Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Review

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GILES: BEYOND THE PALE

Published by Dark Horse Comics in October, 2000

Story by Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski
Art by Eric Powell

Buffy

Reviewed by Shiai

I've long held that some of the very best Buffy comic stories have come not from the old regular monthly book, but rather in special one- shot issues such as this. And indeed, this solo adventure for Rupert Giles ranks among some of the very bestt such tales.

Writers Golden and Sniegoski are best known to Buffy fans, of course, as authors of some of the most popular Slayer novels. They're two accomplished horror novelists, and indeed, this story veers far more toward horror than the typical Buffy comic. In this regard, it might not appeal to certain readers who most appreciate the regular comic for its often lighthearted irreverence. There's nothing lighthearted to be found in these pages.

The story opens in the secret archives of the Council of Watchers, where the assistant to archivest Archie Lassiter is trying to decipher an ancient medallion and scroll. Lassiter steps out of the stacks just in time to see what he's doing, shout "Good God man! What have you done? You may have doomed us all!" and then watch his aide's head burst open quite horribly from some creature within.

Fade to Sunnydale, California where Buffy the Vampire Slayer is scouring her Watcher's refrigerator for something edible before going off on patrol. She departs just as the phone rings, and Giles is informed of the death of his mentor, Lassiter.

Cut to London, where Quentin Travers and the Council's inner circle are furious that Micaela Tomasi (a Watcher introduced in the "Gatekeeper Trilogy" novels) has informed Giles of Lassiter's death. The Council wants nothing further to do with Giles (whom they had fired in the third season of the TV series. This story is set in Season 4), and they are more than a little upset that he has come to their own headquarters for answers as to why his longtime friend has suddenly died.

The Council refuses to divulge anything to him, but Micaela continues to defy them by taking Rupert to a secret sub-chamber of the building, where in a cell he is shown two Watchers who had the misfortune to have discovered Lassiter and his assistant. They can hardly be called human any longer, with their bodies misshapen demonically, with such things as extra heads, tentacles, and fanged mouths growing out of their stomachs. The image as drawn is quite horrifying.

But Rupert now knows what the menace is. We have a flashback of twenty years, where we see the young Giles apprenticing to Lassiter in the archives, and discovering the very same medallion and scroll that his successor did. But Giles was careful not to activate the sigil and unleash the evil within. Lassiter, knowing how dangerous it is, deems it an artifact best hidden even from the Council itself.

But now the evil is free, and it's on a killing spree in preparation for bringing some very old, very nasty elder gods back into the world. It's up to Giles and Tomasi (who's not merely a Watcher, but also a witch) to find the beast and stop it before, quite literally, the world is doomed.

Golden and Sniegoski have fashioned a very unsettling tale of horror, but what makes it really come together is the oftentimes graphic artwork of Eric Powell, whose style is very similar to that of Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, the original artists of Neil Gaiman's celebrated "Sandman" comic. There's some excellent use of shadowing to create the proper moodiness, but also some tongue-in-cheek moments, such as the visual references to the Exorcist, Wallace & Grommit, and comic actor Eddie Izzard.

(One of my complaints with the original regular monthly book is that all too often, the artists work in the standard superhero style, all brightness and pin-up poses, rather than the moodier style such a book cries out for. Powell brings just the right touch to the art.)

Powell avoids the awkwardness of copying from still photos of actor Anthony Stewart Head in some panels, then using no reference in others; that practice oftentimes created a jarring visual flow, particularly when an artist's own interpretation of Rupert Giles is a fair distance from what Head himself looks like. Powell simply draws Giles as he envisions him in his mind's eye; and if it doesn't look precisely like Tony Head (and truthfully, it doesn't have to), at least it's consistent throughout.

GILES: BEYOND THE PALE is not only a very well done story, but it also presents us with an excellent portrayal of everyone's favorite high school librarian, something which the television series itself didn't always do. The writers really explore Rupert Giles as a character, and what they find proves "Ripper" more than up to the task of battling evil, even without the Chosen One at his side.

[I'm not aware if this one-shot has been collected in any of the Buffy trade paperbacks which Dark Horse regularly publishes, but if it has, I have yet to come across it. Most likely, you'll have to get the one-shot issue itself, which is readily available at darkhorse.com]

**** 4 out of 5 stars