'Willow' #1: The DoomRocket Review
Cover to ‘Willow’ #1. Art: Jen Bartel/BOOM! Studios

by Kate Kowalski. We are living in a post-author era. Amidst Twitter battles and heartache, many of us are trying to reconcile love for a certain magical coming-of-age book series with divisive and intolerant sentiment from its author. And it’s not easy—it’s not going to be easy figuring out the permeable boundaries of an author’s values and a story’s morals. But it’s also exciting to acknowledge how stories and characters can continue to grow and develop past their original creators and take on lives of their own. Or be passed into new hands. 

Willow is a beautiful example of this. Everyone’s favorite Jewish lesbian witch, Ms. Willow Rosenberg, is still that nerdy badass we loved right away watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer growing up. This Willow is a teen in 2020—she rocks combat boots and she most definitely listens to King Princess. This contemporary update carried out by a skilled all-female team makes Willow a must-read for anyone who’s had a brush with Buffy. 

The TV show is, of course, a cornerstone of feminist media, especially queer feminist media. It was, after all, one of the first shows to feature main characters in a long term lesbian relationship and the first show to air a lesbian sex scene on network television. Willow not only soars past these lofty expectations, it dunks on them. 

I am forever grateful for the original creation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but amidst recent (and not-so-recent) allegations and disappointments of its creator, I find it not only relieving but empowering that these characters get to live on and grow in the hands of other writers and artists. That’s the beauty of the post-author era and the power of comics. Through comics, Buffy’s iconic characters have not only become transcendent of time, but transcendent of the inevitable fallibility of man. It’s insanely refreshing to have the narrative of a feminist queer nerd now being crafted by a self-proclaimed feminist “nerdy queer.” 

Mariko Tamaki is a proven weaver of queer coming-of-age stories and her own identity lends authenticity and depth to Willow’s inner thoughts. Through the running internal monologue—witty but true to Willow’s relatable awkwardness and studded with some heart-wrenching moments—we get to fully inhabit her psyche. Willow gives the brains of the Scooby Gang some space to breathe and steer her own destiny. 

We find Willow running away from the traumatic events of BOOM! Studios Hellmouth event, first to Britain, then to wherever the wind (and her bus pass) takes her. Which happens to be a strangely named and seemingly femme-only populated town in the middle of nowhere. Immediately we know Willow has run headfirst into another occult setting, although whether it’s as dangerous and devious as the Hellmouth itself remains to be seen. Another test, another trial for our wearied witch. 

Natacha Bustos captures Willow as the heart and soul of the story, at once the storyteller and subject, looming large in spacious panels and across double page spreads. There’s a frame-worthy splash page early on that serves as a gorgeous tapestry of exposition set against a massively heartbreaking silhouette. (Seriously, I might frame this page.) Eleonora Bruni’s color palette is vivid and her use of color coding is spectacular. Willow’s scheme is primarily green and purple—sapphic and pagan colors. These colors bleed into the world around her as she wanders through an indigo-shaded green forest or floats upon lavender tendrils of magic. A mystical moment at the end lifts Jodi Wynne’s expressive letters off the page and floats them across panels. The art of this comic is as spellbinding as its subject matter. 

Willow is not only a love letter to an influential character, but a powerful reimagining of an icon to women and girls across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Representation through characters is important, but representation in the realm of creatorship and art is vital. Willow Rosenberg has been placed in more than capable hands. (I like to think Willow herself would be pretty psyched about the team telling her story.) The ownership and future of everything Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t fixed—it’s fluid and dynamic. This is definitely a magical moment for fans.

BOOM! Studios / $3.99

Written by Mariko Tamaki.

Art by Natacha Bustos.

Colors by Eleonora Bruni.

Letters by Jodi Wynne.

9 out of 10

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Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Willow’ #1, courtesy of BOOM! Studios!

Cover A by Jen Bartel.
Cover B by Mirka Andolfo.
Cover C by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell.