Fray graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Dark Horse Books - 1-56971-751-6
  • Release date: 2003
  • UPC: 9781569717516
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You’ll enjoy Fray as well, because it’s the same, but different. Joss Whedon established that Buffy was the latest in a lineage spanning centuries whose task it was to fight assorted monsters who’d hung around when their kin left Earth. Fast forward to one Melaka Fray, resident of the 23rd century. She’s far from the virtuous innocent that Buffy presented as, yet she is as circumstances have shaped her. Civilisation has extended upwards, and as ever the rich prefer to look down, so the ground and subterranean levels of New York are now derisively referred to as ‘The Pits’ and that’s where Melaka operates, stealing items for a local crimelord. This doesn’t sit well with her older sister, who’s a law enforcement official.

It’s a good set-up generating emotional conflict, and as the book continues we learn more about Melaka, and what she has to feel guilty about. Unlike the Slayers of centuries past she’s experienced no inner calling leading her to destiny despite a proactive vampire sect developing, so when approached and told she has a duty she’s initially dismissive. Yet there are signs, not least an incredible recovery time from injuries that would to others be fatal.

Karl Moline was under instruction that Melaka was to be as human as possible, not the standard inflated babe so common to science fiction, and puts a lot of work into developing a viable city for her to operate in. That it’s the lowest strata of society enables some 21st century locations, but these are well supplemented. We see the present day peak of New York’s distinctive Chrysler Tower as now not only dwarfed, but the foundation for a far taller building connected to the spire, and the crimelord who employs Melaka is a form of aquatic being with their own environment. They address Melaka from beneath a glass ceiling, itself a comment. As a testament to Moline’s skilful design take a look at the cover and the way Melaka’s customised weapon at first appears to be a guitar. It may be Moline, but the person who designed Fray’s logo also deserves a mention. Their design is such that every letter could be seen as a bladed weapon used by a Slayer.

With the best will in the world, not all of Whedon’s later Buffy graphic novels were successful, primarily because he left too much to others. If you want a spiritual as well as literal successor to Buffy, it’s Fray. Whedon throws in the surprises and twists that characterised his best TV work, and Melaka may be an altogether different character, but Whedon ensures she’s someone we can root for. There’s a movie style predictability to the overall plot, but surely we wouldn’t want it any other way, and Whedon saves one good shock for the end. Nice.