SPOILER ALERT!: Don't want to know anything about what happened in the television series of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which ran from 1997-2003, or the comic book continuation of the franchise? This is not the story for you. Just stop reading now. And for goodness sake, don't click on the gallery above! Seriously. Click on the "back" button.
Today is Buffy Anne Summers' 30th birthday.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has survived through one feature length film, a cult television series and a comic book. Still a fan favorite and no stranger to controversy, Joss Whedon's influential franchise about a teenage girl who just happened to be naturally good at killing vampires is still inspiring fans.
Buffy's birthday is reason for them to celebrate. There was a moment in the episode "The Gift," which aired in 2001, when fans certainly didn't think this powerful girl would make it to 30.
That's because Buffy took a swan-dive into a magical vortex from hell and died. At the end of the episode her gravestone is shown, marking her life from 1981 until 2001 with the epitaph, "She saved the world a lot." (She was resurrected the next season, when the show moved from the now defunct WB network to UPN.)
Few who are aware of the "Buffyverse" would argue with that. Buffy saved the world from plenty of "big bads," like vampires, demons and witches, but she did something pretty heroic for the people who tuned in every week to watch her adventures, too.
"(The show) really brought a lot of nerdy girls out of their shell," said Andrea Carlson, 27, a dedicated Buffy fan who works for the state of Minnesota.
"It did make it more acceptable to be a female who was into more unconventional sides of society. And I think a lot of guys were suddenly like, 'Hey, these nerd girls are really cute!' Instead of just being the best friend, now we're more accepted as almost sex symbols, thanks to that show."
"Buffy is the sexy, hot chick that's always slaying everything, but the fact that she has her smart sidekick -- always with the laptop, always researching, I think (the show) did a lot to show that there's more than one type of girl," said Janeka Rector, a 32 year old die-hard Buffy fan who works at the University of Texas at Austin as a development specialist.
Series writer and "Buffy" comic book contributor Jane Espenson agreed. She said the show's central characters (who referred to themselves as the "Scooby Gang") gave overt nerdyness "a lovely coating of coolness and acceptance."
Fans and critics often wondered how a man like Whedon could portray the trials and tribulations of being a teenage girl so accurately.
"We are definitely in tune with our feminine side," said "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" comic book artist Georges Jeanty of his collaboration with Whedon. "I don't think it's so much a respect for women, but it's just the acceptance of a human being."
Jeanty said Whedon broke the stereotype of helpless, attractive girls in horror movies with "Buffy."
"He just thought, what if, once the monster did catch up to the blond girl who was screaming and running away into the alley, what if that girl then turned around and really started kicking some ass?"
Espenson sees characters like "Battlestar Gallactica's" (a sci-fi television show for which she also wrote) Boomer and Starbuck as homages to "Buffy," as well as "Torchwood's" Gwen Cooper.
But attractive actors and strong female characters aren't the only reasons fans continue to follow the franchise.
"You can find certain things in the characters that you, personally, can identify with," said Kim Frum, a public relations expert for the Maryland state highway system and another Buffy fan.
"Some days I'm having a "Willow" day and other days I'm having a "Xander" day where nothing goes right, I'm a complete klutz and I'm getting knocked in the head all the time," she said.
"Some days I just want to fall out laughing, and I know exactly where to go back to and watch a certain scene. It's still fun to watch even if you know the entire series by heart."
Other fans are rewatching the series and blogging about every episode.
Another professed fan of "Buffy" is actress and writer Whit Anderson. She's been handed the reins to a Warner Bros. "Buffy" re-boot movie (Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by Time Warner), which has fans and Whedon's cohorts scratching their heads.
Whedon is not involved with the upcoming feature film, and addressed the fact in an open letter on E! online in November 2010.
"Buffy is very personal for me," Espenson said, "but really I'm just part of a big machine that exists to allow Joss to realize his vision. If there is work being done that isn't being guided by Joss, then I don't really see that as related to what I do."
"I'm dubious about her," said Rector. "Maybe she's like the best writer ever, and she (is writing) something so amazing and clever that we will all sit in awe and forgive her, but it's really, really hard to think of 'Buffy' without Joss Whedon."
"I don't know what she's done before," Dark Horse comics writer and editor Scott Allie said. "I think it's kind of lame. People are restarting franchises every five minutes. Restarts are overlapping at this point."
"It's weird when the guy that made (Buffy) up and is still really personally involved in the character, for somebody else to say, 'Well, we have this technicality that allows us to do this, so we're gonna go re-boot,' " he said.
Perhaps one reason why a re-boot seems strange to fans and franchise creators alike is that Whedon is still actively telling the "Buffy" story. In March 2007, Whedon started the eighth season of "Buffy" with Dark Horse Comics.
To commemorate her fictional 30th birthday, the last issue of "Buffy Season 8" is in stores January 19.
Buffy isn't necessarily 30 in the comics, Jeanty said, adding that the comic book medium allows time to move a little differently than in a television show.
Jeanty speculated that as of today's issue, Buffy is still around 26 years old.
"We can have armies fighting, which would have been really hard to pull off in the show," Allie said. "Our ability to do monsters that aren't just, like, a tall guy in a rubber suit, we embrace."
Allie said a special effects budget with the Dark Horse version of "Buffy" is never an issue; they're only limited by what they can draw.
Plenty of action has happened in "Season 8." Willow returned from her self-imposed exile, Oz showed up on a mountaintop in Tibet, Buffy had a sexy tryst with one of the girls she trains to slay vampires, Angel proved to be a diabolical villain and -- oh yeah -- Giles dies.
Allie assures CNN that Buffy has plenty more adventures left. "Season 9" is already in the works.
"I was down in LA this weekend. We had a writer's summit to talk about Season 9, and (Whedon) is so personally invested in this character," Allie said.
"Because he's busy with 'The Avengers,' we had laid out this proposal for how we would do Season 9 where he had to do relatively little work. Because we were trying to be pragmatic, we want to do the book, we want to keep it going, we want to follow his vision, but we want to give him room to go do this other thing and come back.
"But we're not going to do that, because he was like, 'well what if we do this other thing?' and the ideas are pouring out (of Joss Whedon) about where to take her next," Allie said. "He loves this girl, he loves her. He created her because he wants her to exist."