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Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru” by James Marsters, Christopher Golden, Ryan Sook & Eric Powell

Title: Spike & Dru
Writers: Christopher Golden & James Marsters
Artists: Ryan Sook & Eric Powell
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Tie-in Miniseries)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2001

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Spike is one of my favorite characters from the Buffyverse. I hear that’s a common reaction, actually–he apparently became an instant fan favorite with everyone when the show first aired. Drusilla is cool too, of course, completely off her rocker and occasionally hilarious, but there’s something about Spike’s attitude and panache….They’re both very nuanced characters, more so than any other vampires in the Buffyverse.* Anyway, this being the case, I was very much looking forward to reading this set of stories featuring everyone’s favorite duo of co-dependent vampires.

This is usually labeled a miniseries, but it was more accurately a series of three one-shots with the same billing. Also included in the TPB reprint (and this review) is the Spike & Dru story from the Lover’s Walk one-shot for a total of four stories. (I arranged them chronologically, though they were actually published in a different order.)

  • All’s Fair(#3: Written by Golden, Drawn by Powell): Prologue set in China during the Boxer rebellion, with the main body focused on Spike and Drusilla in Chicago, 1933, as the  World’s Fair is in full swing. Very well written, to the point where I can hear the characters say their lines. I also liked the art better than any of the previous stories, which I again admit is a matter of taste.
  • The Queen Of Hearts(#2: Written by Golden, Drawn by Sook): Spike and Drusilla are on their way to Sunnydale, fresh from Prague (as seen in the story The Problem With Vampires, in Tales Of The Vampires) when they get sidetracked in St. Louis. This one was really well written, with everyone’s lines just flowing perfectly. I could hear James Marsters or Juliette Landau saying their lines as I read, it was great. The art was okay, as with Paint The Town Red I’m not a huge fan of that style, but that’s a matter of personal taste. I did kind of laugh at one point though, there’s a bouncer who looks exactly like Hellboy, so much so that I wondered if the writers decided on a crossover at the last minute. It can’t be accidental, and I appreciate the tip of the hat.
  • Paint The Town Red (#1: Written by Marsters & Golden, Drawn by Sook): After the events of the Buffy season 2 finale, we rejoin Spike and Drusilla on the western coast of Italy as they try to patch their relationship back together, hindered by Spike’s temper and Drusilla’s continuing obsession with Angel. This particular story was…decent. I can totally see the story unfolding this way, and Spike’s lines were spot-on for his character (as you would expect, given that Marsters himself was one of the writers), but Drusilla’s lines only sounded like her about half the time. I also wasn’t a fan of the artwork, but that’s just my stylistic taste. That style works for Mignola on Hellboy books, but I’ve never really warmed to it elsewhere.
  • Who Made Who (From the Lover’s Walk OS: Written by Golden, Drawn by Powell): Set soon after the Buffy season 3 episode Lover’s Walk, we revisit Spike and Drusilla in Rio. The good news is that Spike’s plan to “torture her until she likes me again” actually worked. The bad news is that she’s up to her old tricks again, cheating on him with a fungus demon of all things….As with All’s Fair, I preferred Powell’s art to that of Ryan Sook. Again, a matter of taste. The writing was pretty good, as I’m coming to expect from Christopher Golden.

Obviously you could track down the TPB that collects these four stories, and that would be that. If you’re reading the Buffy omnibuses (Omnibi?), All’s Fair is featured in Volume 1, Queen Of Hearts and Paint The Town Red in Volume 2, and Who Made Who is in Volume 4. EDIT: Guess what? All four of these stories are also available to read online via the BBC! (Link here)

CONTENT: Mild language. Vampire violence, as you would expect from a book of this nature. In The Queen Of Hearts and Who Made Who characters visit a strip club, in both cases the dancers are wearing panties, in one case they have star-shaped stickers (I assume they’re stickers, anyway…) over their breasts and in the second case they are facing away from the reader. So not too explicit, but still a factor. Occult-wise, these are Buffyverse vampires (and so possessed by a demon), and there are actual demon characters to boot. There’s also a sorcerer who can command dead flesh. There’s a case to be made that Buffyverse demons are not the same as those of Judeo-Christian mythology, but that’s a whole post to itself. Maybe I’ll do that someday, maybe I won’t. We’ll see….

*Except Angel, of course, but he doesn’t count since he’s got his soul. Spike & Dru are both soulless, and yet still demonstrate a depth of human emotion that is rare for the vampires in the Buffyverse.

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Review: “Tales Of The Vampires” by Joss Whedon et al.

Title: Tales Of The Vampires
Writers: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson, Brett Matthews, Ben Edlund, & Sam Loeb
Artists: Alex Sanchez, Paul Lee, Cameron Stewart, Scott Morse, Vatche Mavlian, Jason Alexander, Ben Stenbeck, Jeff Parker, Ben Edlund, Tim Sale, Cliff Richards & Sean Phillips
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Miniseries)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2004

I’ve mentioned my fondness for anthologies before, right? Good, no need to retread that. I mentioned that I like how they free writers to explore background characters and the worlds created by popular franchises? Ok, no need to say that again either. Did I mention how I enjoy the wide variety of artistic styles in a comic anthology? I did? Oh. Well, looks like this introduction is almost entirely redundant then….In that case, without further ado, let me introduce Tales Of The Vampires. As with the previously-reviewed Tales Of The Slayers, the writers of the show Buffy The Vampire Slayer team up to tell a wide variety of tales from the Buffyverse. This time, instead of focusing on the Slayer end of things, we are treated to a slate of tales about particularly interesting vampires throughout history. Some are familiar, like Spike & Drusilla or Angel. Others we have never met before now, but are destined to leave their mark on the Buffyverse nevertheless.

Joss Whedon and Alex Sanchez start us out this time with the frame story for the anthology, Tales Of The Vampiresabout a group of young Watcher trainees being taught not to underestimate their foes by listening to a captive vampire tell tales of his fellows. This tale is told in starts and stops in between the other tales of the miniseries. We then travel to Prague in The Problem With Vampires by Drew Goddard and Paul Lee to discover just what happened to Drusilla prior to her arrival with Spike in Sunnydale at the beginning of Buffy Season 2. Whedon then teams up with Cameron Stewart to tell the story of Stacy, a young girl who is attacked by a vampire only to find everything she ever wanted in the darkness. Jane Espenson and Scott Morse bring us Spot The Vampire, a fun little rhyming puzzler in the classic seek-and-find genre. Brett Matthews and Vatche Mavlian take us to 1888 Whitechapel, as a detective with a secret attempts to track down the infamous Jack the Ripper. Jane Espenson then teams up with Jason Alexander to tell the tale of a young man raised by his vampire Father. Drew Goddard and Ben Stenbeck then take us to just before the start of the Buffy Season 8 comic series, as Buffy confronts the legendary Dracula in an attempt to reclaim Xander from his entranced servitude in Antique. Jane Espenson and Jeff Parker transport us to 1933 Kansas, at the start of the Dust Bowl, for the tale of a young farmboy trying to figure out the rules of his new condition. Ben Edlund handles both writing and artistic duties for Taking Care Of Business, chronicling the meeting of a vampiric ex-Inquisitor priest who believes he’s still doing God’s work with a pudgy young man claiming to be God himself! Sam Loeb and Tim Sale then give us Some Like It Hot, about a vampire who finds a way to walk once more in the sunlight. Brett Matthews and Cliff Richards then take us back to flesh out the Buffy Season 3 episode Amends as Angel battles his personal demons in Numb.  I’m also including here a story from the Dark Horse one-shot Drawing On Your Nightmares, because there’s really nowhere else it fits. Not sure where you can find it reprinted, honestly. Dames is written by Brett Matthews and drawn by Sean Phillips, and tells the noirish tale of a gambling vampire and his encounter with a damsel in distress.

From a writing perspective, I enjoyed Joss Whedon’s frame story Tales Of The Vampires even if it happened long before all but like two of the stories it was supposedly framing. I admit the ending too me somewhat by surprise, too. The Problem With Vampires deserves mention both for Drew Goddard’s writing, which was excellent enough that I could actually hear Spike and Drusilla saying their lines, and for the art. But I’ll get to that in a minute. He also actually made me feel sorry for Dracula in Antique, which was an unexpected bonus. I also very much liked Stacy (again by Whedon) and identified strongly with the character as a confirmed sci-fi/fantasy geek myself. At least, you know, until she turned vampire….The pseudo-children’s poem Spot The Vampire was very well done, so kudos to Jane Espenson. Speaking of Espenson, both her other tales here were stellar. Father was poignant, and Dust Bowl was a great story of a young vampire figuring out the rules of his new existence without any help from anyone else. Brett Matthews failed to surprise me with Jack, but I have a stubborn weakness for Jack The Ripper stories for some reason. Only, I thought Jack the Ripper was supposed to have been Lothos, the Big Bad from the movie/The Origin? Merrick definitely implied as much. His writing on the Angel-centric story Numb was spot-on though, and I enjoyed Dames as well. Ben Edlund’s Taking Care Of Business proved to be a delightfully quirky tale, one I greatly enjoyed. Artistically, Paul Lee’s work on The Problem With Vampires deserves mention for managing to capture Spike and Drusilla so perfectly. The style Vatche Mavlian adopts for Jack isn’t exactly my favorite, but I must say that it fit the tale perfectly. Cliff Richards perfectly captured Angel for Numb, which isn’t to be taken for granted.

CONTENT: Violence, as you would expect from this series. Vampires drink from victims, sometimes with graphically-depicted results. Others are turned. Some are staked, which isn’t as gory given their tendency to crumble to dust. Mild profanity. Some sexual innuendo, but nothing too explicit. You can decide for yourself whether Buffyverse vampires are occultic, but you shouldn’t be surprised that they show up here. They’re in the bloody title, after all….

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