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"Fray" Comic Book - Popmatters.com Review

Monday 11 April 2011, by Webmaster

Joss Whedon. A slayer. A scythe. A watcher. Witty dialogue. Some vampires. A prophecy.

Sounds familiar, huh?

How about we throw flying cars, mutants, and a whole bunch of the future into the mix? Suddenly, things seem a bit different. This is the world that Melaka Fray, our eponymous slayer, lives in. As similar as the basics of her life are to Buffy’s, the fact that her story is set hundreds of years in the future isn’t what makes Fray original; Mel is very much her own person, and this is very much her own story.

And damn it’s good.

Fray begins somewhat similarly to the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie—mysterious guy tells girl she’s the Slayer, girl doesn’t believe it, girl has experiences to make her believe it, girl and mysterious guy train as the major conflict brews—but in execution it’s startlingly different. Melaka Fray is at once more of a hardass and more of a softie than Buffy Summers. She is an unrepentant thief. She’s been “grabbing” since she was a young girl, and now she works for a mutant named Gunther who has more in common with aquatic life than humans. He lives in a tank, it’s a thing. He is connected to everyone in the city, and he doesn’t judge anyone harshly, which means he’ll work with pretty much anyone. Unfortunately, this leads to Mel—unbeknownst to her—grabbing magical artifacts for a gang of vampires that doesn’t have the best interest of the world at heart.

The world of Fray, like that of any Joss Whedon work, is populated by fascinating supporting characters. There’s Gunther, the aforementioned mutant crime boss. There’s Loo, a five-year-old “rocketmouth” girl who is missing one arm and has one dead eye; of course, she is endlessly adorable and functions as the heart of the story. Then, there is Erin; Mel’s older sister is working with the “laws” and she has just been promoted to sergeant, which in Mel’s eyes has elevated her to an “upper,” a term that refers to the upper class. This causes tension between the sisters, though most of their issues stem from the death of their brother, Harth. Erin believes it was Mel’s fault, but we’ll get to that later.

Urkonn is Mel’s “Watcher” of sorts, though he would protest to the label. The Watchers Council, in Mel’s time, is full of lunatics. Urkonn, a horned demon who trains Mel, explains that the world was once full of magic and demons, but a slayer—heavy implications that it’s a certain girl who wears stylish yet affordable boots—fought a battle that banished all magic from this Earthly dimension. The Watchers went crazy, obsessively waiting for the demons to come back, which they did, in the form of vampires. Urkonn, however, is surprised to discover that the mass public doesn’t see vampires as the monsters they truly are. They believe them to be mutants hopped up on steroids; they refer to them as “lurks.” Urkonn explains to Mel that she’s the Slayer and that it is her destiny to fight and kill lurks, but Mel doesn’t believe him. When he asks her how she explains her strength, she shrugs it off, saying, “What. I’m good at stuff” (Fray #2). He counters, asking her about her inherited slayer dreams. Urkonn says, “In your dreams, you’re someone else. A slave. A princess. A girl in a sunlit school. In every dream you have great power. In every dream you fight them. The ones you call lurks,” ( Fray #2) to which Mel replies, “That’s amazing. I have no idea what you’re talking about” (Fray #2). She is the first slayer who hasn’t received the dreams, and that’s because they’re going to someone else.


“But wait,” you say. Trust me, I heard you. “But wait. Harth is Mel’s dead brother, right?” Right. And death in the Buffyverse is totally the end, yeah? No. Harth was killed by a vampire when Mel took him out on a “grab,” despite Erin’s protests. The vampire, Icarus, was a leader, one of the most badass vamps in all of Haddyn. However, when he sank his fangs into Harth’s neck, he set events into motion that would change the lives of all of the characters in Fray.

As Harth felt himself dying, he knew with sudden clarity that he needed to bite Icarus. And he did so, ingesting a chunk of undead flesh, becoming a vampire. A very special vampire, though. He was Mel’s twin and, in a twist of fate, the visions of the slayer that Mel was supposed to receive went, instead, to him. Harth was connected to both slayer and vampire, which allowed him to transcend the limitations of both. He became the leader of Icarus and his gang and began a quest to bring magic back to Earth; he wanted to bring the world back to the Hellish state that it was in when the Old Ones reigned terror. He’s powerful, creepy, and—because he’s a Joss Whedon character—super sarcastic. Big Bad material for sure.

Also, he’s a bit in love/lust/incest with Mel.

Thing about Fray, though, is that nothing is as it seems. Harth is bad, for sure, but everyone in this story is hiding something. As the fight against vampires that Urkonn wants Mel to wage grows into a war to save the world, the mysterious folk of Haddyn begin to show their cards. Plans and insecurities are revealed and, as the story progresses, Mel grows stronger. When she finally faces off with Icarus, the last obstacle before Harth, she says, “My hand. It doesn’t shake at all” (Fray #6).

Like all of Joss Whedon’s best works, Fray is witty, funny, devastating, action-packed, and poignant as all hell. Whedon plays with language in this book in a way that is strikingly similar what he did with Firefly and Serenity; over the years, language has evolved (or fallen apart, depending on how you look at it). Joss Whedon’s fascination with the world of Fray, how the Buffyverse has changed and not changed over time, is apparent in every panel of this comic. Karl Moline’s art perfectly matches Whedon’s writing; the action is fluid, the characters superbly designed, and the emotion jumps off the page even more so than the excellent fight scenes. The main eight issues of Fray are collected in a trade paperback packed with extras, but the character also appears in a short story at the end of the Tales of the Slayers graphic novel. She is also featured in a crossover event in the “Time of Your Life” arc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight. Not only has her story changed the larger Buffyverse, giving the main Buffy the Vampire Slayer title a future to build up to, Fray stands perfectly on its own as a tale of a rebellious woman getting over her fears, putting the past behind her, and finding purpose in her life.