’t bad, and the art was okay. I just wasn’t a huge fan. Just….mediocre I guess.
Continuity: Set sometime during Season 3. I arbitrarily stuck it after Revelations, mostly just to keep it out of the insanely-busy later part of the season.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Pale Reflections” by Andi Watson and Cliff Richards

Title: Pale Reflections
Writer: Andi Watson
Artist: Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #17-19)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Here we go! The conclusion to the Bad Blood storyline began here and here. I have to say, despite a couple of rough patches in the middle there, it’s been a fun ride. It was mostly good to see the book get away from the “villain of the week” format and do a longer-running villain, even if it maybe stretched a bit in the middle unnecessarily. This conclusion, though, was absolutely top-notch. These three issues can be found collected either here or in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

These three issues are titled as if they’re two separate stories, with the first two going under the title She’s No Lady and the last being entitled Old Friend, but that’s not really accurate. These three issues are clearly a single unit, and I’ll discuss them that way. The Scoobies have been tasked by Principal Snyder with preparing a float to represent the school during Mardi Gras, (Which apparently is also celebrated in Sunnydale? Who knew?) which is taking a good deal of time away from the search for the origin of the super-vamps. Meanwhile, Selke and her pet doctor have managed to magic together an evil doppelganger of Buffy. Yep, things are heading for a showdown….

On the whole, this was great. The writing was back on top, and mostly there were no loose threads left hanging around. Spike & Dru show up again at the very end, but I suspect that that’s a seed for a future story rather than sheer randomness. The art was likewise stellar, and I think Cliff Richards has finally hit his stride. Chronologically, this happens soon after the previous story/soon after Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Vampire violence consistent with the Buffy television show. Some mild sexual innuendo…. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occultic due to their demonic nature, but it didn’t bug me.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Crash Test Demons” by Andi Watson & Cliff Richards

Title: Crash Test Demons
Writer: Andi Watson
Artist: Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #13-15)
Rating: **
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

The Buffy binge continues! This time we have the next three issues in the ongoing arc begun back in Bad BloodCrash Test Demons collects issues #13-15 of the ongoing Dark Horse series, which can also be found in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

We start out on a weird note in Love Sick Blues, with Cordelia deciding her image needs revamped and deciding to compete with Willow in the school’s “Quiz Bowl.” Yeah, you heard that right. Of course, to have a hope of succeeding Cordy’s going to need some supernatural help, and that comes with consequences….In the untitled following issue, things start to get serious as Buffy and Angel encounter several “super-vamps” that take a lot more killing than usual. Oh, and after Buffy saves his bacon, Todd (the creep from A Boy Named Sue) develops an unhealthy fascination with our favorite Slayer….Finally, Lost Highway sees Buffy attacked by a trio of super-vamps after a fortuitous (under the circumstances) hit-and-run. All the while, Selke and her pet doctor are trying to raise a new dark power in Sunnydale….

Meh. The art was great, with the briefly-confusing exception of a few moments where the super-vamp gang contains a member who looks just like Buffy. The writing though….not so great this time through. The first story was mostly okay, but the other two are plagued with unresolved subplots, like Spike & Dru showing up just long enough to work some mischief and (apparently, since they don’t appear again) disappear without so much as a how-you-do. The characters’ dialogue was all spot-on, but the plotting and pacing could use some work. I think they just tried to stretch this ongoing story a little too long, causing issues here in the middle of the tale. Timeline-wise, for lack of any other information this continues to follow the previous so many stories, in the slot between Buffy S03E10: Amends and Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Vampire violence consistent with the Buffy television show. Some mild sexual innuendo…. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occultic due to their demonic nature, but it didn’t bug me.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Bad Blood” by Andi Watson & Joe Bennett

Title: Bad Blood
Writer: Andi Watson
Artist: Joe Bennet
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #9-11)
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

It’s been a while since I read any of these Buffy comics, hasn’t it? Got a bit sidetracked. Anyway, the Bad Blood collection contains a mere three issues (#9-11), the first part of a larger long-running arc. Andi Watson is still going strong as the writer, and Joe Bennett subs back in as the artist for this arc. These three issues are available either here or in Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume IV.

Life goes on apace for the Scoobies in these three issues. Nothing too life-changing happens in the parts of the story focused on our favorite slayer and her friends, as these issues blend a fairly episodic approach to the Scoobies with a long-game story featuring Selke, the vengeful vampire who got torched back in Cold Turkey. Hey Good Lookin’ (issues #9-10) sees Selke recruits an amoral plastic surgeon to try and fix her “cosmetic issues” while Buffy tries to balance tracking a band of ghouls who have been using the local cemetery as a diner with her surprising new gig: modelling! Then in A Boy Named Sue (issue #11) Buffy and the gang have to deal with an arrogant and duplicitous something-or-other, frontman for a band that rivals Oz and the Dingoes while being utter tools. Todd Dahl has decided that it’s time to add another “S” to his little black book of conquests, and he’s settled on our favorite Ms. Summers despite the fact that she’s not interested. Amy is, though, and she can be quite vengeful when spurned….

My reactions this time are…mixed. The art is definitely improving, even Xander is mostly recognizable. Probably a mix of the artist improving and me getting over my grumpiness with his appearance in these books. Everyone else is pretty well done though. Kudos to Mr. Bennett, he’s put my complaints to rest. The writing is where I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s perfectly spot-on when it comes to dialogue and characters sounding like themselves. On the other hand, there are deep flaws in this story arc. I don’t buy that Joyce Summers would be considering plastic surgery–it just doesn’t seem consistent with her character. The plastic surgeon suddenly becoming adept at magic? Maybe, I can buy that, especially if he’s a quick study. He seems to accumulate enough arcane books quickly enough, probably from Selke. But being able to pull off a tricky translation from an ancient language? Not exactly something they teach at medical school. This is of course somewhat balanced by the sheer hilarity of his attempt to buy time by passing off a jar of mayo as some mystery salve. Why did he have a random jar of mayo sitting in his operating room? I have no idea, and for once I don’t care. The writing was occasionally quite abrupt, switching scenes without warning, and I think each of these issues could have benefited from another couple pages, but that’s not always an option. Timeline-wise, these still have to happen before Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread since Amy makes an appearance. Xander and Cordelia seem to be together, but that’s never explicitly said so I guess we just ignore that.

CONTENT: No profanity that I can recall. Vampire violence consistent with the Buffy television show. Some mild sexual innuendo, from tight clothes consistent with a comic book to a character attempting to seduce a girl (and then lying about his failure the next day), plus the requisite jokes when a male character gets magicked into a female. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occultic due to their demonic nature, but it didn’t bug me.

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Mini-Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Final Cut” by Andi Watson, Jason Pearson & Cliff Richards

Title: The Final Cut
Writer: Andi Watson
Artists: Jason Pearson & Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #8, extended re-release)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2000

Once again I find myself with a publishing oddity while reading the Buffy comics. Issue #8 of the ongoing series is the only issue never collected in a regular trade paperback. Instead, it was expanded and included as a special hardcover graphic novel in the “Supernatural Defense Kit” collector’s pack Dark Horse released in early 2000. The Supernatural Defense Kit contained the expanded hardcover, Buffy’s cross necklace, a ring, and the vial of “holy water” that Angel gives her in the comic. (I suspect that the pages concerning that vial of holy water were some of the additions made, but I could be wrong.) If you don’t have a time machine or a lot of money to use on eBay, however, the expanded comic is also collected in Dark Horse’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Volume III.

You’d think that Sunnydale High School students would know better by now, wouldn’t you? Apparently not though. SHS student Marty is an aspiring filmmaker, so when he finds an old black and white film in a storage closet, he takes it home for a private viewing. This being Sunnydale, the character in the film stops mid-film and offers to make him a star…for a price….

This was decent, actually. In this format, anyway–I’m not sure how they got this to work in a shorter version, I only spotted a few pages that could have been cut without serious damage to the story. My only real issue with it is an intense mystification as to how the Scoobies avoided some serious police scrutiny at the end, but I’ll shut up about that in the interest of avoiding spoilers. The writing was pretty solid, and the art was some of the best I’ve seen from this early era of the series. With no real concrete clues as to it’s placement, I’m assuming it happens pretty soon after the events of New Kid On The Block, or just before Buffy S03E11: Gingerbread.

CONTENT: No profanity, some mild rude slang. Brief innuendo, but no real sexual content. Violence consistent with the Buffy TV show, both vampiric and the normal variety. Some brief appearances of Buffyverse vampires, as well as some unrelated sorcery.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Uninvited Guests” by Andi Watson, Dan Brereton & Hector Gomez

Title: Uninvited Guests
Writers: Andi Watson & Dan Brereton
Artist: Hector Gomez
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Buffy The Vampire Slayer #4-7)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 1999

Uninvited Guests collects issues #4-7 of Dark Horse Comics’ ongoing Buffy The Vampire Slayer series. Andi Watson stayed on as writer for these issues, getting an assist on issues #6-7 from Dan Brereton, while Joe Bennett moved on to draw The Origin and Hector Gomez stepped in to draw the four issues collected here. These four issues are available either in this collection or in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Volume III.

In White Christmas (issue #4) we follow Buffy as she get’s a job selling popsicles at the mall to earn money for a dress for the big dance. Of course, there are supernatural hijinks afoot, and Buffy soon finds herself up to her neck in danger….Based on the fact that the Scoobies’ relationships don’t show any evidence of the train wreck that was Buffy S03E07: Lover’s Walk, I place this issue just before that episode (and by extension almost immediately after the events of issue #3, Cold Turkey). The difficulty with this placement is that we have to then assume it’s just after Thanksgiving and that it’s not quite as close to Christmas as Buffy implies. We could also place it just after Buffy S03E10: Amends, given that Oz and Willow make up again in that episode, but here Cordy and Xander seem to still be a couple, and that will never again be the case after Lover’s Walk. (Yeah, I know. I’m ridiculous like that. You should see the Word document where I tried to make the Star Wars EU canon make sense before they hit the reset button….) Happy New Year (issue #5) sees a rift in the ranks of the Scoobies in wake of one of Oz’s “episodes.” He got out of his cage, and Buffy was forced to subdue him, putting his arm in a sling. Thus, Willow is pissed. Oh, and there’s a cursed Puritan rifling through Giles’ library. Based on the broadcast dates, this is soon after Buffy S03E10: Amends, with supporting evidence being that Willow and Oz are (back) together. New Kid On The Block (issues #6-7) sees the Scooby gang with a new friend. There’s a new girl in school, Cynthia, and a teacher work day means that the Scoobies have time for actual fun for a change! Thus, they decide on a sleepover, which of course excludes Xander and Oz. Oz is cool with it. Xander resolves to crash the party anyway….but it looks like his hijinks are far from the biggest issue the Scoobies are going to have to face tonight. With no really relevant markers to help place this, I’m going to assume it occurs soon after the previous story–mostly in an attempt to leave room in the timeline for the large number of comics that still need shoehorned into this season.

I’ve complained a lot about Hector Gomez and his art in previous Buffy posts, but in this case he actually did a pretty good job. Xander’s still a bit “square-jawed hero,” but oh well. I’m afraid that will never change. Everyone was at least recognizable, even Oz, which was definitely not the case in the earlier issues. The writing was good for White Christmas, and it was interesting to see the comic foreshadow later events in the show as Buffy gets a job in fast food and muses on the impact being the Slayer will most likely have on her career prospects. Happy New Year, however, was much spottier. The first page was a mess, there are multiple places where I actually went back to the original file to make sure I wasn’t missing a page, and in fact the fate of one of the newly introduced characters is left completely ignored. He was last seen plunging over a railing with Willow. Buffy caught her, but what happened to him? We don’t know–I assume he’s dead, but you’d think that would put a damper on their holiday celebrations. Plus, there’s the cursed Puritan. Are we to take his longevity as part of the curse? “I curse you to be chased by this Hellhound until it catches you and rips you to shreds! As an unfortunate side effect, until he manages that you’re immortal. Oh well.” I’m just not feeling it. This could have been really good if it had either a.) had a throwaway villain that could be easily dealt with in the scant page-space leftover from the relationship drama they highlighted, or b.) saved that drama for another issue and focused on the cursed Puritan. Instead, they tried to do too much and failed. New Kid On The Block was back up to snuff, although you could pretty easily surmise that a certain character was not all she seemed.

CONTENT: No profanity. Some violence, consistent with Buffy. Some mild sexual innuendo, from the girls at the slumber party in flimsy pajamas to Buffy and Angel doing their best not to make out, but kind of failing. These are Buffyverse vampires, which means there’s demons involved, so take that as you will.

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Mini-Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angels We Have Seen On High” by Fabian Nicieza, Scott Lobdell, & Jeff Matsuda

Angels We Have Seen On HighTitle: Angels We Have Seen On High
Writers: Fabian Nicieza & Scott Lobdell
Artists: Jeff Matsuda (Characters), Hakjoon Kang & Nolan Obena (Backgrounds)
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2002

So, once more I’m faced with a short Buffy comic that really doesn’t fit well into any other review. Angels We Have Seen On High is a short story published in the 2002 Dark Horse anthology one-shot Reveal. So far as I can find, it was only ever collected as part of Buffy Omnibus Volume II, which is a shame because it’s a fun little interlude.

This is set before season one of Buffy, so far as I can tell falling between Slayer, Interrupted and A Stake To The Heart. It’s Friday night and Buffy’s been tasked with keeping an eye on Dawn as they hang out on the Santa Monica Pier. Of course, her Slayer duties get in the way, placing Dawn in danger and requiring a save from the unseen Angel.

The writing for this was spot-on, down to the humor and character voices, and the art was interesting. As you can see from the cover, it was done in a very stylized…style…that usually isn’t my cup of tea, but I really enjoyed it here. It worked really well, and everyone was still recognizable as themselves despite the stylization–not something to be taken for granted, I can assure you! Even some of the early Buffy comics that aren’t shooting for an odd style don’t manage this level of character-recognition, though admittedly this one has it easy due to its small cast of characters. If you can find a way to get your hands on this story, I would highly recommend it….

CONTENT: Vampire violence, though significantly milder in this tale than in most episodes of the series. Mild language. Mild innuendo, but no real sexual content. Buffyverse vampires.

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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Ring Of Fire” by Doug Petrie & Ryan Sook

Title: Ring Of Fire
Writer: Doug Petrie
Artist: Ryan Sook
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Standalone Graphic Novel)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2000

So. You may have noticed that some of these comics I’ve enjoyed, and others I’ve given mediocre to poor reviews. If your memory is exceptionally good, you may remember that I was….not so much a fan of Ryan Sook’s work on a couple of the Spike & Dru stories. There, his style evoked Mike Mignola without ever rising to that level of genius and sophistication. I thought it was too minimalist, I think. Here? Here, I loved it. Sook has improved his craft and tweaked his style a bit, not forsaking his roots but adding to them a previously-unseen degree of sophistication. Here his work still evokes Mignola at times, but has enough detail to truly be called beautiful. I really liked it. The writing was spot-on too, of course, which you would expect from Petrie as one of the show’s stable of writers. The best part? You can read this comic for free online via the BBC! (Link here) I’m going to go back and see if other comics I’ve reviewed are similarly available, post links to that in the relevant reviews. Alternatively, you could find an original edition of it, possibly a reprint (not sure if it’s still being printed or not), or you could find it in the second Buffy omnibus from Dark Horse Comics.

This particular graphic novel is set towards the end of Buffy season 2, after Angel loses his soul and reverts to his Angelus persona but before the explosive season finale. Buffy is reeling from Angel’s betrayal. Giles is nearly out of his mind with grief over the death of Jenny Calendar, dead at Angelus’ hands. Angelus? He’s happy to be back and ready to unleash Hell on Earth. Teamed up with Spike and Drusilla, his current plan involves resurrecting an ancient Samurai demon who once terrorized feudal Japan. Because that’s how this works, he happens to be buried in Sunnydale. And unless Buffy and Giles can get their heads back in the game, Sunnydale may find itself with a new diabolical overlord….

Like I said, this was good stuff all around. I compare the art to Mignola’s….favorably this time! Everyone was recognizable, which isn’t to be taken for granted in early Buffy comics. And as I mentioned before, the writing and characters’ voices were spot on, from dialogue to pacing. It was superb, and I really don’t know how much more I can say without repeating myself. So, I’ll settle for this: this story feels like an episode of the show that never aired. There’s nothing new, nothing earth-shattering here, but it feels like it should be just one more episode as the story moves forward.

In terms of canon this is, as always, a bit tricky. Beyond the fact that none of the comics Whedon had nothing to do with are officially canon, this particular graphic novel has a tightrope to walk. It obviously happens after Angel loses his soul in Buffy S02E14: Innocence, but before the events of the finale. Willow performs some magic in this story, which she really only becomes interested in after S02E19: I Only Have Eyes For You. She needs some assistance from Giles, so I don’t necessarily think this is incompatible with her development on the show, but it does strain credibility that she could do so much so quickly. In an episode of Angel she quips that re-ensouling Angel was the first spell she ever learned, but that doesn’t have to be taken as gospel. Given these factors, I place this story just before the tw0-part finale to Buffy Season 2.

CONTENT: Some violence, consistent with media from the Buffyverse. Mild language. No real sexual content, aside from mild flirting. Buffyverse vampires, which are debatably occultic, plus some working of magic for the purposes of resurrection. Not to mention that Kelgor is a demon.

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Review: “Feed” by Mira Grant

Title: Feed
Author: Mira Grant (real name Seanan McGuire)
Series: The Newsflesh Trilogy #1
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Orbit, 2010

I don’t cry, not usually. Not for fictional characters. I can count on one hand the characters I might have cried over, half of them I can’t remember either way. I definitely shed a tear at the end of Odd Thomas–still do, for that matter, every time I read it. Back in early High School I remember crying at the end of A Walk To Remember, not for the girl, but for the guy who has to live on without her.* I may have cried for Anakin Solo when he died at the end of Star By Star, but I don’t remember. I usually cite him as one of my favorite dead characters, so it’s not impossible. Likewise when Mara Jade Skywalker fell. Again, I don’t remember. Last night, however, as I finished the last hundred pages of Feed, tears definitely flowed. I also don’t typically binge on a series, trying to spread them out with other books between. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so tempted to chuck my no-binging policy and find the next book….If the library was open on Sundays I might have succumbed. Alas, it is not, and my record is safe. In these reviews, I usually tell you, the reader, that I enjoyed this particular book and why. I usually leave any imperative to follow in my footsteps unstated. Not this time. This time, I’m telling you to put down the computer and head to your local library and check out this book. They don’t have it? Request it! Their selection will be improved by its addition.

In the world Ms. Grant creates in Feed, the zombies arose in 2014, the product of a well-tested cure for cancer and a not-so-tested cure for the common cold joining forces. Unlike most apocalyptic visions of the future, humanity survived with our society intact, if weathered. The world we see in 2040 is very much ours, with believable differences. Ms. Grant also manages to make the plague sustainable–the virus is in everyone in a passive state, just waiting to be activated by a zombie bite or the subject’s death. That’s right: in this world, you die, you rise. It’s that simple. There are bloodtests everywhere making sure nobody with an active infection can access your house, and the CDC is now a military force in their own right. Bloggers are now the main source of news for most people, a side effect of being the only people to report the truth when the dead started walking. Much of the nation has returned to their Christian faith in desperation, and we have sacrificed every freedom that was asked of us in the name of protection from the walking dead. You find this world less than believable? Go look at how we reacted after 9/11. I sadly find it all too believable.

Georgia and Shaun Mason are brother and sister, two of the three headliners for the blog team After The End Times. Georgia heads up the Newsies, the serious news side of the site. Shaun is in charge of the Irwins, those crazy folks who go out and court danger for your education and entertainment. The third part of their triple-threat is Georgette “Buffy” Meissonier, (“I’m cute, blonde, and living in a world full of zombies. What do you think I should call myself?”) tech wizard and head of the Fictionals who offer you your escape from cold, hard, zombie-infested reality now and then. The Masons and Buffy have just been given the chance of a lifetime–they have been selected from hundreds of other applicants to be the personal press corps for Presidential hopeful Peter Ryman. They will join his campaign and follow it from day one all the way to the steps of the White House, assuming he makes it that far. This is the make-or-break moment for all of their careers, but it is also far more important than that. Someone is determined to make sure Senator Ryman never reaches the White House, and they are willing to kill to make sure their ends are met. Whoever this is has no scruples, stooping to using the zombie virus itself in their campaign of destruction–an act of terrorism viewed with the same horror we reserve for attempting to fly an airliner into a building full of innocents. There is a conspiracy here, dedicated to hiding the truth. And the one thing that matters to Georgia Mason as much as her brother does is the truth….

My personal opinion? This was the best book I’ve read in quite a while. This book would at first glance appear to be just another zombie novel, a genre that is populated with too much dross and too few gems. On a second look, it’s a political thriller with a unique twist, i.e. being set after the Rising. Inventive, but still only of interest to folks with an interest in those genres. I’m here to tell you that you should read it anyway. It really is that good. It took second place for the Hugo Award in 2011, and I honestly am a little disappointed as I sit here that it didn’t win. The book that beat it out had to be pretty special….I should look into that.

Some reviewers have criticized Ms. Grant for having “stock” characters. With a couple of caveats, I can’t particularly argue. First, I would clarify that there is a difference between “stock” and “cardboard” or “one-dimensional.” Stock characters are recognizable archetypes you find throughout countless works, and they’re stock characters for a reason. Do a lot of them have twists to differentiate them from every other (to choose Rick Cousins as an example) “reporter with a tragedy in his past who is running from it and trying to bury himself in his work?” Not really, but that’s not the point. I don’t believe it detracts from the quality of the work. Secondly, I would also say that I didn’t find the main characters (Shaun, Georgia, maybe Buffy) to be stock characters at all. I thought they were well-rounded and original, and I empathized with them fully. Even when I realized [CHARACTER NAME(S) DELETED] was/were doomed well before his/her/their death, it didn’t decrease the impact of the blow. Especially experiencing the event through the eyes of the survivors and seeing their pain. As I mentioned, I cried for [CHARACTER NAME DELETED.] I’m not particularly ashamed of that, either. It takes a d*** good writer to get me to empathize that much with a character, and I think Ms. Grant deserves credit for her expert manipulation of my emotions.

As with nearly any novel that touches on political or religious issues and comes from a mainline press, the author and I don’t see eye to eye. I’m a Christian, and I have to say that Christians don’t come off well in this story. On the other hand, Ms. Grant’s premise here–that the Rising would prompt a fear-based resurgence in religious fervor–is probably accurate, and those conditions are not conducive to positive depictions. Revival based on fear isn’t sustainable, and faith based on fear isn’t healing. The fact is that anyone can claim to be a Christian, but a number of the characters herein that represent that group don’t do so very well. Are there idiots out there like Governor Tate? Yes. Yes there are. But I would argue that they are poor specimens of Christianity. Politically, Ms. Grant’s views would seem to fall moderate-liberal, while mine are firmly conservative, but I am pleased to say that Ms. Grant isn’t a jerk about it. Always a pleasure to “meet” a member of the opposition with whom you can be friendly.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity, present but not gratuitous. Zombie violence, sometimes very gory, and sometimes involving characters you’ve grown very close to. Mild sexual innuendo, but nothing explicit.

*What? They held a gradebook to my head. Plus, I’m a hopeless romantic under this gruff exterior. Get over it.

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