Though he's gearing up for big screen glory with a certain Avenging superteam, Joss Whedon is nearing the goal line of the comic book project closest to his heart: Dark Horse's canonical "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8." After a series of twists and turns that have stretched over the past three years, the series has reached its final, Whedon-penned arc.
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 week, "Buffy" editor extraordinaire Scott Allie stops by to dig into issue #36 – part one of the "Last Gleaming" arc – from how the return of Spike will and won't affect Buffy and Angel's relationship to the return of another old face from the Scooby gang's past and more!
Scott Allie: It's not so much that there was a breather so much as we were running behind. We knew back in March when we looked at it that we weren't going to be able to keep moving through that monthly pace. So it's not that there was time to take a break. As soon as Georges was done drawing #35, he went right into #36. It was just a question of giving him the right amount of time to do it and the right amount of time for Joss to write. And when we realized that there was a gap there, we had a "Serenity" one-shot to fill the gap. We'd wanted to get another one-shot out, and that was how we came up with the idea for "Riley."
What strikes me about the opening of this issue is that coming right on top of the news that Angel is headed back to Dark Horse after IDW wraps its run and synchs it up with what Joss has been doing in "Buffy." As Angel lands into the Hollywood sign here, we get our first direct reference to the IDW plotline with Angel's expecting to see ruins in Los Angeles. I'm assuming you and Joss have known that "Angel" would be returning to Dark Horse for a while?
Yeah, we've known that for a long time. But in terms of Angel crashing through the Hollywood sign, that's something Joss wrote after co-plotting "After The Fall" with Brian [Lynch].
I know that the reason Brad Meltzer did the last arc was in part because he was itching to do the superhero stuff, but it feels very much like Joss wanted the chance to do the big super moment with this plane save. Did he have a big desire to do the stuff that's only done in comics rather than on TV?
When we launched the book, if you look at the very first pages of "Season 8" we were playing with that high-scale, action-adventure thing right off the bat. The thing about these final five issues is that we're in the thick of the climax. There's a lot of questions I'm getting from fans about how much time we're going to have to see the characters get reintroduced and interact with each other after the time apart, and unfortunately, it's not much. Basically, we've got these major characters – Angel being unmasked and Spike showing up – as the thing totally hits the climax. There's not going to be a lot of downtime. There's going to be a little, but not like there'll be all this time for the characters to get to know each other again because we're in the thick of action. That's why it feels like right now Joss is particularly taking advantage of the big action, unlimited budget approach to comics. He's doing it because we're there. We're in the part where all the shit hits the fan. So it gets big right away.
But in the tone of this scene – from the dog avatar popping up to the woman possessed who can't help hitting on Angel – really remains firmly tongue-in-cheek in the way all "Buffy" stuff has to.
There has to be a little levity in it. I was going over a script for something else with someone today and talking about the gravity we needed to hit, and they said, "Well, I'd like for there to be a little bit of levity in there." And in the heart of any kind of intense drama, there's room for a little bit of levity in there – in Buffy more so than other places.
We get our first real taste since Angel and Spike have shown up here of how they've been fitting into the edges of the Season 8 story from the beginning. I know Joss has been playing story editor with all the writers from day one, but as editor how's it been working to keep track of all these details for Joss this whole time so all the characters hit their marks?
Back in May, I went down to L.A. for three or four days, and we spent that whole time going back and forth over the last five issues. And we had all the older issues in front of us, picking through and looking at the loose ends we wanted to pull together in the end and the loose ends that just weren't going to wind up getting pulled together – not to say they didn't deserve to get pulled together, because everything is of equal importance to some people. But we looked at what would come together out of the climax, and during those three days we built a pretty tight outline for the last five issues and have stuck pretty close to that as we've gone forward writing that. But we worked out, "Does this character get their moment? Does this character get something appropriate to their moment in the story?" and figuring out how to balance and arrange that. And a lot of people have their favorite characters, and your favorite character never really gets enough screen time.
Once we focus back in on Buffy and Angel in the present, I know for some there will be an urge to start playing up the love triangle element to the characters because Spike is also back in the picture, but reading this scene doesn't give you doubts about the Buffy/Angel relationship on a character front. How important was it to get their relative happiness across here?
There's not a lot of room for the triangle to be the party. I remember episodes of the TV show where the triangle was kind of a big deal, but in this particular issue you see that there's not a big moment for the triangle to be the point of the story. To some degree, getting Angel out of there before Buffy really has to start dealing with Spike spares us a certain amount of B.S.
Of course, the flipside of that is even though there's not a romantic pull for Buffy in Spike appearing, he defintely is presenting the idea that there are bigger forces at play than "love conquers all," particularly with that Baby Universe out there. How hard is it to keep the stakes high in a series where so much has already gone down surrounding the fate of the universe?
The emotions between the characters are what keeps the plot going and what keeps the characters together and interesting. So in a way, all the crazy B.S. and the crazy "Whatever Happened To Baby Universe?" stuff is where the plot is focused and where the action is happening right now, but for any of it to matter, it's all about the emotional connection between the characters for sure. So yes, Buffy and Angel just had their super intergalactic tryst, but you're already starting to see Buffy kind of come down off that high and sort things out as she heads into other stuff.
So to end, I don't think we're going to show the last page here, but it gives us some big changes to the series...The Master! The Hellmouth!
The last page! Why haven't I gotten any angry e-mails about that yet? [Laughter] I'm surprised more people haven't been angry about it.
What we can show is the cover for next month's issue!
And well, I think the initial reaction to this has been shock. It's been quite a long while since we've seen him appear at all, hasn't it?
I believe The First showed up at one point disguised as The Master, but that wasn't really him. It was somewhat of a surprise to me when Joss told me he'd be bringing back The Master, but as it often happens he had something very specific in mind. You've got something you need to do plot-wise or character-wise and there's only one character who can satisfy that. So while I was surprised to hear about the return of The Master, he'll be doing some big stuff for the next couple of issues. It's been a long time. He died definitively at the beginning of Season 2, and it was really vivid the way in which it happened. There've been characters who have died and came back before, and there've been some characters where it's kind of confusing as to how that happened, so The Master's sudden appearance on that last page...I hope it's intriguing to the readers, and they'll learn a lot more about it in the next two issues.
"Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8" #36 is on sale now. And tune in next month for more of CBR's BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8!