The twisting story of Buffy Summers's former lover Riley Finn continues in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8: Riley," a one-shot by "Buffy" TV alum Jane Espenson and artist Karl Moline shipping in August from Dark Horse. Riley has played a significant behind-the-scenes role in Season 8, seemingly aligned with Twilight against the Slayer army but later revealed to have infiltrated the Big Bad's camp on Buffy's behalf. Of course, given that Twilight himself turned out to be Angel, another of Buffy's heroic exes, the line between good guy and bad guy, good spy and bad spy, would seem to blur even further. The one-shot promises to reveal more about Riley actions throughout the Buffy's first season in comics, and CBR News spoke with Jane Espenson about the issue.
Riley Finn, played by Marc Blucas, was introduced in the fourth season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as a seemingly-normal love interest for Buffy's college days. As it turned out, however, Riley was in fact a super soldier in the employ of covert government agency the Initiative, and once his (and the Slayer's) secret came out, the happy couple fought demons and vamps together. Riley's de-powering during Season 5 and proportionally enhanced insecurities scuttled their relationship, though he would come to Buffy's aid twice more before the end of the television series' run.
In Espenson's "Retreat" story arc, Riley was revealed as a double agent for the Slayer army, having infiltrated Twilight's camp to discover the secrets of his operations. But the writer said how Riley got to this point and what he'd been up to prior to this would form "the heart of the one-shot." "You'll see exactly what he's up to and with whom he is up to it," Espenson said. "My original notion was to open the issue with images that call to mind the art of Grant Wood and end with images pulled from Paul Gauguin. Things changed, the story naturally evolved, and that didn't really happen."
As to how Riley might have approached Twilight, gained his trust, and so forth, Espenson indicated the chain of events may not have been so straightforward. "I felt there were a lot of options about who approached whom and in what order. Buffy, Riley and Twilight were all jockeying for ground in those early days."
Buffy has called on Riley in some dire circumstances before, naturally in the course of their courtship during seasons four and five but also occasionally in the time since their less-than-amicable split, notably in season 7 when Buffy asks Riley to arrange for a defective control chip to be removed from Spike's head. CBR asked Espenson why, given their history, Riley so reliable answers the call when Buffy needs him. "It's an interesting question. Personally, I think he still has very deep personal feelings for Buffy, but I would note that it's also interesting to ask the question, 'why wouldn't he answer the call' - like, what would prevent it?"
With the reveal of Twilight as Angel, there of course have been questions about his methods as well as his motives. But, we asked Espenson, is it possible that Riley, as a double agent, might have been struggling with some issues similar to those we can expect Angel might have been facing? "You raise an interesting notion of drawing a parallel between the two men," she said. "Like...what are the ways in which they react similarly to these pressures, and the ways in which they react differently? I like that."
"Buffy Season 8's" paramilitary setting would seem to play well with Riley's established character, though ultimately Buffy sees Riley's greatest value as a spy rather than as a trainer or commander for her Slayer army. "This is speculation on my part, but it may be that others were competent to train the Slayers," Espenson said of Buffy's motivations, "while Riley was uniquely positioned to act as spy."
The espionage trappings of the Riley one-shot differ significantly from the type of stories Espenson had been telling in the comics so far, most obviously in the case of the Harmony stories but differing also from what readers saw in "Retreat." "I love mixing things up, getting to play in different genres," Espenson said. 'Buffy Season Eight' has allowed me huge freedom to write different kinds of stories. It's not so much that I was thirsty to write spy-type action, but that I was hungry for that variety. And the spy action did turn out to be a blast. It's really well-suited to the demands of this kind of writing, where the visual is so important."
This near to the conclusion of "Season 8" - the final, Joss Whedon-penned story arc begins after the "Riley" one-shot - CBR asked Espenson whether the issue will shed any light on the remaining mysteries and the things we still don't know. "I only know what I don't know," she joked. "No, wait. I totally don't know what I don't know!"