One of the very best things about Boom! Studios ground-up approach to revamping Buffy is that even though this technically takes us back to the general age and vibe of season one, any character can appear at any point in time. This is a total, modern update on the mythology. Robin Wood has been a student at the high school from the first issue, Drusilla and Spike are already in town and making big plans, and Anya is already on the scene as well. Alongside the new approaches to some classic characters, it feels like the early days of Marvel’s Ultimate imprint, where part of the fun is wondering who will be introduced next and what this version of them might be like.
Bouncing off the big surprises of the previous issue, Buffy the Vampire Slayer #7 definitely continues that trend by—sort of—introducing readers to a new take on Dark Willow. I say “sort of” because this version of Dark Willow only exists within Willow’s mind, at least for now. But from the black ensemble to the hair and the veins, this character is immediately recognizable from Willow’s villainous turn on the show. This is surprising on one level, not only because that version of the character was first introduced in season six, but also because it was an arc that had been steadily building over the course of a few years.
Within the context of the comic, though, it definitely works. If anything, it’s a possible tease of what might be to come. In the previous issue, Willow gave up half of her own soul to prevent Xander from becoming a full-blown soulless vampire. This issue is all about the fallout from that decision. It’s an issue that takes place almost exclusively inside Willow’s own mind, using Dark Willow as a manifestation of her own anxieties and fears. More to the point, though, this is about Willow feeling like she’s been on autopilot since what happened, not sure of herself, not sure if she’s the same Willow and altogether not feeling whole. In that respect, Dark Willow—or at least the version shown here—is a manifestation of her depression.
Keeping that in mind, this might actually be the perfect time to start building toward Willow’s transformation to the dark side, as these are all the themes that were present in season six. Only this time they’re inverted. In the original series, it was Buffy who struggled with depression after being brought back from the dead. Her alienation toward her friends’ pain was a small part of what led Willow down the road toward going fully dark in the first place, so it’s nice to see a kind of role reversal here.
Jordie Bellaire continues to nail the characters and their respective voices, even in the midst of updating and reconfiguring them. With characters from all seven seasons on the playing field now, not to mention with the fact that Willow is already an out lesbian at Sunnydale High, one has to wonder when Tara will be properly introduced. Many fans still consider that character’s death, which was the catalyst for the original Dark Willow arc, to be something that was not handled properly and it would be interesting to see how the new series could update that or even take things in a totally new and different direction.
There’s no sign of any romantic relationship for Willow in this issue, though. It’s not about that. While largely being about her own doubts and insecurities, this issue is primarily about her relationship with Xander and does a great job on that front. The original series had a lot of anecdotes to the fact that Willow and Xander had been friends since before kindergarten, but no real flashbacks to that time in their lives. It’s nice to see some of that here. Not only because it’s more ground that the show didn’t often cover, but more than anything because it strengthens the bonds at the heart of this issue. We know how much they love each other, Willow gave up half of her own soul to save her friend, but now they’re both scared and unsure how to move forward. Individually, it’s eating them up. By the end of the issue, they’ve both clearly come to realize that the only way they’re going to get through these huge and scary changes is the same way they’ve gotten through everything in their lives: together.
The art by David Lopez and Sas Millege definitely deserves a shoutout as well for clearly conveying the characters, making them instantly recognizable as who they are, while not being a slave to likenesses to the point that it looks more like a fashion mag than a comic book. There’s some great, moody, surreal visual stuff going on in this issue as well.
It’s interesting to have an issue of a Buffy comic in which Buffy herself doesn’t actually appear at all, but it works. She doesn’t need to. The supporting cast have always been and thankfully continue to be great, extremely fleshed out characters. This one’s all about Willow and her relationship with Xander in particular and it does exactly what it sets out to do by reminding us why we love both of those characters so much in the first place.
WICKED RATING: 8.5/10