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Buffy Summers

Thanks go to Bill for this thoughtful biography on one of the most groundbreaking women in recent pop culture history.
Buffy Summers A scream echoes through the misty cemetery. A beautiful, busty (always busty) young woman is racing between grim tombstones. Behind her, barely visible through the fog, creeps something. Something that is large, hideous, and menacing. The poor girl slips on some wet grass, or breaks a heel, or becomes tangled in her skirt. The black form grows closer, snarling and drooling. Instead of running, she looks back in terror, helpless to act. But at the last second she leaps up, kicks the stalker in the teeth, says something pithy, and slays the bastard without remorse. Thus years of horror novel and film cliches are also slayed, and Buffy is born.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, is the Ms. magazine answer to the female horror victim. She is tough, funny, and has a destiny. This is the Buffy of the WB, and now UPN, television series, and of Dark Horse Comics. While she made her debut on the silver screen, that character is almost unrecognizable to those who know and love the Buffy Anne Summers portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar week after week. But what makes Buffy so intriguing? My theory is that it's because when you strip away the monsters and the Hellmouth, Buffy is all of us. She is the social outcast, the special confidant, the jilted lover, the loving child, and the responsible parent. Through just a few televison seasons, Buffy has spanned an entire lifetime...and died twice to boot.

The introduction during the first few years of the TV program told us that a Slayer is born to every generation. She is always female, and she alone can hold back the darkness that constantly threatens to consume the world. Our Slayer is Buffy Summers, initially a student at Sunnydale High School in California. She and her mother had moved to Sunnydale after her parents’ divorce, and following her being blamed for burning down the gym of her last school. The gym was actually the casualty of a battle between Buffy and an army of vampires, but at this point no one, save for Buffy and her new Watcher, knew that she is anything but a “normal” teenage girl.

A Watcher is a teacher/trainer assigned to each Slayer. Watchers are members of a mysterious society that tracks the activities of evil and directs the Slayer in her work. In Buffy’s case, her Watcher was working as the school librarian. Rupert Giles had come to Sunnydale knowing that Buffy would soon arrive, and was ready to continue her training. While she was not initially enthused by the thought of a lifetime battling monsters, Giles’ guidance and the fact that her move to Sunnydale was not accidental soon changed her mind. Sunnydale, she was told, was actually situated above the Hellmouth, a very thin border between our world and the dark dimensions. She was living on Hell’s doorstep. This, of course, was nothing compared to the horrors of high school.

As a student at Sunnydale High, Buffy found it difficult to go back to the cheerleader and cover girl clique. Roaming the night dispensing holy justice on vampires and demons is hell on your social life. She soon found herself associating with kids that, before, she had never given a second look.

Xander Harris was the kind of guy who, unfortunately, understood that high school was incredibly shallow and that it was also the template for life ever after. Thus he could never take it too seriously, and ultimately wasn’t very good functioning within it. He was the funny/sad guy that girls liked... to talk about their jerky boyfriends with. Fortunately, this background made him an early ally for Buffy. He knew instantly that she was different, and he needed to know why. His early crush on the Buffster soon mellowed into admiration and deep loyalty. Xander’s best friend was Willow Rosenberg, a straight-A student and computer goddess. Xander and Willow had withstood the social slings and arrows for years together, Willow secretly hoping that Xander would notice her as someone more than a girl he liked... to talk with about the girls who had dumped him. Xander’s interest in Buffy worried Willow initially, but once the truth emerged in the form of monsters and ghouls, a team... a Scooby Gang was created. The growing and maturing of the relationships between Buffy, Giles, Xander, and Willow have really been the core of the show over the years. Watching high school friendships develop into adult bonds has been wonderful to watch.

Buffy and her true love, Angel Of course, what is young adulthood without romance? Buffy has had three major romantic relationships. The first was with Angel, or Angelus, a 250-year-old vampire with a soul. Angel had come to Sunnydale in his continuing quest for redemption, and sought to fight the good fight as a means to that end. Long ago, Angel had done horrible things as a vampire, killing and maiming over multiple continents. One night, he terrorized one gypsy camp too many. A tribe had lost children to Angelus’ hunger, and an old mystic in the camp placed a curse on the dark creature. This curse restored Angel’s soul, bringing with it years of guilt and horror over his evil deeds, and if he ever experienced true happiness... his soul would be ripped away again. Angel began working with Buffy and, as these things often do, their close proximity in dire situations led to attraction and love. This love ultimately led to a night of lovemaking; when Buffy awoke, she was alone and Angel was soulless. Of course, many women watching felt a surge of recognition. How many of them had given everything to someone they trusted and loved, only to have that trust thrown back in their faces, torn and dirty? Angel terrorized Sunnydale, focusing on Buffy’s friends and family and actually killing Giles’ girlfriend, high school teacher Jenny Calender. While Buffy fought Angel and tried to contain the damage, Willow worked for a way to restore his soul. Ms. Calender, a witch and a descendant of the gypsy band who had cursed Angel, had been working on a spell to do just that. Willow discovered the spell and made Angel whole again, just as Buffy, with no options left, killed him.

Riley, a paranormal secret ops agent who was uncomfortable with Buffy’s power, and Spike, a trying-as-hard-as-he-can-to-be-evil vampire with a poet’s heart, have tried to unlock Buffy’s love. However, in the end, Angel holds that key and that lock may now be forever closed.

Initially, Buffy’s family was not in the limelight. Well, who could compete with a Hellmouth and vampire lovers? However, as the series progressed, Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers, came into her own as a character. After she was let in on Buffy’s destiny, she became a confidant and a determined protector. There was a lot for Buffy to cry about in those early seasons, and Joyce was always there with hot chocolate and a shoulder. Her death, not by a creature of the night or black magic, but due to complications following cancer surgery, was jolting. That episode, entitled “The Body”, was one of the most emotionally gut-wrenching hours ever shown on television. No incidental music, no quips, and a lot of uncomfortable silences made for a feeling of harsh reality on a fantasy show. Buffy was left with a younger sister, Dawn, without a mother to care for her. Dawn has a complicated story, being actually a mystical key to dimensions hidden by monks in Buffy’s family. Buffy, however, remembers her only as a sister, a true member of the Summers family. The financial hardships and the dealings with child protective services have placed Buffy in a parental role at a time when she would rather be discovering herself.

Over the course of five years, we have watched Buffy grow from a trash-talking teenage girl to a caring, adult woman with many responsibilities on her shoulders... as if saving the world every week wasn’t enough. We have also watched Xander and Willow develop romantic entanglements, with each other at one point, while trying to make sense of the “real world." Through it all, through the monsters and villains and multiple apocalypses, the story has really been about all of us. Who we are and how we become that person, how we choose the people we share our lives with and how we keep them, and how we deal with the craziness of reality... these things are what Buffy is about and what it continues to address every week. That... and how to spike vampires.

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Want More Info?

Duh! Not only can you catch Buffy the Vampire Slayer every week on UPN (and on many other stations in syndication), you can also read about her kick-arse exploits in Dark Horse Comics' series and one-shots based on the hit show. You can even buy Buffy lollipops! I'm not kidding.

The number of Buffy sites on the web are far too numerous to mention, but here's a couple to start with:

  • The Buffy Zone Dark Horse has a series of pages dedicated to the Buffster and her comic books. Your Portal to the Buffy/Angel Community

There! Happy? Almost 4,000 sites in seven different categories awaiting your eager fingertips!

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Buffy and all related characters and images are copyrighted by Warner Brothers, UPN, and Joss Whedon, and are not being used for commercial purposes, so please don't slay me. This article is copyrighted by Bill and used with permission. Questions, comments, advice on resurrecting the dead? E-mail me for the first two. For the last, you're on your own.

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