Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fray Is An Engaging Reboot Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer Set In The Distant Future!

The Good: Decent story, Interesting characters, Good sense of dialect
The Bad: Elements of the artwork, plot and character are played up for style as opposed to substance.
The Basics: In a very interesting reimagining of the world, Joss Whedon tells a story in a dark future of the rebirth of the Slayers!

There is some irony to this review of the Joss Whedon graphic novel Fray, which comes from the fact that I bought the graphic novel for my wife. She is a big fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!) and for the winter holiday, I tried to flesh out her pile of books. Because one of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight graphic novels (Time Of Your Life, reviewed here!) involves Buffy traveling to the time of Fray and because that left both my wife and I pretty baffled, I thought it would be nice to pick her up Fray for her collection. Ironically, I have gotten around to reading it first!

Fray has a lot going for it, but it is something of a paradox. The paradox is this: it is designed to appeal to fans of Joss Whedon’s works, but the elements it contains are almost entirely recognizable to fans of Whedon’s works like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. This does not make the graphic novel bad in any way, but it offers surprisingly little that is truly new to fans of Joss Whedon’s universe. In other words, the people who are likely to enjoy this most are already fans of Whedon’s works, but because they are such devoted fans, they are likely to see the best tricks Whedon pulls out coming. Fray is still very enjoyable, it is just not terribly unpredictable or audacious.

In the distant future in the city of Haddyn, there are sharp class divisions between the uppers and everyone else. As part of the underclass, Melaka Fray works as a thief for an amphibious creature who gives her her assignments and lately has been paying her more than jobs appear to be worth. Fray is shocked one day when a man arrives at her home and sets himself on fire after telling her that she is chosen. She is much less surprised when a horned beast, Urkonn, arrives a short time later to try to train her. Told that she is a Slayer and must use her powers to stop lurks (vampires), Fray is given a crash course in Slayerdom as her world quickly falls apart.

Plagued by the death of her twin brother, Harth, years before at the hands of a lurk, Melaka finds herself not only outrunning lurks, but her sister, Erin. Erin is a cop and is hunting Melaka for the recent high-end thefts Melaka has been a part of. But with Urkonn training her, Melaka moves toward an all-out war with the lurks and in the process comes face-to-face with Icarus and truths she is not ready for!

Joss Whedon does have quite a bit going on in Fray and to say that there aren’t any surprises for readers is a bit of an exaggeration. I found myself pleasantly surprised by one plot element near the climax of the book and Whedon pulls off the feat in his traditionally tongue-in-cheek way. Actually, it is hard not to be amused; Whedon reinvents the vampire genre by setting it in the distant future and he does it so effectively that he makes us forget some key elements of what we know about vampires from his other works! That takes writing talent and Fray reminds us just how much talent he has.

Fray embodies a surprisingly well-realized future realm. It is dark; the world has ten billion people in it, so that is understandable. But beyond the flying cars, Melaka’s colorful hair and the high-tech weapons, the Earth has become a very dirty, very broken place. This is presented very well and it is hard to turn the pages at times because the world embodied on the pages is so dirty. As a very clever aspect of creating the world of Fray, Whedon employs unique colloquialisms that give the dystopian future a distinct dialect.

The characters in Fray are also sufficiently engaging as to make for an enjoyable story. Melaka Fray is not the whiny debutant that Buffy was. She does not try to reject her sudden heritage, so Melaka is instantly more likable than Buffy was. Beyond any sort of Buffy comparison, Whedon draws the reader in by presenting a tremendously compelling idea. As a twin and a part of the legacy of the Slayers, Melaka could be exceptionally powerful. With her brother, Harth, considered the other half of a complete person, Whedon once again weaves a story that is both metaphorical and literal. In the case of Fray, the fairly common concept that twins are essentially one person whose skill sets are split into two bodies is embodied well in the flashbacks that feature Melaka and Fray fighting Icarus. Those flashbacks also make for a strong sense of emotional release when Melaka encounters Icarus in her present.

Fray develops well and this is a decent origin story, even if it leaves the reader clamoring for more. Part of the problem with someone like Joss Whedon creating a world is that fans want to see it fleshed out. That is certainly the case with Fray.

The artwork in Fray is highly variable. While Karl Moline tends to use strong lines that create distinctive characters, he does not have the strongest sense of movement within his panels. The result is that Fray reads more like a story told through photographs as opposed to watching a movie on the pages of a book. This is not a dealbreaker for fans, but Fray is not all it could be in the art department.

Even so, there is enough to get Buffy fans excited in Fray and that might be reason enough to pick this book up!

For other Joss Whedon publications, be sure to check out:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Last Gleaming
Angel Only Human
Serenity Better Days And Other Stories


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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