Thanks to my Virtual Friends™ I recently learned of Geoff Klock’s Remarkable blog, an interesting pop/geek-culture site hosted by the author of How To Read Superhero Comics And Why.
What I find interesting about the site, other than the subject matter of course, is the wide range of guest writers Klock recruits to write about such myriad topics as Chris Claremont’s X-Men, Twin Peaks, Harold And The Purple Crayon and even the finale to Will & Grace.
(Natch, there’s plenty of Grant Morrison references as well. This is the Internet, you know!)
Taken as a whole, the blog makes for interesting and varied reading. While I strongly disagree with some (actually many) of the writers’ assertions, I admire Klock’s crew for providing ample food for thought.
Which brings me to today’s topic: Season One of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Reading through a generally positive review of the beloved series’ fourth season (not my personal favorite, but there were some great moments …), I was more than a bit surprised to see several commentators refer to Buffy‘s first year as the worst of the lot.
I can understand their position; the characters were fairly simplistic and there weren’t any epic musicals or creepy, silent demons in those early episodes. To be quite frank, though, the first season is just about the only era of Buffy I find palatable these days.
I watched the series faithfully for seven years and even felt a bit of remorse when Ms. Summers and the Scooby Gang signed off forever, but as the years passed I found many of the episodes haven’t worn all that well over time. Much like Claremont’s X-Men circa “The Siege Perilous,” the characters grew too dark and the plot lines too labyrinthian to appeal to those outside of creator Joss Whedon’s devoted fan base.
The character of Buffy, in particular, was so full of angst, anger and misplaced arrogance by the seventh season that it’s surprising anyone found her remotely likable let alone relatable.
It wasn’t always that way, however.
Although Whedon has stated more than once that Buffy’s character was strongly influenced by Kitty Pryde – both were conceived as average girls coping with extraordinary circumstances – the Slayer’s portrayal from the first season is more reminiscent of another Marvel Comics icon: Peter Parker.
Specifically, Peter Parker as conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
You’ll never hear this from Joe Quesada, but Mr. Parker wasn’t always a free-swinging bachelor who broke supermodels’ hearts and struck deals with Mephisto. Back in the Lee/Ditko era, Peter was a social outcast who found his “great power and responsibility” a burden that brought him little satisfaction.
Sound familiar, Buffy fans? Remember when our heroine longed for her days as a popular cheerleader? The reluctant sacrifices made in the name of duty?
Like Peter, Buffy always did the right thing … but there was a personal cost. She was misunderstood by her mother, tormented by the school’s principal and scorned by the omnipresent clique of “Mean Girls,” yet the Slayer persisted because – and there’s no other way to put it – with great power comes great responsibility.
We’ve all felt like misunderstood misfits at one point or another. Yet, just like our fictional heroes hoped, there is always the possibility that acceptance can be achieved with enough persistence.
Coupled with Whedon’s ever-present theme of “high school as horror show,” the first season of Buffy had enough conceptual kick to stand out from a television landscape that … well … had never really seen anything quite like the show before.
(Perhaps the multitude of kick-@ss women who’ve invaded our screens since Buffy and, yes, Xena were introduced has made viewers forget just how novel the characters seemed at the time.*)
Of course, we can’t stay in high school forever. Peter received a make-over from John Romita and found himself the object of two beautiful women’s affections. Not bad for a self-described loser, but the lovable schlub routine never quite rang as true again.
Similarly, Buffy’s angst grew as the seasons progressed to the point where it became easier to root for reformed rogue Faith instead of the show’s supposed heroine. In the final season, the adult Buffy wept over a photo of her high school days, a reminder to this viewer at least of what had been lost over the years.
Those early adventures definitely represented simpler times, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to toss those episodes into the dustbin. The crushing weight of adult cynicism and self-absorption can’t be so all-encompassing that we’ve lost the capacity to appreciate the eternal hope of youth.
* No, I haven’t forgotten such proto kick-butt characters as Mrs. Peel, Wonder Woman and Leela from old-school Doctor Who, but such strong women were very few and far between.