After a "Season 8" that left many fans reeling from cosmic whiplash, the major theme of Joss Whedon's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9" from Dark Horse Comics was to tighten the focus of the fan favorite franchise on the core cast of monster killers and their emotional status. Now half way into its first year, the core "Buffy" book is already simmering with major moves including an unexpected and mysterious pregnancy for Buffy Summers and a potential mutilation for the girl around the corner if the solicited covers provide any clue.
But through it all, Editor Scott Allie promised that the mission has not changed. Though the stories in "Season 9" may make for hot topics, the bold tone the book is striking will continue to ask the question of "How does this feel?" even as it juggles plots both personal and adventurous.
"There's been a Herculean effort to keep the story moving on multiple levels across this first half of 'Season 9,'" Allie told CBR News in advance of this week's issue #6. "It's kind of crazy, and we said that the rule going in here was that we were going to take it back down to a more intimate level – getting away from the more cosmic craziness of 'Season 8' and making it more personal again. When people saw the cover with Buffy getting her arm ripped off, everybody went nuts and thought we were violating the mission, but that's only one part of what's going on.
"With this current storyline with Buffy discovering her pregnancy, we're exploring a young woman who thought the fate of the world was resting on her shoulders – and maybe it actually did – and taking it her story back to human issues but some of the biggest issues anyone can face. We want to have a good action adventure, pot-boiler, sci-fi story rolling out because that's what 'Buffy' is. But we also really want to make it about her as a young woman – a human person finding herself and redefining herself. So splitting the focus between what's happening with the zompires and the cops and what's going on with her personally is a tough balancing act, but I think everybody from Joss to [series writer] Andrew [Chambliss] to me and Sierra [Hahn, my assistant] all understand what purpose the whole story is serving."
One under-discussed aspect of the series in the wake of the controversial pregnancy move has been the so-called "zompires" – newly turned vamps who are mindless killing machines due to the destruction of magic on the earth. In issue #6, reformed vampire Spike will take a proactive approach to battling this threat – something that's indicative of his expanded role in "Season 9."
"At one point, Joss and I were walking around Santa Monica talking about what titles could comprise 'Season 9.' At that point, we didn't know that 'Angel & Faith' was going to be the name of one of the books. We talked about a Spike book, and Joss said, 'I don't think so. I think he's more fun in Buffy's book,'" Allie said. "And he was right. Spike and Buffy are really fun – the way they play off each other, the way they butt heads and the way they're emotionally involved. Whether they're romantically involved or not, it's pretty intricate and interesting. While a lot of Buffy's friends are busy doing other things right now, Spike's going to be the guy who's there to talk to her and to have her back in a fight and all those other things that she needs. So it makes sense to give him a fairly prominent role for what she's facing on both fronts."
The editor noted that the mindless vampires weren't the only change coming due to the end of magic, but they would be one of the most prominent ones for a variety of reasons. "There's more dominos to fall, but the zompire thing is here to stay – if not permanently at least for a long time," he explained. "When we had the writer's summit, we spent a good chunk of that day talking about what the loss of magic means. We spent all sorts of time coming up with cool ideas. We had a million interesting conceptual ideas about what's going to be cool about this world with no magic in it, but one of the things we came around to was that we could fill book after book after book with 'This could happen. Nobody's written a really good song' or whatever. But that would take the focus away from the personal. So there were a lot of possibilities for how to demonstrate the changing world, but we didn't want to focus on that. Zompires are different. Other things are different that I think readers understand will be explored in terms of what exceptions exist to our rules and what they are. All of that remains in play, but it remains in play because we didn't want to do a five-issue series just explaining what's different. We wanted to play with the characters and their relationships.
"We're trying to keep what's different about the world consistent between 'Angel & Faith' and 'Buffy,' and in the side series like the short piece Jane Espenson and Drew Greenberg are writing for us, we went 'Oh no!' because we realized they had been out of the loop and not actively engaged since the summit. We had to tell them 'This is what's going on in the world now. This is where the Slayers are at and who Buffy is in relationship to other people.' We laid that all out for them, but I'm glad there wasn't more to explain about the difference in the world. It gets a bit tedious after a while."
Of course, while Buffy confronts the emotional fallout of her pregnancy – and readers can find more about that particular turn in this previous CBR piece – her friends are strangely absent from the series. While fans know that Dawn and Xander have their own relationship problems to deal with right now, Allie said that the rest of the wayfaring Scooby gang cast have their own reasons for being absent. And those reasons are another of the many ways "Season 9" stands apart from "Season 8."
"It's going to take a little bit before we reveal what's going on with Willow," the editor said. "You're not going to see her in issue #6 or 7, and it'll be a while before we really know what's going on with her. I think the fun of doing 'Season 9' is what we can do different from 'Season 8' and play with different structural things. So having Willow depart in issue #5 and not immediately answering that is hopefully a big part of the dramatic tension of the season."
Allie did reveal that fanboy-ish friend and newly central cast member Andrew Wells would also see his day in the spotlight arrive. "Andrew is going to come back into focus pretty soon and have a significant role to play. Everybody who writes any of this stuff LOVES Andrew. He's great to write, and he's great to write when he's in the mix. When I wrote my arc in 'Season 8,' he would only poke his head in here and there. But once you get to write a few pages with that guy, he's great, and the writers are always looking for good, useful ways to throw him into the action. He gets a pretty good role in the next arc."
Catch the next phase of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9's" new direction with issue #6 tomorrow, and stay tuned to CBR for more behind the scenes looks into the series.