(2004) Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson and others, Titan Books, £10.99, trdpbk, 148 pp, ISBN 1-840-23548-9
Tales of the Vampires is a collection of the first five issues of the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name. Within are eleven short stories linked by the framing narrative of an ancient captive vampire telling stories to would-be Watchers (an organisation of vampire hunters from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, but then you knew that, didn't you?). Not only are these stories set in the Buffy universe, and some feature familiar Buffy characters, they are also written by writers who worked on the television show, chief among them the show's creator and driving force, the generously talented Joss Whedon. Joss actually only writes the linking narrative and "Stacy", a vampirism-as-coming-of-age tale for a young girl (imagine Enid from "Ghost World" getting bitten). Brett Matthews and Jane Espenson write three tales each with other contributions from Sam Loeb, Drew Goddard and Ben Edlund.
As is often the case with these anthology-type offerings, the style and content of the stories varies greatly and so does the artwork. Sometimes these mesh perfectly; look at "Dames", a film noir 1930's Las Vegas in charcoal greys and red. In other places a more cartoony style works against any pathos or menace that might have been built up. I'm thinking mainly here of "Antiques", where Buffy and her friends meet Dracula. Although the story does begin in a rather jokey way (and is based on a fun idea), it also tries to make some serious points about obsolescence and loneliness which didn't really work for me. Perhaps that is a failing of the writing more than the artwork, or just the two not jelling very well. On the whole though there are more hits than misses in this collection. The stories range from the late 19th century to the present day, and from various parts of America to England and Eastern Europe, with some of the shortest stories being the most effective. "Taking Care of Business", where a priest-killing vampire faces God in the desert is only six pages long, as is "Some Like It Hot", where one vampire goes to extreme lengths to be able to walk in the sunlight again.
Perhaps surprisingly the three stories which feature characters from the Buffy series were among the least satisfying. On reflection (and there's very little to comment on in a vampire's reflection - ho ho!) I think this is mainly because the writers can't do much with the established characters, especially in stories set before the end of the show, whereas with their own characters and stories you can follow them from birth to death and often beyond in the space of a few pages and then leave it there. I would definitely recommend a look if you like Buffy or just vampires in general and have the £10.99 to spare. Some of the stories will definitely stay with you after you've finished, and most will give added value on re-reading too.
As an aside, having finished this review, there is something lurking at the back of my head that bothers me and, while it is probably a flea, I'll share it with you. In "The Problem With Vampires" a torturor shows his vampire victim a small box with a green glow inside and says, "Just to be safe. [To] help ensure the pain stays with you for eternity. See, I need your help. I need you to pay attention...", and then it is never seen again or explained. Is it like that glowing suitcase in Pulp Fiction and it's meant to be a mystery, or am I just missing something obvious? If you know the answer please tell me! I cannot figure it out and it is really bugging me! Oh well, the life of a reviewer is fraught with this type of danger you know...
See also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Dust Waltz, Food Chain, A Stake to the Heart.
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