It occurs to me that it’s probably not kosher to treat graphic novels as if they’re purely written works, and that referring to Grant Morrison’s New X-Men: E is for Extinction or Joss Whedon’s Tales of the Slayers without any reference to whoever it is that drew the pictures is to give an incomplete attribution. So I’ll offer a pro forma apology here to all the artists I’ve slighted, but I’ll continue to slight them, because when it comes down to it, I don’t read comic books for the pictures; I read them for the writing.
Joss Whedon, of course, is a damn fine writer. The thing is, normally he’s writing for television. I was a bit apprehensive about buying a comic book set in a TV-show world, because... well, because they generally suck. The vast majority of Star Trek and Star Wars fiction out there are terrible, and even the ones that aren’t overtly bad read distressingly like fan fiction. But in this case, I figured it’d be okay, because 1) it was written by the original creators (Whedon writes several of the stories in the book; other writers of Buffy (and one actress) write the rest) thereby avoiding the fanfic nature, and 2) it doesn’t focus on the characters from the show, so feels less like a derivative knock-off and more like an independent work that happens to be set in the same mythos.
Really, Tales of the Slayers feels like one of those digressive volumes of The Sandman, where Morpheus appears in different times and settings throughout history, but the story isn’t part of any larger arc — think Worlds End. Like those volumes, Tales is a series of disconnected vignettes set in a larger mythic universe, each with a common plot element — in this case, the Slayers. In each story, some historical Slayer appears and engages in a bit of plottery. The variety in setting and style is a strength, as it’s interesting to see Whedon’s Buffyverse extended in new directions. Unfortunately, each of the stories is too short to really deliver any strong impact. For fans of the show, this is an interesting and non-guilty read, but it doesn’t rise to any level higher than that.
Where Joss Whedon had the obstacle of writing a book set in a TV universe, Grant Morrison had a different problem: He had to write a book set in a mostly-trashed comic universe. I haven’t read a real, mainstream Marvel Universe book since the 80s, because they got more than a bit weird in the 90s; as a result, I was reluctant to read one now, because I have no idea what the continuity is like. But I read that Morrison’s run on New X-Men was both good and self-contained, so I figured I’d give it a go, pretending that (like the Ultimate books) it had no necessary relation to past continuity, and that referred-to past events had never happened on-screen. While not strictly true — Morrison isn’t doing a clean reboot, even if his storyline is fairly self-contained — this is a workable approach so far, and spares me the trouble of wondering what a once-dead Jean Grey is doing walking around, or where the various other X-Men went off to.
As for the book itself, it’s too early for me to make any judgment. The pacing is weird, with significant events happening too quickly and with too little fanfare. In truth, it feels like Morrison is frantically clearing the stage to get the Marvel Universe to where he wants it to be so he can write the story he wants to tell. So, he’s killing off these people, getting rid of that element, and changing things around to introduce these other things. If this all turns out to be relevant to the story he’s telling, and the story turns out to be worth the setup, it’s all good. If not, it’s a waste of time. We’ll see; there are six more volumes of Morrison’s run, and this one was enjoyable enough (certainly well-written on the micro level) that I’ll give them a whirl.