Review: SLAYER is an Inventive, Refreshing Expansion of the Buffyverse
It might be less than a year since Buffy ended its comic book seasons at Dark Horse, and there’s a new comic series starting up from Boom! Studios, but even still, fans have been starving for Buffy content because—well, it’s what we do. From the moment it was announced, Slayer was an exciting prospect. A new book set within that world, but centering on a completely new cast of characters. It intrigued me for a couple of reasons, not the smallest being that I love anything that expands a fictional universe I’m invested in. No matter how it turned out, Slayer could only make the Buffyverse feel bigger.
Luckily, it turned out very well. This isn’t a book centering on new characters just because the author doesn’t know the lore. Far from it. It’s clear right from the opening pages that White is and has been deeply invested in this mythology, to the point that the season eight and nine comics are perfectly kept in canon. In fact, it seems as if this is taking place during season nine. But fans who haven’t read those comics won’t struggle to keep up, because it’s only world building and the impact of that comic series is established right out of the gate. In fact, the book is easily understandable for someone who’s never even seen the show, and I’m guessing there are more than a few readers for whom that’s the case, because of White’s successful following as a YA author.
Still, I think Slayer is most rewarding for fans of the show, because it makes some extremely smart commentary on the mythology and even on Buffy herself. The hook, which is pretty simple, is that we have a new slayer who is also the last slayer. This is set in a time when magic is temporarily gone, and no new slayers are popping up. Our heroine, Athena—Nina for short—lives at the newly rebuilt Watcher’s Academy. Her twin sister, Artemis, is training to be a Watcher as are almost all of her friends. Nina’s parents were Watchers, but her mother has never allowed her to train and she has never really known why. There’s actually quite a bit of DNA of the unmade Slayer School spinoff in this book, and there are even Hogwarts vibes in the notion of a young teenage cast living in a castle where they are trained in the knowledge of their weird, magical world. The other, bigger hook is that Nina absolutely hates Buffy Summers.
She hates all Slayers, but there’s something personal about Buffy. And it makes her struggle with being the last slayer all the more complicated. But why she hates Buffy really sets up the brilliant arc of this book (and spoiler alert for something within the first two chapters): her father was a Watcher named Merrick. I had to bring that up, because that was the moment I was completely on board with this book. Of course, she hates Buffy. Her father was Buffy’s first Watcher. He died while training her, protecting her, and he’s been almost entirely left out of the history. He’s never mentioned, his sacrifice never goes acknowledged. Even if we know that the original movie and the TV series don’t co-exist, we know that those major events are still accepted as what happened in L.A. before Buffy moved to Sunnydale.
On paper, it’s also generally smart that these kids or their teachers would not necessarily love Buffy. Imagine being a New Yorker in a world inhabited by Spider-Man? What are the chances you or someone you know would believe the Daily Bugle if you’d never met the wall-crawler yourself? Buffy has a reputation for being reckless and even for creating as much destruction as she prevents. It completely makes sense for those at the Watchers Academy to criticize her like this, and White smartly plays on Buffy’s reputation in the world outside her and her circle of friends. And even though Buffy’s not a huge part of the book, how Nina perceives her—especially in respect to how she perceives herself—really defines our heroine’s development throughout the book.
The greatest thing about Slayer is that it is a book about someone grappling with who they want to become. They’ve been forced to become something that they’ve always hated, that goes against everything they think they want to be, and there’s a great running theme throughout the book of Nina essentially asking herself, “If I’ve never liked slayers, how do I define being a slayer for myself?” Her mother never wanted her to become a slayer, her sister wants her to do things by the book and follow the rules or not do it at all, and Nina doesn’t want this power but can’t run from the fact that she has it.
Slayer is a deeply teenage book, so these questions of identity absolutely have their place. But at the same time, as much as there are these internalized questions about what it means to Nina to be a slayer, there are much more surface-level questions driving the plot as to how she came to be one and how much of her family’s history she might not actually know.
Nina is not a new Buffy, her sister is not a new Willow, her sort-of Watcher and potential love interest Leo is not a new Angel. These are new characters with clear and distinct identities, but at the same time, there are inklings of that classic group dynamic in there. And it’s possible, if you keep your eyes peeled, that there are characters you might recognize. In fact, if you pick the book up at Barnes & Noble, you get a bonus short story about Faith. Either way, there are tons and name drops and Easter Eggs to Buffy history that fans will no doubt get excited about. Some are nothing more than casual anecdotes, while others affect the plot in deeply resonant ways, and figuring out whether name-dropping D’Hoffryn or the appearance of a Whyndam-Pryce or two have anything to do with the story is part of the fun of this book.
Generally, it’s the wacky vampires that always keep you guessing, but White does a pretty great job of it too. If you’re a Buffy fan who’s been craving new content, this book is a breath of fresh air. I definitely think it would be wise for the upcoming TV series to take a few notes from Slayer, because this is definitely how to handle a reboot with a new cast while honoring—and not betraying the continuity of—what came before.