If there's one thing Joss Whedon knows how to write, it's kick-ass leading ladies. (Luckily for us, his talents don't stop there.) Whedon's femme fatales are always snarky, devastatingly beautiful, and usually teen-aged, or not far beyond. From Dollhouse's Echo to Serenity/Firefly's River, to Buffy, the girl who started it all--Joss Whedon has created some of the most formidable female fighters on film and television. While each of these heroines has made a significant contribution to the Joss Whedon canon, none has made more of an impact than Whedon's hit series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Based on Whedon's 1992 film of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer created an iconic warrior who still measures up today as one of the most badass crime-fighting teenagers on television.
Call me biased and nostalgic, but I love the 90s. I love the clothes, the music, and those bitchin' catchprases. So the fact that the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the majority of the show take place in the 90s makes them all the better for me. In the film, Buffy (played by Kristy Swanson) is a beautiful girl who's the queen of her school and seems to have all that she desires. So a mysterious man telling her she has a destiny that is drenched in blood isn't exactly on her wish-list. But after a short while, she realizes her full potential and embraces the life of teenage vampire slayer. Instead of the material life that most teenagers seek, Buffy lives a brutal existence which is based on instinct and skill and ends up being much more rewarding.
As the television show's titular character, Sarah Michelle Gellar makes the perfect badass teenager. She's sassy and sexy, but with enough class to earn the respect of whomever she meets. Yet Buffy is still easy to relate to: she never has time to do her homework and her mom is always up in her grill about where she keeps sneaking off to. The only difference between Buffy Summers and our teenage selves is that she was sneaking off to keep the forces of evil at bay while the rest of us were doing....not so productive things. Even her love life draws a parallel to the experience of the American teenager. Everyone knew of that one girl at their high school who was dating the mysterious (and possibly dangerous) older guy.
Speaking of boyfriends, Buffy is all the more inspiring to teenage girls because she doesn't rely on Angel to save her every time she gets in trouble. And more often than not, they conquer the forces of evil as a team of equals. This trend continues in all of her other major romantic relationships. Riley and Spike are both expert crimefighters and each pairs up with Buffy to form a powerful team based on trust and respect. How many teenage relationships can you say that about? Of course, Buffy isn't completely devoid of the insecurity that comes along with acne and all the other horrible things that accompany teenager-dom. She still worries about Angel thinking she's too young (a fair assumption, since he's about 200 years older) or being interested in other women. When Angel rebuffs her after he reverts to his evil alter-ego Angelus, Buffy's 17 year-old heartbreak is almost too much to bear. And thus strength she gathers to stand up to her first love and plunge a sword through his heart is magnificent.
But if we're going to talk about Buffy's teenage experience, then friendship is the key word. Like most teenagers to early twenty-somethings, Buffy's friends are her world. And much like her romantic interests, Buffy's friends are on her team, fighting the forces of darkness and risking their lives alongside her. Not only is Buffy Summers an exceptional vampire-slaying teenager, her friends are just as extraordinary. Willow starts out in season one as a skittish and severely fashion-challenged nobody and ends season seven as a confident and extremely powerful witch with a super hot girlfriend. I love Sabrina, but I've got to say that Willow Rosenberg wins the title of my favorite teenage witch. And talk about badass--Willow becomes the big bad in season six when she becomes drunk on fury and dark magic.
Not as obviously powerful is Buffy's other best friend, Xander Harris. He is often thought of as the glue that holds the group together, simply because of how un-extraordinary he is. Xander is a terrific teenager because he manages not to fall apart when his friends surpass him by leaps and bounds. He possesses the humility that so few have to support Willow and Buffy and help them to fight evil as best he can. It's fitting that he brings Willow back to the light side in season six by reminding her just how ordinary she used to be. Plus, while all the characters in can be counted on to deliver that campy-yet-clever Joss Whedon wit, Xander is usually singled out as the source of comic relief. What else can you expect from the guy who got syphilis from a ghost?
Yes, the idea of the meek becoming strong is a hackneyed concept, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer puts a whole new spin on it. The strength that Buffy and her friends cultivate is at once supernatural, spiritual, and tangible. Buffy undergoes extreme emotional loss which helps her reconcile the fact that she will probably live a very short, painful life. And yet she manages to conquer a new and more horrifying manifestation of evil at the end of every season, culminating in her creation of a new legion of slayers who will become just as fierce and brave as she turned out to be. With the help of supernatural strength and loyal friends, Buffy Summers transformed from the new girl with the dumb name to a kick-ass vampire slayer who has saved the world again and again.