Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Faithful unto Undeath

Dark Horse Comics is publishing next month the first volume of its collected Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus. (Update, 29 June: it actually came out this week.) Here’s part of the blurb:

“The definitive comics collection of all things Buffy starts here. This first massive volume begins at the beginning-The Origin, a faithful adaptation of creator Joss Whedon's original screenplay for the film that started it all …”

The emphasis on “faithful” is Dark Horse’s own. What do they mean by it?

As is well known, Joss Whedon was unhappy with the way the producers, director and cast of the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed his script. It was in part a desire to treat the subject right that led him to respond positively to the suggestion of reworking it into a TV series.

The Dark Horse adaptation, first published in 1999, reversed some of those changes. For example, this version ends with Buffy burning down the gymnasium of her old school, just as Whedon scripted it, and in line with the references in “Welcome to the Hellmouth”.

But Dark Horse have made their own changes to the original script. Buffy is 15, not 18. She doesn’t get menstrual cramps when vampires are near. The vampires can’t fly (probably – a couple of panels are ambiguous, and I have half a premonition that the feet hanging over the demon stronghold in the recent comics story “The Long Way Home” might turn out to belong to the origin story’s villain, the ancient vampire Lothos). So it’s not exactly an accurate representation of - not really faithful to - the screenplay.

There are also whole scenes here that weren’t in the movie script. Two are adapted from the flashback scenes in the TV episode “Becoming, part 1”. So is The Origin faithful to the TV series first, and to the movie screenplay second, where that isn’t in conflict? Well, not really, because those scenes are changed. Buffy gains some extra dialogue to explain references to two different boyfriends in the two different sources, and her first fight with a vampire is totally different. A tag scene involving Buffy going to Las Vegas has no source in either the movie or the TV series, but serves as a hook on which Dark Horse could hang further “Year One” adventures (though it took them a few years to get round to that).

Is there anything wrong with Dark Horse making these changes? Not at all. They were valid choices when trying to make a coherent comic book out of disparate sources from different media. It’s the marketing I object to. The blurb on the original trade paperback collection just calls it an adaptation of Whedon's original script, with no spurious claim to fidelity.

Still and all, The Origin does score points by including the very primal Buffy scene, the idea from which Joss Whedon started, before he worked it up into a character or a story: a stereotypical blonde victim walks into a dark alley, is attacked by a monster, and kicks its ass.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin issue 1 “Destiny Free”, issue 2 “Defenseless Mechanisms”, issue 3 “Disco Inferno” by Joss Whedon (original screenplay), Christopher Golden and Daniel Brereton (Script), Joe Bennett (Pencils), Rick Ketcham, Randy Emberlin and J. Jadsen (Inks), Jeromy Cox and Guy Major (Colors), Ken Bruzenak (Letters), Scott Allie and Ben Abernathy (editors), Dark Horse Comics, January – March 1999, reprinted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin, Titan Books September 1999

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