BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8: "The Sex Issue"

Fri, April 9th, 2010 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer

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" #34.

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 time out, Meltzer is back for an up front discussion of "Twilight" part 3 wherein the star crossed lovers that are Buffy and Angel literally get down to business, the threads of the entire series to date start to pull together and a possibly terrifying, possibly wonderful new reality is born.

So read on for Meltzer's take on why the issue's sex scenes were more than mere titillation, what pieces of the puzzle Joss Whedon has been keeping in his pocket all the months and when exactly fans may see Spike arrive in the pages of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8."

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CBR News: The word hits amongst everyone in the cast here that Twilight and Angel are one and the same. Overall, this issue didn't seem as humor-based as the first two in your arc, but was this the one place where you wanted to step out of the story and give some of that "Buffy" meta-commentary on the whole reveal?

Brad Meltzer: This issue had been written months before the very first issue came out. So it almost was one of those things where you would see people reacting, and we'd get to have that moment where I think as a writer – and even more importantly as a reader – that you'd want to ask those same questions. This allows you to ask them and say, "We understand, and we agree with you." I think there's nothing more reassuring when you're reading a book than when the author gives you your exact point of view. And let's be completely honest, it's a fair question, and I think what we're going for in every issue is how to give you fair answers. There may be 50 more questions with that answer, but we're at least going to give you that one fair answer.

And I think this is what "Buffy" does best. Look at panel three where she says, "Of course he is? That doesn't make sense!" That line doesn't work in just about anything else but "Buffy." That self-awareness has always been what makes this world attractive.

Here we start our "We're not going to show you what's going on, but you know exactly what's going on" sex scene. It seemed like going all the way there wouldn't really fit the tone of the show or what we expect from Dark Horse, but how tough was it to ride that balance of letting people know what was going on without going too far out?

You know, I think the easiest response to this issue is, "Wow. Look at all the sex. Isn't that self-indulgeant and easy?" In reality, this is the hardest issue I've ever written of any comic book. And it's not just because "Oh, how could we possibly show sex?" We show murder in every single issue and violence and all these horrible things, yet when we take something beautiful we all turn into Puritans...but that's too easy a riff to jump on, so I don't want to jump on all that. What I'm saying is that it's hard to write something like this because you want to handle a subject like this sensibly – and not because of a prude issue, but because you don't want to do it as a stunt. You want to do it to fit the storytelling.

And the truth was, it came from the storytelling. Full credit to Joss, we were talking about this issue, and we knew there was going to be sex. We talked about it, and I'd already seen the one where the panties are on the floor and the bra's just behind it and you know exactly what's happening off panel. Then you see them in bed, and it's up to you to complete it in your own mind. We've also seen the one where you come on right before it, kind of cheat it and cut to right after it. And Joss said, "Why do we have to cheat it? Why can't we just show it?" It was one of those moments where I went, "Okay. Are you sure?" But that's bravery. It's to try what we haven't tried, and I love the fact that he's willing to take the risk and say, "You know what, Brad? Try it."

I had to take some risks and find out what his boundaries were, and there's nothing more socially awkward than talking with someone about exactly what position they can and can't be doing it in and where there parts can be. And then you invariably have to start talking about your own sex life and what you think is cool and doable and not. Believe me, it starts turning your conversation into a third grade cafeteria talk where you're all giggles and blushing red. But the real place where it came from was "We haven't tried it in this medium, so let's try it." I love standing on the edge of that trapeze and going for it. I think the point of pushing any story medium is trying to do something no one's done before.

So we started with that: "Let's see if we can show everything." And all I can say is that of the "nude scenes" in the book, there are far, far more graphic pages drawn than what you see. We had to look at them and go, "Are we okay with this?" because not all of our levels are set to the same baseline. It was wild to try and find the right place, and the one thing we always said for this was "There's a fine line between sexy and hardcore porn." We had a discussion where we were sending in what movies turned us on and what scenes turned us on and what we were going for whether it was "Y tu mamá también" or some single shot from a movie from the '80s that Rebecca DeMornay was starring in, say, if I were talking about myself.

But it was really difficult to find that baseline, and I think what Georges came out with was one of those things where if you look at the script, it'll make you blush for sure, but all the execution was on his shoulders. He was the one who actually hit it to the fences. This was visuals unlike anything he'd done before.

Well, with all the beauty and joy of the sex in the issue, you've got this very disturbing B-Side to things with the prophecy this will supposedly fulfill. And that darkness strikes first with this page of the Watchers killing themselves.

This is a big issue. And I guess that yeah, people will end up talking more about the nudity, but to me the more important thing is what's happening to the mythology here. There's a real definition or at least a really great theory coming through here, and all credit to Joss for letting us play with it. People keep talking about where the real crux of the story is, and it wasn't about Angel being Twilight. This was about us starting to see what the real thing to talk about actually is. And I was just personally obsessed with the idea that someone like Giles always has the information at his fingertips whenever you need it, and someone like that is always a very scary person. You better believe that sometimes...it's just like we hinted at in "Identity Crisis" with Superman. If you've got super hearing, sometimes there are things you're hearing that you shouldn't be hearing. That's a very terrifying proposition, and I think it's the same way with Giles. Someone who has access to all this is going to know some things that can't make you happy. And I think it gives him a much more interesting turn for the character.

And we're back to the sex! Beyond the whole question of what can physically be shown or not shown, there's a definite build in the intensity of it as we get closer and closer to "flying through mountains" sex.

I actually wanted it to be more than just titillating crap. I wanted to be sexy and beautiful. And one of the best compliments we've gotten by e-mails and all over the place was where people said they went to read it again in a dark room. There's something immensely disturbing about that, but full credit again to Georges for getting to that moment where we're trying to turn people on. That wasn't the full goal or what we set out to do, but if you're going to do this and tackle it in this way, you better at least do that.

And here on page eight, we have a brief moment when Angel's kissing her neck where we get the reminder that she's been bitten in the past, and it's a callback to both the TV show but also the real sexual element of the vampire myth.

If you see the script for this book, all it talks about is how much of a tie there is between the fighting that goes on between Slayer and vampire and the lovemaking that goes on between them. I think there's a psychological, dangerous point you can fall into the trap of when you start making those comparisons, but I also think you'd be crazy not to start pointing them out. I don't want to turn this into a philosophical discussion of sex and violence, but this is a book where every month at its face that's about killing people who like to bite people's necks and rip their throats out. This is the Freud moment, and if you're going to do stuff like this, you've got to be prepared to tackle that.

And again, you'll see throughout the entire book that Georges is repeating panels between the violence and the sex – between the history and the current times. And this is one of the things I love most about comics. This is something I can't do in a novel and can't even do on film – being able to visually reference back to a moment where you want to be and then in a second you're in a new place having made your point with no words, just an image. That's, to me, why comics are the medium that they are. That's why they're so tremendous.

In the Giles and the gang at the base thread, we get into this idea that nature has predetermined how this will all push humanity and reality into a new phase or a new existence. That's something I think has been hinted around in "Buffy" but never outright explained: what is the thing that makes all this exist and work the way it does?

This is what I love the most – the part of the mythology I love and am trying to figure out a way for it to make sense. How does the big picture actually work? This is what I spend my nights up thinking about, and when I read a comic or enjoy a comic, I love looking at that big picture. The very best stories have that there. And the big picture is not always easy to get to. Not to get too repetitive, but that's the most important part of this issue. The naughty bits are fun, and there's some good psychological stuff to be done with that, but the history will always be what fascinates me more.

On page eleven you get to find a way to represent those bigger ideas visually and call back to the bat predator/prey relationship. Did you play around to find what the best imagery was to tie the ideas together?

You know, there's a part of me that looks at this page and thinks, "Is it too on the nose? To have a vampire bat and another blood-sucking animal?" But as I wrote it in the script, that's how nature actually works. The scene came from this story from a while back that said vampire bats in Texas eat lots of mosquitos, but if they eat all the mosquitos then all the frogs would die. If you take away the mosquitos, you'll get the dead frogs, and the entire food chain gets messed up. That's where this idea came from, and in the first draft of the script, the entire story about the frogs was there, and it just felt like this horrible Animal Planet moment. When I saw Georges artwork, I just said, "That's unnecessary. It's far too much overkill to explain it, and we get it." So I'm happy with how it came out, and we're not trying to be clever in terms of "oh, here's something that we made up to illustrate our point." It's something that came out of the animal kingdom that did it for us.

On page 14 you get even more imagery fun bouncing between the Slayer/vamp relationship in actuality and some cataclysmic world changing pictures and well...the fish. How did this more intense phase of things balance out with that earlier "on the nose" imagery?

I think what you're really saying is you wanted more trains going into tunnels and hot dogs being put into buns. [Laughs] I only wish we'd have found a better thing, but everything just becomes so obvious. How many times have you seen it? But when it came back to tying things back to the universe, those Indian Ocean fish are in the script asked to be – and I don't know if anyone will ever get this – but they should bare some resemblance to a certain fishy character in Buffy's future, future, future. And that's where it came from. We wanted this all to actually make sense.

And I always knew we were going to give Willow's powers back, but it was Joss who actually said, "I know exactly where it's going to strike her, and we can flash back to it here." And I thought that was a great way to tie it all together. Though again, I wish we could have done 20 pages of big giant splashes to get all this across, but it wasn't really necessary. People get the point.

We've got page 18 next, which has so much threading together for both what's going on with Giles and the idea of the ladder and the most intense moments between Buffy and Angel...

And I think they're just afraid of putting up pages 16 and 17 online. [Laughs] Georges really killed it on that two-page spread, and I wish we could go panel-by-panel for the whole issue, because more than anything we've done, this is something where I felt like every piece we put down really had to do with something that was really vital. The issue wasn't 22 pages. It grew to 25. And Georges on that spread did one of those things where sometimes you do a spread and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. So I wrote this script where I say "And then they split a mountain in half by the sheer force of what they're doing to each other." That's one of those things that looks great in your head, but God knows if it's ever going to come out good. This was one of those things where I saw what Georges pages and thought, "Perfect."

And this page gets so much across too. I thought that last panel with Buffy is one of the best he's ever drawn, and it just nails the emotions of what's going on perfectly.

We're wrapping with page 22, because of that middle panel..."Soon."

Yeah. [Laughs] There's really nothing left to say. It's in the caption box.

Well, when the news of Angel hit, that was one of the first questions asked: "What about Spike?" But we know now that all of the pieces are on the board for Joss, and he will use them as he likes.

And listen, I think people forget that the things that they like best are sometimes, shockingly, also the things that we like best as writers. The thing I appreciate the most about this season as a whole – and it's true over every season of "Buffy" – by the time you got to the end, all the big pieces were on the board. I'm never going to say how soon "Soon" is or how far "Soon" is, but "Soon" is a pretty damn good way to say it.

Well, speaking of soon: what can you tell folks about what's in store for your last issue? You've said how your goal in writing this arc was writing the payoff, and now we've got an idea of what that means. The name Twilight really stands for this whole new reality or existence or whatever you want to call it. Is whatever "Twilight" really is the thing that made you want to do this arc?

It was this issue and next issue, for sure. When we originally spoke, we talked about how all four of the issues got to each take on their own genre, and this one was love/sex while also being the history lesson. The next one is a really interesting discourse in philosophy, and it comes not in a kind of masturbatory intellectual discourse of big words and bull crap, but it really lets you find out what the big point is.

Check back with CBR next month for an in depth look at "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8" #35!

TAGS:  dark horse comics, buffy, twilight, brad meltzer

 
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