One of the great things happening this year for me and my fellow Scoobies is the birth of an extended Buffyverse in the comic book format. It wasn’t quite different when Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 and Angel & Faith launched the season. We experienced Scoobies have been through the years where we had both Buffy and Angel (and it was glorious!), so we’ve tasted that sweet wine before. But, over the last few months, things have changed. With the current Dark Horse Comics line-up featuring Buffy: Season 9, Angel & Faith, Spike: A Dark Place, and this week’s Willow: Wonderland by writer Jeff Parker and the art team of Brian Ching (penciller), Jason Gorder (inker), and Michelle Madsen (colorist), we finally have an extended (and shared) Buffyverse in sequential art format! It’s a good time to be a Buffy fan, and Dark Horse’s Willow: Wonderland #1 adds another beautiful layer to the world that Whedon built!
Here’s a quick summary of Issue #1:
This issue opens with Willow explaining how the world has changed since the destruction of The Seed and the loss of magic on Earth. Suicide rates are up, rainbows only have two colors, everything is auto-tuned, and Coke doesn’t taste right anymore.
After her adventure with Angel, Faith, and Connor in Quor’toth, Willow, with the slayer scythe, has moved on to another dimension brimming with magic, desperate to find a way to transfer that precious energy back to her own world.
Willow travels across the fantasy-scape, encountering various monsters and creatures and eventually meeting another traveler from Earth named Marrak. Marrak was trapped in his current dimension when The Seed shattered and stranded him with no way back to Earth. Through the effects of dark magic, Marrak was transformed into a demon-like creature. Upon hearing of Willow’s quest and plan to return to Earth, he decides to help her. While he proves quite useful, it becomes clear that he has a darker side and isn’t afraid to take a life, if necessary.
After much wandering, Willow and Marrak cross paths with a large, smoking caterpillar who claims he, and this world he inhabits, served as the inspiration for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Just when the caterpillar seems about to help Willow and Marrak on their quest, the earth begins to shake as an enormous demon emerges from the woods and charges all three of them.
Willow feels like Willow. One great thing that Dark Horse has done successfully (and IDW struggled with at times . . . I’m looking at you, Bill Willingham.) is their consistent and, frankly, perfect choice of writers for their Buffy books. Jeff Parker is another great choice, both capturing Willow’s voice and the balance of epic adventure and charming camp that binds the Buffyverse together.
Brian Ching’s pencils are perfect for this book. It’s always nice when the style of the artist and writer who work on a book merge and make something beautiful. Ching’s depiction of Willow has gotten a little flak on the internet for not being close enough to actress Alyson Hannigan, but, in my opinion, Ching’s pencils are perfect for this story. Ching, much like Parker, captures the essence of Willow Rosenberg and adds the magic (and the monsters) to the mystical wonderland in which our witch finds herself stranded.
So, Buffy slayed Coke-a-Cola Classic? The effects of the destruction of The Seed on the real world have been hinted at, but while the mystical effects like zompires and the loss of magic have been somewhat defined, it wasn’t until this issue that we really felt the loss as Willow feels it. Fractured rainbows, the abundance of auto-tuning, and the the plague of reboots pouring out of Hollywood – it’s all because The Seed was shattered. The idea that magic and The Seed are somehow connected to artistic inspiration, the beauty of the world, and the taste of Coke makes it easy to understand why Willow is so determined to replace what the world doesn’t even know that it has lost. I mean, the TASTE OF COKE??? That just ain’t right.
That feeling of impending doom. While Willow is attempting to convince herself that her quest is noble, she’s in a very similar place to Angel right now. Both have a goal that we all can agree with, but the methods and cost just seem like they’ll be too high. Given Buffy’s brief trip to the world of Fray in Buffy: Season 8, we know that a dark, dark future is in store for our witch. Can she change the outcome of this horrible fate or will we watch her futile struggle against it, only to ultimately succumb to her bleak destiny? In my opinion, Marrak is the one to watch in this story. He’s demonstrated a darkness within that’s not to be trusted, he has a mysterious identity, and he proposes the idea that Willow herself could serve as “the connection” or “source” of magic in her world. Is this what Future Dark Willow was? A drained source of magic in our world? Knowing the Buffyverse, I have a feeling this idea comes attached to some sort of necessary sacrifice. Isn’t being a hero grand?
Nothing yet! Because it’s full of . . . wait for it . . . magic! (How do you like the taste of that cheese?)
The Ugly (Fan Buzz, that is…)
Fan reaction has been somewhat “meh” for this issue, with a lot of comments on the book being a “fast read,” but most fans seem willing to hold final judgement until the miniseries has a chance to wrap up. That said, Willow: Wonderland #1 still got some great reviews from Comics Grinder, Three If By Space, and Comic Book Therapy.
So, who is Marrak and how long until he turns on Willow? There’s been a lot of speculation as to who Marrak was before dark magic demonized him, with one poster at Whedonesque even suggesting that he is a resurrected Rack! Other posters were quick to point out that Editor Scott Allie had stated in a recent interview that Marrak is a character we’ve never seen before. Despite Allie’s comments, my instinct was telling me that this was someone we knew, but I don’t believe it’s the magic-dealing Rack. Given some of the hinted at, upcoming events in Angel & Faith, I sincerely believe that Marrak will turn out to be the old scoundrel we all know and love: Ethan Rayne. Sure, he was killed in the beginning of Season 8, but not before doing a little astral projection to enter Buffy’s dreams. Just imagine if Rayne’s physical body was killed before he could return to it. Trapped in a magical dimension with no way out, is it really that hard to imagine our cold-hearted friend transforming into Marrak?
That’s all for now, Scoobies. I’ll be back next week with a review of Buffy #15. Keep your stakes sharp!
’Till the end of the world,
-Bryant the Comic Book Slayer