30 July, 2009

The Chain

In one of the last episodes of Angel ("The Girl In Question") we meet Buffy's decoy. Well, meet might be a strong word, but we learn of her, even see her dancing in a club in Rome with The Immortal (though to say more would require a much longer note). Then in the Season 8 (comic book) premiere ("The Long Way Home"), Buffy herself says she has two decoys; one in Rome (the one we've met) and one "underground." And it's this girl who we meet in "The Chain" (Season 8, Issue 5). Interestingly enough, it’s the only story in which Buffy herself doesn't appear.  Like The Buffybot, the decoy looks just like her – were it a TV episode, Ms. Gellar would certainly have played her – but the character of Buffy herself never actually appears.  (But I digress.)

The story of "The Chain" is a simple one: with as prominent as Buffy has become, one of the hundreds of newly chosen Slayers is trained (and physically altered) to be her decoy; a more than regularly dangerous assignment. Accepting it, without asking for anything in return, the young girl does her duty, to more than regularly heroic achievement. And, like "The Body," the story being so simple gives it far greater impact. I won't go into the plot any further, but Mr. Whedon's story of true heroism in the face of such loneliness is, simply, astounding. (Honestly, if you're a fan of the series, even if not the comics, do yourself a favor and seek this one out.)

At the end of the issue, there's a dedication to Janie Kleinman. Not many people know who Ms. Kleinman was.  Admittedly I myself, who is one to study credits, didn't know who she was. (I even tried IMDBing her, to no avail.) But then we learned. Now we know. And rarely is a dedication more deserved.  It first leaked at Comic Con, then on Whedonesque, then Mr. Whedon himself wrote into "Slay The Critics," the letters-to-the-editor section printed at the end of each comic (in this case, "A Beautiful Sunset," Season 8, Issue 11).  “The Chain” is a great story, sure;  but, like most great ones, it’s the story behind the story that means even more.  It's one of the most moving pieces he's ever written, a story most people haven’t heard, so it's my pleasure to share it with you now.  I hope you enjoy ...

- Michael

Janie Kleinman was an executive who worked at Fox during Buffy's entire run. She worked closely with our physical production and post-production staff and was always around, often with her children in tow, wading through our various crises with gentle efficiency. I was unaware for some time that she had been diagnosed with cancer -- and given just months to live -- before my show was even up. If it wasn't for a short period when she was too sick to work, I might never have bothered to find out. She never brought up her own problems;  she was too busy solving ours.

Janie passed away just before the new year [2007] (and a good twelve years before she'd been told she would). At her memorial service I saw pretty much everyone from Buffy and Angel that she had worked with. I heard stories of her generosity and fortitude that were joyful and humbling. I thought of someone that no Buffy fan had ever heard of, who had had a great hand in making the show possible, and who had faced a horror worse than Buffy ever had.

To say that it inspired me to write a comic book sounds faintly ridiculous -- unless you care about comic books as much as I do. But I've never been so moved to write as then. That story: the girl facing blackness and thinking not of saving her own life, but of that life's worth, of the people around her that she could protect by giving it as willingly as any unnamed soldier, was inspired by Janie, and the book is an inadequate tribute to her. I hope she would have been pleased.

- Joss

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