With the season ten comic book coming to a close, it’s refreshing to see a graphic novel that stands on its own to take us back to what made audiences fall in love with Buffy in the first place. It’s almost jarring to get back there, to see those characters all the way back in the beginning. This book is set maybe a few weeks after the beginning of the show’s first season. Luckily, the creators were smart enough to make that setting mean something and even find something new to say that wasn’t necessarily explored within the show.
In The High School Years, Buffy and friends are still navigating their friendship. Willow and Xander are figuring out their roles as the Slayerettes. Buffy is dealing with the fact that she used to be so much like Cordelia and now she is unpopular for the first time in her life, but has the closest friends she’s ever known. Some of these things got brought up at certain points over the course of seven seasons, but they were never fully delved into, and this time in their lives was the perfect time to do it.
I’m very happy to say that this is not a wasted opportunity. It gets off to a somewhat rocky start in attempting to sound like season one Buffy but once the comic gets into what it’s actually trying to say about fitting in, finding your place and being a teenager it really hits its stride.
We manage to gain some sympathy for the villain, at least at first, until her hypocrisy shows through in a big way toward the end. Still, the villains of the book work in the way they’re needed to.
Like any Buffy story, the biggest strengths here are the characters. All of the best episodes and even the best comics are the ones that are a little smaller, more focused on the interactions between the core cast. Freaks & Geeks takes us back to a time when it was all new, and when these characters we’ve loved throughout the years were still new in each other’s lives.
I’ll admit that I’m not a great fan of the manga style, it’s just something that’s never really appealed to me on a strong level, but the artwork is very good and fits this book rather well. Somehow the script and images work so well together that you can either read this like an American graphic novel or a manga at your own discretion, because there’s definitely a balance of both styles. There are moments that feel lifted directly from a manga, but the overall style of the storytelling feels very much like a traditional graphic novel.
When it was first announced, I was skeptical of The High School Years. Well, maybe not totally skeptical, but I didn’t really see the point considering how far we’d come since then.
But that is the point, I think. If The High School Years is a new Buffy brand then Freaks & Geeks makes sure it starts off on the right foot. This takes us back to a much simpler time in Buffy’s life and that is refreshing in its own way. I miss this kind of Buffy story, even though I love seeing everyone continue to grow in Season 10. I’m very glad to see that it turns out we can have both.
WICKED RATING: [usr 7.5]