Last week saw a major announcement in an unlikely place, as Dark Horse revealed in the editor's column in the back of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8: Riley" that the publisher had reacquired the license to Joss Whedon's "Angel" and would begin publishing new comics starring the heroic vampire in late 2011. IDW Publishing has published "Angel" since 2005, as well as spinoffs and miniseries starring supporting characters like Spike; Dark Horse had previously held the license from 2000-2002. As further details emerged Thursday and Friday and both companies distributed press releases confirming the transition, it became clear that this news was reaching fans far earlier than had been intended, and Dark Horse editor Scott Allie has admitted to and regrets the mistake. There remained questions, however, about what the changeover would mean for the future of Angel, both in terms of what IDW's final year of Angel comics will hold and what form the new series will take at Dark Horse. CBR News spoke with Allie and IDW Chief Creative Officer Chris Ryall for more information on what the move will mean for fans.
IDW's press release indicated that the publisher is coordinating with Dark Horse to create a smooth transition. Allie, who edits "Buffy Season 8" for Dark Horse, told CBR that this is being done "to make it graceful for everybody, which it's been anything but, thanks mostly to me and some other things at Dark Horse. It was Joss' idea to find these certain points, to really make things segue and to make it a graceful transition for readers and not just a big clumsy thing with no direction. We wanted to respect the work that both companies have done separately and kind of bring it together as we do this."
But, Ryall added, IDW's "Angel" books remain its own and the finales will pay off story arcs relevant to the last five years' worth of comics. "We are not just using our comics as a way to tell prequel stories that lead into or explain anything that's gone on in the Buffy comics. We are using the Angel comics to take things to their natural conclusion as we intended, but working in some of these plot points that Scott and Joss had mentioned," Ryall said. "So it works on two levels. It's not just being used as a lead in to what's going on at Dark Horse, it's taking our story to its natural conclusion."
Allie agreed, saying that it would be disrespectful to ask IDW to simply segue its stories into Season 8 or the upcoming Season 9, and that it would also be inconsistent with the structure of a television series. "In any given season in the TV shows, the end of the season isn't the setup for the next season, it's the resolution of that storyline, of those plot lines," Allie said. "While there's going to be this interaction, this tie-in, I think fans would hate that, if all IDW did was set up a story that we started four years ago."
Indeed, before the changeover, IDW still has a fair number of stories to tell. David Tischman and Mariah Huehner, the writing team behind IDW's "True Blood" comics, take over the ongoing "Angel" series with November's issue #39 for the final six-issue arc with artist Elena Casagrande, while "After the Fall" writer Brian Lynch and Franco Urru begin an eight-issue "Spike" miniseries in October. The four-issue "Angel: Illyria" by Scott Tipton, Mariah Huehner and Elena Casagrande, also launches in November. With three announced projects continuing into mid-2011, Ryall was keen to point out that IDW isn't done with Angel yet. "It's almost taken on the tone of a wake at the IDW boards. We're still doing these comics, there's still eight months to go. There's still a lot of comics to come from us between now and then," Ryall said. "And what we hope to accomplish is to put out enough comics to make you so sick of Angel that you never want to read another comic about Angel the rest of your life."
As for what's coming up in each series, Ryall told CBR, "'Angel's' been an ongoing series for us for four years now, so there's a lot of plot points that have been put out there that we want to resolve satisfactorily for everybody. With 'Spike,' Brian Lynch and Franco have been building to this book for a while now and there's a lot they want to do in the eight issues that they're now going to have. With 'Illyria,' we're going to use that miniseries to sort of make sense of some of the things that happened with her in the main 'Angel' book, so those two series will overlap nicely, too."
Ryall acknowledged that, while it's unfortunate for IDW to be losing "Angel," a shuffling of the portfolio is part of the business of licensed comics. "Every month, we're adding new things, and things go away. In the ultimate scheme of things, I didn't want 'Angel' to go and I wasn't ready to let 'Angel' go, [but] it is a licensed comic and we do a lot of these. That is the nature of a licensed comic," Ryall said. "They come and they go. 'Transformers' has changed hands, 'Star Trek' has been in more hands than there probably are comic publishers right now and ultimately, at the end of it all, it's one license and it's two to three books out of our monthly slate of about 50 books we do that will be going away, and newer things will be coming along. Like I say, I'd like to hold onto it, but the fact is it's leaving and we will keep doing what we always do and keep doing new things."
IDW will retain the right, however, to maintain its existing "Angel" material in print as trade paperbacks and other collections. "That is kind of a unique thing about this - usually when a license leaves a publisher, they have to stop publishing the books. We will be ceasing publication of new comics, but we will keep all of our 'Angel' comics and 'Spike' comics in print and all the trade paperbacks still available, so they will all be out there for a long time to come." Ryall also said that IDW will be offering a deluxe hardcover of all 17 issues of "Angel: After the Fall" in a format similar to the "Transformers: IDW Collection" books.
As to the form "Angel" will take once it moves over to Dark Horse, Allie offered CBR some details, but said that it was still very early to make other announcements about the series. He did reveal that both "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" will fall under the banner of Season 9, and wanted to clarify that this did not mean that Angel is simply a component of "Buffy Season 9" - the two series will be coequal. Allie would not say at this time how this will be represented on the comics themselves, except that "we have an idea, but we need to experiment with it."
Asked whether, with each title standing alone, the Season 9 monicker is still appropriate, Allie offered some further explanation. "The reason that Season 9 still makes sense is because what we're going to do next year with all the related characters is a follow-up to Season 8. Where these characters are at come August, or closer to the end of next year, is we're going to be picking them up where we left off in Season 8. So Season 9 is the sequel to Season 8," Allie said. "But I don't want people to think that Angel is relegated to a supporting role, because he's not. It'll be more just like what IDW's been doing in that these different characters are going to have their own book. Angel will have his own book, some of the supporting characters will have their own miniseries or semi-ongoings, but the reason it's Season 9 instead of 'the birth of the universe' is that we still want to look at things in a finite sense. Buffy Season 8 was 40 issues, we felt that that dragged the story on too long. We said repeatedly that Season 9 will be fewer issues or fewer months, but with multiple titles in that time period."
Over the years, IDW's publishing platform for Angel has included a number of miniseries, sometimes starring supporting characters, sometimes looking at earlier periods in Angel's long life, such as the recent "Angel: Barbary Coast" by Tischman. Allie has suggested that characters other than Buffy and Angel will have miniseries during Season 9, but CBR asked the editor whether there was room in Dark Horse's plans for historical series, as well. "There's definitely room for that, but if we do it it will contribute to the overall themes and storyline of Season 9," he said. "The thing that I like about how IDW's approached the Angel line is that they've been really aggressive about telling a huge range of stories with all these different [creative] teams, and exploring all these different parts of every character in every part of their history. Obviously, that's kind of the opposite of what we did with Season 8. We told one sprawling story, only ever one comic per month. We're going to go kind of in the middle for Season 9. There will be more comics, but we're still going to be focused on a linear progression."
Allie said that re-acquiring the "Angel" license corrects what he sees as a bad decision to give up the license in the first place. Asked about the circumstances behind Dark Horse that decision, Allie said, "It's pretty businessy, and all I've said over and over is that I regret letting it go. It was a poor choice based on some shaky information. It was the wrong choice, and at the time, our world was a bit different in terms of what we were doing with Buffy and Angel, and what Joss was doing. We're glad to have him back, and we need them together because of what we have planned for Season 9."
With "Angel" reverting to Dark Horse, the publisher is now the comic book home of all of the Joss Whedon properties, adding to a collection that already included "Buffy," "Serenity," the short story "Sugar Shock," and "Dollhouse," for which the publisher had recently announced an exclusive comic for the Season 2 DVD release. "We're definitely going to do a 'Dollhouse' comic next year. Details on that, I'm hoping to have put together pretty soon, hopefully as soon as New York Comic Con," Allie added. "But yeah, it really is no disrespect to IDW. Joss is setting up shop in one place, basically. There's only one way to do that, and I'm sorry that it comes somewhat at IDW's expense, but the idea is that he wants one place to do it, one group of people to work with, and he just feels that we've got a foundation for doing that."
This answer, however, perhaps raises questions about where Whedon will find time to oversee at least two Season 9 titles as well as taking a role in these other comics, especially considering his role directing the "Avengers" film. "He'll definitely be more busy than he's been," Allie said. "We think we've built a system over Season 8 to make Season 9 work, even with him more busy. It's going to be a lot of diligence on my part and Sierra Hahn, the other editor on the Buffy stuff, to just keep it going with him. He and I had a long talk about it yesterday and he's worried about how much time he'll have to do it. I'm worried about it, but we think the timeline will make it ok. There's a reason we're not launching Season 9 right after Season 8 - we need the time to get it right, we need time to plan for it appropriately."