Buffy the Vampire Slayer
"Welcome Back to the Hellmouth"
Writer: Jordie Bellaire, Art: Dan Mora & Raúl Angulo, Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover: Kevin Wada
Blurb - sorta: Into every generation a Slayer is born; a chosen one. They alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their number.
They are the Slayer.
My Blurb: "So, here we are..," Dark Willow
I read this a week ago, and then read it again a few days ago. I wanted to be sure that I was ready to fairly review the issue as its own thing, rather than constantly be focused on compare-and-contrast with 'my' buffy. But, inevitably, there are to be comparisons in this first issue -- the very title is almost challenging you to do so.
Despite this, I'm going to do what I can to leave Buffy as she was in the past and focus on 2019's Buffy. There will be a fair amount of commentary about each character, though, because they're here but in slightly altered roles in the new, not-cratered Sunnydale.
Page 01: We open on a bored Buffy, complaining in her head over the small town of Sunnydale compared with the action of Los Angeles, which she spent the last summer visiting and misses. She also misses her former social life.
She's currently working the fast food counter at Tuna Verse. But even it is nearly empty, although we do spy what is surely Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg at one of the tables.
Commentary: And already this version of Buffy gains an immediate point in its favor: Willow is not assaulting my eyes with her clashing colors/styles of fugly! YAYYYY!
It's not clear yet which grade our gang is starting in, but Xan and Wills are looking a bit more Junior/Senior artwise, than Sophmore. I can't tell if that's deliberate. There does seem to be an effort by Dan to more closely capture the likenesses of our actors in their later seasons, though Xan is hit and miss.
Page 02: Buffy is taking a break outside the back door of Tuna Verse, when she sees Xan and Wills going on their way. Being after dark, they're the target of a lone vampire out for dinner.
Buffy launches herself into the fray, before Willow and Xan can completely comprehend just what is happening. She gives a power kick to the face of the vamp.
Page 03: Our vampire immediately recognizes that Buffy is the Slayer, and exclaims that the rumors were true. Buffy asks which rumor, and the vamp jokes that she's been working at 'Tunaverse'. Buffy quips back that she can't have that information leaving the parking lot, and stakes our not big-bad with minimal fuss.
Buffy VO's that "Being strong is a challenge but being vulnerable... feels impossible."
Commentary: So, clearly Buffy now is much more comfortable with being The Slayer than her TV-start version. It's also clear that she's been at work long enough to not take a single hit by a run-of-the-mill vampire.
Her observation that she feels invulnerable is worrying, as surely she's going to find out sometime this season or next that she's much more at risk than her power moments are leaving her feeling.
Page 04: Xan and Willow meet Buffy, with Xan feeling somewhere in between "That was cool" and "That was terrifying"... not over the guy with the fangs and the attack, but the girl who just ashed him away.
There is some banter, but it's short as one of our trio needs to get back to other-work, but Willow is clearly immediately taken with her savior.
Weirdly, nobody freaks over the guy who was just disintegrated, though Xander is wondering if Buffy is a superhero. A claim that she denies. Which leaves him to ask her not to be a supervillain....
Commentary: So, I can't quite grasp this introduction between our Scooby Gang and The Slayer. It's either that Xan and Willow are already familiar with the weird guys around Sunnydale (but don't lock themselves in their homes after dark, anyway - because they didn't do that in the other-verse either) or they seem entirely jaded over a girl shoving a piece of wood into a deformed-face man and having him turn to dust in front of them.
I mean, "Welcome to the Hellmouth" was pretty blasé in dealing with the 'normals' finding out that vampires are real, too. Especially when it came to the bestfriend, who will never be mentioned, but this somehow felt even more clumsy in execution.
Page 05: Our hero leaves the other two as the rain is starting to fall, by assuring Xander that she's not a supervillain either, just a Buffy.
Page 06: The following day, Xander is burning with curiousity over their new resident (but not the vampire, which suggests that our twosome are in the know that Sunnydale isn't like other places going into the series, which again may be indicating that we're with older versions of our characters for "year one").
Xan wants to find Buffy and ask questions, Willow worries that it'll come across as stalking. And she's just grateful that Buffy was there to save their butts.
Xan wants to know who she is. Willow points out that she's going into the library right now.
Xander says that their mouths need to stop talking, and their legs need to start walking.
Page 07: Xander marches Willow over to the library door, which has a handle now. But he hesitates to go in, worrying again that this Buffy girl could do the dusty thing to them, too. He wonders if she's some kinda witch.
Wills accuses him of spending too much time with comic books, but he replies his knowlege of witches, demons and vampires comes strictly from the video game, Witch Killer 3.
He rushes ahead of Wills into the awfully dark library, punching wildly in demonstration that he knows how to handle vampires.
Commentary: Uh. Okay. I think that we could've gotten a bit of clarification immediately upon the first vampire attack on panel about how much Sunnydale already knows about the supernatural. Xan and Wills reactions to being attacked are just way off... either because they didn't know or it's way off that they'd be wandering around after dark if they did already know.
I wish a bit of the post-Slay banter had been more of a definitive clue about what Xander and Willow know at the start. Their discussion of Buffy and the fang-dude are just awkwardly strange for an introduction to the new 'verse.
I don't like the set-up we're getting.
Page 08: Xander's antics draw the attention of Giles and Buffy, where Willow goes on to thank her for the save the night before.
Giles is bitchy about her only having been in Sunnydale for three weeks and already blowing her cover. She insists that if she hadn't, her two classmates would've been killed. This doesn't hold much water for Rupert, as he's sure she could've acted more discreetly if she would worry more about not being publically identified. He also snottily points out that Xan and Wills should be in a class, and basically needs to butt out of his speaking to Buffy about anything.
Commentary: Again, I'm just not liking this set up. It feels entirely too short handed by assuming our knowledge of our characters while also wanting them to be different than the characters we already knew. The universe building is getting short shrifted.
Giles should be insisting, even in a comically short, succinct sentence that the two buttinskis not tell anyone what they saw Buffy doing, maybe also throwing a disapproving glare in the Slayer's direction.
We know that Xan and Willow will keep the secret and become Buffy's support team, but in-universe THE CHARACTERS don't know that. And since this is the latter half of the 10's, Rupert's primary concern should be they posting anything on social media and asking them if they took any video with an ubiquitous smart phone that could put Buffy in more danger than she already is.
There is a lack of proper set up, and embrace of the modern take on Buffy the Vampire Slayer which is needed for a relaunch.
Page 09: With the two alone, Giles returns to Buffy's not carefully hiding her night job around town. Buffy pushes back, rightly informing him that he wasn't there and didn't see the situation. She also points out that she doesn't schedule the monster attacks, they pretty much just show up whenever they feel like it.
He insists she has to do better, but she gets angry and implies to him that he's crushing her self confidence with all of this pressure to overachieve, and he never bothers listening to anything she's saying. She storms out of the library, to his look that maybe he did push a bit too hard, there.
Commentary: And the dialog here, painting in their relationship, leaves me with the impression that they've been working together for longer than three weeks. I was left with the impression that Giles had to have been her Watcher at least for some time in L.A. & perhaps he or the Council (we haven't heard yet if they exist in this 'verse yet) may've had a hand in convincing Joyce (who we also haven't met yet, but surely she's a character... I mean surely, right...) to move here [and by convince, I mean manipulated].
But this is reading into the dialog and interaction, because again, we're not being given enough to understand exactly where our starting place is.
I do like Rupert's being more of the old-style, short on sympathy-long on discipline Watcher in the first issue. It'd be nice if we see more of Giles-as-Council-jerk and then gradually see him loosen up over the season.
Page 10: That night at home, Buffy is pretending to read a history book, while actually reading a comic book. She's caught by her mother, but it's not a major issue. Though Joyce does worry about her getting into trouble, again.
Page 11: Later still, and Buffy is lying down and complaining about how exhausted she is and how she wants to just get some time to herself to figure out who she is beyond the Slayer.
It turns out that she's lying on a mausoleum, where the vampires find her.
She sighs to herself that it doesn't really matter what she wants, since there is always something more important.
Commentary: So. I'm on the fence about all of the callbacks being referenced; Here to the song, "It Doesn't Matter" by Alison Krauss & Union Station, playing in "When She Was Bad" while Buffy was also dealing with who she is and the trauma of The Master aftermath.
It's starting to feel a little too heavy on bringing up nostalgia to give a boost to this project with fans, as if they're not entirely confident in their relaunch on its own merits. Like with the character introductions and set up, it's helping to keep the new 'verse from standing as its own thing. They'll need to tone it down a bit going forward, and save the callbacks for comedic or poignant moments.
Page 12: Buffy continues complaining that there is always someone else's expectations to meet, as she's fighting. She dusts one of the pair, but the other is wearing a gaudy necklace, and being gaudy is obviously a talisman. When she stakes him direct in the heart, she finds him not only not-dusting, but laughing off her attack.
Commentary: No word on what it is, yet, but think Gem of Amara and you'll be in the right neighborhood.
Page 13: Buffy doesn't let the momentary setback throw off her game, telling the vampire that she'll just behead him to get around the no-stake problem, but the vamp isn't interested in continuing to fight. Instead he tells Buffy that he'll be back with more of his freinds, and jewelry.
Buffy complains that she'll need to figure out where to get a machete.
Page 14: Our vampire goes back to downtown Sunnydale and into a specific alley. Touching a sign for "no teenagers" on a dingy wall reveals that the sign is actually a secreted panel latch, which slides up a hidden door.
Page 15: That door leads into a large shop filled with magical knick knacks. A bored sounding clerk asks if the vampire was satisfied with the results of his purchase.
The vampire immediately offers to buy the entire set of amulets for his clan, and the clerk begins telling him that the collection has some interesting history.
Page 16: Our clerk [who I thought was Amy Madison, but it's not] tells the vampire that nobody has ever taken credit for creating the heinous artifacts, suggesting that true horror is actual immortality. She goes on to acknowledge that despite vampires claims, they're still so mortal in so many ways.
Our vampire is not interested in chit-chat, and wants to know the price expected. But our clerk offers first that there be a toast to his bravery in accepting the burden of true immortality. She hands him a flask with a large smile. He accepts this and chugs.
Which only results in his immediate dusting.
Our clerk complains that men (implied to be even undead men) so often think only of themselves and their own wants and desires, and never about the world. She puts the necklace back into its display, and muses that perhaps another customer on another day will be more worthy.
Commentary: Now, this I found quite interesting. This magic shop and the mysterious clerk -- we'll learn who this is before the end of the issue, and it's not that much of a surprise, once you know it isn't Amy -- is my hook to read more. Obvs just catering to the villains is not the purpose of this arcane collector.
Page 17: The following day, Buffy returns to the library to meet with Giles. He's immediately suspicious that she'll slack off because she reported previously that it's been relatively quiet. She offers maybe he could give her five minutes before starting the lectures.
She reports the non-dustibility of the vampire the night before and hands him a sketch of the trinket he was sporting.
With the bell ring, he tells Buffy to get to first class to avoid racking up tardy slips, while he studies up on her drawing.
Page 18: In class, Buffy sits in boredom, staring out the window, where Willow leans across the aisle to slip her a note. It's an invite for her to hang out that night with her and Xander.
Page 19: That night, over a movie, Willow brings up Buffy stabbing that guy in the chest. Buffy points out he wasn't just any random guy, but was a vampire. This gets guffaws from Xan and Will [oh, boy... I'm chomping at the bit to discuss this...].
Buffy insists it's the truth and spills her entire destiny. Instead of the reaction she was expecting [i.e. running for the hills to save themselves], they both excitedly wonder if demons, ghosts, werewolves and the tabloid sensation, BatBoy are real too.
Buffy can't answer about BatBoy, and Wills asks if witches are really green-skinned hags, or if they more lean toward beautiful sirens.
Commentary: Okay. Look. This completely blows the first meet between Buffy and Xander, Will up.
WHY didn't they react more naturally to watching somebody stab somebody else fatally in the chest? And having that 'random dude' disintegrate? And their being attacked by somebody with a bumpy face and elongated fangs in the first place? It's now clear that Xan and Willow did not know that Sunnydale isn't like other places, which makes the entire first Slay in front of them even more badly handled!
I DO SO Wish that they'd had Willow admit that they'd seen "deformed" people around town, and always at night, before. And then have Xander explain that vampires explains a lot about the seemingly too high death rate. Then have Buffy ask if they knew there were murderous 'deformed people', why they'd be out after dark. And then have Willow and Xander share a shocked look with one another, and have them admit that when she says that aloud, it does seem really weird that they wouldn't be a lot more careful [and giving us an implied, but not yet discussed Hellmouth effect going on - because we don't get any mention of the Hellmouth in this issue, and that's okay].
Again, the story - for trying to be a new take - sure is short cutting a LOT by relying on knowlege of the original to cut corners in the telling & showing. It's coming across as very sloppy plotting and haphazard writing.
I do find it interesting that we've gotten no Cordelia Chase or Jesse ... could they be entirely excised?
Page 20: Buffy tells Wills that, as far as she understands, anyone can be a witch as long as they have the right books and sacrifice to the right dark lords. Even Wills could be a witch... (ugh).
Willow insists that they all can't be bad, and she'd love to meet one of the beautiful, sensual ones.
Buffy reminds Wills that she has a girlfriend [the first we're hearing about this... messy writing again], but she points out that a girl is still allowed to fantasize.
Willow then brings up the librarian, and Buffy explains the Watcher's role in her Slaying job.
Wills sympathizes with Giles a little too much, so Buffy tells her that tonight was supposed to be about normal teenager stuff and asks what that would be. Wills suggests teens eat, but then blanks on what else they're supposed to do. Xan offers pizza is a teen thing and opens his laptop. We see a blog opened under username The Xeppo, where Xan has apparently been posting that he wishes he was happy....
Commentary: Ugh. The whole witch convo was a way-too cutesy callback to original Willow. Xander is very oddly divorced from the entire conversation, even though he's sitting right there. Buffy just knowing Wills is gay already and that she's already out is just dumped there with no introduction or commentary... again feeling way too much like they're short shrifting 'verse building by snatching what we already know from the original universe, which is lazy and bad writing.
And though I have no issue with Wills still being both lesbian, and out this early - I am kinda bummed that we didn't go with Joss' alternate plan in this alternate universe by having Xander be the gay. Although, I suppose that avenue hasn't been closed, but a reverse of the situation would've been a change to help seperate the new 'verse from the prime 'verse. On the other hand, I'm obvs way bias on that point.
Page 21: Back in the magic shop, we find out our clerk [and owner?] is Anya. And she's got a shipping business which includes W&H among her clientele. She just relaxing with an episode of Firefly, when a mysterious woman comes into the shop, despite Anya telling her that the store is closed.
Page 22: The lady is a vampire. And she's not of-the-caring about shop hours. She tells Anya that she's not there to purchase, so much as to take what she wants, and she'll be doing so now.
Commentary: And this is Drusilla... a very much not frail looking Dru. Though, the only reason I know this is because of the "next issue" cover ad, looking much more like Juliet Landau.
She actually looks very strangely like ex-Watcher, Laura Weathermill as vampire, from IDW's Angel run.
Post-Issue School Bulletin reveals that Sunnydale's school paper is The Sentinel. And Robin Wood is a student at SHS and is captain of the track team. And a sink hole opened up under the Science Wing of the school which implies that Sunnydale High has a better budget than in the prime universe (and so maybe there will be less unlighted hallways and rooms, though it was still affecting the library) and might or might not be a subtle acknowledgment that the Hellmouth is there simmering.
The Good: I am liking the artwork from Dan and Raúl a lot. No impact on scoring, but it deserves a kudo.
I am liking the personalities of our primary characters, even Giles being more of the stern Watcher and Willow being far more confident and comfortable than in the prime universe.
I am SO SUPPORTIVE of not taking Willow back to the nightmare wardrobe..., THANK YOU.
I'm intrigued by Anya's magic shop and what exactly her role is in handling the specialist trinkets, since it's clearly not just selling them to whoever for whatever.
The Bad: I have major issues with the entire set up of this new universe. They want this to be an all new take on the characters, but then they deliberately depend on our knowledge of those characters to shortcut plot, natural story progression, conversations and sensible reactions. It feels rushed and very sloppy if we're supposed to be introduced to a new universe.
Other Thoughts: I like how Giles is portrayed this early, except for that blowing off Willow and Xander having information they should not have, and could easily share - even in a truncated form - that would cause real problems for he and Buffy's mission. I like the grey at his temples, indicating he's an older version starting out than where he was in "Welcome to the Hellmouth".
I also like seeing Robin Wood as a contemporary of Buffy and already in Sunnydale. I'd really like seeing him come into the fold of the Scoobies with his Slayer mom backstory intact. It could make for some really interesting new story options between he and Giles.
(Doesn't impact scoring) The artwork is generally good to very good, but there are a few issues with Xander Harris and Drusilla's sudden entrance didn't work because she didn't look recognizable as Dru.
It also doesn't impact my score, but I did find the layout of this issue interesting. We start out right in the story, and then cut to the title page. Very much like the prologue of a Buffy episode, before we get the kick-ass theme and credits leading into act one. That was neat.
The Score: I left the issue with being willing to accept the new universe, mostly because of Anya's interesting role and the introduction of Drusilla, sans Spike and looking and sounding far more powerful this time around, so early. But the botched introduction of Xander and Willow to the supernatural, and the unnatural reactions by shortcutting that character progression really hurt the new universe building that was so important to separate this BTVS from the Prime-BTVS immediately.
I'm almost tempted to grade it below average because of the way the intro was dealt with, but that might be too harsh. I'm going to settle on:
3.0 out of 5 stars.
The original "Welcome to the Hellmouth" received a 3.5, so this first issue is suffering in comparison. But I am willing to continue, so there is something here.