- “Official Cannon is so complicated. So many people with so many opinions!”
- ―Puppet Fred[src]
Canon describes works that are considered more important or more “real” than others, i.e. “official” works, in terms of works of fiction or fictional universes. While the canonical status of non-television works set in the Buffyverse isn’t always clear, the fictional universe’s creator, Joss Whedon, has defined others as definitely canon.
Using the religious analogy of a canon of scripture (see Biblical canon), things that are not canon are considered “apocryphal”. When a body of work is not specifically accepted or rejected by an authority, “canon” can be a fluid term that is interpreted differently by different people. This is the case with “Buffyverse canon”, which has yet to be publicly defined by an authority to the satisfaction and consensus of all observers. Joss Whedon has implied that additional materials he was not heavily involved in creating are separate from canon. When asked in 2007 about canon, Whedon stated:
- “Canon is key, as is continuity. If you are massive nerd. Which I am. I believe there’s a demarcation between the creation and ancillary creations by different people. I’m all for that stuff, just like fanfic, but I like to know what’s there’s an absolutely official story-so-far, especially when something changes mediums, which my stuff seems to do a lot.”
Whedon elaborated on his opinions in 2006, revealing that he considered TV tie-in comics to be “ancillary” unless written by the script-writers:
- TVGuide.com: “Have you seen the Battlestar Galactica comic?”
- Whedon: “No, I don’t think I can do it. I love Battlestar too hard. I couldn’t look at any ancillary work.”
- TVGuide.com: “I love Buffy ‘hard’, so are you saying we fans shouldn’t read [Season Eight]?”
- Whedon: “No, because if they stopped doing Battlestar Galactica, and then two or three years later Ron Moore and David Eick said, ‘We ourselves are going to continue the story in comic-book form — as opposed to something ancillary to the show done by other people,’ then I would be all over it. People used to say, ‘Will you make a Buffy movie like The X-Files did?’ I was like never, because while the show is going on, the show is my only priority. That’s not to say the Battlestar comic isn’t great, but I love that show the way other people love Buffy. I love it unreasonably. [Laughs] It feels wrong.”
The Season Eight and selected other comics are distinguished from normal ancillary material by the fact that the Buffyverse’s creator was directly involved in their plotting and production.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel
"The Origin" was a three-part comic series written by Christopher Golden and Dan Brereton which details Buffy Summers’ calling as the Slayer before she came to Sunnydale. Based on the non-canon film, it brings the story more into line with the continuity of the television series; for example, Buffy burns down her high school gym, an act mentioned in the show which never occurred in the movie. Joss Whedon affirms the story’s place in continuity though not without some reservation:
- “The origin comic, though I have issues with it, CAN pretty much be accepted as canonical. They did a cool job of combining the movie script (the SCRIPT) with the series, that was nice, and using the series Merrick.”
Fray is an eight-part comic series written by Joss Whedon himself. The story is about a Slayer of the future named Melaka Fray and her discovery of what being a Slayer means. Fray is the first appearance of the weapon Mʔ and mention of the Shadowmen, significant elements which later appeared in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season seven.
The canonical Buffy the Vampire Slayer seasons Eight and Twelve significantly featured Fray and her universe as well.
The comic book anthologies "Tales of the Slayers" (a separate entity from the prose series Tales of the Slayer) and "Tales of the Vampires" are largely accepted as canon. They were largely written by writers of the Buffy and Angel television shows, such as Joss Whedon himself, Ben Edlund, Jane Espenson, David Fury, Drew Goddard, Douglas Petrie, and Rebecca Rand Kirshner, as well as actress Amber Benson and assistant Brett Matthews.
Stories from the Tales meta-series have been referenced in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight; "Wolves at the Gate" is partly a sequel to Antique which sees Xander and Dracula reunited, while Fray and "Time of Your Life" uses characters and locations introduced in the story Tales. The one-shot The Thrill and short stories short story Carpe Noctem, Part One and Part Two are from the Tales meta-series tying into the larger Season Eight storyline. Ultimately, scenes from Righteous and The Glittering World were included in comic issue Finale.
As noted above, the anthology series Tales of the Slayer is unrelated to these comics, and do not share their canonicity.
Season Eight and sequels
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight is the official continuation of the television series, plotted and co-written by Joss Whedon. In 2005, Whedon announced the series as canon:
- “Speaking of Darkhorse Comics, they are starting a new Buffy comic, and as I understand it, it will take place after the end of Buffy and Angel and be canon in the Buffy world. And I understand it that way ‘cause I’M WRITING IT.”
Whedon reaffirmed his intention:
- “We could do something and for once we could make it canon. We could make it officially what happened after the end of the show.”
Sequels and spin-offs to Season Eight — Season Nine, Season Ten, Season Eleven, and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Twelve" —, are all considered canon, having been plotted and partially written by Joss Whedon along a hand-picked team. Comic writer Christos Gage has detailed this process in relation to Season Ten:
- “As for the direction of the book, before each ‘season’, we have a day-long writer’s summit, which includes the writers of the comics, the editors, Joss [Whedon] himself, and usually some other Buffy-related folks, like Jane Espenson, Drew Greenberg, and, for Season 10, Nicholas Brendon. That’s where we work out the ‘spine’ of the season’s story… sort of the broad-strokes outline. It’s very much like a TV writer’s room, with Joss as the showrunner. Following that, I’ll do a more detailed season outline, and then a still more detailed one for each arc (like, a paragraph or two for each issue) before I start writing it. All the outlines and scripts are sent to Joss, but of course he’s a busy guy and isn’t necessarily able to weigh in on everything, which is why it’s important to have the summits and get the big stuff worked [out] ahead of time. He does weigh in on things, though, like when we wanted to have Andrew finally figure out that he’s gay. Jane and Drew were incredibly helpful with that arc as well.”
The graphic novel "Spike: Into the Light" was written by James Marsters, based upon an idea he had thought of long ago. The story was approved by Joss Whedon, although he didn't contribute anything to the script. Though the graphic novel isn't labelled as part of the Season Eight comic banner or any of its sequels, the former's storyline is referenced and sees a followup in three issues of the Season Ten series (mainly through the appearance of the character Dylan Turner), thus effectively making the events of the graphic novel canon by default.
After the Fall
Like Season Eight, After the Fall is the official continuation of Angel, and narrates the aftermath of the events shown in "Not Fade Away". Joss Whedon was involved in plotting the series, while Brian Lynch wrote the scripts. In 2007, while discussing Buffy Season Eight, Joss Whedon revealed his plans for a similar Angel continuation:
- “In fact, I am talking to Brian Lynch who wrote 'Spike: Asylum' about doing a sort of Season Six of Angel — a canon, post-Angel story. I was really impressed with Asylum. Brian really got the humor and the rhythms and told a story really well. I thought, ‘If they can do this, why shouldn’t they?’”
Brian Lynch also confirmed the canonicity of the series, stating:
- “Yes, it certainly is [canon]. Everything that happens in these pages officially happens to these characters. It’s pretty exciting and kind of daunting.”
Notably, the events of the fall of Los Angeles, usually avoided in stories published by Dark Horse Comics, were briefly mentioned during Angel & Faith comic series directly tying it to the events from Season Eight, another strong indication of its canonicity.
Issue 23 of IDW Publishing’s ongoing Angel title acts as an epilogue to After the Fall and was also written by Lynch.
The four-issue spin-off "Spike: After the Fall" is usually accepted as canon since it falls under the After the Fall title and was written by Lynch. However, Joss Whedon is not credited for these issues as in Angel. Nevertheless, "Spike" is closely interlinked with the events in the Angel title, and later issues of Angel: AtF reference characters who appear in it. Discussing Whedon’s role in plotting "Spike: After the Fall", Brian Lynch stated:
- “The series is information and stories that were going to be inferred/referenced/glimpsed at in ANGEL: AFTER THE FALL. Spike’s situation in that was one Joss and I discussed, now I’m fleshing it out and adding new wrinkles to it.I was adamant that we get Joss’ blessing on telling Spike’s story or else I wasn’t going to do it. He was for it, I attempted a script, at any point ready to stop if it felt like filler or lazy or unnecessary. I wasn’t for doing a spin-off, but a few pages in it was apparent this was going to work beyond any Spike story we’ve told.”
Lynch also addressed the question of whether "Spike: After the Fall" was canon:
- “SPIKE:ATF tells a story that was going to be talked about and seen in the very canon ANGEL:ATF but instead builds on it and fleshes it out, that’s pretty much canon.”
In turn, Brian Lynch’s ongoing Spike series is considered canon due to Joss Whedon’s involvement and the fact that it ties into the "Twilight" and "Last Gleaming" story arcs of Season Eight. Brian Lynch stated on a fan forum:
- “Yes, it’s canon, yes, it matters, and yes, it’s the best SPIKE story I’ve told.”
IDW writer and editor Mariah Huehner reiterated this:
- “Brian’s [Spike] series will be ‘canon’ and lead up to his bug ship story in Season 8. And that’s not all. So, fans needn’t worry. They’re going to get 8 amazing issues of Spike that’ll show him as the hero he is.”
The "Spike: Asylum" miniseries is a particular case, in which its canonical became accepted as its relevancy grew in following works. It was Brian Lynch’s writing on the comic "Asylum" that convinced Joss Whedon that he would the best writer to script Angel: After the Fall. One of Lynch’s original characters from "Asylum" and "Spike: Shadow Puppets", Betta George, was reintroduced in After the Fall as an important supporting character. In an interview published in After the Fall, Part One, Brian Lynch described that Joss Whedon was a fan of the character from "Asylum", and encouraged Lynch to use him in After the Fall. Other concepts from Lynch’s stories are used in After the Fall, including Beck and the Mosaic Wellness Center, and both George and Spike vaguely reference events from those stories. As such, by definition, these references in canon material of both characters and events from the miniseries make this publication canon.
The status of the works listed below is for some reason still disputed. The list tries to be as comprehensive as possible. Some may titles may only be considered canon or non-canon by a minority of fans, but these titles are still included as proof for their status is lacking.
History of the Slayer
History of the Slayer is the unofficial title of a series of promotional clips produced by The WB for Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Aired either in the weeks or just prior to the series’ debut, they introduced the Slayer mythology narrating certain activities of various Slayers in the United States. Though these stories do not contradict official continuity, they have not been referenced in any confirmed canonical material.
Dark Horse Classic
The comic series Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Classic original series, as well as their spin-offs, are generally considered non-canon for never been referenced outside themselves. Although, some titles have an ambiguous canonicity due to an exceptional contribution from original members from the television series, either writers or actors; but their canonicity is once again debatable as they were written without input from the larger group of authors responsible for the series. These titles are:
- "Long Night's Journey" — by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews
- Spike and Dru: Paint the Town Red — co-written by James Marsters
- Reunion — by Jane Espenson
- "Ring of Fire" — by Douglas Petrie
- "Haunted" — by Jane Espenson
- Broken Bottle of Djinn — by Jane Espenson and Douglas Petrie
- Dames — by Brett Matthews
- Jonathan: Codename: Comrades — by Jane Espenson
- WannaBlessedBe — co-written Amber Benson
- Wilderness, Part One — co-written by Amber Benson
- Wilderness, Part Two — co-written by Amber Benson
Notably, about Angel miniseries "Long Night's Journey", comic editor Scott Allie have described:
- “Joss had an idea for how he wanted Angel to exist as a comic, different from the comic we’d done previously, and so he co-wrote that one with Brett Matthews. Quite frankly, I don’t know whether or not to call it canonical. We didn’t really have that conversation at the time, and we haven’t looked back at it too much. I would guess it’s canon, but only in the same way you’re guessing.”
Tales of the Slayer
A similar problem of author’s influence in canonicity appears in Tales of the Slayer prose anthologies. The series collects stories from various authors, such as Buffy novelists Christopher Golden, Nancy Holder, and Yvonne Navarro, whose work is often ancillary and largely considered non-canon. Although, these books also feature Jane Espenson, Rebecca Rand Kirshner, and Scott Allie, who had crucial roles in the canonical Buffy TV series, Tales comics, as well as Season Eight and Nine. Also, while theses stories do not contradict the established continuity, they have never been referenced in any other material.
Works by Brian Lynch
Between "Spike: Asylum" and After the Fall, Lynch wrote another title "Spike: Shadow Puppets", which included many in-jokes about canon. These included Spike being injured by Smile Time’s “Official Cannon”, a literal cannon. Although, their exact timing and canonicity remain ambiguous, as the events from the miniseries were never referenced in following canon material.
- “Seriously, I’m still feeling puppety. I can’t go canon as a puppet. The internet is complaining about me as it is.”
- ―Betta George breaks the fourth wall in "Shadow Puppets" to comment on his own canonical status.[src]
Following the "Aftermath" arc, Brian Lynch returned to the main Angel series for four story arcs: Become What You Are, Drusilla, Part One and Part Two, Boys and Their Toys, Part One and Part Two, and Last Angel in Hell. Boys and Their Toys included yet another canon in-joke, with a science fiction fan worrying over whether a comic book prequel to the in-universe film Last Angel in Hell was canon or not:
- “There is a four-issue prequel comic book series coming out before the movie is released. Are we to believe this shall be considered canon or is it a fan-fiction toss-off? I’ve lost much sleep over this.”
- ―San Diego Sci-Fi Festival attendee[src]
After leaving the Angel series, Brian wrote the Spike ongoing series, which is more explicitly canon due to Joss Whedon’s involvement. However, Lynch has stated that he personally does not put much stock in the concept of canon, and is more concerned with telling a good story:
- “To tell you the truth, I don’t [understand the concern over canon]. Even when I wasn’t writing the characters, it didn’t occur to me to think of whether or not things were canon. I understand now why people care, but I just love a good story. For instance, STAR WARS eps 1–3? Lucas says they happened, I pretend they didn’t.”
Angel IDW series
Following the After the Fall storyline, IDW continued the Angel title as an ongoing series, starting with "Aftermath". However, Joss Whedon was no longer directly involved in plotting the storyline. "Aftermath" writer Kelley Armstrong stated:
- “I’d love to say my arc is co-plotted [by Whedon], because then I’d be able to share the blame if fans hate it. But, no, it’s all mine. Sadly.”
Armstrong had elaborated on the canonical status of "Aftermath" in 2008:
- “I leave it up to the reader. Yes, "Aftermath" is intended to be canon in the sense that it ‘counts’ — it continues the main storyline of the series. But if a reader feels that anything not written by Joss Whedon isn’t canon, I can understand that. Or if they really didn’t like my story and decide to wipe it from memory, I’d be okay with that, too (well, okay with the ‘it’s not canon’ part… not so much with the ‘it sucked’ part!) With a universe that so many writers add to, I think it comes down to the fans to decide, for themselves, what they consider canon.”
Following a brief return by Brian Lynch, writer Bill Willingham took over the Angel title. After Twilight was unmasked as Angel in Season Eight, Willingham reiterated Whedon’s lack of involvement in the series. He responded to Dark Horse’s claims that they were coordinating the series with IDW’s Angel titles:
- “I am not coordinating, nor have I ever coordinated stories with Scott Allie, Joss Whedon, nor anyone else at Dark Horse Comics.”
However, after it was announced that the Angel franchise was returning to Dark Horse comics, IDW commented on their website:
- “Under the direction of BUFFY and ANGEL creator Joss Whedon, all parties are working together for as seamless a transition as possible. The companies have been coordinating storylines in both Dark Horse’s BUFFY and IDW’s ANGEL, creating a greater sense of cohesion and cooperation to ensure that this transition is true to both ongoing storylines and to the faithful fans of both series.”
As it stands, IDW’s Angel comics following After the Fall fit into the Buffyverse continuity. However, their actual canonical status is open to interpretation. These titles are:
- "Barbary Coast"
- "Blood & Trenches"
- Angel vs. Frankenstein
- Angel vs. Frankenstein II
- "Spike vs. Dracula"
- "Fallen Angel: Reborn"
- Angel #18–22 and #28–44
- "Only Human"
- "Illyria: Haunted"
- "Lorne: The Music of the Spheres"
- "Spike: The Devil You Know"
Dark Horse’s canonical Angel & Faith and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine comics have attempted to sidestep the issue of IDW canonicity by neither explicitly referencing nor contradicting the events of its series, even when Angel characters such as Connor, Charles Gunn, and Illyria feature. The backstories presented for these characters are, however, consistent with events of IDW’s Angel series and its spin-offs.
"Buffy: The High School Years"
The graphic novel miniseries "Buffy: The High School Years" includes creator Joss Whedon as executive produces, as he’s been credited since Season Eight. Although, his involvement with these stories is minimal, with no contact from him for the plotting nor writing. While these graphic novels do make an effort to no contradict the established canon, as they take place in the first season of the television series, their stories do not contribute to the canon, as it’s not referenced in any following material.
According to Joss Whedon’s above definition, “ancillary” materials are not part of the Buffyverse canon, despite being published under its license. This would include the majority of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel comic books, novels, and video games. By “ancillary”, Whedon means that he was not directly involved in the creation of the story. In 2005, he discussed how involved he was in ancillary material:
- “Not very much. I just don’t have time. I give them a few guidelines of things they should stay away from, things that we’re going to be dealing with or things that would disrupt the canon or things that are just antithetical to what I believe in.”
Occasionally, Whedon has intervened when ancillary material clashes with his plans or opinions. For example, Christopher Golden’s plans for the character Pike in the novel "Sins of the Father" were changed because Whedon objected to Pike’s portrayal as a proactive demon hunter. Several stories have also been cancelled because they were too similar to Whedon’s plans for the television series, including a story in which Oz is attracted to a female werewolf; this concept eventually became the canonical episode "Wild at Heart". Christopher Golden has stated:
- “Oh yeah, well [Joss Whedon] has to approve everything. I should say, his office has to approve everything, so sometimes he gets more involved than others in doing those approvals.”
Often, ancillary material ignores or contradicts canonical stories. For example, the novel "Spike and Dru: Pretty Maids All in a Row" introduces Sophie Carstensen as the second of the two Slayer Spike has killed in his lifetime. However, this is contradicted by the episode "Fool for Love", which has established Xin Rong and Nikki Wood as the only Slayers he had ever killed.
In an interview about the comic book miniseries "The Curse", Jeff Mariotte discussed the possibility that his story would be contradicted by canon:
- “The rule in licensed fiction is that what’s on the screen is canon, and the rest is not. I’ve done a lot of original licensed fiction — Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Star Trek, Andromeda, and more — and am used to that rule, and fine with it. Sometimes stuff shows up on screen that contradicts what you wrote, and sometimes the timing is such that a book comes out after the episode that contradicts it airs, causing fans who don’t under stand the schedule of publishing to think you don’t actually watch the show. That bothers me, because I watch every show I write in, but I’ve also been on the other side of the fence, doing the licensing. I know how it all works and I have agreed to live with those rules. So if the movies get made, great — then I get to see how Joss would have continued the story, and maybe they’ll help the comics sell better. If not, then what I’ve done, non-canonical as it may be, will be the closest thing there is to canon, and that’s cool too.”
Discussing how he tried to avoid contradicting Season Eight in his novel "Dark Congress", Christopher Golden stated:
- “[T]he novels have always had their own continuity which is not the same as, but is parallel to and as similar as possible to the official continuity.”
There are some works that have been explicitly confirmed as non-canon.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer film was directly contradicted by the television series, and its events superseded by "The Origin" in the Buffyverse continuity. Some key elements from the movie are directly contradicted in the television series; in "Welcome to the Hellmouth", it’s already established that Buffy is a sophomore, she had burned down the school gym, vampires’ are unable to fly, and Watchers aren’t reincarnating beings with mystical responsibilities.
Unreleased material are also considered non-canon by default. This includes both Buffy unaired pilot, superseded by "Welcome to the Hellmouth", and the Angel pitch tape, which breaks the fourth wall. The few known undeveloped productions, while planned to be official or even canon works, fall under the non-canon umbrella for being canceled in any stage of production, and therefore improper for actual classification.
The novel "Cursed" was an exceptional case, published with its “historian’s note” describing it as intentionally non-canon: “This story takes place in an alternate continuity during Buffy’s fifth and Angel’s third seasons.” Although, differently from an alternate canon classification, it still follows a sense of continuity from the source material up to that point.
In 2018, two new homonym comic book series were announced as part of Buffy the Vampire Slayer license. Identified as “reboots”, “reimagining”, or “revamps”, they created separated origin stories, differing even from the TV show with new characters, settings, and mythology. Differently from the “alternate continuity” above, they represent a particular case in which the canonicity is not only diverging from the source material, but they develop a new Buffyverse and therefore with its own internal canonicity. They are:
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers;
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, published by Boom! Studios.