SPOILERS ABOUND. BEWARE.
It’s not been often that I’ve been attracted to Dark Horse stuff. As a rule I tend to stick to DC and Marvel in particular, but on the odd occasion sometimes I branch out and venture into unknown slightly-less-prominent territory (Scott Pilgrim is another example of this, which I will review later. That series is pure liquid awesome). The reason for this is I tend to prefer things that I can talk about a bit more with people, as well as the fact that I’ve been hurt by lesser-known comics before (Jeremiah Harm comes particularly to mind here).
During Comic-Con, however, I was pointed towards Joss Whedon’s “Fray” by my good friend and fellow con-man (as in follower at the con, not an actual con man) Damian. He promised surprising twists, ingenious plot and characterisations, and some good tying in towards the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe.
And you know what? He was absolutely right on all those counts.
Fray, set hundreds of years in the future and following the first Slayer to arise pretty much since Buffy and the Potentials did their thang, is a futuristic look at what Buffy would’ve been had she been born a few centuries later, sported multicoloured hair and was a complete and utter slacker/expert thief for a twisted mutant fish dude (who is NOT a freaky fish guy). The main character of Melaka Fray presents most of the action, although there are several portions where we follow the Native-American-tattoo-wannabe vampire Icarus and his boss – who I will not name for reasons of massive spoilers, and it being a truly epic twist – as well as the demon quasi-Watcher Urkonn.
The twists in this book are PHENOMENAL. Seriously. There’s a shitload I did not see coming in this story – in particular the identity of Icarus’s boss and a revelation right near the end that causes the death of a major character – in amongst the fairly stock-standard plot twists of “yay, I am the chosen one” mixed with “yay, people I know are dying left right and center”. Special mention does go to a minor character who dies halfway through the book, which was a bit unexpected and very sad (particularly when it comes back to haunt Fray at the end of the story).
A few minor gripes: Fray’s sister Erin was kind of a useless character. I feel that as a sibling antagonist she was underused, and as a sibling antagonist who works for the cops I found her doubly as underused. She didn’t really seem to drive Fray as far forward as I would’ve liked, and it would’ve been nice if her reconciliation with Fray had been a bit longer and a bit more genuine. Granted, the situation under which they make up is a bit more severe than your usual “disparate siblings come back together” thing, but I still would’ve liked a little more done with that.
Another problem I have is with Icarus’s death which – SPOILERS – involves Erin dropping a car on his head, right before he’s set to have an epic showdown with Fray in the penultimate chapter. While I understand that Whedon wanted to possibly subvert the whole epic showdown trope with this act, I felt it really gave a big sense of anticlimax to Icarus’s final fate. Not that he was an incredibly awesome character or anything, but the story had spent a fair portion fleshing him out as not just a standard vamp (or Lurk, as they are referred to in this story). A bit more resolution other than Fray’s useless sister turning his brain into motor oil would’ve been a bit better.
Now as I said, I’m wary of Dark Horse and more “indie” comics in general (yes, I know Dark Horse is not technically indie, but you know what I mean. Besides, I tend to translate indie as “anything that isn’t DC or Marvel”) but I found Fray to be a generally refreshing and truly engaging read (just ask any of my uni friends, I’ve been rabbiting on about it to them for ages since I’ve read it) that really worked well at being both a standalone and a piece that contributes to the overall Buffyverse. The artwork by Moline and Owens was pretty good too, striking a nice balance between classic four-colour palette art and contemporary realistic colouring.
Reading this book gave me new hope that maybe more comics outside of the big two are worth giving a look – and while most of you might think it’s a narrow view of me to only read majority-wise from DC and Marvel, it’s a fair argument. But it’s what I enjoy, and at the end of the day what I enjoy above all else is a good comic book.
Fray certainly fits that category.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AUGUST 8, 2010