Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “A Stake to the Heart”
Dark Horse Comics – August 2002-November 2002
Writers: Fabian Nicieza
Artists: Cliff Richards, Brian Horton, Will Conrad, Michelle Madsen
Editor: Scott Allie

Well. I have hated so many things. And now, finally, we have a comic that is almost its own graphic novel. I wrote my review for “The Origin” a bit back and I stand by the following statement: This story does such a better job of capturing the feel of Buffy before her move to Sunnydale. I even like it better than I like “Viva Las Buffy!”, a comic I gave props to for its innovative use of characters, writing, and even the art. But “A Stake to the Heart” is an honest to god Buffy story, and one I can appreciate. It follows the comic chronology and canon, so it takes place after the two stories I’d mentioned, and also a couple of others that I have yet to dive into, and as such it references the stories well enough (although it avoids any particular mention of Lothos or any of the trite bs from that first story). But, where those stories failed, this one succeeds, and that is in getting true to the spirit of the show. I’m going to chalk this one up to proximity to the official canon, but “A Stake to the Heart” is a love-letter to me from the comic writers that have pissed me off thus far.

Back in “Nightmares” (in season one) we’d learned of Buffy’s folks splitting up. But here, we see the event actually happen. We don’t get much time with Hank Summers, only seeing him in the episode mentioned and again in “When She Was Bad” (the season two opener), and only briefly. While this comic can’t be taken as the official story of what happened (for a number of reasons, primarily because Dawn is featured and, well, we’ll get to that business in season five’s reviews, won’t we?), if you assume this is the real deal, its a delightful little narrative that packs some serious punch.

The art does a decent job of getting the characters right, even the lesser ones like Hank Summers and – believe it or not – stupid characters from the show like Whistler (back in “Becoming: Part 1 and 2” and even Luke, the Master’s right hand that was killed back in season one’s “The Harvest“. There’s even some Wolfram & Hart action up in this bitch, featuring characters and things we won’t see until Angel’s own show. In this, the comic has something up on the rest of the stuff I’ve read. But the characters and their interactions with each other are true to the series and – likewise – insanely engaging to experience, here, for the first time. The dialogue between Angel and Whistler, for example, is astoundingly real, and helps to strengthen the relationship they likely had, offscreen, before Buffy and Angel both came to Sunnydale. Even the one-page phone conversation between Willow and Xander, having nothing to do with any of the plot in any way, shape, or form is funny, seemingly ripped for an episode’s script, and even voiced (in my head) by the characters. Solid.

Then there’s the demons they fight. Their story is told in high-class art styles, a form of narrative choice that draws the reader – AND EVEN THE CHARACTERS – into the world. It helps to solidify four monsters and their backstories, and even their role in the Buffyverse, and it helps to create a real sense of dread for the characters to experience. Its all within the realm of believability, in relation to the show itself, too, which is critical when you’re talking about something that relies heavily on things being at least slightly unrealistic. Its good stuff. Its great, actually. I read real emotion coming from these pages and the situations. The new winner for best Buffy comic? You bet your ass.

“A Stake to the Heart” is the comic to start with. Skip all the other things I mentioned if you want to read Buffy comics. Its even in the second Omnibus, so you don’t have to bother with the first one. Its got heart, its got story, and its got quality writing.

OVERALL REVIEW: Uh, I think you can just buy this by itself in graphic novel form on Amazon. Do that. Save yourself the pain and torture I endure every time I read one of these god awful comics and just get a good one. Jesus. Don’t read any of the other ones I’ve reviewed. Fuck.