My Misspent Youth: Fray by Joss Whedon and Karl Moline

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

I’ll begin with the occasionally necessary caveat that I can sometimes abuse the term “youth” in this space. I was hardly a kid when Joss Whedon made his first venture into writing comic books, a form for which he clearly had plenty of affection. Indeed, it was my relative decrepitude that originally steered me clear of Whedon’s superlative television series Buffy the Vampire, believing that surely I, a distinguished fellow in his twenties, had no business watching some silly show about a high school girl doing battle with supernatural foes. Before long, I learned the error of my ways and became a hardcore convert. When the announcement came that Whedon would be venturing the Dark Horse Comics, then and now the holder of the license to produce stories of Buffy Summer and her Scooby Gang, I needed no added convincing to follow him there.

Fray, written by Whedon and drawn by Karl Moline, allowed Whedon to take a crack at sequential art storytelling in a fairly safe space. The title character, Melaka Fray, is a a rough and tumble thief operating on city streets in a distant future, centuries from now. It takes almost no time for Whedon to assert his voice on the comic book page, a situation surely enhanced by the difference between working for a broadcast network prone to shuffling endless notes to their creators and a publisher excited to have a celebrity writer newly added to their stable. Whedon’s endearing preoccupations and already well-established storytelling tricks are noticeably in play, the latter nicely represented by his easy decimation of the Mexican standoff trope:

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Vampires and other similar demons were eliminated at some time in the distant past, with a heavy implication it was the final stand of Buffy that brought about the clearing of metaphysical threats from existence. The passage of time equally cleared them from the popular lore, making it a little more tricky when an imposing figure arrives to provide Melaka with the news that she is one of the rare young women who is fated to serve as a Slayer.

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Whedon is a natural fit for comic book writing. His overall construction on individual seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer often felt to me like it was informed by years of reading Marvel Comics, with certain continuity callbacks and storytelling beats practically airlifted in from some nineteen-seventies or eighties run of one of the flagship titles of the House of Ideas. Making Fray even more satisfying, Whedon found ways to transplant his perfect comic timing and subversion of expectations to the format of colorful panels.

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There were challenges with Fray, most glaringly in meeting reasonable publishing deadlines, an issue Whedon had with every one of his dalliances with comics. The promised monthly schedule was maintained for all of three issues before the chassis started to shake. At one point, over a year passed between issues, seriously blunting the headlong rush of the limited series. Whedon’s trademark wrecking ball swings at the hearts of those consuming his story lost a little of their impact when the emotional investment invariably lagged with so much of a gap between installments (the various twists probably play great when read for the first time in a collected trade). Maybe the grouchy urgency of a network with a schedule to follow and advertisers to keep happy is good for Whedon. Or maybe the lateness doesn’t really matter, and my grouse should be dismissed as minor. What lasts isn’t the publishing dates, but the value of the story itself. To judge that, I should note that I have nearly as much nostalgic affection for Melaka Fray as I do for Buffy Summers. In the words of a different comic book writer: “Nuff ‘said.”

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Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby
What If? #6 by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg
Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe
Stig’s Inferno by Ty Templeton
Avengers #221 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Bob Hall
Fantastic Four #176 by Roy Thomas and George Pérez

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