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February 10 2007

Super Slayer - Is Buffy a comic book superhero? With the release of Buffy #1 drawing ever closer, this article is a definite must read for those wondering if Buffy fits into the comic book world. Highly recommended reading material.

Some background info: Peter Sanderson's "Comics in Context" articles used to appear at It's great to see him writing about Buffy again.

Thanks for this Simon

The Secret Identity of Superheroes in the Buffyverse seems to rely more on denial than costumes; people in Sunnydale only acknowledge the presence of the struggle of good against evil with reluctance:-

"Zombies!" "Hyena People!"........."Snyder!"

It's the bad characters who seem to change faces/bodies/costumes - vampires, Glory, Dark Willow etc

For Buffy, when she keeps secrets, it is not her outward identity so much as her inner identity; the truth of her feelings which she witholds from those closest to her. These are a consequence of the human rather than heroic side of her character - such as Buffy not telling Giles that Angel had returned in "Revelations".

[ edited by malcolm on 2007-02-10 14:08 ]
Just one small comment: it is Buffy (not a minor character) who refers to herself as a superhero in Tabula Rasa: "I think I know why Joan's the boss. I'm like a superhero or something!". (I love SMG's face as she proclaims this).
Excellent analysis! Especially the part about the cross-genre nature of BtVS as a series. The fact that Buffy and Buffy are so hard to pin down is one of the great things about them both!
Boy, I enjoyed the read and only at the end realized it made not a whit of difference. Who cares whether some writer consider Buffy a superhero or not, using his own particular criteria that he doesnot even apply properly to Buffy (ie, you can only be a superhero if your identity is secret, or if you wear a costume? Huh? And, hey, Buffy did not need a secret identity since the people of her town refused to believe there were evil beasties present and looked for rational explanations of happenings). Still, fun to read if only to get my ire up. :-)
Interesting article. I like the book author Coogan's idea that Buffy isn't a superhero because she isn't engaged in a superhero narrative. Her journey always seemed very internal to me whereas superheroes are normally (beyond their basic motivating premise e.g. Batman's obsessive anger and guilt, Superman's arguable survivor guilt etc.) on more of an external quest to make the world over as they believe it should be.

That said, by 'Chosen' Buffy almost accidentally made the world over so maybe she's kind of an accidental superhero ;). The 'third way' approach probably makes most sense to me. She's a superhero by most criteria but not a conventional one.

(it could also be that since Buffy's quest was a kind of rites of passage, her 'making over' of the world started out small scale and reactive - averting apocalypses rather than pre-empting them - but gradually grew as she did until 'Chosen' where she really utterly changes the world forever. Most other superheroes are presented to us with their quest fully formed and with the steps that led them there either implied or just acting as back-story. Or in other words you could see the whole of Buffy S1-7 as her superhero origin story, of her realising the extent to which she's able to disturb the universe, and what happens from S8 on as the true superhero narrative)
I found interesting his comment that once Buffy stopped having a "normal" life, she becomes more hard-edged and more solitary. I had never considered that but I can see some truth to that. Working in the Double Meat Palace couldn't even be seen as normal and her short lived job in the high school worked because she was bring her slayer expertise to the job.
Buffy clearly adheres to many of the rules of the superhero genre, but I personally wouldn't use the term to describe her.

Technically, I'd consider Buffy a post-superhero character: the basic characteristics of the superhero are standard knowledge in western culture, and Joss used that as a foundation to build something new on.

Saje, I have to take issue with the idea that Buffy's struggles are internal and a superhero's struggle is generally external. It is actually a superhero tradition that the arch-villain is intimately linked to the hero, like it was with for instance Buffy and Angelus, and that leads to internal struggles. Buffy fights a lot of bad guys that have no personal link to her, too--there, they they just tend to reflect something in her personal life, and that can just as easily be done in a superhero story.

Heck, Brian Bendis's five-year run on Daredevil was basically all about DD having a nervous breakdown and fighting the world in an effort to make sense of his life again--and if you want to talk metaphors, look no further than the X-Men. (BtVS is still king of the metaphors, just not the only one to use them.)

(One of these days I'm going to make a list of the similarities between Kitty and Buffy. Did you know that they both have best friends who are occasionally-evil witches?)

[ edited by Telltale on 2007-02-10 16:24 ]
I think the comments here are more interesting than the original article, which was more prosaic. I especially like Saje's suggestion that the whole Buffy series, through Season Seven, is the origin story. And Telltale's "post-superhero" analysis.
Telltale said:
(One of these days I'm going to make a list of the similarities between Kitty and Buffy. Did you know that they both have best friends who are occasionally-evil witches?)

The similarities between Kitty and Willow are far more surface. (I mean, the similarities between Kitty and Buffy have a narrative depth to them, but if you quickly run through personal characteristics, Kitty and Willow line up better. Mostly I say this because I identify with Willow more than Buffy, and so I want Kitty for Willow. But I do see the KittyBuffy thing more, especially in terms of overarching themes.)

...I couldn't make it through this whole article because it read too much like a school paper, for which I have no patience at this particular moment (I will probably go back to it later and enjoy it).

I have always felt that Buffy lines up most with magical girl and shojo anime/manga in terms of conventions. I'll write about it sometime.
I also like Saje's suggestion about 1-7 being the origin story, especially since Joss has talked about how the story will change, be less "mundane" now that Buffy has moved into comics. But even if Buffy becomes engaged in a full-fledged "superhero narrative," you know the humanity of the characters and relationships among the people will make it much more than that-- 'cause, you know, Joss,
I was just rewatching Season 2's What's My Line? and Kendra makes it clear several times that having a secret identity (and being solitary without friends or family) is supposed to be the Slayer's life. So I think that early on there was an implication that Slayers were supposed to be Superheroes, under the definition here, but that Buffy was breaking the mold. In a way that episode confirms, for me, that Buffy IS a Superhero, she is just one who is fighting against the restrictions of her calling.
Holy moly, reviews in reprise. Stand by, please.
I cought.

[ edited by Madhatter on 2007-02-10 18:18 ]
I really enjoyed that article. I'm a comic-book novice and I'm finding all of these insights into the world of comics very interesting.

Saje, great post.
Truly insightful article. Ditto thanks on spoting it;I'll want to cover it more later.

But as an egotist, this reminds me again a point I've made elsewhere. The end of "Chosen" I think explicitly moved the Buffyverse further away from super-hero conventions. (Please note I stopped reading comics about 20 years ago so my comemnts are dated.)
The Silver-Age characters I grew up on were, well the best description I can make of them is "quasi-unique." Nobody else wore armor like Tony Stark's or carried a ring like Hal Jordan's or et bloody cetera. Yes,a lot of them were members of a race, species, or group (Kryptonians, the Green LAntern Corps) but that was generally physically remote from the human world in which they functioned.
The "one girl in all the world" thing was consistent with that
and likewise inconsistent with the conventions of either Gothic Horror fiction, occult belief systems like lost continents and flying saucers (with fictional expressions such as _The Scarlet EMpirE_ or _The Coming Race_), or the cosmic Neitzchean horror of the Lovecraft style.
By creating a "sorority" of some hundreds or thousands of Slayers, Joss moved his creation a step towards more traditional supernatural fiction. And likewise showed me he was still full fo surprises;it was the one thing I thought he'd never change about it. (mainly because the whole 'she alone' thing amounted to both ane dn to normal life for the girl called and also an early death sentence, so I assumed he'd keep it because it's the kind of thing that "suits his bleaks.")

And Ilyana Rasputin goes evil at times? Yeesh, glad I'ven't seen that.
Interesting article, though I agree that it reads a bit like a school paper. During season 7 I often became annoyed with Buffy as a character because she moved from being (for me) a metaphor for all the problems and issues faced by women in society and adopted more of an archetypical “superhero” persona. What I loved most in seasons 1-6 was how easy it was to identify with her problems and her life. I agree with Lioness that she became more hard-edged when her “normal” life took a back burner. Season 7 felt less personal to me and Buffy became more of a tormented Batman type. (or more like Angel as the case may be)
Wait, can I ask why it is that everyone always automatically commments that it was Buffy who remakes the world at the end of S7? She doesn't; Willow does. I think this merits consideration in the context of what I am reading above. Buffy could not activate all those potentials; only someone with the training and ability in witchcraft would do it, and that person had to be anchored by someone not Buffy. Buffy might have had the idea, but that's it; she could not execute it. Yet this always goes without comment. I wonder why?
Dana5140, but as you say: it IS Buffy's big idea. The point was not who could execute the plan, the point was the whole 'sharing the power' thing. A friend has wondered for a long time if having a lot of Slayers would mean that some of them will abuse power, and/or if the general public would become aware of them and see them as a threat.... But I guess that is one of the issues Joss will address, and I think it was the whole point about Marvel's Civil War series (as regard to the Superhero community).
Is Buffy a “comic book” super hero?

Regarding “comic book” super heroes, well, we can take my thoughts to the cliff edge and sacrifice them to Poseidon, for I’ve not read a graphic novel as yet (that’s to come when Buffy arrives). Nevertheless, a good sacrifice needs blood and here’s mine…

A super hero is like a hero, but, you know: super. Hero, here…and over herrrrre, beyond *that*, is a special place. The Epi Hero place? Or Extra Hero - but then you could “biggie” size ‘em and the whole relative relationship goes topsy-turvy. Eh, “super” works fine to connote the extra beyondness of this class of heroes.

Heroes do what I wish I might will myself to do but, probably, wouldn’t be heroic enough to choose to do so. But, conceivably, I could if I just weren’t such a pansy. On the other hand, super heroes do things that even if I had the wherewithal to choose to do the action, I wouldn’t have a gnats prayer against a bug zapper of bringing the action to fruition. Nor would anyone I’ve ever known. If you fit into this category, you’re a super hero.

A super hero can’t face mundane opposition. If that’s all they did, how’d you know they were a super hero? Remember when Sweet and Dawn are talking and Dawn mentions that her sister is the Slayer? Recall, Sweet didn’t have to think to himself “Sounds…familiar…’slayer’…hmm, oh yeah!” No, he knew instantly. All the super baddies know of the Slayer. Because Buffy has super baddie opposition she is, yeah, um, opposite of that. Well, only if she can beat them. Hey, I (yes, yes) could have super baddie opposition but a Super Hero I am not.

They'd call me Super Squish.

Buffy is a super hero, graphic novel or anywhere else. "Graphic novel" - that's not a uniquely special's a human place where stories are told. And that's all I got to say about that.

I haven't read a lot of comics. What I did read and enjoy was Runaways. I couldn't stop thinking about them while reading this. Are the runaway kids superheroes? They have powers, and kind of a mission but no secret identities, definitely no alter egos. (Come to think about it I don't think the X-men have alter egos, are they superheroes?)
This whole terminology thing is weird because as someone here already wrote: It doesn't matter at all. Buffy is Buffy and Angel (also a hero, why is he not mentioned) is Angel.

Coogan points out that “historically, the [vampire hunter] hero-type descends from actual vampire hunters, including the dhampir, the supposed male progeny of a vampire who is particularly able to detect and destroy vampires”

Did he just define Connor?
urkonn said:
(Come to think about it I don't think the X-men have alter egos, are they superheroes?)

They don't have secret identities, but they do have alter egos. We'll use Scott Summers as our example. His name is Scott Summers, but he also has the name Cyclops. Cyclops is related to his powers and his role as leader of the X-Men (something he has not kept all the time, but has had more than once); Scott Summers is, I like to think, more vulnerable than Cyclops. (I should mention here that Scott/Cyclops is one of the characters I find least interesting in X-Men; in fact, I like him most when he is away from the X-Men trying to find himself otherwise.)

The X-Men as a group are the kind of superheroes to whom Buffy is most closely related, I think.

I'm far from the first to note that Buffy and Cyclops have the same last name. I'm now pondering if there's some similarities to be found between the Buffy/Dawn relationship and the Cyclops/Havok relationship.

My brain makes these jumps and I never do anything with them. Grr.

My brain makes these jumps and I never do anything with them. Grr.

You should, Kiba.
The X-Men used to have secret identities. It was only this millennium that they 'came out' to the public at large.

I think it was in another thread that we talked about secret identities and different personas that I mentioned modern creations don't tend to have such different personas anymore. Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne could be bumbling or carefree playboys because not much attention was paid to their personal lives at the time of their creation.

Nowadays, there are characters like Spider-Man and Cyclops who gain a lot of confidence from putting on the mask and playing a certain role, or characters like Daredevil who gets to do as a vigilante what he's not allowed to as a lawyer, but there are few characters who consciously put on an act in their personal life.

So what I guess I was trying to say is that I don't think the secret identity/alter ego thing is absolutely vital to being a superhero.

And Ilyana Rasputin goes evil at times? Yeesh, glad I'ven't seen that.

Considering that she was mostly always written by Claremont, how could you miss her thinking about how her magic was corrupting her and about her 'darksoul' every other panel? :-P

Her part in the Inferno crossover in the eighties was the big climax of that.

I'm now pondering if there's some similarities to be found between the Buffy/Dawn relationship and the Cyclops/Havok relationship.

Interesting thought. Not unlike Dawn, Havok has always felt like the lesser sibling because the older one was so annoyingly special. He's never completely outgrown that.

(Kitty and Buffy both had older boyfriends who ultimately took it upon themselves to end the relationships without consulting the girls. And their next serious relationships--if we deny the existence of Riley--was with an also older English guy.)
embers- Angel already answered the question of abuse by creating Dana (why Dana? asks Dana), the psychotic slayer. So we already know that this is possible, but I guess you are asking if someone could knowing pervert their powers. I think the answer will ultimately be yes, but that also seems obvious to me. Again, though, it is one thing to come up with an idea, but another to execute, and I think I am really saying that Buffy is not the only superhero on the show; so is Willow.
I guess it all boils down to whether you prefer a taxonomy that's prescriptive or descriptive. If you're into the former, this can be a stirring conversation. If you're into the latter, it's not something you're going to lose sleep about: "So what," says the descriptivist, "if Buffy doesn't fit into some guy's idea of what a superhero is or is not? We all know Joss bends, nay breaks, the rules."

I side with descriptivism--if Buffy isn't a superhero, it's because Joss has built a new category (on the shoulders of previous categories, perhaps) to explore areas of interest to him that existing/established caegories couldn't handle as well.
Saje, I have to take issue with the idea that Buffy's struggles are internal and a superhero's struggle is generally external

Telltale, I didn't say 'struggles' I said 'journey' by which I meant the aim of Buffy's quest wasn't saving the world (though that happened) but reaching insights about herself like the 'cookie dough' speech or that she doesn't need to be alone. Basically, growing up, becoming a strong, independent young woman.

Superheroes, by their nature usually unchanging in the character sense, don't often reach those kinds of inflection points (do we really think Batman's ultimate aim is to 'just grow up' and learn to deal with his grief like a normal man would ?).

I agree though that super-villains are often aspects of the hero's character that are either missing so that in some sense the villain 'completes' the hero (OK, just flashed on the 'Jerry Maguire' scene as played out between Superman and Lex Luthor, t'weren't pretty ;) or are there but taken to extremes (e.g. Batman and The Joker or maybe more pertinently Batman/Two Face) so that their external struggles can be seen as representations of the hero's internal wrestling. And you can see pretty much any hero quest as filling in some figurative gap in the hero's psyche, or else why would he/she go on it in the first place ?

Dana5140, I dunno, who killed Tara, the gun or Warren ? Or even Buffy for trying to stop them ? Not to reduce Willow's role in any way, she was totally essential to the 'empowerment' (scare quotes cos I don't want to get into that again ;) but she wasn't the instigator. In fact, i'd go so far as to say she could never have come up with that idea. Heroes are instigators, even when they need help to realise their plans, that's what sets them apart in a world where most people can see the right course but almost none are willing to take it, to make the crazy, hard choices and drag the world along in their wake.

(and, obviously, without the Slayer's power, Willow couldn't have done anything either, she only channelled it, she didn't create it)

Did he just define Connor?

Sounds more like proto-Connor (or should it be Ur-Connor ? ;), Blade to me.

"So what," says the descriptivist, "if Buffy doesn't fit into some guy's idea of what a superhero is or is not? We all know Joss bends, nay breaks, the rules."

Surely there comes a point though where categories (and, therefore, communication) become meaningless if you keep saying "Well, he just bent the rules is all. That Joss, he's a card" ? Personally I don't feel either prescriptivist or descriptivist in this case, i'm discussivist ;). The article only really makes sense as the jumping off point for a chat about heroes, superheroes and Buffy cos ultimately (as with 95% + of the stuff we talk about on here ;) no, it doesn't 'matter' one whit.
gossi, I keep meaning to write papers for one of those fandom conferences. Buffy and maho shojo (sadly doesn't work because Giles isn't a cat!); Inara and geisha; and now Buffy and X-Men. Maybe someday I'll actually get around to it. It was easier when I was in college and had required assignments I could make Buffy fit (one for Women's Studies and one for Linguistics).

Telltale said:

(Kitty and Buffy both had older boyfriends who ultimately took it upon themselves to end the relationships without consulting the girls. And their next serious relationships--if we deny the existence of Riley--was with an also older English guy.)

Man, it pissed me off when Colossus did that. I was very angry at alien-lady. My boyfriend is all "She couldn't help it! It was her power! He couldn't help it either!" blah blah blah.

And I'm all "IT'S KITTY PRYDE! THERE SHALL BE NO MERCY FOR THOSE WHO HURT KITTY PRYDE!" (until Joss fixes it, and then it's okay and I'm best friends with Colossus again.)

Kitty Pryde is my person.

Here's how I tell people I'm like Kitty Pryde.

Kitty Pryde can dance, and I think I can dance. Kitty Pryde is Jewish, and I'm Jew-ish. Kitty Pryde and I both get headaches. Kitty Pryde walks through walls and... (drum roll please)

I walk into walls.

(I wish that were just a joke instead of also a true thing.)
Everyone here has pretty much said everything I have to say but as a comics fan, Buffy fan, and someone who has dwelled on this subject a lot, I feel compelled to throw in my 2 cents.

It's just my opinion but Buffy is a) super-powered and b) a hero, therefore to me she is a superhero. I've started Dr. Coogan's book and read other writings by him and what he has done in my mind is intelligently, knowledgeably, and insightfully define the mainstream comic book superhero, rather than the superhero.

Although one problem I have with Dr. Coogan's definition is this: He boils his definition down to MIP (Mission, Identity, Powers), so Buffy doesn't qualify because she's missing the "I". Yet, Batman qualifies even though he's missing the "P". So how come Batman gets a pass when he's missing the seemingly essential Super part, yet Buffy's excluded 'cause she doesn't have a costume (stylish, yet affordable boots doesn't count)?

And Saje, I really think you're on to something here especially since Season 8 will be in the comics medium and written by a guy who knows his comics.
Telltale: I probably just don't rememeber it but then again my dropping away from comics was a gradual thing and the various Mutant Group" titles were very much among the first to be left on the shelves :-).
Hmm, I put a Dana into the B'verse back in early 2002;of coruse in my AUs he isn't born until 2014 (COrdelia's duaghter, by her central husband)

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