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She Has No Head! – Joss Whedon’s Fray

Fray. Joss Whedon (writer). Karl Moline (pencils). Andy Owens (inks). Dave Stewart and Michelle Madsen (colors). Michelle Madsen (letters). Dark Horse Comics. Softcover. Full Color. 216 Pages. $19.99

I’ve been having a fairly random rekindling of my love for Buffy The Vampire Slayer of late.  As such it seemed like the perfect time to finally take a look at Joss Whedon’s Fray.  Based in the Buffy universe, but propelled forward a few hundred years into the future, Whedon’s 8-issue mini-series from Dark Horse focuses on Melaka Fray, a new slayer called forth after many years of a world without a slayer.

Fray works as a great introductory character, because she knows as little about her destiny as any new reader might, which makes a natural fit for introducing those unfamiliar with Buffy lore to Whedon’s universe.  And it’s done skillfully enough that readers already well familiar with the universe won’t be bored by the history lesson.  In the series, Fray, a thief and “runner” for a fish man called Guther, is called as the first Slayer in a couple hundred years, to fight a war brewing and a hellmouth about to open up to let in all sorts of dimensional hell beasties.  A guide of sorts, though not her watcher (that dude lights himself on fire in front of her, whee!), named Urkonn has been summoned to help train her for the coming war and the complexities he finds in her makes for some nice plot twists that are especially satisfying I suspect for readers already familiar with Whedon’s universe.  Regardless, the plot twists, which I won’t spoil here, come just at the right moments to keep you off-balance in all the good ways that a smart engaging story does.  Fray doesn’t have the rich cast of allies that Buffy developed over time on the television series and that continues in the books, but what Fray does have here, some real family and some adopted family, plus Urkonn, her fishy boss, and an arch-nemesis all works well and gives just enough of a tapestry to keep everything very interesting.

As always Whedon’s strengths as a writer are in his ability to create exceptional characters and his gift with dialogue, both the heroic and the humorous.  Whedon became so known for his characters’ unique ways of speaking that it’s spawned an entire generation of “slayer slang”.  I confess Buffy was such an influence on me as a young (sorta) lass that my way of speaking, and more importantly perhaps, writing, has absolutely been influenced by Whedon’s lexicon.  One of the fantastic and supremely nuanced things he does in Fray, and probably my favorite aspect of the book overall, is how Whedon holds true to that unique “Whedon voice”, but manages to subtlety update it to reflect the passage of time.  He manages to not only jaunt us into the future, but he manages to very thoroughly jaunt us into a Whedonverse future, and it’s great fun.  Fray has the same plucky sense of humor and self-possession that so many of Whedon’s characters have, but she still feels uniquely her.  Whedon wisely crafts Fray to be wildly different from the Buffy that fans know and love, drawing distinct differences between the two, but allowing them that wonderful “chosen one” undercurrent that ran throughout his show. All the same themes – both epic and mundane – because really, what’s the difference – from the television show are in full effect here, but with the necessary tweaks.

The art by Karl Moline, Andy Owens, Dave Stewart, and Michelle Madsen is kinetic and vital.  The coloring especially is somehow both garish and bright, while also managing to find an appropriate gritty darkness that gels well with a future full of high rises and flying cars.  Moline gives Fray a distinctive and substantial look that feels real for her world, no skirts or heels for this girl.  She’s all about function rather than form, but still manages to look badass cool while being her functional self.  She’s fit but realistically so, and for a comic book character she’s definitely on the non-voluptuous side, none of which stops her from being dead sexy. The art is smart and well considered throughout, never over shadowing the writing, but rather assisting it ably and bringing it nicely to life.  The action is particularly strong here, which is good because there’s a lot of it, from graceful heists to gritty street fighting to epic battles.  It all moves with an energy that’s practically contagious.

My sole complaint about this series, or rather this collected edition is the intro by Jeph Loeb, which I thought, considering Whedon’s well-known feminist leanings in his stories and creations, was actually borderline insulting.  Considering that Whedon has resolutely said that the mission statement for Buffy from day one (and as such I would assume Fray as well) was “the joy of female power: having it, using it, sharing it”, I find it disappointing to read the essence of Buffy whittled down to “pretty girls and monsters” as Loeb does in his intro.  Sure, pretty girls and monsters are awesome, and Buffy and Fray have those things in spades and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I expect more from an introduction to a book that lives within one of the most female positive fictional environments I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in my lifetime. A positive and powerful female environment that has literally shaped me as a person, and certainly as an artist and creator.  There’s a whole hell of a lot more to its “essence” than simply pretty girls and monsters.  And I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to feel that and know it.

On the whole, I don’t suppose I enjoyed Fray as much as I enjoy Buffy the television show, or the Season Eight comic run, but both the show and the comic have the advantage of both years of development, and having such life breathed into them originally by a truly amazing cast of actors.  However, as a comic, standing on its own, Fray is great fun and a wonderful addition to the ever increasing stable of great female positive comics.  In light of Whedon’s own introduction to the series, that sounds like mission accomplished to me.  Fray is smart and fast-paced, but with that perfect gooey emotional center that leaves a reader breathless and satisfied.

Fray is available in comic and book stores, as well as online as a TPB.

***FYI – She Has No Head! is actively accepting review copies of “female positive comics and graphic novels” for future columns.  Please get in touch via email (using the CSBG “contact us” button above) to discuss.***

8 Comments

[…] new She Has No Head! – about Joss Whedon’s first comics foray into the Buffyverse, with […]

A great miniseries. Be glad you read it in trade, Kelly, as there were some big delays with the last few issues as it was being released. About a year between #6 & 7, IIRC. I think my favorite moment is Loo meeting Urkonn is my favorite scene.

@Robert: Yeah, I couldn’t believe the drag on the original issues…that must have been a bitch. I think issue #1 came out in June 2001 and issue #8 in August of 2003. Crazy! Very glad to sit down and read it all in one afternoon.

That said, dude’s got a lot on his plate to say the least, and it was his first foray into comics…so it’s pretty understandable.

I think Fray is the best comic Whedon has written. It is not as good as the TV show, but I liked it more than season 8 and his run on Astonishing X-man (and his run on Runaways).

I wasn’t particularly familiar with Fray while Buffy was still running on TV (I think maybe I’d read the first issue), so when that same freaking ax showed up on Buffy, I didn’t know what it was and just thought it looked ridiculous. “I’m supposed to believe this fire-engine red prop from a heavy metal video is an ancient artifact? Really??”

Fray was my gateway into comics – I had never been in a comic shop before. The delays in the series had multiple causes.

1. Joss at that time was working three television shows – Buffy, Angel, and Firefly,

2. This was Whedon’s first foray into a “monthly” comic.

3. Karl Moline started this just as he was joining CrossGen comics (“Route 666″, IIRC). That slowed him down and combined with script delays, put a brake in the series.

When they mentioned that Caleb was guarding something special, I immediately thought of the scythe before it was seen on the show.

As for Jeph Loeb’s intro, it’s been awhile since I read it, and my copy of the trade is in storage. I would give Loeb a pass, though, as it was written around the time his son Sam died from cancer,

Travis Pelkie

May 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I liked Fray when I read it. I liked how there were links to Buffy but wasn’t so tied in that it was hard to follow. I hadn’t been too into Buffy when I read it, but have since gotten more into it. I’ll have to read this again.

I’ve been getting back into Buffy in the last couple years. I’d watched it on FX back when the reruns were on there when season 7 was still new, but lost track of it. Then a couple years back I watched my DVDs of season 1 of Buffy and of Angel. It got me hooked, I watched all of Angel, and am in the middle of getting through Buffy. I’ve got to get back into season 3, where I left off.

And while the last poster mentioned that Loeb might have been dealing with his son’s death when the intro was written, and not to fault him for that, but is it that much of a surprise that Jeph Loeb wrote something dumb, and didn’t get it? Perhaps it’s for the best that the animated Buffy didn’t happen, since Loeb was a producer or something.

Are you enjoying The Great Buffy Rewatch with Nikki Stafford at Nik At Nite?

http://nikkistafford.blogspot.com/

It’s running all year long. Each week various academics comment on two or three episodes; we’ve just wrapped up Season 3. Really great stuff and all ‘Buffy’ fans are welcome! Hope to see you there!

Best …

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