Xena and Buffy are truly iconic characters. Though its now 20 years since they both first burst onto our screens they still remain popular to this day.
Both still have very active and devoted fandoms, whilst there have been more essays written about Buffy than any other tv series. Xena meanwhile at one point even had a planet named after her. It was also recently announced that Xena would be remade by NBC, which will hopefully bring a whole new generation of fans to the warrior princess.
In spite of the two characters popularity however one thing I have noticed but which never really seems to get commented on that much is the fact that in many ways Xena and Buffy are actually somewhat comparable to two previous heroes Batman and Spider-Man.
There is a definite comic book vibe to Buffy and Xena which is hardly surprising considering that the people who worked on them later went on to produce multi million dollar comic book movies such as Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi.
There were undoubtedly many comic book and non comic book influences on the Warrior Princess and the Vampire Slayer, but personally looking back on them I think you can compare them to Batman and Spider-Man more than any other individual hero and in this article I am going to explore the similarities between all 4 characters.
Xena and Batman
Xena is comparable to the caped crusader in quite a number of ways. I am certainly not saying that she is derivative of Batman in any way as a character, but when you look at her closely you can see how she is a similar character.
Xena and Batman are both heroes without any super powers. They have “many skills” but ultimately no actual powers. Despite this the two are anything but vulnerable. In fact they are almost the definition of the hero who can do everything and who has a terrifying, imposing image to their enemies.
No one ever underestimates the Batman or Xena. They’re known in both cases despite being basically a normal human for being someone that you wouldn’t want to mess with in a world of gods, monsters and super beings.
Both also have similar darker, brooding personalities too and are quite quiet, stoic heroes overall.
They also at the same time have similar foils to one another. Hercules is in many ways Superman to Xena’s Batman. He is the super powered hero who in contrast to the dark, mysterious more human hero is beloved by everyone and is a straight down the middle, completely decent guy. He also battles more supernatural, all powerful foes whilst Xena and Batman tend to fight evil human beings instead.
Xena and Hercules like Batman and Superman despite having very different methods to each other have immense respect for each other and even occasionally work together. Generally speaking however they steer clear of other.
Gabrielle meanwhile is very much a Robin to her Batman. She is young, more talky, upbeat, eager for adventure protege of Xena. She and Xena have a gay subtext like Batman and Robin, though its more pronounced in Xena and Gabrielle’s case.
Also Xena’s nemesis Callisto is essentially a female Joker. She is a twisted psychopath that derives a sick, perverse pleasure from killing people.
She is in contrast to Xena who is a very quiet, cold, dour, even humourless hero, a loud, flamboyant, giggling, over the top, crazy, hysterical, child like, grinning maniac.
Callisto is also obsessed with Xena too. Unlike other villains who merely view the hero as an irritation in their plans, Callisto’s entire existence revolves around Xena to the point where when she believes that she has made her pay she no longer cares about anything any more. It is also hinted that Callisto’s obsession with her archenemy may run so deep that she has a sick twisted, sexual obsession with her too.
Finally Callisto was also created by Xena. When she was a warlord she burned Callisto’s village to the ground. It actually was an accident as one of her men created a forest fire by mistake that spread to the village. Still it as because of her army that Callisto’s village was burned to the ground and Callisto’s family died in agony in the fire. Callisto naturally was driven completely insane by this and thus became a monster.
All of these things are of course applicable to Batman and the Joker. The Joker is a psychotic, sadistic monster that enjoys torturing and killing people and in contrast to the more reserved Batman has a cackling, man child personality. The Joker it has also been hinted by certain writers over the years has a sexual obsession with Batman. And finally the Joker was also created by Batman. Originally the Joker was just a run of the mill crook who during a robbery was knocked into a vat of chemicals which bleached his skin chalk white, dyed his hair bright green, and twisted his mouth into a hideous grin. This of course drove the crook completely insane resulting in the birth of the Joker.
Finally Xena’s other big enemy Ares is in many ways like a male Catwoman. Like Catwoman he is more of an anti hero. There are stories where he is an enemy to Xena like Catwoman, but neither of them ever go as far as the Joker or Callisto and in many stories the two are actually allies to Xena and Batman. Both Ares and Catwoman are in love with the main heroes and also regularly try and seduce them and even lure them to their side. Its obvious that Batman and Xena are in some ways in love with them too, but they ultimately never completely give in.
As you can see whilst Xena was her own character the basic template of her and many of her supporting characters is comparable to Batman.
I think that really Xena was just a reversal of Batman. In Batman you have the male hero with no powers who has a boomerang weapon that he throws with a cackling, psychotic male archenemy and a seductive female anti hero enemy that wants to lure him to her side.
In Xena you have a female hero with no powers and a boomerang weapon with a cackling psychotic female archenemy and a seductive male anti hero enemy that wants to lure her to his side.
Its a total reversal of gender roles.
Buffy and Spider-Man
Over the years Buffy has been compared to many other heroes, but surprisingly Spider-Man has never really been among them at least not that often.
The main influence on Buffy as a character according to Joss Whedon was Kitty Pryde a member of the X-Men who like Buffy Summers was an ordinary teenage girl thrust into an unbelievable situation.
Whilst I am not doubting that Kitty was a big influence on Buffy I actually think that Joss may have been unconciously inspired by Spider-Man more. Also whether he was inspired intentionally by Kitty then I think that Buffy bares more of a resemblance to Spider-Man as a hero than to Kitty.
Buffy and Spider-Man in contrast to Xena and Batman actually have super powers yet ironically they are much more vulnerable.
The image we have of Batman, and Xena even just in our heads is probably one of a big intimidating character with a fierce expression on their face literally towering over their enemies who are terrified of them.
Spider-Man and Buffy in contrast we tend to imagine as more slight heroes, whose enemies are towering over them. We also I think tend to see images of them in more vulnerable positions like Buffy curled up in a ball in the corner crying after Angel goes bad or Spider-Man wailing after any number of tragedies in his life.
That was what made both Buffy and Spider-Man stand out however from their contemporaries. In the early 60’s there were no comic book heroes like Spider-Man. He was a teenager, normally only sidekicks like Robin were teenagers. He was someone who didn’t always win. He watched the love of his life get tossed off a bridge, he got the shit kicked him of him by his enemies. And his personal life was a mess. He had girl troubles like anyone else, he struggled to pay rent and he made huge mistakes all the time.
He was a hero that people could relate to unlike the larger than life Batman and Superman. He was flawed, dealt with everyday problems and indeed many stories would feature more of a soap opera element which was unheard of back then.
Buffy similarly I feel did the same thing for female heroes. Its wrong when people act as though Buffy was the first major female hero. There are leading roles for women in 60’s productions such as The Avengers with Emma Peel. But again where Buffy was different to say Xena, Ripley or Charlie’s Angel’s as that she was the first leading female hero to deal with everyday problems, to have a strong soap opera element to her stories. Like Spider-Man she was someone who fucked up lots of times, who lost people like Jenny Calender, who even led her oldest friend Xander into a place where he got his eye torn out and yes got the absolute shit kicked out of her by some of her more powerful enemies. She was even killed by one of them on one occasion. She was someone who also despite being a superhero dealt with problems like fitting in at school, paying rent, looking after her little sister Dawn Summers, her mother being ill of a brain tumor etc.
I think that pre Buffy most female heroes were made out to be seemingly indestructable much like male heroes had been in the 50’s and 60’s. I think the reason for this was obviously because as female heroes were so much rarer any time we saw one the writers wanted to get them as far away from being a vulnerable character dependant on a man as much as they possibly could.
Its understandable of course, but ultimately much like Spidey did for male heroes I think Buffy brought a real sense of vulnerabality and indeed humanity to female heroes. Both Buffy and Spider-Man were heroes who were vulnerable yet incredibly strong at the same time. Ironically they seemed more heroic at times than the likes of Xena or Batman due to their failures as they had to cope with things we could never imagine these other heroes dealing with.
Both Buffy and Spider-Man also I feel reversed images that had previously been more negative. In Spider-Man’s case teenagers were often seen as just the sidekicks, whilst at the same Peter Parker was a total nerd, yet still a hero. Buffy meanwhile was obviously a reversal of the little blonde girl in monster movies who is killed by a monster or a villain. Ironically Sarah Michelle Gellar would go on to play two such roles in I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream 2.
Many stories in Buffy also I think are somewhat similar to old Spider-Man stories. Angel becoming Angelus is somewhat similar to Harry Osborne Peter Parker’s best friend becoming the new Green Goblin. Both see someone who has an incredibly close relationship to the hero become their greatest enemy and employ sadistic mind games against them such as Angelus murdering Jenny, her mentor Giles’s lover and then placing her corpse in his bed, or Harry making Parker believe that his parents survived their plane crash by sending two robotic duplicates of them to him.
Its so disturbing when we see Angelus laugh as Buffy breaks down after hearing that Jenny has died or when we see Harry taunt Parker after he discovers that his parents are dead after all.
At the same time I also feel that Faith Buffy’s archenemy is somewhat comparable to Venom.
Both Venom and Faith are more classical enemies to Buffy and Spider-Man. They can do anything they can, Venom can stick to walls, shoot webbing, whilst Faith is a slayer like Buffy.
However unlike most other classical archenemies like say Moriarty or The Master or even Callisto Faith and Venom don’t entirely abuse their power. Indeed they waver between not only good and evil but between being a sworn enemy and a close ally of Buffy and Spider-Man. Both Faith and Venom are people who can’t own up to their own mistakes and blame it all on Buffy and Spider-Man which is why they hate them, but eventually they both own up and end up becoming anti heroes, teaming up with their former enemies against bigger threats.
There is also a story where Spider-Man loses his powers and abilities and has to rescue his Aunt May from his enemies that have captured which is similar to an episode of Buffy called helpless where Buffy also loses her powers and has to rescue her mother from a Vampire that has captured her.
Finally the iconic episode where Buffy’s mother dies of a brain tumor is similar to an old Spider-Man comic where Aunt May dies of an illness (though this was later retconned)
Both are the type of problem we couldn’t really imagine Batman and Xena going through. Losing a loved one to a natural cause. Both are complete soap opera stories with the only supernatural/science fiction elements really being Buffy and Spider-Man themselves.
Overall I think its fair to say that if there is any real precursor to the Buffster in Marvel comics then its Spider-Man. Again this is not to say that Buffy was derivative of Spider-Man as a character, but I think that you can see definite similiarities in the characters and ultimately I think that they both serve a similar role in the impact they had on other heroes.
I think if this comparison can teach us anything its that its better to come up with original female characters. Buffy and Xena were two excellent characters who did serve a similar role to two previous male heroes. Ultimately however as they were their own characters they had their own identities.
If Xena had literally just been a female Batman, a remake of the character but with Bruce Wayne as a woman and Buffy had just similarly been a version of Spider-Man with Petra Parker then I don’t think it would have been as good.
As it was women got a chance to play those types of characters, but at the same time got characters who are now every bit as iconic as any male hero to represent them.
I think people should bare this in mind when it comes to the whole gender blind casting debate. For instance those of you who want a female Doctor Who because you think it will give women better representation what would you rather have? A new female hero like the Doctor the same way that Xena was like Batman and Buffy was like Spider-Man, but who was her own character and thus an icon in her own right? Or a feminine version of a male hero like Shirley Holmes, a female version of Sherlock Holmes from a forgotten 80’s series.
You could easily create a female character that was like the Doctor. Indeed I think such a hero would stand out the way Buffy did from Xena. She would be non sexualized, use her brains instead of violence, and be somewhat more eccentric. But again she wouldn’t actually be the Doctor. And if she were a good enough character in her own right then she would be like Xena and Buffy.
Its something to think about in the whole gender blind casting debate I think.