It's been a strange week to be Joss Whedon. While the writer, beloved amongst sci-fi fans for his personality-driven genre shows like "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly," was wrapping production on the series finale of his Fox show "Dollhouse," word hit the web, spoiling a major plot point in his long-running "Buffy Season 8" comic series published through Dark Horse.
Fans were not only surprised to find that the villain Twilight, who's been behind the twists and turns in the canonical comic's story, is in fact former Buffy love interest Angel, but many were also shocked at the up-front manner with which the reveal was promoted online (including right here on CBR). Furthermore, early discussions with "Buffy" editor Scott Allie on how the reveal would be reconciled with IDW Publishing's ongoing series of "Angel" comics led to a strongly-worded response from "Angel" writer Bill Willingham, who took over the series after the wrap of the recent Whedon-co-plotted "After The Fall" story.
In the first of a three-part interview covering the controversy (as well as the writer's entire current creative output), Whedon gives his take on how the leak of Twilight's identity led to open promotion of the reveal and how exactly Angel can be both in "Buffy" and in his IDW series. But first, the writer teases what's in store for this week's "Buffy Season 8" #31 which he wrote in advance of novelist Brad Meltzer's upcoming arc.
CBR News: Joss, you've got a one-shot issue in "Buffy" #31 hitting stores tomorrow. The story's title is "Turbulence," and the last issue ended with Buffy realizing that she could fly. I think it's safe to say that people can start making assumptions about how easy that adjustment will be for her, but for you, what's the attraction in doing these kinds of one-offs, not just in between your own big arcs, but between so many of the arcs the other writers are working on?
Joss Whedon: Well, they're instances where I can just tell a story that I want to tell that isn't necessarily a Buffy story. Obviously, "The Chain" is a story that was very close to me. It's almost just the tale of a slayer, which was issue #5. But since then, what I've been doing is shoring up or teeing off or holding a football or using a sports metaphor for setting up the next guy. Trying to connect the last guy to the next guy. Filling in the holes. It's an interesting task and one I enjoy enormously – to make a little issue that's there to basically service what's going to come but will still have reason within itself to exist.
In terms of "Turbulence," most of it takes place on the ground. There's very little flying in it. But there is turbulence. And this came about because of a scheduling issue. Brad [Meltzer] was supposed to follow Jane [Espenson,] and the reveal at the end of Jane's story is something we really start to deal with in Brad's. Then we had to put me in the middle, and I said, "How can I not take away from Brad and still let him do the initial dealing with this, while at the same time getting to some stuff I want to deal with?" And the heart of what I wanted to get to was a conversation between Buffy and Xander that I'd wanted to put in there for some time.
On the whole, the five or six-issue arcs feel like what would be a single episode of the TV series, while these one-shots seem to be much more about highlighting moments that work for the bigger story without having to be "episodes" on their own.
That's partly the advantage. "Anywhere But Here" was a case where we had the contest winner who had to be in it, and I was bridging two arcs. But those little moments you're referring to are, I think, the best part about "Buffy." That's the thing people respond to the most. And not having to service a really elaborate plot – moving things forward but not having to map out the four-part arc of it – and just knowing the heart of your piece is going to be a little conversation is just a joy, because the thing I enjoy most is these people's voices and hearing them again in my head.
That's a good place to transition into a discussion of the big Buffy news of the week: the early reveal of Twilight as Angel. Scott [Allie] said when talking with us that the real story here was what would be happening between the characters, moreso than the pulling off of a mask. Having said that, how did you react when you realized that the identity of your villains was hitting online months ahead of schedule rather than in the book's pages?
You know, Scott called me after it had gone out. The covers had been sent to Diamond or somebody who then had the full covers instead of the cropped covers. And Scott called, and the terror in his voice was both palpable and hilarious. Because we had been holding onto this for so long and then it was out! But he definitely had a plan. "We're going to commission a dozen covers. We're going to obfuscate. We're going to ensure that everybody thinks this is a glitch and we're playing a game." And I shut all of that down. I just said, "The best that comes of that is that 35% of the people think that it isn't Angel...but then they find out that it is. Or we do a really cool extra cover, and they go, 'It would have been so much better if it was Andrew!'" [Laughs]
There was a little bit of "I can't fight anymore" in there. We live in the culture of too much information, and the fact that we hid it for as long as we did amazes me. I just said, "Look, don't spend all that money on doing something that could possibly infuriate the fans more and not give you what you need. It's out. We're boned. Let's just get in front of it. Let's get on top of a surfboard and ride it. Maybe it'll bring us some publicity." I wish people would have found out about it in the comics. Some people still will. Some people read the comic that don't check out on it on the internet. They'll have that experience. But I think that ship has sailed, and we should get on the surfboard, on the wave, on the ship. I don't mix my metaphors. I like to blend them. [Laughter] You've got to tame that dinosaur until you win that hand of Bridge and then punch through the team logo as you run out on the football field! I got nothing...
But Scott went to Dark Horse with that, and then began the reign of Scott Allie posts where he got out in front of it in a huge way, and then got slammed for that. And then he started apologizing for that, and got slammed for that! I think in the third paragraph of the fifth addendum to the rebuttal to the apology of the mea culpa...he finally used every word in the English language and then some. What was interesting to me was that the reaction to the fact that it was Angel was varied, but Scott kept getting slammed. Someone said, "There are only two scenarios...either he's an idiot or he's a liar!" And I was just like, "Really?!?" I've been working with Scott since my first comic book, and he's been a really extraordinary collaborator. He really cares about the series, and he's treated me with enormous respect even when I haven't deserved it. And I just can't stand watching this guy get slammed. It drives me nut. His mouth runneth over in this instance because we really didn't know how to do what we were trying to do, because we never expected to have to do it. To say Scott's duplicitous or a genius or a tyrant is really a bit much. He is morbidly obese, but that's his problem.
Once this was all out, a second minor controversy sprung up when it came to the question of how Angel's appearance in "Buffy" would be reconciled with IDW's line of "Angel" comics, or if it would at all. Writer Bill Willingham was somewhat nonplussed with the thought that what happened in another publisher's book would somehow dictate what happens with his stories. How does this all jibe from your point of view as the character's creator and as the one who's playing with the most pieces in "Buffy"?
Basically, to go back...IDW got the "Angel" license, and Dark Horse still had the "Buffy" license. Scott and I concocted "Season 8," and Dark Horse has license to use any of the characters from Buffy, including Angel, Spike, Wesley and all of that. Not that anybody was going, "Let's do it! Let's use them!" but I thought, "The other company has them. Let's not bone them. At some point, Buffy and Angel have to be in the same panel. That's a given. But we can give them literally years before that happens. There's no sense in creating confusion amongst the fans and hurting a company that's just trying to do their best and put out good comics."
This was before I got at all involved with IDW. Then I read Brian Lynch's "Spike" series for them, and I was so impressed with what Brian did, I decided to hand him my concept for "Angel" Season 6. We don't want to call it "Season 6," of course, because I'm already doing that at Dark Horse, and we called that "Buffy Season 8" because I'm literally executive producing it, which is new for me in comics and a kind of weird title for comics, but it's exactly what I'm doing. I just didn't have time for that for "Angel" and IDW. I was as over-stretched as it is, and I was beginning to realize how much work "Buffy" was going to pull out of me. So I said to Brian, "We can't call this Season 6, but I can give you what we were going to do because I think it's a fun premise." Brian and I met a couple of times to discuss ideas. He wrote out a couple of outlines, and I tweaked them. And then I sort of sent him on his way.
That was my involvement with the "Angel" franchise. I saw it as a 12-issue arc, and they would dictate what happens after that. And obviously, in that arc Los Angeles is a demon hell while obviously in "Buffy" it's not. I always thought there would be some kind of a "buy back" which we would have done on TV as well. If we had done Season 6 as a post-apocalyptic nightmare, we would have brought it back at the end so that we could have done Season 7 – he said wistfully – to bring it all back to the Buffyverse. The intent was always that, when Angel finally showed up [in the pages of "Buffy"], we'd make some very vague comment saying how "Things had gotten very funky, and now I'm here doing whatever it is I'm doing" which people now unfortunately know. [Laughs] Actually, they really don't, but that will become clear later.
So I always did have the idea of Twilight as Angel, but I was always going to save it for as long as possible, which God willing, would have been three more months from now. Apparently, God not willing. Chris Ryall has been great. He was very accommodating to do whatever would work for me [in regards to involving me in "Angel"] but unfortunately, what didn't work for me was work and I wasn't able to communicate with him that much beyond outlining that initial story. And there's been some confusion about all that, but everybody that I've dealt with has been very businesslike, gentlemanly, creative and cool...and really not, what's the word I'm searching for? Repugnant.
Check back with CBR over the next two days with even more from Joss Whedon on the impact of the Twilight reveal, the future of "Buffy" through Season 9, the fate of Spike and the finale of "Dollhouse."