Once upon a time, back in March of 1997, on a little network known as the WB, a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer made its debut. It was based on a 1992 movies of the same name, and went on to be a critical and popular hit, becoming a cult sensation that frequently ranks high on "top TV series" lists.
For the uninitiated, the series followed the adventures of Buffy Summers, a teenage girl who, along with her mother Joyce, move to the small town of Sunnydale, CA. We quickly learn that the town just so happens to lie above a Hellmouth, a focal point of supernatural activity. As a result, Buffy is called to act as the Slayer, a young woman chosen to battle the forces of darkness. She is aided by Rupert Giles, a member of the Watchers Council, her new friends Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris, and others who lend their skills for the forces of good. For seven seasons, Buffy and her allies, nicknamed the Scooby Gang, defend Sunnydale from all manner of demons, monsters, gods, and, yes, vampires. Through all this they deal with school, family, relationships, and heartache. By the time the series finale rolled around, Buffy had come to terms with her life and responsibilities, and had embraced what it meant to be the Slayer.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer went on to influence many television series, became the subject of academia, and spawned hundreds of tie-in products including toys, novels, video games, and, most importantly for our purposes, comic books.
Dark Horse Comics, which has published a large number of licensed comic books, published a series of Buffy-related comics from 1998 until 2004. Most (but not all) of the individual issues have been collected into trade paperbacks. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer series ran for 63 issues, and stories took place between individual episodes of the television series. For many of the earlier issues, it is not always easy to place exactly when the stories occur beyond the season.
Despite the fact that the comic books were published while the television series was on the air, most of these stories are not considered canonical or part of the Buffyverse canon. Writers were required to submit a summary of their stories early in the development process so that their ideas could be approved by both 20th Century Fox Television and series creator Joss Whedon (or his office). They were given guidelines about stories to stay away from, things that Joss might plan to deal with on the television show, or ideas that might disrupt the canon too much. These books were later published as official Buffy merchandise.
Though Buffyverse canon has yet to be defined to the satisfaction and consensus of all, Joss Whedon has implied that he considers additional works which he did not have a hand in creating as separate from canon. In an interview with Newsarama, he stated:
"Canon is key, as is continuity. If you are a massive nerd, which I am, I believe there is a demarcation between the creation and the ancillary creations by different people. I'm all for that stuff, just like fanfic, but I like to know that there’s an absolutely official story-so-far, especially when something changes mediums, which my stuff seems to do a lot."
As a result, most of these issues can be thought of as "lost tales." By their very nature, they did not affect or were ever mentioned on the television series, and very little in the way of major character development could be achieved. As anyone who ever watched the show knows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was all about putting its cast through the wringer. Buffy and the Scoobies faced the challenges of love, break-ups, death, and resurrection, all the while hunting Big Bads and the monster-of-the-week. The non-canonical comic book stories couldn’t alter the character's lives anywhere near as much as the show did which diminished the impact of these stories.
However, there are a few notable comic book stories from this early period that are considered part of the canon. Fray was an eight-issue limited series written by Joss Whedon that focused on Melaka Fray, a Slayer in the future, centuries after the last Slayer had been called. Whedon used this first foray into comic book writing to create something that would be of interest to his fans, but would not interfere with his plans for the show.
Fray would go on to appear in the Tales of the Slayers graphic novel, which told stories of different Slayers through multiple time periods. The theme of the book is the loneliness and duty of being a Slayer as seen through the eyes of the women who bear the mantle, from the First Slayer all the way to Fray. Similar to this is the Tales of the Vampires, a limited series that featured an anthology of stories focusing on several Buffyverse vampires. They were presented as a series of tales told by an ancient vampire to a group of young Watchers.
Also of importance to the canon is Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin, a 2001 adaptation of Joss Whedon’s original movie script in comic book form set to fit the television series continuity. Whedon has said that, although he had issues with it, "The Origin" can be considered canonical. What came next, though, would change everything!
In 2007, the nature of Buffy comics changed. That year, Dark Horse began publishing Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, which ran for 40 issues until 2011. What made this series different from previous ones was the involvement of Joss Whedon as both "executive producer" for the series and writer for several story arcs. The very fact that this was established as a canonical continuation of the television series was newsworthy and a bit groundbreaking at the time. No longer were writers hamstrung by restrictions on the stories they could tell; these were official stories that explored Buffy Summers and her supporting cast after the end of the show. As Whedon said in an interview with TV Guide:
I basically said, 'We could do something and for once make it canon. We could make it officially what happened at the end of the show.'
In the pages of Season Eight, Buffy and the Slayer Army face new threats and challenges, while old allies and enemies return. Relationships between the Scoobies are explored in ways that were not previously allowed in the pages of a Buffy comic. There are long-lasting ramifications to their decisions and actions, both on each other and the world at large. Buffy and the gang are changed in dramatic ways by the end of the series, with one long-running cast member losing their life, and the very nature of reality altered in the process.
The success of Season Eight paved the way for Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine beginning in 2011. It was quickly joined by a spinoff series, Angel & Faith, featuring the adventures of Buffy’s vampire ex-boyfriend Angel and Faith, a Slayer with a more reckless attitude than Buffy. Angel had previously enjoyed stories at both IDW Publishing and Dark Horse but would call Dark Horse home from this point forward adding to the canon. These two titles, along with the Willow: Wonderland and Spike: A Dark Place limited series, continued and expanded the story established in Season Eight. The two main series ran for 25 issues, while the mini-series consisted of five issues.
In 2014, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Ten debuted, followed shortly by a second volume of Angel & Faith, both dealing with the fallout from the conclusion of Season Nine. Both series ended in 2016, with Season Eleven scheduled to begin later that year.
These three seasons of comic book adventures have expanded the Buffyverse in new and exciting ways. Freedom to craft stories that push the characters to their limits and alter the very nature of their world allows writers to contribute to the canon like never before. The continued support and devotion of Buffy's fans, combined with the creativity and imagination of those who craft her tales, ensures that we can expect to see her comic book adventures for many years to come.