"Buffy: The High School Years – Freaks & Geeks" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Faith Erin Hicks
Illustrated by Yishan Li
Colored by Rod Espinosa
2016, 82 Pages
Graphic novel released on June 1st, 2016
Sometimes I forget that the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was only twelve episodes. In that span of time, Buffy Summers moved to Sunnydale, met a whole new batch of friends, plus her watcher and a broody vampire love interest, killed The Master, and died herself. That sounds like a lot to cram into those episodes, but it worked. The slayer quickly grew and moved on past high school and into college. There was something simpler about those early days, and Dark Horse Comics is revisiting that phase with Buffy: The High School Years, a new series of graphic novels set during the first season and aimed at a younger audience.
The first graphic novel, Freaks and Geeks, picks up with The Chosen One just settling in to her new life at this new school. She's slaying vampires by night and sleeping through class by day. When a group of newbie bloodsuckers can't get into the trendy vampire bar, they set out to slay the slayer and earn their spot amongst the popular kids. In the end, they all learn a valuable lesson about themselves.
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I get that Buffy: The High School Years is geared towards a younger crowd, but the message is rather heavy-handed. You're practically beaten over the head with it. Bullying is bad. Don't be a dick to your friends. At one point the vampires actually call Buffy a bully, which gives her pause. She's the slayer. Killing vamps is what she does and she does it indiscriminately. If given the opportunity, anyone of those things would open up her throat and drink every last drop of blood she has, then brag about it to their friends. So killing them is in everyone's best interests.
Writer Faith Erin Hicks captures the essence of that early Joss Whedon wit while staying true to the characters. The comic has a nice pace with sharp dialogue that will make you wish your conversations were half as cool. The characters are also back to their first season states. Willow is pining after Xander. Cordelia is a total bitch.
Yishan Li's artwork goes hand-in-hand with this. It's like you're being transported back to 1997. Willow even wears her overalls in one scene. Overalls! Li's style has a slight anime / manga look, which works well for the story. The characters aren't popping out like a cartoon, but there many of the fight scenes feature that signature-lined background that means action in eastern comics.
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Li's work really shines in Buffy's dream sequence a little past the halfway mark. Buffy's walking through a school filled with flat, paper-like people before meeting Willow and Xander. In a previous life, she wouldn't have given these two the time of day and the old, popular Buffy comes out. She opens her mouth and swirls of insults flow out in a rainbow of colors, literally slicing through her friends. It's a great effect.
Buffy: The High School Years takes you back to a simpler time in the slayer's life when she was just getting her act together in Sunnydale. The Scooby Gang is starting to get its bearings and really work as a team. It's fun and will make you want to dig out the old DVDs or look up the first season on Netflix. I could have done without the glaring message though. I half-expected the “More You Know” banner to fly across the last page.