Spike — A Dark Place: Comfort Food for the Buffy-phile

Mini-review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike — A Dark Place by Victor Gischler, Paul Lee, Jo Chen et. al.
(Release date: June 18, 2013)

The world has been a darker, lonelier, and far less quippy place since the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air almost ten years ago, in May of 2003. (Bow your heads for a moment of silence, please. Thank you). But the devoted fans of the Buffy-verse had not heard the last of the Slayer and the Scoobies. In 2007, Dark Horse Comics began publication of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 — in comic book format! Legions of fans cheered! Currently up to season 9 and going strong, the comics are written under the imprimatur of Buffy creator and geek god Joss Whedon, and are considered “canon”, for those who care about such distinctions. The comic follows Buffy and the gang forward from the end of the TV series, and it’s a wonder to behold.

Coming in June 2013, Spike – A Dark Place is somewhat of a sidebar to the main storyline of season 9, picking up right after the events of On Your Own (season 9, volume 2), and focusing on everyone’s favorite bad-boy-vampire-with-a-soul (and amazing cheekbones), our dearly beloved Spike. Spike’s going through some stuff and has fallen into a deep depression, and even his trusty team of adoring spaceship-flying bugs (it’s a long story) can’t quite get him to snap out of it. Of course, bad guys pop in, as bad guys do, and Spike is caught up in the action once again.

I realize that none of the above (bugs! who fly spaceships!) will make sense to anyone who hasn’t kept up with seasons 8 and 9. Which raises the question: What are you waiting for? If you watched the TV show, then good gods — get thee to a comic book store at once! Of course, if you never watched Buffy at all… well, first of all, I’m not sure that we have anything left to say to one another (kidding!), and second of all — drop whatever else you’re doing and get yourself some Buffy DVDs! And don’t stop until you’ve watched all seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel, and you’re ready to read some amazing comics!

Okay, so this supposedly-a-book-review has devolved into a fan rant. Sorry ’bout that.

But check out the comics. The new Spike book features terrific artwork, especially Jo Chen’s magnificent covers, which represent Spike actor James Marsters in all his Buffy-era glory. The storyline is funny, action-packed, and quite faithful to the Spike character that we know and love. Once I picked up Spike – A Dark Place, I couldn’t put it down, and I’m eager for more, more, more — more Spike, more Buffy, more of the entire wonderful Buffy-verse! Please, Dark Horse, don’t ever stop! I’d happily continue reading the Buffy comics and spin-offs for years — decades — to come.

My week in graphic novels

Last week, after finishing a couple of heftier and long-awaited novels, I made my own personal proclamation: It’s Graphic Novel Week!

Seven days and seven books later, here’s what I read and what I thought:

First up was Soulless: The Manga, Volume 2 by Gail Carriger (author) and Rem (artist). This manga version of Changeless, the 2nd book in the wonderful Parasol Protectorate series of novels, is a rather delightful affair, even for someone like me who doesn’t typically care for manga-style illustration. While I occasionally found the artwork a bit too cartoon-y, there are moments and scenes that are just wonderfully conveyed, including the Scottish settings, the steampunk gadgets and gewgaws, the fashion (and rather atrocious hats), and some of the interplay between main characters. I would never recommend the manga version as a sole introduction to Gail Carriger’s work, but for anyone who’s read and enjoyed the series, these manga volumes are a nice, amusing side dish.

Next was the continuing stories spun off from my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. As anyone who was a fan knows, the TV series ended after seven seasons, but Buffy lives on! Under the auspices of creator Joss Whedon, Buffy’s story continued in comic form through season 8, which wrapped up in 2011, and in the newer (and ongoing) season 9. This past week, I had the pleasure of reading the 2nd volume in season 9, On Your Own, as well as the 2nd volume in the spin-off Angel & Faith series, Daddy Issues. Reading these comic series are like visiting with old friends. The gang (or most of the gang) is back! We get to hang out with Buffy, Willow, Spike, Xander, Dawn, and more. The series remains true to the characters as they existed in the TV series, but with a natural growth and progression through the ensuing action. While the season 8 plotline was a bit more convoluted than was truly necessary for good storytelling, the season 9 plot so far is engrossing, surprising, and yes, even touching. Meanwhile, I’m finding myself much more interested in the Angel and Faith spin-off than I thought I’d be, as the two team up to atone for past sins, right some wrongs, deal with visits from important figures from their pasts, and put some bad guys in their places. Both of these volumes were quick but engaging reads, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

After that, I moved on to the world of Fables by Bill Willingham. While the Fables series has been around since 2002, I was not introduced to Fables until earlier this year — at which point I fell madly in love and gobbled up the entire series as quickly as I could. Which left me completely bereft once I realized I was all caught up and had to simply sit and wait for the next volume to be released. (Side note: Fables, Volume 18: Cubs in Toyland is due out in January 2013!). Luckily for me, two new side projects were released in fairest-1November: Werewolves of the Heartland, a stand-alone volume centered on Bigby Wolf — only my very favorite character from the Fables ‘verse! — and volume one of a new ongoing series, Fairest, which focuses on some of the female Fables. Both of these, while enjoyable, were more or less filler for me. Werewolves of the Heartland follows Bigby on an adventure alluded to in the main Fables series, in which Bigby sets off in search of a new safe location for the Fables in exile. I won’t get into too much of the plot, but it’s nice to see Bigby in action again — although for the most part, it just left me hungry to return to the main series. (January, hurry up!) Fairest was fun, but I’ll have to see where the series goes as a whole. Volume 1 focuses on Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), Ali Baba, and the Ice Queen. Interesting and entertaining, but again, it mostly just whets my appetite for the main body of the series. Still, for a Fables fan, these are good choices for the in-between months.

wrinkle-graphicA Wrinkle In Time (or more accurately, according to the book jacket, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson) was my next choice. This was such an interesting reading experience. It’s been many years since I’ve read the original novel, yet it made such an indelible impression upon me that I approached the graphic novel with some misgivings, wondering how on earth it could succeed in capturing the essence of Madeleine L’Engle’s masterpiece. Fortunately, the graphic novel does a wonderful job of conveying the spirit of the novel, with simple but expressive illustrations that portray the characters’ emotions and struggles quite well. Meg in particular comes across in a manner so true to the novel — full of doubts and insecurities, driven by love for her family, confronting her anger and frustrations on a daily basis, and trying to become her own person while caring for those she loves. My only hesitation about this edition is that, in a way, it moves too fast. The journey to find Meg’s father and all the events surrounding it happen quickly, and I wonder whether a person reading the graphic novel without having read the original would get the same level of emotional impact. I enjoyed it a great deal, but it’s no replacement for the “real thing”.

Finally — and I’m still recovering from this one — I read the latest volume in the Locke & Key series by Joe Hill. Volume 5, Clockworks, continues right where the previous volume left off, with the Locke children in terrible danger and with no adults available or able to help. In volume 5, we get two very important pieces of Key House history — the origin of the keys in 1775, and the fateful events of 1988 involving the children’s father and his friends at the end of their senior year of high school. Both historical pieces are powerful and disturbing, and finally answer some questions that are essential to understanding the mystery and terror of the story. Locke & Key is scary, suspenseful, creepy, tragic, and un-put-down-able. This series just blows me away. Joe Hill is a master storyteller, and the illustrations are crisp, frightening, gory, and just generally wonderful. Highly, highly recommended.

And there you have it! Seven days, seven graphic novels, one very satisfied reader! Let’s do this again soon, shall we? Meanwhile, back to reading books without pictures… sigh.


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different topic for a top 10 list each week. This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Book I Wouldn’t Mind Santa Bringing Me

Before jumping in, let me preface this post by saying that I’m using “Santa” in the metaphorical sense. I have never received nor do I anticipate ever receiving a visit from Santa. It’s not that I’m naughty (at least not on a daily basis) — I just don’t swing that way, religion-wise.

So onward to the top 10 books I wouldn’t mind receiving this holiday season. Bear in mind that my loved ones usually shy away from buying me books, since chances are either a) it’s something I want to read and I already own it; b) I’ve already read it but thanks anyway; or c) it’s sooooo not my taste — don’t you know me at all? As a result, just about all of the books currently on my shelves are books that I’ve bought myself, and everything else that I’ve read has come from the library. I’m difficult, I admit it.

Therefore, my top 10 list consists of books that I’d LOVE to receive as gifts but either haven’t bought for myself (because I haven’t gotten around to it yet or they’re just not available), OR they’re books that seem wonderful but would feel like too much of an indulgence to buy for myself.


1 & 2) Two pop-culture celebrations top my most-wanted list: Firefly: A Celebration is what appears to be a lovingly produced tribute to Joss Whedon’s Firefly series, filled with photos, scripts, behind-the scenes looks, and more. Buffy: The Making of a Slayer is a hardcover, slipcased edition that is, according to Amazon, “the first authorized, fully illustrated retrospective” of the hit series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both are priced at about $30, which puts them into my luxury book items category. Unless there’s a huge price drop at some point, I probably wouldn’t get these for myself — but if any family members happen to be reading this, consider this a huge hint droppage.


3) I find myself rather intrigued by Building Stories by Chris Ware, which is a graphic novel that comes in a box and consists of 14 separate pieces that can, if I understand correctly, be read in whatever order you’d like. I’m not sure that I need to own this, but boy, would I like to open it up and play with it.


4) The Rolling Stones 50 by The Rolling Stones. 352 pages, over 1,000 illustrations! It sounds like a real treat for Stones fans, but I’m certainly not die-hard enough to spend $60 on it. I’d be perfectly happy to just look through it once or twice at a friend’s house, to be honest. Still, if it turned up as a gift, I certainly wouldn’t say no.


5) My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force and Jane Mount. Can I just tell you that I’m in love with this book? I mean, I really love everything about it. The concept is just lovely:

The books that we choose to keep –let alone read– can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. In MY IDEAL BOOKSHELF, dozens of leading cultural figures share the books that matter to them most; books that define their dreams and ambitions and in many cases helped them find their way in the world. Contributors include Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Keller, Michael Chabon, Alice Waters, James Patterson, Maira Kalman, Judd Apatow, Chuck Klosterman, Miranda July, Alex Ross, Nancy Pearl, David Chang, Patti Smith, Jennifer Egan, and Dave Eggers, among many others. With colorful and endearingly hand-rendered images of book spines by Jane Mount, and first-person commentary from all the contributors, this is a perfect gift for avid readers, writers, and all who have known the influence of a great book.

Not only that — check out the artwork! I could spend hours staring at these paintings of book spines. And what’s more, you can buy prints of many of the shelves from the artists’ website (www.idealbookshelf.com)… and, if you’re willing to shell out some $$, you can order a custom original painting of your own ideal bookshelf. Love, love, love.


6 & 7 & 8) It’s graphic novel time! I’ve been reading a lot more graphic novels this past year, and the more I read, the more I want to read. My choices here are some graphic novels that have been out for a while. The idea of trying to catch up and read the whole series for any of these is rather daunting. Still, if my metaphorical Santa decided to gift me with one or two of these, I’d be thrilled. My top picks for extravagant graphic novel gifts are:

  • The Walking Dead Compendium 1 & The Walking Dead Compendium 2: These massive paperbacks each encompass eight of the Walking Dead graphic novels and are over 1,000 pages in length, with a retail price of $60 each. I’ve missed the Walking Dead phenomenon completely so far, on the page and on TV, but I’m soooo tempted to dive in.
  • The five hardcovers that make up the Absolute Sandman collection each run about $100. But, hey, it’s Neil Gaiman! Considering the price, I’ll probably rely on my public library when I’m ready to tackle what I’ve heard is a masterpiece. Still, if a gift were to come my way…
  • Bone! It’s the Bone: 20th Anniversary Full Color One Volume Edition! The Bone series by Jeff Smith is marketed as a children’s series, but I found it engaging, funny, dramatic, and wonderfully drawn. What a world! And the stupid rat creatures are, hands-down, my very favorite stupid evil carnivores. My son has the Bone collection in paperback, but this hardcover special edition looks absolutely stunning.

And to wrap it all up, how about a couple more books about books?


9 & 10) My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop (published by Black Dog & Leventhal) and One For The Books by Joe Queenan. I spend a good portion of each day either thinking about, writing about, or talking about books. These books about other people’s favorite books sound like perfect reading for a bookworm like me.

And there you have it, my top 10 pie-in-the-sky wishes for holiday gifts. Maybe most aren’t too realistic, but it’s awfully fun to fantasize a bit!

Here’s hoping that you find some reading goodies wrapped up in shiny paper with your name on them this year! Happy reading!

Read a book. All the cool people are doing it.

Taking a brief pause to appreciate TV characters who read… for no real reason except that it gives me a good excuse to Google stuff. Without further ado:

Damon Salvatore thinks sparkly vampires are stupid.

Sawyer rockin’ the reading glasses.

Don Draper is a very serious reader.

Good slayers always do their homework first. But where are the Scoobies?

Good slayers always do their homework first. But where are the Scoobies?

No, the other Scoobies!

Joey found Little Women kinda scary.

Gemma hitting the medical texts. Career change?

Trying to read here, Varys.

Never too old for a bedtime story.

Updated 8/24/2012 to add:

Piney reading a one-of-a-kind Stephen King novel. That’s “Cycle Zombies”, and it exists only in TV land.

That’s all I’ve got! If you come up with any other good ones, please share.

11/5/2012: Updated to add this additional cute photo:

Some scary things happen in “The Angels Take Manhattan” episode of Doctor Who, but this reading-friendly picnic scene is just adorable.

This may get a bit graphic

I was shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – to discover that I’ve read 25 graphic novels thus far in 2012.

This astonishing turn of events was driven home to me the other day during family reading time, a new tradition recently instituted in my house solely for the purpose of getting my 9-year-old to read. Whether this will actually be successful remains to be seen. However, I digress. During family reading time, the kiddo and I plop ourselves on the couch with our books for a mandatory half hour or so of side-by-side independent reading. On this particular occasion, my college grad daughter joined us. As we all settled in – daughter with A Storm of Swords, kiddo with Henry Huggins – my son looked over at me, started laughing hysterically, and said, “Mom’s reading a comic book!”

My initial reaction was denial – “What? Me? No way… I’m a serious reader!” But when I stopped to think about it, I realized that I should start holding my head up a bit higher when I tell people about the amazing books that I’m reading. Yes, I read graphic novels. And yes, graphic novels can be great literature too!

I don’t remember being much of a comic book fan as a kid, although I do recall reading the Archie comics (I always wanted to be Betty, and thought Reggie was a big jerk), maybe a bit of Richie Rich here or there. No superheroes at all, I’m quite sure. Even for the comics I remember reading, I have no idea where they came from or how they ended up in my hands. I certainly never bought any myself.

Flash forward to my adult years. I read a few of the more “literary” graphic novels (Maus by Art Spiegelman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi are two that come to mind), but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to explore any further.

I suppose I can point the finger in two different directions, if I want to “blame” anyone for my newfound interest in graphic novels.

First, there’s Joss Whedon. After falling in love with Joss’s Firefly/Serenity ‘verse, I gobbled up everything I could find that was related, including a Serenity graphic novel entitled Those Left Behind. Once I got hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (thanks to massive DVD-watching marathons), I started reading all of the related Buffy titles, such as Tales of the Slayers, Tales of the Vampires, and Fray. When it was announced that Joss would be creating an official season 8 of Buffy in comic book format, my fate was sealed. There was no way that I could not read season 8, and for some reason, reading season 8 has really opened the floodgates for me in terms of my openness toward reading graphic novels.

Second, when my kiddo started 4th grade last year and was forced to do more independent reading, I was concerned when the book he started with was a graphic novel. His teacher set me straight, and told me that it was more important at this stage to let my son read something he enjoyed, rather than what I thought would be good for him. (Thank you, Mr. Allyn, for the great advice, BTW!). The book that my kiddo picked out was Out From Boneville, the first book in the fantastic Bone series by Jeff Smith. My son was hooked, insisted I read the books too, and I became hooked as well.

So here I am, mid-2012, with close to 25% of my reading this year consisting of graphic novels, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorites:

As mentioned:

The Bone series by Jeff Smith – not just for kids! The tale of the three Bone cousins is a mix of adventure, epic quest, and high fantasy, with plenty of humor as well. This series also features the stupid rat creatures, probably my favorite villains ever.

Stupid Rat Creatures!

Buffy season 8 and 9 – If you watched the TV show, you’ve just got to read these. The whole gang is back, and the story that unfolds in season 8 and 9 is considered “canon”.

Plus a few more:

Fables by Bill Willingham – I’m about halfway through this series, and I can’t stop raving about it (as the people around me can verify, with much eye-rolling). The story may sound simple – fairy tale characters have been exiled from their homelands and have taken refuge in New York – but the plot and character development are complex, engaging, and surprising.

N. by Stephen King – truly one of the most frightening things I’ve ever read. N. isn’t very long, but each page is packed with creepy images and a looming sense of evil. Wow.

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman – I haven’t read the short story from which this was adapted, so I have no point of comparison, but I really liked the way the plot works in graphic novel format. Great illustrations, and the pacing maintains a sense of the mysterious throughout.

The Griff  by Christopher Moore – I’ll read anything Christopher Moore chooses to write, and this story of dragons wiping out human life on Earth featured his trademark humor, alongside heaping spoonfuls of chaos and destruction. Good times!

What’s next for me in the world of graphic novels? I’m just finishing up a small handful of Dresden Files graphic novels, and then it’s back to Fables! Volume 11 is calling my name…

What do you think? Do graphic novels “count” as real reading? What are the best graphic novels you’ve read lately? Share your thoughts and recommendations below!