SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8" #33, in stores now.
As it nears its conclusion, Dark Horse's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8" has been gaining more and more buzz with readers, both for the controversial leak of the series main villain Twilight and for the arrival of all-star writer Brad Meltzer on the penultimate "Twilight" arc, which continued with this week's "Season 8" #33.
To help prepare fans for the hit series' impending finale, CBR is back with an all-new installment of "Behind Buffy Season 8" - a monthly column featuring interviews with the creators and staff behind the creation of Buffy's last two stories highlighting the questions being answered, the characters thrown into crisis, and the future of the entire Buffy franchise. This month, Meltzer himself stops by to address some of the nods and notes hidden in #32 that fans as well as how he and Joss Whedon teamed up to shape the final reveal of who Twilight is and more from this week's issue #33.
"I basically have a very plot-driven brain, and I just went and spent an obscenely long time putting together - and this sounds silly - my 'Jerry Maguire' mission statement where I saw plot stuff happening and what I saw in terms of the big picture of the mythology of this character. It was as close to fan fic as you could get without sex scenes," laughed Meltzer about his initial pitch to Whedon. "I sent it off and had no idea what was going to happen or if it was going to be a disaster. Then an e-mail popped up [from Joss], and it said, 'There are things I like and things I don't like, and you're going to write the penultimate arc when we get there.' It really was the big picture that I wanted to play with. Most people had ideas for arcs and characters and a few storylines, but I was the one who came back and actually had plot. So I always knew where we were going to wind up. It wasn't a thing where I had to go, 'Oh my God, what happened?' It was actually all in place before the first issue hit."
CBR News: Last week, we spoke with Scott Allie about a lot of the superhero fanboy humor in your debut issue, but it also contains some of the most gruesome stuff that we've seen in "Buffy" so far, with the deaths of so many Slayers. Did you deliberately try to balance the two?
Brad Melzter: People were so focused on the jokes in this issue that I'm surprised they didn't stop on this. As a writer in comics, I find there are moments that surprise me. There are moments that are one way in my head, and then you get to it and realize how graphic they are. In the script, we asked for all the gore to be kept off-panel in an old school, shadowy, EC way. And suddenly, this popped up in my inbox, and here was Jonestown with a bunch of innocent girls. And to me, the heartbreak of this is the line on the next page when she says, "Don't let Buffy know we let her down."
Although, one thing people have been able to pick up on since issue #33 came out is that the original explanation that we get for why Buffy is getting her powers - one that she takes very hard - might not exactly be on the nose. What does the fakeout contribute to the story?
No good deed goes unpunished. This was the emotional beam that the entire issue was built on - the idea that you're getting this from every slayer who dies. And I just kept coming back to that idea that, through seven years of Buffy adventures, Willow and Giles, probably more than anyone, always seem to have the answer that's needed. "Here's the weird Tiki idol" and Giles says, "It from the 1400s...It's the curse of Vespa" as he flips through a book. I just loved the idea that sometimes what they put out is wrong, and sometimes it misses the big picture. Willow here misses the big picture. Not that she's wrong, but she's missing the big picture. We get to see that in the next issue. There's a ladder that exists, and this is the first rung.
This synchs up with Buffy as a character, as well. Her defining quality seems to be that she takes everything on her own shoulders, whether that's fair or not.
The interesting part is that this problem doesn't work on another character. If you went to Superman and said, "You're getting more powers because people are dying," sure he'd feel bad because he's sad, but he doesn't carry that guilt the way Buffy carries it. He doesn't take everything on his shoulders the way she does. So this, to me, was a perfect "Buffy kryptonite" moment. It gets right to the heart of who she is as a character, which is why I think it's the emotional beam the issue goes with.
They note this on panel, but you had Georges draw the big machine from the classic "Teen Titans/X-Men" crossover. I'm assuming that was your big "We must use this!" moment for the whole arc.
[Laughs] It was the thing where I waited 28 years for that moment. And the best part was how many people messaged me on Twitter and said, "I recognized it on sight!" I remember when I was playing with this, I thought "Where are they physically?" It was the headquarters, but I really didn't know what the headquarters was. I started thinking, "Okay, if Warren built this, he wouldn't have built this alone. He would have collaborated with Andrew." And even on the show they never had the budget to do the real geek stuff. I said for myself...I still want a Captain America shield. I still want a Justice League table with the logo on it and a mini Atom floating chair. I still want replica teleporters in the corner of my office. So I nerded out and said, "If I could go for anything, if I could go for the Mount Everest of nerd...where is it?" It's right here. It's the "Teen Titans/X-Men" crossover from 1982, where the two greatest teams came together with the greatest moments at their height from two different companies. That let me wet my pants when I was 12 years old.
Don't forget the introduction of the Source Wall.
Is that actually the first appearance of the Source Wall? Interesting. I love the idea that, of all the things you could conjure for Dark Phoenix to come out of the ether that would make complete sense. It was like, "Oh my God! These two universes are talking to each other!"
But all I did was build my own headquarters. I didn't built it for Andrew or Warren. I built mine. And then, of course, I threw some love to Georges by giving him some "Star Trek" reference to draw, because everyone knows he loves it. But that was certainly the most fun stuff for us to play with.
We end the issue with Giles, Faith, Andrew and Twilight with that "Who wants to hear a really cool master plan?" bit, and the feeling I got was that, just like your story had a lot of comic nods in the dialogue or the plot, you also got to play with the superhero cliffhanger in terms of the issue's construction.
Right down to the "Next issue" blurb. You hit the nail on the head that that's what we were going for. [Laughs] I mean, this whole issue we're obviously playing with every different type of trope that get to be played with in the genre, and this is certainly one of them. The interesting thing is that, in this issue, originally, the last page and the last panel was from the previous page where Buffy learned she was getting the power from the girls. That's how it was originally going to end. And as Joss and I talked about that and how it made sense because it hit us the hardest, I brought it back to Twilight, because I felt like 1) it was going to be more of a different answer next time and 2) considering who Twilight was, this was the vital character part. This was where we got to play that "Dun dun duuuuuuuuun" and play that comic book ending that, to me, brings the whole issue full circle.
We all know that the Twilight reveal leaked out in an unfortunate way, but as a writer who's done a lot of mysteries, were you drawn to that moment as the specific thing that you wanted to do with your plot-heavy arc of "Season 8"?
It's interesting. This was the one mystery that I didn't feel that the mystery was the most important thing. Sometimes you read a mystery, and the answer is the story. When you watch "The Crying Game," if you know that one part, it's over. It's still a nice character piece or study, but that's the big boom. For me, I actually never thought - even when it came out who Twilight was - and I felt bad for Joss and the reader who doesn't get to enjoy that moment of turning the page - that that was the crux of the story. Think about it. You didn't see people freaking out and obsessing over Twilight every month. For 31 issues before this, they were going after that answer. That was just one of the reveals that was going to be in there. Maybe this sounds odd, but to me the big, best part of the story wasn't just who was under that mask, but why they were under that mask and why this was happening.
I said it briefly on Twitter, but for three years now, Twilight has had powers. And now Buffy has powers. And nobody is stopping to ask why. That was always the best part of the story to me.
Scott pointed this out last week, too, but the idea of changing Angel's voice through magic is a clue that seemed to slip by a lot of readers.
We're sticklers. This is a cheat that only works in comics and novels and other places where there's no sound. In a movie...it didn't even work in "Batman" when he puts on his stupid gravely voice. We all roll our eyes. In comics and novels, it works great because you can't hear the voice. So the trick is, we just switch the font, and so for three years, nobody recognized the guy's voice, and this was our way to answer it. We can just say, "This was happening because there was a witch here who was changing it. That's why you don't know who I am." And again, is it necessary? No. But I think it's a real cheat if you don't explain those things, because you can't have everyone running around and not know.
Even when Xander's being serious and trying to reach out to his friends, he can't resists swiping a bit from "Superman 1."
Part of what "Buffy" is is that clever dialogue and those jokes. I actually don't think Buffy's humor is about the funny humor. It's about clever and smart humor. It's always at that moment where we're just about to give you that sweet stuff that turns to saccharin...that's where the best jokes come in "Buffy." That, to me, is exactly that moment where Xander is talking to Buffy. It gets just almost to the moment where he goes, "I love you, too," and instead goes to something far better. And I'm sorry, all of us in that same situation would, I hope, make that same joke. It's great stuff.
Twilight is holding something over Giles in terms of the connection between Twilight and Buffy. What's the nature of that hidden knowledge, and what does it mean that Giles is, even this late in the game, holding on to something so vital?
I talked to Joss about this long ago. In panel 1, this gives a real sense of history here in terms of what each Watcher wants. When I think of the mythology, the mythology isn't just, "Why does Buffy get to do these things?" It's the entire universe. This entire world of Watchers and why they exist - what are they really there for? Are they really just there to watch? It seems like a pretty boring job that they have. What are they watching for? Here, Giles has so much knowledge in his head that, to me, it's impossible that he's not always holding something back.
And I think it also gives some nice context to the stories in the series that were more one-offs. But I'm sorry, Giles just can't know all this stuff all the time and not be holding some stuff back. This is the moment in the series where we really finally see it. People are going to be interested in seeing how this goes.
You get to diffuse that reveal a few times, though, with things like the moment on page 10 with Andrew coming in.
It's not the bang that's scary, Hitchcock said. It's the anticipation of it.
It also let's you fuse the two threads of the Twilight mystery and the comic book in-joke...my favorite part of which is Batgirl's belt.
[Laughs] That "Clobberin Time" page was solely to pack in about as much geek fun as we could have. I think comedy is really hard for people. I'll always have people telling me, "I loved your thriller, but I'm surprised it made me laugh so much," because comedy is hard for people. Even in comics, it's especially hard. I think there are very, very few people who can pull it off. I don't say that because I think I'm the master of comedy. I don't try to pull it of that regularly, because it's really hard when you have something as unbelievable as men who where their underwear outside their pants to suddenly be cracking jokes in a real cutesy way. What I love about "Buffy" is that it earned that for seven seasons.
Up to this point, even though you're a huge nerd for this stuff, you've never done these fanboy Easter Eggs in other comics work.
It wasn't appropriate. And when we talked about it, Joss said, "Buffy is going to have superpowers. It's going to be right there when we open." I said to him, "I got this joke about her being faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive...we'll do all three." And when I sat down to do it, I couldn't stop writing the jokes. I physically couldn't stop writing them. I have so many that didn't make it in. I sent them all to my friend Noah and said, "What are the best ones?" My favorite one in the whole book is, "General, would you care to step outside." It's like Xander couldn't stop talking in my head. And it was one of those moments where I've never had the outlet to put it anywhere, and here was perfect spot. The perfect place to do superhero humor - which to me is the title of the worst play ever.
It worked for exactly what it is, but the beauty of what we got to set up was that every issue was like its own genre movie. The first one was comedy, and I think what you're seeing right now in the second issue is that it starts to seep from comedy into drama. And it goes from there to two more that I think are going to be really fun.
Right before we finally get to the actual unmasking of Twilight, you stretch the whole action sequence out across two pages with some action pacing we haven't often seen in this series. Where did that transition come from?
I actually do a lot of layouts in the script. In this one, I described a giant splash page with four horizontals, because I really wanted a widescreen moment. This is it. I think the set up of that horizontal panel slows time. We do nanoseconds...picoseconds of what you're seeing, just to slow it down as much as we can. To me, the most effective moment when you watch "Inglourious Basterds" - and this is something Tarantio's great at - is when he picks the moment right before the dynamite is about to explode, and that's the moment where he slows everything down completely.
There's a great story Gore Vidal tells where he says, "I want to do a scene in my novel where these characters talk about philosophy. For page after page, they're going to be talking about philosophy and philosophers. Do you think I can pull it off without the readers losing interest?" And Gore Vidal says, "You can absolutely do that, if both of those characters are on a train and the reader knows that there's a bomb under the train that's about to go off." That's something I always took to heart. I think Tarantino always does it. The moment where you get to the big bang - it's that old Hitchcock trick again - that's when you slow everything down completely. Originally, we had Twilight being revealed in the very early pages, but I felt like it didn't have the effect on the story we wanted. We didn't earn that moment.
At last: the Twilight/Angel reveal. it felt like even up to this dramatic swooshing off of the mask, you were toying with the expected tropes of genre storytelling and villain reveals because of who the character is.
This is the moment I was most terrified about writing in the entire arc because I actually knew the big picture and all that stuff, but people have waited for a decade for these two to get together. Joss has been thinking of this moment for years in his head, and he's written these characters for so many years. I was terrified of "What's that line going to be?" And the first line I wrote was not, "I missed you too." It was more of a joke, and Joss said, "I don't think the joke works here. Try something different." I came back with "I missed you too," and he said, "Now you've got it." I was terrified that that moment had to be something that just didn't speak of a joke in the moment or something that could be cute. It had to speak something true about both these characters, and when it finally came to me, I felt like, "I got it." This is exactly what he needs to be saying because you can read it with a cuteness and with a dead seriousness, and it works both ways. It says to me exactly what's gone on between these two.
One last bit of fun in the issue was the dueling images of Willow and Xander discussing Buffy and Angel as fighting and then...well, doing something else that starts with an "F."
This is obviously where we ask for repetition every time, and comedy comes in threes. So what this says is that we're going to have some real fun next issue.
Each issue cover has been a tease about what kind of issue we'll get, including the drama of this month's cover, despite using an old Toys R' Us ad to insert Joss' name.
I know, right? The Toys R' Us thing was just it to me. I thought that we couldn't peak in our nerdgasm any more than with the Teen Titans/X-Men machine, but man that Toys R' Us ad really separated the loser from the super losers, and I love being a super loser.
So, with the next cover being an homage to that old Carmine Infantino Superman cover, I'm assuming next up is our romance issue?
Of course. That's exactly what we're doing. I promise you that when you see all four issues, they will stand so separate from each other that the breadth of the emotional journeys these characters get to go on is spectacular. It's the best part of the whole thing. Again, I get to show you the payoff that Joss and company earned by setting all this up over seven seasons.
Check back with CBR next month for an in depth look at "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8" #34!