No, this isn’t what you think it’s about. Sort of. Ok, it’s kind of about what you think it’s about, but not really. Maybe I should just get to it.
So Joss Whedon decided to write a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic and call it season 8. This seemed like a really neat idea when it started a few years ago, and in fact I’ve been an avid reader of the run since it started. The first 20 issues or so were pretty fantastic. It felt like a return to form for a series that, in my opinion, lost its way in the middle of its 6th season and never found its way home again. In fact, its first three arcs – especially “No Future For You”, which brought us an awesome Faith/Giles teamup against an insane British noble with Slayer powers – were funny, tense and dramatic. Everything you want from Buffy.
Then it decided to get all clever on us.
Back in 2002, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman joined forces a second time on the film Adaptation. The conceit was that Kaufman had been trying and failing to adapt The Orchid Thief and, instead of actually finishing that job he wrote a screenplay about trying to adapt The Orchid Thief. The first half of the film was one of the cleverest takes on the trials of writing I’ve ever seen. But as Kaufman’s writer’s block intensifies, he starts taking his fictional brother’s advice (yes, he wrote a fictional brother into the screenplay) and ends the screenplay with exactly the kind of stock, action-packed Hollywood ending he’s been mocking the entire film. Unfortunately, the switch to bland Hollywood film takes up almost a quarter of the film’s running time and never really switches back into something savvier. The joke is funny, in theory. But in making the joke, the film stopped being good, and I walked away disappointed and unamused.
That brings us to issue 21 of Buffy. To this point, all we knew was that the villain called himself Twilight and wanted to destroy, I don’t know, magic and slayers and stuff. And the name was kind of a clever nudge; of course Joss was going to take a little swipe at the other, bigger vampire franchise. You probably couldn’t write a more diametrically opposed vampire series if you tried. But with issue 21, “Harmonic Divergence”, the joke grabbed the wheel and drove the car into a ditch.
See, one of the vampires, Harmony, gets a reality show where she reveals she’s a vampire and, for reasons that are still unclear to me, gains the love of pretty much all the world. Vampires are cool! Slayers are evil! The world’s sudden adoration of bloodsucking demons puts the main characters on the run and in grave danger.
I mean, I get it. The world is holding up as awesome things that would like to kill and eat them. They’re acting like vampires aren’t dangerous. Aren’t scary. Like they should be loved and adored and hung in poster form upon their bedroom walls. Just like fans of Twilight do!!!
And, on the face of it, that’s kind of a funny joke. I bet you could make a great pitch based on that idea, and in fact, it’s very likely that a funnier and more eloquent version of that was the pitch to Dark Horse for this series. Hell, if it was pitched to me, I probably would have laughed and approved it. Only, as written, it’s more clever than it is funny. Sure, in theory, the idea of exploring how the vampires became the heroes and slayers the villains is the kind of on-point pop culture comedy Joss excels at. Just like Adaptation, though, somewhere in the translation the cleverness eclipsed everything else and it became the kind of joke you end up having to explain once you’re done telling it.
I’m hoping the end of the series pulls something off that proves me wrong, but I fear we’ve entered the last act of Adaptation now and I’m just going to have to watch the joke play itself out. If I’m lucky, there will be some actual jokes along the way. And maybe the story will find its way back onto the pages before it’s too late.