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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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