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I don’t think I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it first debuted, but I seem to recall that a friend offered me a VHS tape with a strong recommendation, so I reluctantly gave what I was sure would be another dumb high school drama a shot.

I watched the first opening scene of the pilot with my eyes nearly rolling out of my head — ugh, so predictable, I see exactly where this is headed, I thought. Then there’s the twist at the two-minute mark, and I gasped, and rewound the tape to see it again. I think I watched the cold open to that show six or seven times before I even continued with the rest of the episode.

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What I love about the pilot of Buffy is that it gives us such a comfortable, familiar foundation before revealing the trap door right under our feet. It’s a vampire story, and we all know how those go, right? We settle in and get comfortable, and then once we think we know where we are, the show breaks our expectations … but respectfully. One surprise at a time. It’s not confusing, it’s delightful.

The balance of familiar-to-surprising is a tough one to strike, and it’s one that multiple comic books this week take a stab at … with varying success. Thanks as always to Phoenix for helping to sort through the week’s new releases, and remember to carry a wooden stake wherever you go, just in case.

ST. MERCY ISSUE #1

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I like where this is headed, but I'm also not entirely sure where it’s headed because I’m not sure what’s going on. Here’s what I can discern: Two brave young women are separated by 500 years but also linked through some kind of Inca mythology. Mercedes Oro is the descendant of a line of powerful Incans, secretly protecting an ancient cache of gold that she has brought to the American West in settler-times. Her story is interwoven with that of Toctollissica, a young woman devoted to the worship of Supay, god of Death five centuries earlier in Peru. In Toctollissica, a religious figure seeks to deceive Supay with an inadequate human sacrifice; in Mercedes’, outlaws and murderers prowl the lawless frontier seeking wealth without regard for human life. I’m instantly engrossed by the brave determination of both protagonists, but also a bit flummoxed by exactly what’s going on in their times; a bit more exposition might not go entirely amiss, as I often experienced that uneasy sensation you have when you begin to suspect you might’ve got on the train headed the wrong direction. But the confusion is minor enough that it feeds the curiosity rather than frustrates; and I’m eager to see more of these wonderful women. Though I can’t help but wonder why no Indigenous South American people appear to be listed among the creative team.

Rating: 🤠🤠🤠🤠 (4/5)

Writer: John Zuur Platten. Arist: Atilio Rojo. Letterer: Troy Peteri. Editor: Elena Salcedo.

ECHOLANDS ISSUE #1


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While a little more exposition would have assisted my comprehension of St. Mercy, several gallons are required to follow Echolands, a sprawling collage of sci-fi magic and violence. The book is distinctively printed: The pages are comic-book-shaped, but the binding is on the short edge, producing an absurdly wide, Panavisiony layout that wanders left and right, sometimes feeling more like a mural than a book. Our story is set in a chaotic technological city — maybe a dreamscape of San Francisco? — expressed in various different art styles like a cut-up collage. A young woman named Hope is involved with something called The Red, which seems like it might be some sort of grotesque magical power, perhaps an addictively toxic force?? And she’s on the run from a sinister hand of Nazi-styled cops led by a ghoulish monster made of intertwined biological corruption. The detail in the art is absolutely astounding; a pleasure to linger over while sober, I can only imagine the rapture it might produce under chemical influence. The story, on the other hand, bedeviled me almost entirely. But I don’t believe, for the experience this book is intended to produce, that matters very much.

Rating: 🔴🔴🔴 (3/5)

Writers: J H Williams III, W Haden Blackman. Art and design: J H Williams III. Colors: Dave Stewart. Lettering: Todd Klein. Additional design: Drew Gill.

PUNDERWORLD VOLUME #1

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After falling deeper into a well of disorientation with each book I read this week, Punderland was a welcome relief. A sort of young-adult soap opera starring Greek gods, all is made clear in this story through asides, footnotes, and dialogue that runs over its point again and again like a marathon runner circling a track. In this cute fable, Hades (ruler of the dead) and Persephone (goddess of growth) both have secret crushes on each other, and awkwardly fumble about with their feelings while doing their best to avoid blushing at the interference of Zeus, a leering bro, and Demeter, an overbearing mom. An utterly pleasant will-they-won’t-they with lovely colorful art and casual conversational writing, the story inches forward at the most leisurely of paces with a faithful adherence to tropes that eschews any particularly intense twists or turns. It is not a challenging story; but you know what, I just watched the trailer for the movie Maid in Manhattan and despite feeling like I now have all the information I need to predict every plot beat in the movie I still want to see it. I will enjoy this comfort food very much, thank you.

Rating: 🌹🌹🌹🌹 (4/5)

Writer & artist: Linda Sejic.

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ALSO: CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE IS BACK!!!

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I’m tickled to see a brand new Choose Your Own Adventure book this week, now in comic book form: Check out Eighth Grade Witch for old-school fun with a fresh illustrated format. Marvel Voices: Identity delivers an anthology of stories with Asian heroes; and DC gives us the fun vintage Superman 78. Then there’s Spider-Man: Life Story, a surprisingly dark take on one of my favorite grizzled side-characters, J. Jonah Jameson; and there’s a new Winter Guard book to catch up on if you want to impress your friends with what a nerd you are.

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In this 30-minute multimedia experience, lights & sounds guide groups as they explore a series of immersive spaces.