Dark Horse Comics' trade paperback of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Last Gleaming," currently on sale, wraps up the eighth "season" of the ongoing comic. Picking up right where creator Joss Whedon's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" TV show left off after its cancellation in 2003, the comic detailed the further adventures of Buffy Summers as she tackled demonic forces and a mysterious bad guy named Twilight. Compiling issues #36 to #40 which were written by Whedon and editor Scott Allie with art by Georges Jeanty, "Gleaming" brings the series' final story arc to a close with the revelation that Twilight is none other than Angel, pitting the Slayer army against demonic forces and teaming Buffy up with the Master to protect the Seed of Wonder. On June 1 -- the trade's release date -- longtime "Buffy" writer Jane Espenson joined Jeanty at Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles to sign copies of the collection and chat with fans. CBR News spoke with both writer and artist about the finale of Season Eight as well as the upcoming Season Nine, which is tentatively slated to hit stores fall 2011. With the Slayer army fractioned, Giles dead, Angel in shock, Armageddon averted, the Seed destroyed and all magic purged from the world, we had to ask -- where do you go from there?
"You bring it back home!" said Espenson. A "Buffy" writer since the televisions show's third season and a Season Eight writer, Espenson said the goal of Season Nine is to get back to the basics, focusing on Buffy's struggles not just as the Slayer but as a regular, human woman. "Its much more about Buffy going, 'OK I'm going to have a life, not just an epic death, and what shape will my life have as an adult woman with this set of circumstances?'" said Espenson. Jeanty agreed, contrasting the upcoming season with the epic end of "Gleaming."
"You appreciate the whole Armageddon aspect of it, but at its core Buffy fans are just really interested in the characters -- it's very character driven, so the idea that 'Season Nine' comes back to a smaller base is a lot more appealing to die-hard 'Buffy' fans," said Jeanty. The artist for Season Eight and the announced artist for all of Season Nine, Jeanty described his art style as "hyper-realism" and explained he used a lot of photo references for his work, even for the new, comics-only characters.
"You sort of get references of other actors and say, 'Hey that guy would be a good love interest!'" Jeanty explained. Pointing out that the characters are also slowly aging in the comic, the artist said he keeps consistency in the forefront of his mind while drawing. "You keep that hyper-realism going with all the supporting characters because they do have to play with the characters everybody knows, so they don't look out of place," said Jeanty.
Laughing, he added, "Although, there are a few character who are going to be extraterrestrial and demon-y in nature, so they'll look out of place no matter what!"
Both Jeanty and Espenson agree that the idea to re-ground Buffy in the domestic is the major theme of Season Nine, with Buffy coming to terms with the fallout of the Slayer army and her decision to destroy the Seed. "It's not just the girl slaying vampires, as she has issues with other Slayers. [It's] more terrestrial," said Espenson. The writer stated that for her, Buffy's strength as a character does not come from her superhuman abilities but from how she handles the mundane problems of everyday life. "That's the kind of thing that makes 'Buffy' so funny -- you can tell a story about Buffy going to the prom and not have it feel lightweight or silly, because if it's important to Buffy, we care about it. These are human concerns," said Espenson.
Though the comic ostensibly focuses on the titular Slayer, Buffy wasn't the only one undergoing incredible changes in Season Eight. The comic series also saw Xander falling in love with Dawn, Willow falling in love with the demon Aluwyn -- and Dawn dealing with some unexpected physical changes.
"When the season first started, I was very surprised by the decision to make Dawn a giant!" laughed Espenson. "I thought, 'That doesn't feel like our show, that's not something we'd do on TV!' Then I saw it and I totally got it. I thought it was the best thing ever."
Jeanty had similar reservations about the decision for Buffy to sleep with the female Slayer Satsu, a controversial decision that garnered both praise and censure from fans. "I think so many people mistook Buffy sleeping with a woman as, 'She's not gay -- but this is the threshold,' and that wasn't the intent. It was more [about] what the external meaning of all that was," said Jeanty.
Yet despite how much growing, falling in love and turning into a centaur (Dawn again) the Scooby Gang does, Espenson said that as a writer, the core aspect she felt most important to keep through Season Nine of "Buffy" is the unwavering support of Buffy's friends. "One of the most important things about Buffy was that everyone respected her. Her friends respected her as a leader and never questioned that this girl, this leader, has the ability and mandate to lead," said Espenson.
While the Scoobies maintained that support through the end of Season Eight, Buffy is not so lucky when it comes to her fellow Slayers. Throughout the season, Buffy found herself slandered as a terrorist, targeted by rogue Slayers and ended up the object of ire of every ex-witch in the world after her Seed-breaking stunt. Both Jeanty and Espenson admitted that the other core aspect no "Buffy" story is complete without is the sheer amount of hardship Buffy has to fight her way through, something Season Nine promises to deliver in spades.
"Isn't that what we love about Buffy the most?" laughed Jeanty.
"She perseveres!" said Espenson, jumping in with a laugh of her own.
Joking aside, both artist and writer were adamant that the character's tendency to get knocked around by life, both as the Slayer and as plain old Buffy Summers, is an integral part of the Buffyverse and Season Nine. "She's a survivor, she definitely comes through -- not necessarily smelling like a rose, but she comes through because that's what she was born to do. I think she makes the best Slayer because of that," said Jeanty. "That's not something she adopted when she became a Slayer; that was something in Buffy Summers that has become useful as a Slayer."
Espenson enthusiastically agreed. "Her courage does not come from being a Slayer; it comes from her inner core. The letters we always got about, 'I survived high school because of Buffy' are about, 'Buffy went through hardships and she got through so I know I can, too,'" said the writer. With a grin, she added, "We owe it to the fans to put her through the wringer!"
Since Season Eight's stated intent was to wrap up Buffy's story and give the events of the TV show a firm, canonical conclusion, last year's announcement of Season Nine took fans by surprise. Scheduled to run over the course of the next two years with a very tentative release date for this Fall, neither writer nor artist knew whether Season Nine will mark the end of "Buffy," though Espenson suspected there will be more stories coming down the pipeline even once the Season is over. "Joss' answer would be that he will tell the story as long as there are stories to tell," said Espenson.
Of course, no fan or creator discussion about "Buffy" is complete without swapping favorite episodes. "Doug Petrie wrote an episode called 'Fool For Love' that was Spike's back-story. Holy crap that's good stuff!" said Espenson as Jeanty perked up.
"Oh yeah!" the artist laughed. "Is that the one where he says -- "
"I may be love's bitch, but at least I admit it!" the two recited in perfect unison. For a moment the longtime creative professionals transformed into giggling fans, falling over each other to profess their love for Whedon's work.
"Nobody writes the show or the comic or the universe the way Joss does," said Espenson. "This is Joss' world and we just write in it.
"And draw in it!" Jeanty added, holding up a copy of "Gleaming" as the first fans descended to get their autographs.
"Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Last Gleaming" trade paperback is available in stores now