[SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9" #3-5, in stores now.]
Just as Buffy Summers began to find new footing in San Francisco, events unlike any she's faced before have thrown her life into disarray once more. After Buffy destroyed the Seed to save all of reality at the end of "Season 8," all magic was banished from this plane of existence, with the exception of some inborn traits such as a Slayer's power. Without the threat of evils from another dimension, Buffy hoped to establish a new, quieter life as she dealt with the fallout of her actions, but now zombie vampires ("zompires"), altered demons, and other individuals with a unique grudge have come to upset the apple cart. And then came the revelation in issue #5 -- Buffy is with child.
Welcome back to BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 9, a regular feature in which we discuss the highlight reel of recent issues with the creators behind the series. Writer Andrew Chambliss joins us for the first time to talk about the Slayer's choices, her shifting cast, and what to look for as the season rolls on.
CBR News: Andrew, welcome to BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 9! I'd like to start with a bit of "big picture" discussion for this season. When "Season 9" launched, there was very much a sense of starting a new era in Buffy's life, and now we're starting to see more concretely what this phase will entail. After eight seasons -- one in comics -- why was it essential to make this leap now?
Andrew Chambliss: I think for everyone involved -- Joss, Dark Horse, etc. -- this just seemed like the natural evolution in Buffy's life. Settling down, trying to figure out who she is, and what she's going to do. In "Season 8," she faced what might be the biggest thing a Slayer could face -- the creation of a new universe at the expense of our own -- that it seemed like it was time to scale things down to something a little more human-sized. It'd be hard to go bigger than "Season 8." I also think that Buffy's age played a big part in Joss' decision to try to iris "Season 9" down to Buffy rebuilding her life in a world without magic. She's in her 20s, which I think is a time when a lot of people realize that they actually need to figure out who they are and what they're going to do with their life. I also think it's a time when reality starts to set in, that all your dreams might not be possible, or at the very least that you might have to choose one over the other.
I think Buffy's got to face these questions now -- whether she can be a Slayer and have a life outside of slaying, especially because all her friends are making these decisions. Is she going to grow with them? Or is she going to be left behind trying to hang on to the way her life used to be?
One of the themes of the series so far seems to be the idea of power -- both having it and losing it. In issues #3 and #4, we get to know Severin a bit, who seems to be the manifestation of this. Though they've gotten off to a bad start, could he potentially be an ally for Buffy? Might his powers allow Buffy the thing she's always wanted?
Having power and losing it is a theme that will play out across the season. Both on the character level, and on the world level. Severin's an interesting villain -- a guy who felt cheated by the loss of his girlfriend and didn't quite understand his powers when Simone recruited him. So I think his loyalties are definitely up in the air, but I don't think that means we should expect to see Buffy and Severin kicking ass and taking names together any time soon. We will see him again this season, and I think he will have had some time to reflect on the choices he made in the first arc -- but where that reflection leads him is something that I don't want to give away.
Now, the idea of Buffy being vulnerable to losing her power is something that will definitely be in play. But it's a complicated questions because no matter how much a part of her wants to have a normal life, so much of her identity is tied up in being a Slayer. Going to Sev to be depowered wouldn't be something she'd come to easily.
As "Buffy Season 9" and its sister title "Angel & Faith" progress, we're starting to see more and more what it means that magic has departed the world. Buffy notes that Sev's power "isn't exactly magic," Angel is encountering problems with certain demon panacaea, and even the nature of vampires is changing. Does Buffy realize yet herself how drastically she's altered things, or is it left to people like Willow to spell it out for her?
Buffy is definitely aware that she's changed the world, but she's only starting to peel back the first layer of what that means. Sure, she knows newly sired vampires are now zompires, and Sev was her first taste of a villain who was operating in the magickless world -- but she doesn't know how deep these changes are going to go -- at least not this early in the season. There will be people like Willow and Koh to help spell some of these changes out for her -- but even these characters aren't entirely in the know about just how much the loss of magic is going to ripple through the world. Buffy's going to have to live in the world and see the changes happen firsthand to really understand what's happened. And some of the changes are going to take time as old power structures topple and new orders are established.
Pretty much every arc that we have mapped out for the season is based on exploring a further development of what happens when magic disappears -- right now, I'm working on an arc that's fairly demon-heavy and exploring exactly how a certain group of demons is trying to skirt this issue.
You mention Eldre Koh, the Nitobe demon who wants to be Buffy's new best friend even as everybody else is on her case. Of course, they don't even have time for introductions at their first meeting. Will they get a chance to sit down and have some coffee pretty soon?
It's funny you ask the questions in that way, because Buffy and Koh's first real sitdown does occur over a cup of coffee -- just maybe not in the circumstances we'd all expect. Buffy and Koh are going to have an interesting relationship. Koh has been locked away for so long that the world is unfamiliar to him, and he also is indebted to Buffy because she's the one who freed him -- but there's a bit of a catch-22 here because Koh's life will definitely be affected by the lack of magic. He may have his innate demon powers, but the world that he remembers -- the world that existed a long time ago when he was locked up -- was one that still had magic, and he may be thrown by the new way the world works.
Koh mentions at one point that Buffy is becoming "more difficult to find." Does this tie in to the question of her identity as the Slayer, which comes into focus in #5?
Koh's statement about Buffy becoming more difficult to find was purely a practical matter. Since she was on the run from the police, he was going to have a much harder time to find her and deliver the warning about the Siphon.
Buffy's activity as the Slayer has now gone public, which brings the police into the picture and makes things difficult for her roommates. From the writing side, how does this change the sort of things you're able to throw at Buffy and friends?
As a writer, it's fun to think of the real world consequences Buffy would face for doing what she's doing. How would the police react to a vigilante killing vampires? How would the police try to deal with vampire problems? What gray area does Buffy's slaying fall into? What happens if Slayers try to make money off their talents? The answers to these questions lead to tons of story possibilities. For instance, an upcoming storyline with Dowling came out of asking what would the police do after discovering the giant nest of zompires at the end of issue #4? Who would Dowling recruit from the Scoobies to help him learn about zompires and Slaying?
Speaking of Detective Dowling, it looks like he's starting to play a larger role in Buffy's life. Can we expect a sort of Batman/Jim Gordon relationship between the two?
Buffy and Dowling will continue a relationship going forward. It's not that far off from Batman/Commissioner Gordon relationship. The SFPD is going to need some help dealing with the zompire population, and Dowling already has a friendship with Buffy based on his actions in at the end of #4 so he kind of seems like the natural go-between for the SFPD and Buffy. The characters also seem like a good fit in my mind because they're such interesting counterpoints to each other. Buffy is a character steeped in the supernatural who is now learning to live in a world that's lost most of its magic. Dowling, on the other hand, is a character who barely knew vampires existed until the surge in the zompire population, and now he's got to learn how to deal with them. They're both on opposite trajectories, but they both have a lot to teach each other. And I'm not just talking practicals, like how to slay or how to be a cop -- they have a lot to teach each other emotionally as well.
One of the intriguing subplots simmering away is Xander and Dawn's tiff; it's severe enough to send Xan to the couch for several issues, but not so bad that he's being kicked out (and they're still bantering). They've known each other forever, but are fairly new as a couple. How do you see their relationship at this point?
Dawn and Xander are still figuring out exactly what their relationship is. It's been a long time since either of them wasn't dealing with some sort of supernatural problem night and day so I think a lot of this season will be about the two of them figuring out who they are in this new world as individuals -- and as a couple -- so naturally there will be some friction between both of them. The tiff that had Xander sleeping on the couch is pointing to a storyline that we'll explore later in the season. It's definitely there for a reason.
Moving on to issue #5 -- the biggie! Willow and Buffy have reconciled, at least to a degree, but a shared dream-quest sends Willow on a journey with the mystical scythe to restore magic. Scott Allie has said this takes Willow out of the picture for the foreseeable future -- what was the thought behind removing her from Buffy's chessboard at this crucial moment?
This seemed like the perfect time to send Willow off -- just when Buffy needs her most. Willow would have been the first person she'd have gone to with the pregnancy news. The whole idea behind the pregnancy was to knock Buffy back on her feet -- to make her face something real in a way she hadn't before -- so having Willow off on a magical quest is really going to push Buffy to reach out to some people for help who she might not normally have considered talking to right away. We also wanted Buffy and Willow to be in a good place when Willow left, and by good place I mean a place where Buffy understands why Willow needs magic so much. I think it probably would have been too much of a whammy for Buffy to have lost Willow on bad terms and then to have found out she was pregnant. And just because Buffy is okay with Willow leaving, doesn't mean that she's not going to wish Willow were around during her absence this season.
Karl Moline stepped in as guest artist for this very personal issue. How does his visual style and direction punch up those pivotal moments with the First Slayer, Willow's goodbye, and that last page reveal?
Karl did such a tremendous job with the last page of issue #5 (not to mention the rest of the issue). It was a such a big moment -- and so important for the season -- and it seemed like something that should play with as little dialogue and as few captions as possible. So the challenge was capturing all this emotion in those two panels. The uncertainty, the anxiety, the fear, the surprise... that's a lot to capture in two panels on Buffy's face. But Karl did, and I absolutely love that last page -- I really feel like I'm inside Buffy's head in the first two panels, and then -- boom, I see what she sees in that last panel -- the positive pregnancy test!
Regarding the pregnancy, I spoke with Scott Allie about this development, but I'd love to hear your take on what this means for Buffy.
I'm not going to say too much about the pregnancy because I don't want to spoil the upcoming issues, but what I think is important about Buffy facing a pregnancy is that it's going to force her to really think about who she is, what's important to her, and what being a Slayer means. This isn't something she can run from or ignore. I also think it's something that is extremely relatable -- one of those things that so many people have been through -- that makes them reassess where they are in their life and where they want to be. I'm also not going to say anything about the father, but Spike, along with some of the Scoobies, will play a role in helping Buffy deal with all the recent events.
The First Slayer (or a reasonable facsimile) tells Buffy, "You are not the Slayer." Does this play into the power/loss of power throughline?
The First Slayer's line is definitely something that will come back to haunt Buffy this season. I don't want to give it away, but what the First Slayer is telling Buffy isn't confined to issue #5.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9" #6 goes on sale February 8.