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(Meta) A guide to 'Fray'

2nd March 2008 (23:24)

For those who don't know, 'Fray' was a comic written by Joss Whedon back when 'Buffy' seasons 6 and 7 were being broadcast. The storyline of the new Season 8 makes several indirect references to it, and the latest news is that before long we're going to get even more explicit mentions of 'Fray'. So in honour of the occasion I've made a bunch of icons:

(lots more behind the cut)

Also, I've noticed a few people wondering what 'Fray' was about, or how it connects to the plot of 'Buffy'. The best answer to that, of course, is "read the comic" - I definitely enjoyed it - but for the benefit of those who lack the time, money or motivation, I thought I'd write up a quick summary. So here is my Handy Illustrated Guide to the Characters and Background of 'Fray', with special reference to how it ties in with 'Buffy'. There will be spoilers here, but I'll use white-out to cover up the really plot-twist-revealing ones such as **what happened to Melaka's brother .**
(Apologies to any blind or partially sighted people using screen-readers to read this post, since I don't think this spoiler thing will work with them.) 

A Guide to 'Fray'

'Fray' is set in the 23rd century, on a polluted and ravaged Earth that is now home to 10 billion people. The specific location is a city called Haddyn, which is possibly future Manhattan - one cityscape scene shows what looks like the Chrysler Building dwarfed by even taller skyscrapers. This is a world where the rich live in the 'Uppers' and have flying cars and other luxuries, and the poor scrape out a meagre living in the 'Warrens'.

(L - R) Haddyn cityscape; a flying police car; taking a shower under a broken water pipe because many houses in the Warrens don't have running water; an electrical stun gun - a full cartridge will knock you out for an hour.

Thanks to the destruction of the ozone layer and industrial pollution, mutations and birth defects are common, especially among the poor. Other people deliberately modify their own bodies with cybernetics, bioengineering or drugs. In such a world, the fact that one teenage girl has developed super-strength, incredible agility and miraculous resistance to injury goes barely noticed. 

This actually says something interesting about the nature of heroism. Buffy is a pretty good leader and planner when she has to be, but a lot of the time she doesn't bother. She's stronger and faster and tougher than the things she fights, and that's all she needs. She's special, and she knows it - which isolates her - and when she comes up against someone stronger than her (Adam, Glory) she often despairs until she finally gets her act together. 

The heroine of 'Fray', by contrast - the eponymous Melaka Fray - isn't in the same position. She's a Slayer, but in her world that's not enough to make her stand out. Instead, she has to win her battles through morale qualities; her courage, refusal to give up even in the worst situations, and the leadership skills she slowly develops over the course of her story. 

When 'Fray' starts, there has been no Slayer, no vampires or demons on Earth, and no magic for two centuries: they were all banished sometime in the 21st century (I'll go into this in more detail later).  However, in recent years the effect has been wearing off...nobody knows why. The demons are returning - and a Potential has once again been Chosen to become the Slayer.

"The [Slayer] line continued - there were girls with the power, but they were never Called, never trained. Which may be why you have no memories of your heritage. The Council of Watchers fell to ruin, held together only by fanatics and fools, those who believed the demons would return. [...] They're insane, I grant. But they were also right. The monsters did come back."

"This world belongs to the demons. They were banished, exiled by one of your ambitious predecessors. I stil don't know how we came back, but we're here, a scattered few of us, and we will reclaim our world."

Main Characters

Melaka Fray ('Mel' to her friends) is the first Slayer to be Called in two hundred years. She's an orphan, 19 years old, living alone in a run-down tenement in the Warrens behind a tavern. She's also a skilled thief, working for a crimelord named Gunther (who's a mutated water-dwelling fish-thing).  Trivia: she has a tattoo of the Biohazard warning symbol on her upper arm, just above the place where Faith has a barbed wire tattoo.

"Bad day. Started bad. Stayed that way."
"What's a vampire?"
"So come on, guys. I'm just one girl. No big hero, no protector of justice, not even a bona fide one-hundred-percent Slayer. So what are you waiting for? Take me on. Hurt my world. I dare you."

Harth Fray was Melaka's twin brother. When they were 15 she took him with her to steal some meat for their dinner; they were attacked and Harth was killed. Mel still feels really guilty about this: flashbacks of the scene appear all through the story. **In fact, Harth was turned into a vampire by his attacker, and is the Big Bad of the story. His plan is to open a Hellmouth and let the demons back into Earth..** The fact that the Slayer had a twin brother is extremely unusual... in fact, we discover that while Melaka got the physical abilities, it was her brother who got the prophetic dreams and mystical insight part of the Slayer heritage. 

"You don't dream much, do you, Mel? I dreamed. Always, before my earliest memories of the world, there were the dreams. There was the girl. She was different every time, but the same. A peasant, a priestess... hundreds of girls, from times we've forgotten. Worlds we couldn't picture. She was me. She wasn't me. I loved her. I killed her."

Erin Fray is Melaka's older sister and only living relative. She's now a sergeant in the police force, which puts her at odds with her sister the cat burglar... anyway, their relationship has never been the same since Harth was killed.

"I'm trying to keep you out of jail."
"We can't kill 'em. They jumped us, we lost two guys and they all made it out. Why doesn't the brass care that we can't kill them?"

Loo is a five-year old girl, the daughter of the couple (Amma and Jove) who run the tavern where Melaka hangs out. She's crippled - blind in one eye, deformed arm, and needs constant medication which her parents can only barely afford. She hero-worships Melaka. **She also gets killed halfway through the story. It's a whole thing.** 

"Kettie Rawls called me a freak and he said he was gonna tear off my whole arm and I'd look like a dolphin which I don't know what that is but I got scareded and you said I could stay here any time I got scareded."

Urkonn is a demon from a Hell-dimension. He's sent to Earth by two Hell-Gods called Boluz and Vrill, with orders to find Melaka and train her to be a Slayer - in effect, to be her Watcher.  **They don't want an apocalypse yet, because they're not ready, and so want to use the Slayer as a weapon against their own enemy. They also plan to kill her once that's been achieved - you can probably guess that things don't go quite according to their plan.** He's quite surprised when Melaka doesn't think his appearance is anything unusual - but in her words, "Please. I work for a fish."

"You are a fool, girl. I am Urkonn of the d'Avvrus. Bullets cannot harm me. " *FZZKOW* "What's a bullet?"
"So what's first?" "Dexterity. I throw things at you. You avoid them." 
"The Old Ones believe he plans to open the gateway, to bring the demon world back to the human world. It will be the destruction of everything."

Icarus is the person who killed Melaka's brother Harth. He's a 'lurk', which is the name people have given to the mysterious beings who've recently started roaming the streets and alleys at night. Some people think they're victims of a disease; others that they're cursed. Many think they're just a myth; the authorities certainly aren't doing anything about them. In the 23rd century the word "vampire" has been all but forgotten.

"Your little finger. Bite it off. Bite it off or take me on."
"Fight? You? Well that's just cute."
"Don't be frightened, little ones. It'll only hurt for a moment." 

The Watchers' Council still exists, but after two hundred years of uselessness has degenerated into a group of deluded fanatics and madmen. ('Fray' was written before the plot of Season 7 was finalised, so I don't know exactly how this ties into the destruction of the Council by Caleb. Presumably this is the new Council Giles runs which degenerated? Or maybe the one which uses cyborgs.)
"Melaka Fray? You... are the Chosen... I am not worthy to come before you... you will save us... you will protect us. End the scourge. You will cleanse us all... you will cleanse us with fire!"

The Scythe is Melaka's weapon, appearing first here in 'Fray' before it also showed up in 'Buffy' Season 7. Urkonn gives it to her; it's not explained where he found it or what happened to it over the intervening years since Buffy used it. This is what we're told about it:
"I have a gift for you. It is a weapon, forged eons ago, for the Slayer alone. Lost for centuries. Carry it, for it is your sword and your scepter. Let it proclaim you the hero - and the monster - that you will need to be. Make your war."

Connections to the plot of Season 8

As explained above, for two hundred years there was no magic or demonic activity on Earth. Both Urkonn and the story's Big Bad explain that back in the 21st century, a Slayer managed to banish all the demons. This lasted two centuries, but for unknown reasons the banishment effect is starting to fade or crack, and the demons are beginning to return.

However, it's important to remember that neither Urkonn nor the Big Bad is an entirely trustworthy source, and the exact details of what happened back then are lost to history. It's easy to explain any discrepancy between 'Fray' and Season 8 simply by saying that the old legends got the details wrong.

This is what happened, as explained to Melaka by Urkonn:

"What we know is this. There was a battle. A Slayer, possibly with some mystical allies, faced an apocalyptic army of demons. And when it was done..."

"...they were gone. All demons, all magicks, banished form this earthly dimension."
"And the Slayer? Did she..."
"I do not know if she lived. But, the demons being gone, she was the last to be Called."

Does that silhouette in the first picture look like Buffy? I think it does, but it's not absolutely definite. There's also no mention of the multiple-Slayer situation back in the 21st century (probably because Joss hadn't thought of it when he wrote 'Fray') but it's easy to assume that ending all magic and demonic influences would stop new Slayers being called however many there were to start with.

That picture of the hand disappearing into the portal implies that the Slayer was also banished, since she was magical and/or demonic herself. On the other hand, those don't look like Buffy's fingernails :-) (Nor Willow's either).

Finally, some trivia
According to the artist, Melaka's appearance was loosely modelled on Natalie Portman as appearing in the film Léon/The Professional. Joss's own instructions to the artist were "I wanted a real girl, with real posture, a slight figure (that's my classy way of saying 'little boobs'), and most of all a distinctive face. A person."

And the rest of the icons that didn't fit above. Feel free to use any of these or adapt them - if you want one personalised with text just ask.



Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 01:54 (UTC)
you sang me spanish lullabies

I love Fray.

And I love your guide. <3

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 02:13 (UTC)

And I love comments like that one. :-) Thanks!

Posted by: filmtx (filmtx)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 03:18 (UTC)

Thank you. I had no idea who Fray was, so I didn't know what the excitement was about. But now I get it.

(Nor Willow's either)

Whoa, it's like you're in my brain. Willow was the first person I thought about when I saw the hand.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 11:53 (UTC)

You're welcome. And I'm not secretly telepathically monitoring your thoughts, honest. ;-) But then I would say that, wouldn't I?

If 'the Slayer and her mystical allies' who banished magic from the world was Buffy, Willow would almost have to be involved... But banishing magic also means losing her own power, unless she leaves the world at the same time.

I've been wondering if that's how Season 8 will end ever since we learned Twilight's plan.

Posted by: filmtx (filmtx)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 14:42 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 21:27 (UTC)

Posted by: Sylvike (fishsanwitt)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 04:40 (UTC)

Thank you for the backstory :)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 11:53 (UTC)

Glad it was useful and/or interesting!

Posted by: Mrs Darcy (elisi)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 06:55 (UTC)
dragonrider by maharet83

I might just buy it one of these days - until then, thank you for the guide, 'tis v. helpful. Also the artwork is lovely. :)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 11:55 (UTC)

The artist was Karl Moline, who is also going to be drawing the Season 8 comic(s) that Fray will be appearing in. I agree... he is good.


Posted by: catalyst2 (catalyst2)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 07:21 (UTC)

I've read Fray many times and so am very familiar with the story but that is one eloquent and concise summary of the story, along with a batch of very nice icons indeed!

I love the panel after your Loo icon - Loo is totally un-phased by Urkonn's demonic appearance and simply asks "Do you have candy?"

The only other character that might be worth adding is Gunther, Fray's boss.

The other thing I always tell people about Fray is that is NOT "just Buffy with flying cars". Melaka has her own personality and style and it is very different from Buffy's.

In terms of the big picture (in the post, not THE BIG PICTURE .....), I had always assumed that that was Buffy but that is never certain. The multiple slayers is sort-of covered by the "mystical allies" clause, I think, because the extra Slayers were empowered through mystical means.

I had always taken that hand going through the portal to be the Primal Slayer's, meaning that all slayers lost their power. Once that happened, there were no slayers to kill, hence no new slayers were called. How Melaka comes to be called is clearly something Joss has to address sometime - or not ..... ;-)

At the start of Fray, it is clear, though, that the fact that a new Slayer has been called catches everyone off-guard.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 12:03 (UTC)

Thanks! This is the second draft, the first was much less concise. :-)

I always liked Mel's naivete in the opening chapters - her repetition of "Whats a -- ?" and the way she becomes steadily more self-confident and determined as the story progresses.

My assumption was that Potential Slayers were still being born, but because there was no magic left in the world, none of them gained the Slayer's supernatural abilities. Once magic became possible again, the Slayer was activated. (Compare FASA's Shadowrun/Earthdawn series, if you're familiar with that).

It's interesting that Melaka never seemed to experience a moment of "being Chosen" - as far as she's concerned, she's "always" been different. She apparently had Slayer strength already in the fight with Icarus when she was 15, although she lacked the training or skill to use it effectively.

As for the hand going into the portal, it might even be a female vampire's. It's too well manicured to be the First Slayer's...

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 09:22 (UTC)

Nice summing up - and I really like the icons, especially the animated ones.

Two things that always led me to conclude that that's not Buffy in the battle scene, though (since I first read Fray after watching s7):
1) She's armed with an ordinary battle axe, not the scythe.
2) "She was the last to be called." When Fray was written, we'd already seen two Slayers called after Buffy.

Of course, a lot can be explained away with Urkonn being a less than trustworthy source, but unless there's a specific reason for the unreliable narrator thing, it can become an overly convenient way to tell a story.

And I'd forgotten about the lower levels being called "the warrens." Always with the bunnies, Joss. Hmmm... maybe there'll be a whole Watership Down thing happening here? I mean, if the Slayers and demons are driven out of this dimension, they have to go to some other place, right? Maybe season 9 will be all about them trying to find a new home, rescuing human males from neighbouring dimensions to be able to breed, and...

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 11:14 (UTC)

Write it! Write it! Buffy and Co in Hell-A! :)))

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 11:36 (UTC)

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 12:25 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 13:10 (UTC)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 12:09 (UTC)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 13:28 (UTC)

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 11:07 (UTC)

Thank you so much for your guide! It was a fascinating read.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 12:36 (UTC)

Thanks - glad it was helpful. :-)

Posted by: semby (semby)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 11:42 (UTC)

Excellent summary! I'd read 'Fray' before, but it's been awhile so it's nice to have it all summed up like this, and to have the connections to season 8 pointed out like this.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 12:39 (UTC)

I'm glad it was useful to people who've already read the comic. Thanks!

Posted by: M (spankulert)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 11:51 (UTC)
ComicB Buffy cover blur

Very good summary of the Fray comics. Sad there's a lot of people who haven't read this, because it's really good. Dig the animated icons btw :) ...reminds me I've got some iconising of my own to do. hehe.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 12:44 (UTC)

Thakns! And yes, reading Fray should be compulsory. Reading Season 8 likewise. :-)

The animated icon of Melaka taking a shower started off as a beautiful smooth animation... that, um, was 400K file size. I spent ages trying to reduce it, taking out frames, cropping the edges, reducing the number of colours, until I finally got it down to 40K...

Posted by: devonkmiller (devonkmiller)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 14:07 (UTC)

Thanks for making such an incredible guide! It makes me want to read the comics again. I'm so excited to see how they're going to get Buffy into Fray's world-- I hope the cover wasn't just a terrible tease...
I gakked two of your animated icons. Thanks!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 21:21 (UTC)

Glad it was useful, and that you liked the icons.

The cover does look as if Buffy will be going forward into the future, rather than Melaka coming back through time to kill the mother of the future leader of the human resistance help her against Twilight. I hope it's not just something boring like a dream sequence, though...

Posted by: woman_of_ (woman_of_)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 14:22 (UTC)

Excellent! Yes, can see a tie in in the future between Fray and Season 8, and your meta gave some excellent points about how it could happen!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 21:24 (UTC)

There might possibly be a tie-in between the two series, yes. :-)


Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 15:50 (UTC)

Thank you. Very helpful.


Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd March 2008 21:25 (UTC)

Glad it was useful! :-)

Posted by: mrs_underhill (mrs_underhill)
Posted at: 6th March 2008 16:55 (UTC)
Illyria says - canon!

What an excellent guide! Thank you so much for giving it to us. I'm not sure I would ever convince myself to read Fray, because I'm mostly interested in seeing the familiar Buffyverse characters. So this guide is a blessing. :)
And maybe I'll read the comics after the crossover.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th March 2008 18:35 (UTC)

Thnaks! You're exactly the kind of person I wrote it for. :-)

Incidentally, this is what Joss had to say about why he wrote 'Fray':

"I was too busy writing Buffy to think about writing about Buffy... I was keeping it simple. Slayer, Family, Strength. A simple story about a really cool girl. A girl who might share some personal issues with Buffy and Faith, but who was very much her own person. A mythology I was already comfortable with, with a few twists thrown in. Including, but not limited to, the aforementioned flying cars."

Posted by: YayCoffee (yaycoffee)
Posted at: 9th March 2008 00:01 (UTC)
Buffy Season 8

Thanks for doing this! I was always curious about whether or not I wanted to get into Fray, and with then spoilers of Fray coming to season 8, my interest was even more piqued. I really like the concept, and I do think I'll see if I can find a way to get a hold of it and give it a try. Thanks!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 9th March 2008 17:24 (UTC)

It's a good story in its own right: some intriguing plot twists and good characterisaton, as well as the Buffyverse mythology parts.

Glad this was useful!

Posted by: chianazhaan (chianazhaan)
Posted at: 2nd July 2011 13:29 (UTC)
Some thoughts

Thanks for the brilliant summary. I read the story, but it's so easy to miss certain details, or forget them afterwards.

Reading this summary immediately got me thinking about the fanfictions that connect
(*) the Buffy/Angel verse
(*) the Fray verse
(*) the Firefly/Serenity verse.
It actually makes more sense if you include the future from Fray's time.

This is a world where the rich live in the 'Uppers' and have flying cars and other luxuries, and the poor scrape out a meagre living in the 'Warrens'.

Sort of like the Core Planets and the Rim Planets in Firefly/Serenity. I never made that connection before. I had forgotten that distinction in the Fray-verse.

It also got me thinking that the battle for earth is rather similar to how Judaism, Christianity and Islam fight over control of the Holy Land. And maybe, the "Balance" that gets mentioned in the Angel-verse is actually about the fight over control of the earth. Just some random thought.

Anyway. Back to Fray. I'm still conflicted about Harth Fray. It would have been a lot easier to accept that the guy "got the prophetic dreams and mystical insight part of the Slayer heritage", IF he hadn't been a guy, but an identical (monozygotic) twin sister who got turned.

Although, given the change in mythological background to the slayer that happened in season 8, you could say that Harth Fray serves the same purpose as Buffy. Buffy's purpose was to give birth to a new universe called twilight. Harth Fray's purpose it to give the demons access to earth again.


Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd July 2011 00:23 (UTC)
Re: Some thoughts

I'm not sure which idea he had first, but Joss was writing 'Fray' at about the sme time as he was directing 'Firefly'. It shows where his mind was at the time...

It would have been a lot easier to accept that the guy "got the prophetic dreams and mystical insight part of the Slayer heritage", IF he hadn't been a guy, but an identical (monozygotic) twin sister who got turned.

I think being a Potential is about magic, not genetics. It's more "Melaka and Harth were both conceived at midnight on the night of a new moon at the intersection of three Ley lines" rather than "They have identical DNA".

As regards Buffy's destiny, I don't really see creating the new universe as "her purpose" in the sense that it's what she was born to do - rather, she was co-opted for the role by the new universe, which was looking for a suitable candidate and noticed her. But certaily from a literary perspective you can parallel her and Harth.

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