Friday, 21 November 2008

Buffy the ubermensch

Ok, I just finished reading "Wolves at the Gate," the latest volume in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer "season eight" comic book series and it got me thinking.

The comics seem to be treading ground that is a lot closer to superhero terrority than what was dealt with on the show itself. I'm not saying that people are gearing up in capes and tights or anything, but the whole idea of Buffy leading a team of super-powered warriors is now looking a lot more like something out of a Wildstorm comic than it ever did back when the characters were three-dimensional and attending high school.

One of the weird things about this, though, is that these characters do have a background in something more "real." Something that seems tangible and three-dimensional, even if it essentially is just as fake. More importantly, the series did have its roots firmly grounded in reality - despite having its branches far above it - and ultimately was a series that was primarily about a group of young people growing up, not a bunch of people fighting monsters.

What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that all of this makes you think about the events of the comic somewhat differently than how you might otherwise be inclined to think. You see events that don't seem particularly out of place in superhero fiction and you find yourself looking at them through a somewhat more realist lens. Or perhaps I really can just never look at superhero fiction the same way again after it was pretty much thoroughly dissected in The Dark Knight.

As has been expressed before, though, there comes a point where you realise that the more realism you insert into the superhero genre, the more you simply serve to highlight the depths of absurdity that lie at the heart of that genre (and now, I suppose, I've given up on the idea that it's possible to not think about the Buffy comics as superhero comics, by value of their generic traits). Additionally, in things like The Dark Knight, you end up explicitly raising questions about what the real-world implications would be if people started acting the way that people like Batman do. If Batman really existed, would he be right to do what he did?

If we keep the realm of the superhero a completely fantastical one, then one could make the case that questions like this hardly matter. After all, questioning the morality and the political and polemical implications of superhero comics might become like pointing out that fairy tales - which are heavily based on themes of murder, child abuse and cannibalism - might be just a little bit violent (I'm no stranger to fairy tale studies, but there comes a point when one really is just pointing out the absurdly and harmlessly obvious). But still, when things are not only grounded in a certain degree of realism, and additionally, when the creators involved have explicitly said that they're approaching a piece of work with a specific political agenda, it becomes difficult to not think about things in real terms rather than as simply the way a particular genre simply is.

All of which brings me to my point about the Buffy comics, which is this: whilst I understood the basic message of the series, that Buffy was supposed to represent the "everygirl," and her gradual coming in to her own was supposed to represent the growing up processes of many girls and boys worldwide, how can one possibly apply that same message to a comic that instead seems to have at its centre the message of "these people are the ubermensch, so to them, the rules do not apply?" I mean, seriously, has anyone even checked to see what is going on in these comics? Buffy has set up an army of supergirls and goes around doing what she wants and answering to no-one, and all just because she has superstrength. I really hate to find myself siding with the villains of a series, who have pointed out much the same, but really, this is just absurd. I guess ultimately, any superhero fiction is like this in a way. To whom are the JLA accountable? Are they not equally a bunch of renegades who've placed themselves above the law? Why is it that Superman can do whatever the hell he wants, just because he can fly? It's questions like this that lead to things like Civil War being written.

But ultimately though, things like this only get considered when you decide to utilise that realist lens; when the veil of fantasy drops away. There's nothing wrong with thinking about the fiction you're consuming and questioning it's inherent morality, in fact it's something I highly recommend. However, I think there's a vast difference between Green Lantern fighting killer bugs in outer space and a 2D Sarah Michelle Gellar running a fascist society where the rules don't apply to those with superior physical abilities. When I look at a comic and can only see the real world impications and how stupid/scary they'd be, the comic is either being very clever or really is rather fundamentally flawed.* I really, honestly enjoyed Wolves at the Gate, but it still looks like I'm leaning towards the latter.

Plus, the added realism only makes me question the truly bizarre bits all the more. Would the series ever pull a giant Mecha-Dawn out of thin air?

Seriously though. GIANT. MECHA. DAWN. What the hell?

*I'd cite Millar's Wanted as a good example of the "Hey, look how scary this'd really be" thing done quite deliberately.


Tee said...


This really got me thinking about what I guess I've been trying to ignore. The comic's been out of control in this way from the first issue and I think the reasons you've stated hit the nail on the head. I suppose being able to illustrate any idea (seduced by the medium) is why Joss and co. have gone this way, but it's really taken away from the mission statement. There's no balance. This is why I personally never post about the comic and leave it to my fellow bloggers.

Now the Angel comic has a bit of the problem as well but he's kept his theme of obsessing about the real world problems and how he's affected them. Still, it also kind of started going the way of the "super hero comic absurd" in season 5 and hasn't really come back from that either yet.

Jayunderscorezero said...

Good to see I'm not the only one who thinks this way. I've pretty much had this issue with the Buffy comics from the start, but WatG really put them into focus for me.

I'll always remember this one review I read of one of the Buffy novels. I'm paraphrasing, but it essentially said "This novel starts off with Buffy riding on the back of a giant, flying dragon. Now, the reason Buffy does not do this in the series is not because of obvious budgetary and practical concerns, but because Buffy is at its heart not a high-fantasy show in that regard, and so all this book does is immediately drag you out of what you know to be 'Buffy's world'." I feel much the same thing going on in the comic. As you say, they've been "seduced by the medium".

My other main concern though, is how this comic fares in the current comic book landscape where people are writing pieces on what it'd 'really' mean if heroes acted the way they did (I mentioned Marvel's Civil War crossover in my post as an example). This comic fares pretty poorly in that light, so far. Unless of course we are supposed to side with the villains.

As for the Angel comics, I'm actually yet to give any of AtF a read, but yeah, I can see the same problems emerging there.