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Did Buffy’s Riley deserve a one-shot? Jane Espenson responds

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Riley

The big announcement in last month’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Riley one-shot about the return of the Angel license to Dark Horse appears to have overshadowed another controversy — namely, whether the character Riley Finn actually deserved his own issue.

For those unfamiliar with Buffy continuity, Riley was introduced in Season 4 as a teaching assistant at UC Sunnydale who led a double life as a drug-enhanced agent of the Initiative, the secret government organization dedicated to the capture of demons. To the displeasure of some fans, the wholesome Riley — some might say “vanilla” or “downright boring” — became Buffy’s boyfriend and, briefly, a member of the Scooby Gang. (Personal note: Professor Walsh aside, Riley may have been the worst part of the excruciating Initiative arc that dominated the season. Well, him, and Buffy’s maddening post-Angel self-esteem issues.)

The character left in Season 5, returning for just one more episode before re-emerging in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, the canonical comic-book continuation of the television series, where he was revealed as a double agent being used by Buffy to infiltrate Twilight’s organization. And then came the one-shot, which triggered enough grumbling that writer Jane Espenson — a fan-favorite writer of Buffy, Battlestar Galactica and Warehouse 13 — has taken to the Dark Horse website to defend Riley, and the one-shot.

“I hear that some of you are wondering why Riley Finn deserves a one-shot comic-book issue instead of Dawn or Xander or the deep, dark shadow under Spike’s left cheekbone,” Espenson writes. “The answer is simple: Riley wanted it more. He worked harder. He earned it.”

With tongue in cheek, she goes on to explain that not every character can withstand the rigors of a comic book one-shot — “There are no stunt doubles here” — or demonstrate the awareness required for the “highly technical” work. But Riley Finn, that wholesome boy from Huxley, Iowa, has mastered the art.

“This isn’t to say that the others aren’t excellent comic-book characters as well,” Espenson continues. “They obviously are. Xander has been turning in magnificent work despite the challenge of the eye patch, which has never, not once, migrated from one eye to the other between panels. [...] And I think Warren’s work deserves special praise, as he is quite obviously the best skinless performer in comics today.”

The final story arc of Season 8, written by creator Joss Whedon himself, begins with Issue #36, in stores today.

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One Comment

Didn’t know there was a controversy about this. (Then again, most of the boards and sites I read kind of ignore the Buffy comics at this point.) But I am one of the few Riley fans in creation. I always liked him and Buffy together, and was very happy when it turned out he got his act together and got married. And I liked the one-shot because it emphasized that he still has his act together, and that his marriage is that rarest of rarities, a stable relationship in a Joss Whedon story.

Was it the best thing since sliced bread? No. Was it a good read? Yes. Better, in fact, than Jane’s previously two issues of teh Buffy comic. She finally learned pacing.

I have to disagree about Warren, though. Jane Doe gives him a run for the money in the Best Skinless Character contest. Funny how Georges Jeanty has drawn both. He must be the new skinless character go to guy.

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