Spike is a character ripe for exploration. Other than Buffy, Spike is the Whedonverse character that has experienced the most character changes in the show’s seven seasons. He went from rebellious evildoer to dark loner to outright hero, and in doing so, became a fan favorite. When Spike was brought back in the Buffy: Season 8 comic, the creators thought it would be an amusing idea to bring him back as the captain of a starship crewed by anthropomorphic giant bipedal bugs. Yes, at times, it was an amusing idea, but never a good one. Maybe the creators of Season 8 thought “Hey, in the show we couldn’t do spaceships! We didn’t have the budget! Now we can!” and just ran with it.
Unfortunately, the whole thing risked alienating viewers of the show who popped by to give this comic thing a chance. When fans picture Spike, they picture a grounded character, brooding over Buffy living in tombs, acting as a pal and a confidant for Dawn, or as a foil for Angel, not as the captain of Starship: Roach Motel. It was a story misstep that took the character away from his roots. Happily, Spike: A Dark Place seemed like it was designed to find a narrative reason to lose the bugs and all the silly sci-fi trappings Spike has been saddled with. It does so, effectively and concisely, but the book still runs the risk of older fans looking at Spike and the bugs and scratching their heads in confusion.
The story starts with Spike on the run from any connection with Buffy. In a good character moment, Spike decides that he doesn’t want to be Buffy’s dark, comfortable refuge, so he runs to the dark side of the moon with his bug ship. His lead bug, Sebastian, kowtows to Spike’s every command which brings him into conflict with the other bugs, particularly Frisky, a wise bug who sees Spike running as weak sauce. Yeah, interbug drama…not exactly what made most Buffy fans fall in love with the characters.
All of a sudden, a group of demonic scavengers show up looking for a magical shard. As readers of Buffy Season 8 know, magic has been wiped out, the only remaining mystic energy is contained in magical artifacts. The scavengers think Spike has the shard and attack the bugship, after a prolonged battle involving a giant alien toad (again, not something Buffy fans will particularly embrace), a succubus named Morgan shows up also looking for the shard. Soon, Buffy adversaries, the vampiric Pearl and Nash show up also seeking the shard. So, yes the book is something of a snipe hunt with the strength of the book embodied in Morgan while the book’s narrative weakness is embodied in Pearl and Nash.
Morgan is a rich character. A former concubine and advisor to kings, pharaohs, and emperors, she is looking for a potential ruler to guide in the modern age. She sees this potential in Spike, but in a great moment, Spike doesn’t see the potential in himself and rejects Morgan’s offer. Morgan needs Spike and the bugship to take her to a Hellmouth located on Easter Island in order to help her get back to her home dimension. Little does Spike know that Morgan actually possesses a shard and will use it to open the Hellmouth in order to plunge the world into chaos. She hoped to role this new demon infested world with Spike, but when he rejects her offer, her plans shatter and she becomes the book’s antagonist. The temptation Morgan provides acts as an igniter for Spike’s inner conflicts of his place in the world without Buffy. It also shows the character’s maturity because he once would have jumped at the chance.
Spike is portrayed as almost an aged rock star in this book. A man tired of his chaotic past who has grown too old to just define himself as being the coolest guy in the room. Buffy fans will love Spike’s character growth, they will just feel uncomfortable with the sci-fi trappings, something alien (pun almost intended) to the established world of the Buffyverse.
On the other hand, Pearl and Nash, former protégées of Spike, seem shoehorned into the book for the sole purpose of having Spike fight vampires. The book flashes back to Spike and Drusilla turning the duo. It is a familiar and effective sequence that is pure Spike, yet once Pearl and Nash are defeated, they never return. One supposes Gischler did it to show Spike in his dangerously immature years to contrast him to the multifaceted man he has become, but the whole thing seems forced.
By the end of the book, the ill-conceived bugs are neatly packed away, Morgan is shunned, and Spike returns to what he does best, being a brooding smartass ready to return to the pages of Buffy or Angel without his insectoid baggage. Mission accomplished.
Spike: A Dark Place is nice package of pathos and action, one in which Spike returns to the character fans are familiar with and love. What fans may not love is the tropes and monsters forced into the book from genres the characters do not naturally fit comfortably in. This is dangerous ground for a TV adaption to explore as it risks alienating the very fans the book relies on for support. Sometimes a writer tries to make the most of a bad idea. Spike: A Dark Place is a well-executed story, fraught with emotions, twists, and betrayals, but at the end of the day, it might not be the Spike story Buffy fans want.
Spike: A Dark Place.
Script: Victor Gischler
Pencils: Paul Lee
Inks: Andy Owens
Executive Producer: Joss Whedon
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