Tag Archives: Jane Espenson

Mini-Review: “Tales Of The Slayers: Broken Bottle Of Djinn” by Jane Espenson, Douglas Petrie, Jeff Matsuda & Gene Colan

Title: Broken Bottle Of Djinn
Writers: Jane Espenson & Douglas Petrie
Artists: Jeff Matsuda & Gene Colan
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer(Tales Of The Slayers one-shot)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2002

This is a one-shot comic in the style of Dark Horse’s earlier graphic novel anthology Tales Of The Slayers and released under the same title. That earlier anthology is generally regarded as official canon due to the direct involvement of Joss Whedon, and while Whedon’s name isn’t on this book I extend it the same courtesy based on the fact that it’s obviously related, plus the fact that Espenson and Petrie were both writers for the show. Where it falls timeline-wise, however, is a slightly more awkward question due to a bit of sloppy work by the editor at Dark Horse, Mr. Scott Allie. The inside cover sets the Sunnydale portion as during Buffy’s second season, which fits with the dates given, but Willow’s witchcraft skills as displayed in the book place this into season three. An astute reader pointed this out to Allie in the letter column of the ongoing series (I think it was during the Slayer, Interrupted arc) and he acknowledged the mistake, unofficially revising the setting to season three. I doubt they’ll care enough to change the attribution in future printings, so I’m just making a note of it here and moving on.

The Buffy segment here really just serves to introduce the main story, set in 1937 New York, so I won’t worry about spoilers for that too much. Principal Snyder, in his ever-present battle to shrink the budget, has acquired a bunch of salvaged lockers from New York’s Penn Station.* One of the movers drops his locker, smashing a bottle inside and freeing an angry Djinn. Buffy and Willow take it on and manage to send it through a temporal portal to some other time, some other place…. In 1937 New York, impoverished slayer Rachel O’Connor is recruited by the OSS to intercept a Nazi agent carrying a powerful weapon. I’ll give you three guesses what it is, and the first two don’t count….

On the whole, I liked this little adventure. It was small, a short read, but definitely had the same flavor as the previous stuff in Tales Of The Slayers (which you’ll recall I greatly enjoyed.) Artistically, again, Gene Colan isn’t really my cup of tea, but his artwork complemented the setting very well. Jeff Matsuda I’m less familiar with, and I’m not always taken with the style he demonstrated here, but it worked and I enjoyed it. Jane Espenson didn’t really get much time to work here, but I enjoyed what there was. Doug (sorry, apparently he’s going by Douglas now…) Petrie’s work took up the majority of the book, and it was good, though I thought it wrapped up a bit abruptly. The whole thing forms a paradox, but I feel like that’s not actually looked down upon anymore. Certainly not by the kind of fans that Whedon has, who I feel also have a tendency to be Whovians as well.** And who enjoys a good paradox more than everyone’s favorite Doctor?

Like the one-shot I reviewed yesterday (Jonathan), Broken Bottle Of Djinn is a rare comic. The only place I know of that it’s reprinted is the new(ish) Dark Horse collection Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Tales. I think the purpose was to tap into the popularity of Whedon’s Buffy Season Eight comics and, depending on your level of cynicism, either harness that to sell more copies of the older anthologies Tales Of The Slayers and Tales Of The Vampires, or to give fans the chance to own those aforementioned books, plus the one-shots being collected for the first time, in one nice pretty volume.

CONTENT: No profanity. No explicit sexual content, but a man tells a girl she can make more money by following him into an alley than she will selling pencils all day. Vampire violence, consistent with Buffy materials, plus some other violence of about the same level. Occult-wise, we have Buffyverse vampires, plus some witchcraft.

*I can’t imagine the bargain he got offset the cost of transporting them across the country, but whatever.
**Perhaps that’s just me projecting my own fandoms onto other Whedonites. I don’t know, I could be wrong.

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Mini-Review: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Jonathan” by Jane Espenson & Cliff Richards

Title: Jonathan (Codename: Comrades)
Writer: Jane Espenson
Artist: Cliff Richards
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse, 2001

This is just a quick review of the one-shot Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Jonathan. There’s really no good place to group it, since it’s a rare issue and only reprinted in the Buffy omnibus series (Volume VI, in case you’re interested). EDIT: You can also read it online via the BBC! (Link here) You remember that one episode in season 4 of Buffy where the perennial background character Jonathan Levinson had cast that spell to make himself a superstar? This is a story set in that changed world, just before the events of that episode. The world loves Jonathan, and he can do anything and everything. He’s the star of The Matrix, a military genius consulting with The Initiative, scourge of the vampires of Sunnydale, lit professor at UC Sunnydale, Tony-winning performer, platinum-selling recording artist, sports star, you name it. But even Jonathan is going to need help when a cadre of vampires forged in the Soviet version of the Initiative come to town. He’s going to have to “re-form” the Scooby Gang (apparently they never got forged into a cohesive group in this reality, due to Jonathan taking care of all the problems that pulled them together before) if Sunnydale is going to survive the onslaught of these Soviet vampires….

Alternate realities are a fun playground, and I really enjoyed this one both in the episode and in this comic. The writing was great here, giving us more insight into Jonathan’s character and allowing us a greater exploration of the world created by his spell. My one issue is that Spike acts differently in the comic than he does in the episode–in the episode he acts sullenly terrified of Jonathan, a disgraced and unthreatening ex-arch-nemesis that would never be invited into their graces. In the comic he’s disdainful of Jonathan and the Scoobies, invited to join but too good for that. The feel was just off. The art was spot-on though, with all of the characters looking and acting like themselves even while Richards does his minimalist thing. I’m not sure how he does it….

Canon-wise, this is tricky because it technically never happens. This reality gets erased at the end of that episode and everything goes back to normal. Oh well, whatever. The only minor problem with it canonically (aside from the whole it-never-happens thing) is that Jonathan describes the Soviet program as the inspiration for the Initiative, while we learn later that the Initiative has been in existence since WWII.

CONTENT: No profanity. No overt sexual content, though the implication is that Jonathan is sleeping with the Swedish twins that share his bed. Some vampire violence, consistent with every other Buffy comic I’ve reviewed. Occult-wise, these are Buffyverse vampires, and there’s some minor witchcraft involved in the Scooby Gang’s preparations for battle.

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

Title: Tales Of The Slayers
Writers: Joss Whedon, Amber Benson, Jane Espenson, David Fury, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, & Doug Petrie
Artists: Leinil Francis Yu, Tim Sale, Ted Naifeh, P. Craig Russell, Steve Lieber, Mira Friedmann, Gene Colan & Karl Moline
Series: Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Standalone Graphic Novel Anthology)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Dark Horse Comics, 2002

I like anthologies. It’s fun to pick up a collection of works by different people, see how different writers handle a common theme or idea. In a graphic novel, that also translates into lots of different art styles, which is also cool. Some you’ll enjoy better than others, but that’s fine because the next person to pick up the book will probably have a whole different set of favorites. In the case of a media tie-in, an anthology has the added benefit of freeing an author from the bounds of what is happening in the show, allows them to explore character histories or even totally unrelated tales set in the same universe. In this particular anthology, the writers of the show Buffy The Vampire Slayer teamed up to write a series of short tales about different slayers down through history, from the first slayer all the way up to Fray living an undisclosed amount of time in the future.

Joss Whedon and Leinil Francis Yu start things off with the Prologue, visiting the first slayer as she is cast out of her village to fight the demons alone. Whedon then teams up with Tim Sale to bring us a tale (in verse!) of a medieval slayer defending her town in Righteous. Amber Benson and Ted Naifeh then take us to the bloody days of the French Revolution as a young slayer is pointed at an aristocratic accused-vampire in The Innocent. Jane Espenson and P. Craig Russell take us to Regency-era Britain, where a young slayer stalks her prey at a country ball in Presumption. We then whisk off to the American West with David Fury and Steve Lieber in The Glittering World as a young navajo slayer takes on the vampire who killed her Watcher, and witness the founding of Sunnydale. Rebecca Rand Kirshner and Mira Friedmann take us to Germany at the rise of Nazism, as a young slayer learns that not all evil is undead in Sonnenblume. Doug Petrie and Gene Colan take us to Harlem in the 1970s in Nikki Goes Down! as slayer Nikki Wood seeks to avenge the death of her cop boyfriend, dead at the hands of a vampire smuggling ring. Finally, Joss Whedon takes up the pen once again, this time teaming up with Karl Moline in Tales to bring us a story of a future slayer, Fray, as she discovers her heritage for the first time.

I really enjoyed this particular graphic novel. Writing-wise, I particularly enjoyed Jane Espenson’s Presumption, with it’s dialogue that paid obvious homage to Jane Austen’s characters and style and its killer twist just when you think you’ve figured out what’s what. I also tip my hat to Joss Whedon’s epic poem that serves as the narration for Righteous. From an artistic standpoint, the only tale I actively disliked was Mira Friedmann’s in Sonnenblume, but I admit freely that that is a matter of personal taste. I just hate that particular style, regardless of who is drawing it or what franchise it belongs to. Leinil Francis Yu’s artwork in the Prologue reminded me of Jan Duursema’s in certain Star Wars books, but that may have something to do with the character design of the first slayer resembling a more primitive Quinlan Vos. Tim Sale’s art in Righteous reminded me slightly of Mike Mignola’s, if slightly less stylized. Gene Colan’s take on Harlem in Nikki Goes Down wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I have to admit it fit the tale really well. It reminded me of something else I read a long time ago, but for the life of me I can’t place it. Lastly, the Karl Moline art in Tales is perhaps not my favorite style, but one that I’ve read quite a few excellent stories in and so have a certain fondness for….

CONTENT: Vampire violence, both biting people and being staked or otherwise killed. One is decapitated in a spectacular two-page spread. A girl is burned at the stake for witchcraft, and several other humans are killed as well as the vampires you would expect in a Buffyverse collection. Mild profanity. Brief sexual innuendos, pretty mild. Buffyverse vampires could be considered occult content, given their demonic nature.

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