NICIEZA, Fabian. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A Stake to the Heart. 96p. DARK HORSE COMICS, April 2004. ISBN: 1-59307-012-8
Before we even get started with this Buffy collection, let me just say... it's weird. I re-read all of the trades featured in my Vintage posts so I can compare what it was like reading it then compared to what it's like reading it now. I remember that A Stake to the Heart was a bizarre collection of stories. Reading it over just kinda confirmed that for me. To give you some background: this is from the pre-Season 8 run of the Buffy comics and was actually the final four issues of the regular ongoing Buffy monthly series (issues #60-64). It's totally on wikipedia, which is how I got the issue numbers right. Fabian Nicieza, who is known more for being an X-Men writer, penned this tale. As with a bunch of the storyarcs set at the end of Buffy's run, this story actually serves as a prequel for the time before Buffy Summers moved to Sunnydale. Specifically, Buffy's parents Hank and Joyce have just decided to separate. This gives Buffy all kinds of gross emotional problems, which lead us to the story at hand.
To be consistent with his pre-Buffy established character, Angel is a creepo perv who is watching Buffy outside of her house. He sees her in pain over the situation with her parents, the loss of her Watcher, and her turmoil at being called as The Slayer. I'm sure I'm leaving something else Buffy was bitching about, but maybe it'll come to me later. Anyway, Whistler is with Angel in this story for no apparent reason. So, he might as well serve as the voice of reason (...see what I did there?). Angel decides he's going to take Buffy's pain away. Even though Whistler thinks it's a bad idea, he still tells Angel about a black magic spell that can draw bad emotions away from someone and put them in somebody else. In a nice nod to Angel, he actually has to go to Wolfram & Hart to get one of the ingredients. I think he's supposed to actually be talking to Lilah Morgan, but she isn't named and it doesn't really look like her. Wolfram & Hart probably shouldn't even be in the story, but I still find it kind of fun.
So Angel does the spell. This doesn't make a lot of sense, since negative emotions would probably make him go evil, but Whistler has a stake on hand in case that happens. Angel does the spell... and nothing happens. To him, anyway. Turns out, he is successful in drawing the spirits out (they are referred to both as the Malignancy Spirits and Malignancy Demons, so to be confusing I'll refer to them as both, too). They are just somehow given form just outside reality. Sort of whispering in Buffy's ear if you like. The demons are, in order of appearance, DECEIT, GUILT, ABANDONMENT, and TREPIDATION. I couldn't do justice in words to the design of these spirits, but they look pretty terrifying. Buffy does finally physically interact with the last two, actually "slaying" them (like she does). Mostly they are her horrible feelings given form, relaying her own internal monologue back to her as evil taunts of evil.
Buffy had hit a creative steak in these prequels. Fabian Nicieza started writing the book just after Scott Lobdell (another X-Men writer I like). Both of them were telling compelling Buffy stories, even if they weren't entirely accurate. Angel reverses his spell after the third demon attacks Buffy, yet she is still confronted by a fourth. That sort of makes no sense, but it doesn't really need to. The visual elements in this tale, especially the covers and character design by Brian Horton, are really what make this story pop. You really couldn't have a story like this in the show proper since it's all very metaphorical and ethereal at the same time. Other than the random story problems, I also felt like too many characters were included. I like all the panels with Giles moving to Sunnydale, but you don't need Willow, Jessie, Xander, and Cordelia in the background (Harmony did appear in one panel, and I do need her). Whistler's involvement was also a little forced, but not all that important.
All in all, this is a great Buffy story. The copy I'm reviewing is, like many Vintage titles, long out-of-print. But I have good news! You can steal read the collection in the 2nd volume Buffy Omnibus. The trade paperback that I have includes a fun art editorial piece by Buffy editor Scott Allie, who describes Nicieza and Horton's collaboration on the demon designs, so that's the only thing really unique to this volume. So you can't read that. Go cry yourself to sleep... just like emotionally damaged Buffy did.