Let the Slayer Live Again: Why We Should Reboot Buffy

by: Johnny Gall

Several months ago, it seemed that a stake was finally put through the heart of a proposed reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This news was met with much rejoicing by every Joss Whedon fan except for me, following Warner Brothers’ rejection of a prospective script from Whit Anderson. I can partly understand their concerns. Joss Whedon crafted an intriguing, complex universe, which occasionally delved into the dated, stereotypical humor of the 1992 film without ever doubting the strength and dignity of the character of Buffy. [1] He managed to cleverly mock the high school experience (then college, then post-college) without overdoing the satire, or neglecting the insight of it. To put it briefly: he done good. Some would say he did it perfectly, and they may not be far off. So, I understand why they wouldn’t want someone else potentially ruining the franchise.

However, I think Buffy can be more than a somewhat campy 90s movie and a seven-season television series.[2] I want to see Buffy rebooted. And again. And again. I want her to be canonized in a manner which rarely occurs in our culture.

Think about Robin Hood. Or King Arthur. Or the Greek Gods and Goddesses.  Figures of legend whose stories have been told so many times that the plot lines of their stories are no longer entirely clear. King Arthur, for instance, was definitely betrayed by Lancelot, who was sleeping with his wife Guinevere and was definitely murdered by Mordred, the son of his sister (and in some versions lover) Morgan le Fay. However, because the legend was told and retold before it was put in writing, there are a mass of details which vary and a mass of smaller sub-plots available. Yes, there are several somewhat complete texts, like The Once and Future King and Le Mort d’Arthur, but the legend itself is bigger than those.

This is what I want for Buffy, and I think—despite a profound lack of oral tradition in our culture—it’s attainable. There are some figures who have reached a similar height of canonization. Most  comic book figures have had their stories told in so many different formats and different editions that their plotlines are completely malleable, yet they usually retain the essential elements. Yes, Spiderman is bit by a radioactive Spider, and he takes on the mantle of a hero after the death of his Uncle Ben. But that can be—and has been—told in so many different ways that only those most important elements survive: that he is blessed and cursed by a scientific warfare, and that the death of a loved one leads him to realize the responsibility of his gift. The story evolves from these points, but the idea remains strongly and clearly expressed, and the idea is stronger than the story.

Joss Whedon’s telling of the story is so well-crafted that I would certainly vote it in as the Once and Future King of the Buffy legend. However, the idea is what I’m in love with.

The concept of Buffy the Vampire Slayer completely subverts horror movie depictions of women. She’s not the scared screaming teenage girl we’ve all seen before. She’s not even the girl who gets sick of being hunted and decides to fight back. Buffy goes beyond that. She hunts down the big bads on a nightly basis because she feels a responsibility to make the world safer. She is the ultimate feminist hero, because she’s not the woman who fights against oppression (albeit, demon) when it confronts her. She’s the woman who seeks out oppression and does battle with it of her own volition. Why shouldn’t we be canonizing that?

Moreover, the Buffy legend gives us a nice out on being combative. I understand why most activists are opposed to violence. We should be. However, Buffy gives us the gift of vicariously taking out our frustration at the society we live in, without anyone even remotely human getting hurt. She kills demons. She kills them because they are awful creature bent on killing us. Of course, no one minds that. It’s all the satisfaction of violence without the worry of dehumanizing because they’re not human anyway.

It’s because I’m so in love with this concept that I don’t want to see it suffer the pitfalls of preservation. Yes, Whedon tells the story well, but no story will continue to live on in relevance if it isn’t given the freedom to evolve and grow with the culture. Every well-crafted concept that is published and gains notoriety eventually becomes a period piece. Even great novels eventually become period pieces. Huckleberry Finn is sometimes referred to as the great American novel, and so is The Great Gatsby.

In both cases, these books were originally recognized as brilliant stories and ideas, but now both have to be filtered through the culture they were written in. True, the ideas are still there, but the first thing to catch the readers’ eye will always be the time period, and the differences between culture at the time of writing and culture in the reader’s time. Legendary figures suffer this fate as well, of course, but not nearly to the same degree. The basic concept of Robin Hood—that of a man who steals as a way of subverting class system—could be as easily adapted to contemporary culture as any. The same with any figure who emerged from oral tradition.

I want to see Whedon’s Buffy survive, but I want the character to continue in relevance more, and to evolve with cultural understandings of strong women. If we continue to protest that any other adaptation will ruin the franchise, then in thirty years, the story will look as dated to viewers as The Breakfast Club looks to us now. That doesn’t mean the ideas won’t survive, but it will be harder for viewers to claim them as their own. And Buffy is a figure whom I think drastically need to continue to be owned.

Am I worried that a reboot might sink the franchise’s potential? Somewhat. However, that won’t matter as much if we continue to reboot it, over and over, until whatever bad version has been swallowed up by all the good ones, and the most powerful elements of the story have come through on the other side. In a culture which has, for the most part, abandoned oral tradition, this is the way we create a legend.

I also recognize that certain elements of the current story may not be as empowering as they have the potential to be. Some may object to Buffy’s profound submission to her love interests, especially to that awful affair with Spike which ruled over most of the two seasons I don’t like to talk about. Some may object to her constant pining to be a normal, pretty girl. In that case, I would say change it. Make her even more badass than she already is. The beauty of legends is that they’re shaped by culture, which means we have the power to define the figure for ourselves.

So, with this in mind, I believe we should stop whining about how awful we assume a reboot would be and how much it would ruin Buffy; instead, keep telling the story as often and in as many ways as possible. Write it. Draw it. Film it. Hell, do a slash fic or two. [3] Represent this amazingly positive female figure in as many as you possibly can so that it becomes both an example of our culture’s commitment to woman’s empowerment, and a driving force thereof. Let there be more than one Buffy. Let every potential become the Slayer.

Johnny Gall is so, so very close to completing his B.A. from NYU in English and Creative Writing. He has hopes of moving on to seminary, and then to ordained ministry and works with several groups which advocate queer equality in the Methodist church. He is a feminist, anarchist, person of faith, part-time librarian and an all-around good guy.

[1] Have you guys ever tried remarking upon the strength and dignity of someone with the name Buffy? Feels a little weird.

[2] Of which the last two seasons are seriously hit-or-miss. Mostly miss.

[3] If you’re actually considering this, I’m just saying, I’ve always had a thing for Giles.

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26 responses to “Let the Slayer Live Again: Why We Should Reboot Buffy

  1. So very yes! I’ve often thought of Buffy as an Epic Hero and have walked her through the criteria to categorize as such more than a few times, so I’m all for continuing this. I think the friction this rubs up against is authorship, which is very clear in Buffy’s case and not so much with more classical characters and tropes, which is why it is harder to establish Buffy in that role–I foresee (hopefully) more of a widening of the Slayer universe and the prototype of the Slayer living on, more in the Star Trek captain vein (yes, I did just push my glasses up my nose).

  2. If something like this were to happen, it shouldn’t be about “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but about another Slayer. Leave Buffy alone. She’s the character that Joss created (and seasons 6 and 7 were brilliant, BTW). Make it Kelly the Vampire Slayer, Maddie the Vampire Slayer, Joan the Vampire Slayer, you get the idea – another story about a Slayer, without messing with the character and stories we know and love. Joss was already going to do it with the Faith spin-off and kind of did it with the Fray comics.

  3. I don’t like the idea of a Whedon-less Buffy, but I understand where you’re coming from. Though, if Buffy were to be rebooted, it should at least happen AFTER Joss finishes his comic book run of the show.

    And btw, the last two TV seasons were amazing and I liked the love-hate relationship between Buffy and Spike. Sure, the last two seasons didn’t live up to the perfect amazing awesomeness of the fifth season, but they were still quality seasons. And I liked how the sixth season delved into a darker place. It made the show even more emotionally connecting. The seventh season wasn’t as good as earlier seasons, but it was more hit than miss in my opinion.

  4. Hm. I’ve never even checked Buffy out, but I’ve got to say you make a strong case.

    The entire time I read this, I was thinking of Superman, and how he’s most definitely not the same guy he was in his Action Comics #1 debut. His story has been retold and rebooted so many times over the decades – hell, they’re working on a new movie to wash the previous movie’s bad taste from our mouths as we speak. Whether ‘Smallville’ will go down as a great or awful chapter of Superman’s story has yet to be determined, but how much do you want to bet that won’t be the last time we see the Man of Steel on TV? And the New 52 line of DC Comics has made even more changes to Supes’s story. And like you said, so much of his origin story has been blurred that only some basic canon laws remain, which apparently is enough to jump off in any direction with Superman’s story. In some ways, he should be the most ridgid, unchanging ‘period piece’ hero out there, but they keep finding ways to make him relevant, don’t they?

    That’s what iconic characters are supposed to be. Why couldn’t Buffy be like that?

  5. When I heard they were rebooting Buffy, I was horrified, but you make a good argument. You might have even won me over. I kind of like Ivana’s idea of looking at other slayers and with where Joss left it, we have a myriad of other slayers to follow if one were to choose that route. My biggest concern is who would be in charge of creation and writing. The thing that makes Buffy (and pretty much everything Joss does) so great is that Joss is a feminist. He has that particular world view that not a lot of men (or in some cases women, for that matter) have. His feminism shaped Buffy in a way that would not have been done had he been a creative mind looking to capture a female demographic. You can create a story about a very strong woman and still make it profoundly anti-woman if you don’t have a feminist world view. That is my biggest worry. If we’re going to reboot Buffy, let’s make sure it’s done by someone with strong feminist ideals.

  6. You had some decent points and I tend to agree about the new movie, but I can barley take someone seriously if they didn’t like the last two seasons of Buffy, I mean come on season six was pretty much the best season of the show and seven was brilliant as well, maybe even the second best season.

  7. Frankly, I look very dimly on any kind of reboot because I know where they will take it. Because of the popularity of Twilight, they will try to make Buffy mirror that world view… and that just makes me furious thinking about it. Most women like me like Buffy because it’s the anti-Twilight. So, sorry, but I’m just not convinced. The last time they made a movie of Buffy, they failed. Spectacularly. Because they didn’t really understand the heart of what made the show so awesome. Joss and his team made Buffy what it is, and I can’t really get behind a reboot that doesn’t have their involvement.

  8. Well, that does it. I’m converted. I was, until the point, adamantly of the opinion that a reboot sans Joss would be offensive to the memory of a franchise that resonated with me so deeply during adolescence. But what you’re saying makes complete sense. It must be reinvented to become accessible mythology. I don’t know how much momentum it’ll have to be re-adapted in the film circuit, but there are alternative modes of storytelling. It would be interesting to see different creative interpretations of the character. But because I’m a fan of the slayer, I want her in good hands. I know it’s unrealistic, but how else can you react when its a character you love? To me, the film adaptation wasn’t a well-planned reinvention, and it wasn’t even in the hands of anyone who had written/contributed to BtVS works past. It just seemed like the typical Hollywood crap – riding on the coattails of better storytellers to milk a franchise for some box office glory. Why now? Twilight-induced vampire mania. Like you said, a lousy reinvention could sink the idea for good. If it’s gonna be done, it should be done well.

  9. Yeah, not convinced. I agree that Buffy, along with Fray and Joss’ other slayers – has the potential to become an iconic figure, but I don’t think there should be a re-boot *while* Joss – and his writers – are still writing it. And it also matters to me what Joss thinks about it – as not only the original creator, but as the guy who rescued his Buffy from the shambles of the original flick & turned her into the figure that now is called mythic or legendary. And he said:

    “I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER.”

    I’m gonna go w/ that. Or at least – until Joss gives the high sign on a re-boot that’s at least been vetted by him.

  10. Well, I wouldn’t have started watching without Spike and the great chemistry between James and Sarah.

    What I would like to see are more strong women characters, not someone trying to redo something Joss did so well.

  11. You had me until you dissed the Buffy Spike relationship. It was an important part of her journey, and I enjoyed it immensely.

  12. Two things: Buffy’s storyline HAS been continued, in comic book form, to be sure. There are forty episodes of “Season Eight” and an ongoing storyline in “Season Nine.” There are also occasional “Tales of the Slayers” in comic book form, which enrich the whole Slayer legend. Secondly, it’s a shame that we have no equivalent of the BBC in this country, so that Buffy could have been continued on TV a la Doctor Who. THAT would be a reboot I’d cheer for!

  13. I want to echo the fact that the Buffy-verse continues on, to this very day, in comic form. Season 8 in comics has wrapped and season 9 is currently going on, and has never been more relevant. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Joss planned issue five and six of season 9 right when the Komen Foundation/Planned Parenthood thing went down. Buffy, irrelevant? I think not. The Tales of The Slayers anthology as well as the Fray mini-series also gives us a look at different slayers, past and future.

    I’ve often had discussions of this type with friends who are into comic books…particularly the way in which Alan Moore is being extremely cranky (yes I know, that’s nothing new, but this is like very very cranky) at DC’s decision to create Watchmen prequels….I think Moore (and his hardcore devotees) are being unfairly cranky and there isn’t any reason for concern. I am eagerly awaiting these prequel stories, which by the way are being done by some of the best creators in the comic book world (Brian Azarello, Dawryn Cooke, Adam Hughes, J. Michael Stracynski)…

    Yet, the same time, I shudder at the thought of a Buffy re-make and rejoiced when this abortion of a reboot got permanently derailed…but why am I so adamant about Buffy not getting the Watchmen prequel treatment? I think there are several reasons why…

    1. TV/Hollywood is a very different animal than comic books….sure there are bad creative teams that are put on long-standing titles and characters…but in comic books I think they are more easily replaced and the bad taste washes out quicker…running Buffy thru the mud of a bad reboot may not fade so quickly and the property may never completely recover…and speaking of mud…

    2. Let’s face it, the vampire zeigeist in Hollywood is that group of horrendous novels penned by that hack of a mormon housewife. Even the somewhat more palatable True Blood suffers from this tendency to focus on soap operatic drama and unbearable and ad nauseumly repeated human/vampire love triangles. Not that Buffy didn’t have it’s share of both, but Joss made sure that at it’s core, Buffy remains the story of a strong powerful woman who comes to realize her power and her ability to change the world for the better, not in spite of gender, but because of it. For me, that’s what makes Buffy so powerful and compelling, and I think that trendy reboots will more than likely de-emphasize that element, if not outright erase it, in favor of some anemic misogynistic Bella-type slayer who, instead of slaying her demons, wants to stare all googly-eyed at it on their way to the marriage altar. Color me barfy.

    3. You mention that other legendary characters have also been rebooted numerous times, and you want the same for Buffy. Sure I do too. I want Buffy to be classic, to be required college reading (oh wait, she already is!) and to be scrutinized millennia from now…but I don’t think having a crappy re-boot is the way to do that. For god’s sake, Plato, the Arthurian legends, The Great Gatsby aren’t timeless because their stories got translated to a movie with trendy dialogue and the latest ‘it’ actors. They are timeless because they are timeless, because they all tackle themes, conflicts, and ideas that are perennial aspects of the human condition. That’s why they are relevant, and that’s why they are repeatedly adapted into different media. Buffy does these things as well, IMO, so we have nothing to worry about. And just remember, for every ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, there’s 10 different version of Clash of The Titans, and I’d rather not put my Buffy thru that.

    4. Having said all this, I wouldn’t be opposed to a reboot helmed by someone who appreciates and ‘gets’ the Buffy aesthetic, someone who understands that world and what makes it so compelling. I think that’s why I’m behind the Watchmen prequels. I trust those creators to do the property right. I, however, don’t trust the Kazuis (who, btw’s ruined Joss’ vision of the original movie), or some hack screenwriter , who, as I understand it has never written a major screenplay before, or a studio, who doesn’t even ask Joss to be minimally involved, to ‘get’ Buffy, nor to give the property the respect and care it deserves. Get Joss to executive produce, Brian K Vaughan to write the script and maybe a female director, and I’ll be onboard.

    5. Yea, season 6 and 7 rocked hard. Very hard. Not liking at least season 6 makes your argument suspect. 🙂

  14. Here’s the problem with reboots. Let’s say they rebooted the 90’s film, instead of giving us 7 years of awesome. Then we wouldn’t have got SMG as Buffy, Willow, Cordelia, Faith, Angel, the trademark dialogue and humor, emotional highs and lows, Hush, the Body, Once More With Feeling.

    The problem with reliving the past is you don’t get a future. Sure we could recycle Robocop, Total Recall, The Thing. Hell, why stop there let’s also do Jaws, Star Wars, and The Godfather.

    Why give any aspiring new writers who could be the new Joss Whedons or Steve Spielbergs a chance when we can endlessly wallow in past glories?

    Some properties could definitely use a revival, they never had a decent shot in the first place. Buffy is not one of them.

  15. I can see where you’re coming from, and it doesn’t particularly bother me as a Buffy fan whether there’s a reboot movie or not – I have my show and I can just ignore the rest – but I also don’t see much reason to actively welcome or encourage such a reboot. As your article suggests near the end, a lot of people going to see a Hollywood reboot right now would want her to be more of a ”badass”, so the character would lose a lot of her depth and substance for the sake of packing more explosions into the third act or whatever. Characters like Superman and Robin Hood are remembered, but they’re not deep, psychologically complex characters like Hamlet or Anna Karenina – taking the latter characters out of their stories simply lessens the impact of those stories. But then, I love Season 6 =).

  16. While I get your point, I simply can’t envisage a Buffy without any input from Joss. While he is still writing the character in another medium, the canon continues and any reboot is automatically not canon. Plus, we’ve seen what happens when people who don’t totally ‘get’ the premise are given control of the story.

    Additionally, I have never heard anyone objecting to Buffy’s ‘constant pining to be a normal, pretty girl’ (also, it wasn’t constant) that was an integral part of the show. Trying to find a balance between her duties as slayer and being a normal human was what made her so relatable. If she had been all slayer all the time, the show would have had a lot less depth and drama.

    And I’m another one who doesn’t get the dislike of S6/7. There were some not great eps in there, but there were also some total stunners.

    By all means, play in the Buffyverse with NEW characters, new slayers etc. But while Joss still has a say, lets respect his moral ownership of the characters he created.

  17. I was hoping that Joss Whedon would write a script that would continue the story of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think that it should feature the original cast members. There could be lots of possibilites without relying on the storyline from the comic books.

    • But the comic books are canon. They are ‘as if’ the show was continuing, without the restriction of budgets, actors, and studio funding. And, incidentally, also very good.

  18. It’s way too soon for a Whedon-less Buffy, and way too late for another Kuzui fiasco. As to the potential iconic nature of Buffy, I agree, and already James Bond has made it FAR beyond Ian Fleming, but Fran and Kaz Kuzui are NO Albert and Barbara Broccoli. Besides, I secretly desire to see SMG wielding Mr. Pointy one more time…

  19. I agree with you. The core concept of Buffy…and indeed, the entire mythos of the Vampire Slayer…is more than sturdy enough to be revised. And we don’t necessarily have to have a rebooted Buffy Summers; why not a film about a steampunk Slayer in Victorian England? Or Nikki Wood in 1970s New York City?

    Joss Whedon himself already rebooted the character when he retooled the original film idea for television, and there’s no good reason why it can’t be done again.

  20. I’m with you to a point. The one (BIG) issue I have is that I see this sort of thing as what happens to great characters when they die. It’s one of the afterlife’s if you will of a truly great character. It’s a big tradeoff, a character becomes iconic but they cease to grow. Or rather they do grow but they’re forever tethered to this history.

    Take Batman for instance! He will always be Batman. One day a writer might decide that Batman’s going to retire (Batman Beyond) or die, or become not-so-broody. But those things will inevitably shift back. He’s always going to be back to this guy, Bruce Wayne, scarred forever by his parents death, needing to be Batman. Batman doesn’t grow. And that’s I guess okay for Batman! But Buffy’s still alive. She’s no longer a teenager battling high school metaphors. She’s a twenty something now dealing with twenty something problems (but still with the teethy things), she’s growing up.

    The second we try and reboot Buffy in the interest of making her into this modern day folktale we kill her! She will cease to grow. She will forever be the iconic teen aged fighter of the undead. It’s bound to happen sooner or later, and I do hope it DOES happen to Buffy. She deserves the status of myth.

    But not so fast! Whedon is still working with her. He’s still letting her grow and change. Her original story is not finished. To be fair, the quality of her story may have gone downhill a bit (Season 8 was damn near irredeemable in my eyes) But it’s still being told. Lets wait on this whole rebooting Buffy thing eh?

  21. Why it can’t happen the way you suggest: Intellectual Property Rights.

    King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, Mordred… their copyrights are long since expired and they are in the public domain. Buffy is not. Buffy is owned by a number of people and corporations (Joss, F & R Kuzui, some Fox subsidiary or other, etc.). Buffy is a monopoly held by this group of folks for at least the remainder of Joss’s life plus 70 years and maybe another 70 years after that. Fox has demonstrated that they will defend their IP (even though IP doesn’t actually exist, but that’s a long and dreary discussion. Search for “Lawrence Lessig” instead)

    So, what to do, what to do— make your own characters and your own metaphors to explore the things you want to explore.

  22. I have to say that this is the most well thought out article I have read on doing more Buffy. I myself was adamantly against the idea of a re-boot, and I was glad that it wan’t made. But after reading this article, I have to agree with the author. After all, the Spider-Man movies with McGuire where very good and they rebooted them with even better movies. Why not Buffy? She ranks up there on my list of top superheroes. And I do like the fact that she is a superhero that doesn’t have the fascist undertone that some of the superhero movies and stories have within them. Let’s have more Buffy novels, comic books, video games, movies, and an adult-swim style animated series.

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