Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

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WILLOW & TARA TPB

written by Christopher Golden and Amber Benson
Art by Terry Moore, Eric Powell, Andi Watson, AJ, Klebs Jr.

Willow-Tara

Reviewed by Shiai

It isn't remarkable that Willow and Tara, two of the supporting characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, have had their own solo adventures at last; what's unusual is that its taken this long.

The lesbian relationship between these two broke boundaries on television simply because it didn't make a big deal out of the two of them being women. It simply presented a playfully loving, yet respectful coupling, and it just so happened that the two people involved were both females.

Obviously, any comic book tales featuring these two would have to play up the shared bond of love, but simultaneously the eroticism had to be kept off-panel, as Dark Horse aspires to PG-level books. But in the final analysis, that works well for these stories, as it leads the writers to focus on characterization, much to the benefit of the stories.

And to write these stories, Dark Horse pulled out all the stops. Not only did they bring in award winning fantasy author Christopher Golden (who has written a number of Buffy novels and a number of issues of the monthly Buffy comic book), but they also paired Golden up with Amber Benson, the actress who played Tara in the series. As a result, the stories benefit from a first-class novelist and someone with a personal investment in one of the two primary characters.

The first story is "WannaBlessedBe," a one-shot with artwork by Terry "Strangers in Paradise" Moore. The story involves a member of the Wiccan group at UC Sunnydale anxious to be friends with Tara and Willow, whom she sees as kindred spirits. Unfortunately, her efforts are so obnoxious, Willow and Tara find excuses to avoid her. They're also unsettled by the fact that this girl, Caitlin, is dabbling in powerful magicks well beyond her abilities. Her pride stung by their rejection and chastisement, Caitlin casts a spell that summons Morrigan, a Celtic deity of vengeance who starts killing the members of the Wiccan group. Willow and Tara have to figure out how to banish Morrigan back to her realm before the murder spree continues.

In a way, Caitlin is like Willow, before Buffy came to Sunnydale, or Tara before she met Willow...smart and good-hearted, but too shy and awkward to find her place in the world. It's not surprising that she would be drawn to Willow and Tara (and not only as friends and fellow witches...there's a scene where it could be inferred that she is making a pass at Tara), but she comes on so strong, she's like an annoying kid sister who won't stop tagging along (Xander, Willow and Tara's friend, goes so far as to label Caitlin as their stalker).

As the villain of the piece, Morrigan is never expanded beyond the necessity of being a murderous menace. She's an interesting concoction, and the sort of threat which could easily have been upgraded to a multi-part storyline, with the proper characterization. But with only 22 pages of story, Golden and Benson simply didn't have the room to build upon the basics.

Moore's artwork (assisted by Eric Powell) is good, very clean and dynamic, and thankfully it avoids the trap of having some of the art clearly based upon stills of the actresses, which is distracting for the reader.

But the real strength of this story is the characterization invested in Willow and Tara. The dialogue captures their onscreen personas perfectly, and Golden and Benson really tap into the emotional dynamic between the Wiccans. When Willow walks in on Tara and Caitlin (innocently) holding hands and, from the look on her face, mistakenly concludes that there's something romantic going on, Tara takes her out into the hallway to tell her it's her she loves. Willow sheepishly congratulates her lover for having spoken such heartfelt words without once tripping over her stammer, and Tara delivers one of the all-time most romantic lines ever spoken by any of the Buffy characters: "My heart doesn't stutter."

Next comes "Wilderness," a two-part tale again written by Golden and Benson, with the art chores handled this time by the duo known only as AJ and Klebs, Jr., whose style is a bit more "cartoonish," but which actually captures the look of Willow and Tara even better than Moore did.

The story starts off in grand fashion, with Willow and Tara, along with Buffy's sister, Dawn, off on a vacation jaunt through California to seek out magical places. Willow and Tara play less a parental role with Dawn than sisterly, and the younger Summers is presented in a much more enjoyable light here than she generally was on the TV show. Arriving in a small town, they find themselves in the middle of a protest between environmentalists and the local loggers, and learn of a mysterious murder. Suspecting that something magical might be at work here, the trio discover the Altar of the Woods, protected by sprites and the forest king, Greenjack. All of the tree- cutting in the woods has driven Greenjack more than a little mad, and he's declared war on humans to protect the trees, resulting in some rather gruesome deaths.

Willow and Tara not only have to stop Greenjack, but do so without harming nature. Through their magicks, they develop a compromise of sorts, but success in the long run will only come when humans learn to respect their world.

"Wilderness" is something of a morality lecture about taking care of nature, but the sermon is delivered so softly, and again there is such sharp characterization and dialogue, that it never seems heavy- handed.

However, as with Morrigan in the first story, the character of Greenjack never really goes beyond the role of stock bad guy, although he had two full issues to be better developed. The idea of the forest manifesting itself as a mystical entity is rife with potential, and I'd have loved to have seen the character better matured. However, what we get is seven pages of Greenjack attacking Willow, Tara and Dawn, followed by another eight pages of him attacking the logging camp. Plenty of sturm und drang, but precious little else. And unfortunately, for all of their artistic skills, AJ and Klebs don't seem terribly comfortable with action scenes, and the art in these segments comes off as rushed, stilted and uninspired.

Again, it's the characterization and dialogue afforded to Willow and Tara (and Dawn, too) that really elevates this story. In a way, I rather wish Golden and Benson had simply done a conversational piece, where the three of them simply talk about magick and love and life while driving in the car throughout the story. Based on what we've seen thus far, that might have proven to be some very entertaining storytelling.

This trade paperback is rounded out with a two page tongue-in-cheek cartoon strip by Andi Watson, where Willow and Tara take on an enchanted video game, as well as a fascinating text piece by Amber Benson called "Being A Girl," in which she describes being introduced to the wondrous world of comics as an adult after having shunned them as cape and cowl fantasies strictly for boys while growing up. Comic shop owners should take note of what Benson has to say on how to appeal to women as comic book readers.

There may possibly be more Willow and Tara tales in the future. Sadly, Amber Benson probably won't have a hand in them, as she had said recently that she is far enough removed from the character now that she no longer feels the connection she once did, and besides, she's plenty busy with other acting and writing projects. But even without her involvement, should other writers invest the care into Willow and Tara which Amber and Chris did, we can look forward to stories which, like "WannaBlessedBe" and "Wilderness," celebrate the characters in tales that respect both them and the readers, and which entertain in a magical way.

**** 4 of 5 Stars