BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8: "Last Gleaming"

Fri, December 10th, 2010 at 12:28pm PST

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, News Editor
17

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8" #39, in stores now.

It took four years for Joss Whedon to find a way to continue the adventures of Buffy Summers on the page of a Dark Horse comic after the 2003 end of the popular "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" television series, and now another end is facing franchise fans as the best-selling "Season 8" comic is down to its last two issues.

But before Buffy, Angel, Spike and the Scoobies all return to (a much more brief than four year) hibernation, some of the biggest, most shocking events in Buffy-verse history are on hand. 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 franchise.

This week, readers are still feeling the shockwaves from issue #39 – the penultimate chapter in the season's "Long Road Home" mega-story, and to help uncover the most info, CBR News spoke with both "Buffy" editor extraordinaire (and final arc co-writer with Whedon) Scott Allie as well as series artist Georges Jeanty. Below, the pair go over what it felt like to bring this important story to a close, discuss the major death and major losses suffered at the end of the story, tease how the end of the "Angel as Twilight" era will roll into the upcoming "Season 9" series and so much more.

Story continues below

CBR News: Gentlemen, before we get into the issue itself this week, since we are down to the end of the end here, I thought I'd check in and see where everyone was at. Have you wrapped the final issue of the series completely, or are there still a few pages to go before it's sent out to the printer?

Georges Jeanty: I'll let Scott answer that one, because I'm sure he's elated.

Scott Allie: [Laughs] Yeah, Georges is done, so we're all happy. Georges and Andy are both done, and the coloring and lettering is getting finished right now, so we're real close. The letter column's done, and we're putting the last few pieces together and waiting to see colors. Then we'll be all done with #40.

How does that feel? I'm sure it' a bit sad to be seeing such a big project, but after years of work how differently did this book end than you thought it would when you begain?

Allie: Well, Georges thought it was only going to be a few issues!

Jeanty: Yeah, I originally thought it was just going to be four issues, and then 12 issues, and then 25! It just kept getting longer and longer, so I didn't know that there would be an end to be honest. [Laughs]

Allie: Yeah, Georges only signed on for the first arc, and we didn't have the idea at that point that it would be one artist and a million writers. We thought it'd be this rotating team of people on what at the time we thought would be 22 or 25 issues. But then we really liked what Georges was doing, and so when Brian Vaughan was coming on as the second writer, that was the carrot to get Georges to stay. Then I think he figured out that he actually liked it, so he stuck around after that.

Jeanty: [Laughs] Yeah, I actually learned the material and thought, "Hey! This is pretty good!"

Allie: And Georges just so came to define what we thought the book was that it became increasingly important to keep him around. But originally for me, the moment it all really started was when Joss sent me that first script from out of the blue. We had been talking about doing something that we might call "Season 8" for a couple of years at that point, but when a script showed up, it was just a huge surprise. I didn't have a real concept of what it was going to be by the end. So it has definitely been a long, crazy trip for us. I think for me it's been about five years from getting that first script to where we are now. Wow.

And you've had a strong hand in working on a lot of the stories you've edited, from the Hellboy stuff to books like "Umbrella Academy," but with "Buffy" you're ending by actually coming on as co-writer and saying, "Here are some images from my head to help end this story." Has that made this last leg a bit more intensive than it was all the way through.

Allie: Yeah. For sure. And that's certainly the part that I couldn't have seen coming when we started. That's been huge fun and a great way to go out. I've been right there with Joss and Georges from the beginning, and nobody's more invested in this thing than us. So being able to do that with all three of us being a part of it at the end was really gratifying, and it was an amazing payoff. Working with guys like Joss and Mignola, I look at it as a real educational experience. I'm always learning better how to tell a story by editing someone like Mike or Joss. So now being able to co-write and get notes from Joss and really pick it apart with him that way, I really feel like I've learned a lot working on this final arc.

Jeanty: You hate to say things came full circle, but they really did at the end of this. It felt like, "Wow! This is how we started the whole thing!"

Georges, looking at #39 specifically, it felt like the issue was laid out for you as "the action issue," with big fight beats on almost every page. Did you guys know for a while that Joss was going to write a quieter coda issue for the finale, or did this big fight come on in and dictate how things would go?

Jeanty: I think once we got to #36, I knew pretty much that #39 was going to be a real climax and #40 would be the aftermath. And oh my God! I never draw in sequence and am always doing things out of order. Now, looking back on #39, it felt like that thing was never going to end. [Allie Laughs] I was endlessly drawing some creature here, something there...it just felt like there wasn't a lot of architecture on the page, it was a monument of either Slayers or creatures or demons or explosions or what have you. I'm glad that I got the script in pieces, if I remember, because if I would've read the whole thing, I would have gone, "I can't draw this in the time allotted."

Allie: With the way it ended, #39 was the total climax and #40 as the coda, that was a surprise because going into this last meeting I had with Joss in May where we sat down and broke out the last five issues together, when we started the process, we knew basically what happened. We knew the events that have now taken place in #39, and we knew what the coda was going to look like. But when we first started breaking things, we thought that the pivotal climactic stuff was going to happen in the beginning of #40 and that the coda, which Georges has just finished drawing, would be five or six pages. I'm much happier with the way it worked out – getting all the climax and the big stuff in #38 and 39, and then with what happens on the last pages few pages of #39, I'm so glad we have a full 24 pages in issue #40 to come down off it. If we had to come down off that moment in that room in six pages and then go, "Okay guys, we'll see you in ten months!" that would have sucked. It would have been a real bad rhythm.

Jeanty: And the great thing about #40 is that Buffy is on every page. There's sort of that closing of the doors and opening of new ones where there's a literal point where she goes to each and every person she has to talk to and has that – either a resolution or a setup for more conflict. I like the fact that we're following the main character through all this, since we've just been through all this for the last four years. This issue is a nice way to close it and reaffirm who she is as it closes at the end of the day.

Well, I've got some pages picked here from #39 to talk about, and I'm sure you'll remember which moments are what even if you didn't draw them in order...

Jeanty: Oh, I've got this issue right here. I went to my local comics shop and picked it up!

Allie: What's the name of that local comic shop?

Jeanty: Oxford Comics in Atlanta, Georgia!

Well, we're starting here with a big action page – Angel throwing a plane, even – but what stood out to me here was that the story focuses back in on how Buffy views herself and how she feels at fault for this situation saying, "This is some kind of cosmic vengeance." When I spoke with Brad Meltzer, he stressed how much her taking everything on the chin is ingrained in the character. How do you guys view that aspect as it played into this series and this issue in particular?

Jeanty: I think the great drama that is Buffy is that she's always thinking something is her fault or that she created something, and I think the fans have really latched onto that. With who she is and what she's done in the whole of "Season 8," I can definitely see her having some issues in "Season 9" because I think, for all intents and purposes, this is, psychologically, the most upsetting season for her.

Allie: This is a pretty big failure for her in a lot of ways. She did what she had to do, but it's pretty devastating for her. And on this page in particular, the stuff you're talking about reminds me of a phrase Joss has always talked about with his writers: "What's the Buffy of it?" In any conflict, in any situation, she's the main character, and you've got to bring it back to her in some way. When I initially wrote this page, the narration was too focused on Angel, and then Joss steered me toward bringing it back on to her. So those last two lines are about "Yeah, what's going on with Angel is important, but we've got to keep an eye on how it relates to her." I do find her kind of narcissistic in a sense, but she's always going to blame herself and see her fault and failure. Even in the midst of this colossal fight, the fight of her life in some ways, it's a little bit of self-pity and self-flagellation, but it's what she does.

Georges, we talked last month about how military stuff is some of your least favorite to draw. Is this giant, flaming plane the last of that for you?

Allie: I'll say that Georges did point out to me the stupidity of a guy grabbing a plane in flight and the idea that such a plane would just come apart and completely shred itself.

Jeanty: Yeah, I just keep thinking of the physics of it all. [Laughter]

Allie: Oh yeah, it's stupid. He's quick to point out that it makes no sense, and he's right. But it was like "We need a superhero moment here. We need a stupid, big moment." Because if they're just punching each other for five pages, I don't know. But even thought it doesn't make sense, I think it looks kind of cool, and I love the way Georges drew it. I love how big it feels.

Jeanty: There is that thing with comics that I think Jack Kirby had said: Something doesn't have to make sense, but if it has that cool factor, people will let it go.

Speaking of big moments, this page starts with a tree growing high enough to stab a dragon in the chest. But for me, one aspect of the "Buffy-verse" that I've never really had the best handle on is how the various genre elements, from vampires to witches to demons, always synched up. Was part of this story for you guys about putting all those pieces right up next to each other?

Allie: It was largely just about getting the biggest things possible onto the table. Aside from the protagonists, there are no vampires here. I'm always bummed out a bit that we don't manage to get more vampires onto the page sometimes, but I felt like having a bunch of vampires fall into the big war scene wouldn't be big enough stakes. It wouldn't take the fight grand enough. But yeah, Willow's magic and the dragons and all this interdimensional demons and stuff - we needed to have all the magic on the table in the final battle because of how it's going to turn out. We needed it all there so that when we flip the switch, you could feel the effects immediately. You can see them right on the battlefield.

Jeanty: For me, I'm always editing myself, and I was looking at that page when I got the book and thinking, "We should have put some sparkles around her because she's actually materializing in that scene." And it screams at me that it's something I didn't do and that I could have made it more clear. So I'm always editing something when I'm finished with it.

Well, you were talking about drawing out of sequence and getting pages in chunks. Do you tackle these things in terms of "Here are the magic pages" and "Here are the underground pages" and such?

Allie: Well, he got the pages in pieces, but in order...right?

Jeanty: Yeah, I think so. It's more that I'm just working out what the aesthetics are. So here we've got a dragon for a few pages. I will tend to draw those pages with the dragons together because I have the reference, and it's quicker to draw all of that in one fell swoop.

There's a whole lot in this issue, and it's kind of impossible to cover it all without showing every page, but I wanted to focus on this bit with Faith because it's one of the really clear supporting cast moments in this issue and one of the last of those moments after a string of them in this arc. Was part of the goal here to reach back to the BKV arc and give that thread a final beat at the end?

Jeanty: Well, I don't know if this is a spoiler or not, but a lot of this really does set up what will come again. Certainly in the next issue, you'll get more of this. It's been a great little subplot – how Faith, while she is on par with Buffy in every way, is always Number 2 – and I think that stuff has been personified a lot more in "Season 8."

Allie: In "Season 8," we set up certain things in Brian's arc, and the [Jim] Krueger one-shot dealt with it a little bit, but we never delved as deeply into the Faith arc as we could have because we had to stay focused on the main story. There was so much going on with Buffy and then Angel in the main story that we didn't get to go as deeply into Faith's growth and her relationship with Giles as we wanted to. So it became really important that we gave her a moment and check in with the two of them at the end, here. Their mission – the agenda they developed in Brian's arc – is something they're never going to get to pay off, now. Now she's left with it, and it'll certainly be a part of what's going on with her in "Season 9."

Jeanty: And if I'm not mistaken, some of the dialogue changed there too. I remember it being a little more cathartic from what is written.

Allie: The main thing I remember is that I had a really bad line of dialogue for her at the bottom of the previous page. Joss and I fixed that, but I think the two panels of them together was pretty much the same. You remember there being more?

Jeanty: I remember it being more of her relegating herself and going, "Yeah, go save your #1" instead.

But Georges, you really sell the emotion of that moment in the second panel on that page. I'm not sure any additional dialogue is needed there.

Allie: You're absolutely right. Georges delivers what it's all about without having to say it. I'm looking back through the earlier draft of the script right now, and I think you're remembering what the intent of the panel was, but you really got that across. I'm looking at the first draft, and there's even less dialogue than there is now. The idea was to show her – she says the word "right" and it's there to sum up her disappointment. Georges, you just nailed it, and so that one word doesn't hold a candle to the image.

Jeanty: When I read the scripts, I read them as any fan would. There's a point where I separate myself as an artist, but as a fan is how I go through the first reading. I try to visualize it in terms of "What if this were being filmed as an episode" and I can see all the "Buffy" episodes, understanding Joss' edicts so well that I can materialize it more than just going, "What's your motivation here?" If you know the characters, you know what they're feeling.

As we go along in this issue, the phrase that kept popping up in my head was "Collateral Damage." [Laughter] So much gets lost and changed through the comic, but it came through these big moments. This one, we get to see Angel punch a hole in the Master's head, which is a really intense moment. Did you try to pace this so that with each change, the character's affected got bigger and bigger?

Allie: I don't know that we thought about it like that, exactly. Back in those meetings we had in May, we blocked out all that was going to happen. So we knew at this point that Angel had to kill the Master. By the time I got to writing this issue, we had talked so much about the Master in the previous couple of issues that felt the best way to deal with him finally after all the buildup and all these years was another quick, unceremonious murder. And punching him through the head - was that in the script, or was that you, George?

Jeanty: No, that was in the script.

Allie: That may be a call out to something in "Umbrella Academy" where The Boy punched someone in the head, but I liked how it looks here. I like seeing the back of his head go, and I'm sure to some longtime fans and readers, it'll feel too unceremonious. But the point at this time was "Yeah, there's a lot happening, and there's huge consequences." And one of the things Joss and I talked about in terms of the character was that Joss finds the Master really funny. That wasn't my initial impression of the character, but once I'd seen that I was like "Totally." He's the high-faluting comedy relief in some ways. So the back of his head gets blown apart. And then he gets dusted, which I love how Georges handled that in the next panel where you see pieces of skull flying as green dust floats around.

I think as I wrote this like this, I was thinking, "Angel doesn't have a stake, so the other way to kill a vampire is to cut off his head. How can we do a new decapitation? How do you make decapitation interesting and original? Well, a fist straight through the head is like decapitation."

So now it's canon. Punching it through the head until it explodes is officially a way to kill a vampire.

Allie: [Laughter] I think so, yeah. I think most people just don't have the stones to do it.

Jeanty: I actually think that works in most walks of life.

Allie: Yeah! Almost anyone you punch through the head will probably die. [Laughter]

Two pages later, we get a much more serious and intense moment, which I'm sure you'll be hearing about from fans if you aren't already.

Allie: I am never going to another convention. [Laughter]

Jeanty: Not without security, I'm sure.

But Angel kills Giles. I'm not sure there's much else to say about it. At what point did Joss realize Giles was going to sacrifice himself to complete this story?

Allie: That was a while ago – and I hope you appreciate this, Georges – because when we started having this conversation, there was a moment in the conversation, it reminded me of a scene in "The Godfather." And in this, Georges is basically Luca Brasi. We started talking about it, and it was like "Georges is going to go crazy. Georges is not going to like this." I said, "Okay, I'll deal with the fans and with Sierra [Hahn], but who's going to handle Luca Brasi? Who's going to tell Georges?" I think at the point when Georges found out we were going to do this, that was when we got the reaction we were expecting. What did you think when you found this out, Georges?

Jeanty: Obviously, being a fan and knowing all the lore, you have to prepare yourself for this thing. And I was more on the side of pleading. I thought, "If I don't actually draw it, it doesn't actually happen. Maybe if I talk to someone first, they'll reconsider this thing." I remember talking to Joss at one point, and I told him "You really have to justify that to me" – I can't believe I was so bold in saying that – "before I actually put pen to paper. Because speaking as a fan and not the artist, you are going to get an upheaval here." And Joss went on to describe it, and at the end of the day I do what I'm told. But I was really pleading. It was one of those things I understood because people were still reacting to Tara. So I was going, "Could you please kill somebody else and not Giles?" [Laughter]

Allie: And by the way, Joss will not necessarily provide that service to every fan who calls and says, "You need to explain yourself." [Laughter] But I think he felt it was important and that Georges had earned that explanation. For me, I don't take it lightly at all. I was a little shocked and amazed when it first came up, but it has everything to do with where all these people are in their lives – where Giles is at, where Angel is at, where Buffy is at. The decision to kill a pivotal character is something that you can't just do for shock value or for the sake of housekeeping or to prove a point that there are stakes involved in the story. It can't just be about that, and it wasn't about that. This didn't start with any of those concerns. It started with who and where these guys were at, and it ended with me going on Netflix and going to the episode where Angel kills Jenny Calendar and doing a screen grab of him snapping Jenny's neck and pasting that into the script and saying "This is what Joss wants you to draw." Joss wanted us to exactly echo that moment from Season 2, which was a pretty rough moment.

Jeanty: And all I did was reverse it. When Angel did it then, he was facing left, and here he's facing right. It sort of bookends that whole scene.

Here we get a match-up of those harder moments and the hilarious as Willow loses her magic while Warren splats to pieces. With the Seed being broken, magic is being taken from the world. Where does that leave everyone? Is there any magic left? Any powers left for the Slayers?

Allie: I'm only going to answer this questions because we have sort of already answered it in the comic, but we will get into it a little bit more in #40. Aluwyn explained that if the Seed breaks, the Slayers will retain their power because their power is in them. They were born with it, and then it was activated. Things that have power latently in them will still have whatever they have. But witches tap into energies from other dimensions and other realms, so they will no longer have the ability to tap into those things. Demons who live on this earth – like vampires which are revenant humans with demons in them – will still be here. But there probably won't be any new vampires created because there won't be any more avenues for demons to come through and get into their bodies. New demons won't appear on earth. You can't conjure a demon or get one to show up because there's no way for them to get here or for us to get to them.

So the demons being sucked up through those holes in the sky are gone. There are demons that won't get sucked out. There will be thousands of demons left on earth that will still be here, but if they can't get away and more can't come, then if the army and Buffy and everybody were to team up and wipe out the thousand or so demons left around, that'd be the end of it. And if the vampires were all killed, there'd never be anymore vampires. But for now we've got some demons running around and some vampires running around. And we've got some Slayers who still have their latent abilities, and Buffy will still have her Slayer abilities. But Willow is, as I think we make pretty clear, entirely powerless.

Georges, what's it like for you to transition between such big, serious moments and then things like Warren? That mix of real emotion and tongue-in-cheek stuff is what "Buffy" is known for, but it must be hard to juggle those elements on the page.

Jeanty: Well, totally, but you've kind of got to look at it – with this whole series – from a different point of view than drawing a Superman or Batman book. A lot of who this series is being done for are people who've never read comics, and what you do in terms of how you show it is making things as identifiable as possible because if you miss your chance the first time around, you can really mislead the reader and make them feel like they can't follow a comic. To me, that sounds like an oxymoron to begin with, but they really feel like "I don't read comics, so I don't know what's going on in this Buffy book." As an artist, I've really tried to make it as plain as possible and in saying that, I try to chose scenes and angles that are the most depictable.

So when you're trying to deal with comedy or horror or things that move back and forth, it's a very delicate balancing act because you cannot alienate the viewer who's already skeptical about the medium. So I try and keep my storytelling very basic and straightforward.

Allie: One of the things we love the most about Georges – and Karl [Story's] another guy who does this well when a lot of guys who work in this don't do it – is the way that he so comfortably can slip from superhero action to real heartfelt drama to really silly, funny shit. He does that without making abrupt style changes. He just kind of slides. It's really graceful and keeps a continuous vibe to the story with a great emotional impact. In this bit with Amy and Warren, I loved it. He nailed it and made it stupid and gross and funny...and probably not too tragic, but what's going on around it is so tragic that when Warren turns into a puddle of goo, it's both funny and makes you go "That sort of means terrible, cataclysmic things too."

Jeanty: And in the Joss Whedon universe, that's par for the course.

Like I said, there's so much in this issue that we can't get to here from what's up with Spike to what the Lion of Twilight turning away is all about, but one last page that struck me was the very final page. For all the crazy action in the issue, it ends on a very quiet moment. Why go out on such an understated series of images?

Jeanty: Well, with me I look at this and just see what I did wrong. Honestly, as we said, I was getting pages as they came in, and I did not know the Scythe was going to be broken. If I would have known that was the case, I would have broken it when Buffy swung at the egg. So when I look at this, every time I just go, "God, if I just would have broken that in an earlier shot!"

Allie: Ending on such a somber, quiet page is kind of the same reason why I'm glad we have all of issue #40 to reflect on this. You just need to take it down a second. The action is so high-pitched for such a long time, and then starting around page 17 when she cracks the egg, it's the ending but it's also the beginning of the fireworks. It's been so loud and traumatic that writing things like the page of Willow screaming was rough. I thought, "I think she'd just be screaming, but there has to be words." So I'm hearing this girl traumatized, and I just need to take it down for a minute after that. We knew we had to do the image of Buffy laying on the ground, which had been foreshadowed in issue #10. We knew we needed that, and the question was "Is that the last image of the story?" I think it would be weird to purely end it on that. So I like the idea of Xander just stumbling around looking horrified and angry and then getting one last image of Giles so people can't mistake the fact that he's lying there dead. People can't mistake the fact that things are just miserable. It's just good fun.

Jeanty: I think that this is the beauty of monthly comics. It cannot be replaced, and it's so well said here. With all the events going on here and in this page in particular, you see it and you digest it. You may not understand it all together, but now you have 30 days to look at it and start to postulate and think and let it resonate and start to come down from this obvious high. By the next issue, you're prepared to go, "Okay, I've waited a month. Give me my just desserts and fulfill what I was thinking about." I was thinking about this as I was doing this issue: once this is collected in a trade, I don't think the resonating factor will be as much. You can just turn the page and move on to the next issue. Here you have to wait, and there's nothing anybody can do until the next issue but be left feeling whatever they're feeling on this last page.

Allie: Another thing about this page that was in my head before we had to break down the five issues was that I had thought when we had talked about this scene over the years...I'd imagined the scene as having all the main characters in one room together. It just seemed like that's what was going to happen. Then as we were working on the story and all the pages individually, you just had to go, "No. All these guys need to be doing stuff. So...wow. Willow's not in the room." It was really weird to me that Willow wasn't in the room, but I think it adds to the devastation of the issue that we don't even see the principals together on the last page. Willow's screaming her head off on a battlefield. Xander's speechless. Angel's literally speechless. And Buffy's crying too hard to acknowledge anybody. That initial image I once had of everybody in a room together – even if they were all crying and tearing their clothes – would be more upbeat than what we see here.

Jeanty: Right. You look at this as "All bets are off."

Well, for everybody waiting the 30 days for the finale to come, what do you want to say about how "Season 8" ends? Obviously, "Season 9" is in the offing, but do you feel this season wraps in a way that's satisfying, or are a lot of questions left as to what comes next?

Jeanty: I've said that #40 will definitely set the tone for "Season 9," and after reading it, you'll definitely understand why there will be another season.

Allie: Good point. But I don't know, it's weird. I think the thing about issue #40 is that we were all happy when we figured out that the action was climaxing in #39 and that #40 would have room for a denouement. Then we were really happy after we decided that we were going to have me co-write the last arc that Joss was going to be able to write #40 by himself. One of the things about this book is that his arcs have been great on "Season 8," but when he comes in to write a one-shot, the one-shots always do an amazing job of rallying the troops and redefining exactly where we are after a flurry of activity in the issues before. Like Jane's five issues – those were cataclysmic in a lot of ways, and they ended with Buffy getting superpowers. It was really fortunate that Joss was able to jump in and write a one-shot after that to get a crystalline focus on who everybody was and where they were at. That's something he can naturally do better than anyone else can do. It was so essential for him to do issue #40 by himself.

And so I think what issue #40 does is reestablish who everybody is at the end of all these events. It takes them down a notch and let's them be the characters that they are. One thing Georges said earlier is that in issue #40, Buffy is on every page, and it's all about her relating to the principal characters...or not relating to them at all. It hits the reset button. In a lot of ways, it could have been issue #1 of "Season 9." It kind of is the beginning. It's the interesting thing about the comics: in so many ways, "Season 8" is not like a season of a TV show. One of the ways in which it isn't is that we have this denouement that gets us right into "Season 9." It establishes a brand new world order after these terrible events. Normally, you didn't get that at the end of a season. You had to wait until September to see what the fallout was. And I think more than any season of the show – or any pair of seasons of the show – the events of "Season 8" directly put you in "Season 9," and "Season 9" will be very much about dealing with what happened in "Season 8."

Check back to CBR next month for one final BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8 focusing on the 40th and final issue of the best-selling series!

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TAGS:  dark horse comics, buffy, angel, spike, scott allie, georges jeanty

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