[SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers for the "Family Reunion" arc of "Angel & Faith" lie below!]
The world of Dark Horse and Joss Whedon's Buffy The Vampire Slayer runs deep. With two TV shows, a multitude of comic books and even a few characters from spinoff projects heretofore unseen showing up, the cast in the Buffy-verse is wide-ranging and ever changing. But the most recent arc of "Buffy Season 9" series "Angel & Faith" proves that the more things change, the more they saw the same.
Running from issues #11 to 14, the "Family Reunion" arc brought with it the return of Willow, Connor, Gunn and more surprises as the former (while hunting down a way to reignite magic in the world) recruits the latter (trying to adjust to a normal life) to help power up the weapon that killed Rupert Giles. Combine that with Angel's feelings about his son's non-traditional upbringing and the ongoing status of Buffy's world, and the story holds a lot at stake within the larger fabric of Season 9.
To unpack the drama and the danger of the stories at hand, CBR News is back with a new installment of BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 9. This week, writer Christos Gage takes us on a tour of the "Family Reunion" arc, revealing how the world of Quor'Toth found its final form with artist Rebekah Isaacs, why he had to set Willow up for her latest solo series, what became of the full "Angel" TV cast and more.
CBR News: This arc came on the heels of a lot of events in the book – most notably Faith reconnecting, briefly, with her father. In what way is this story a kind of b-side to "Daddy Issues"? Does it allow you to flip the script on either of our two leads' role in the previous tale?
Christos Gage: To a degree, but really the Daddy issues - for all our main characters (Angel, Faith, Giles) - are a running theme throughout Season 9. It was definitely intentional that Faith had a bad reunion with her absent father right before Angel had a good reunion with the son he's been an absent father to. But father figures are a big part of the whole season, in a lot of ways.
Hey, it's Willow! Obviously, fans have been waiting for Wil to get back into the mix in a big way, and while a lot of her own quest will continue in her own mini series, what was it like for you striking that balance of taking a part in that story while serving your own? What does Willow's appearance do for Angel and Faith that you couldn't have done otherwise?
Aside from getting one of the Scoobies into the book, and reinforcing the connections between "Buffy" and "A&F," Willow's presence brought Angel face to face with the consequences of his actions as Twilight. She was significantly affected by them, and she's really mad at him for it. And while they reach an understanding, and at moments even slipped back into old camaraderie, they both know too well that things will never be like they were. And while it was cool to further Willow's quest, I never felt like I was serving any story but the one I'm telling in "Angel & Faith"; all the stuff with Willow feeds into that. We'll see more about precisely how in Whistler's story in issue #15. Willow showing up provided a link to the past of our characters, as well as to the future.
One key thing about the overall "Season 9" narrative I felt appeared here was Willow's assertion that there has been no good art made by man since the Seed was destroyed. That seems a creeping threat that our main players haven't much considered to this point. How much overall does the lack of magic in this world not only provide backdrop for this season but also maybe provides a ticking time bomb our characters will have to deal with eventually?
Well, it's an open question whether what Willow said is true, or just her perception. Maybe she's just getting old, like some Buffyverse writers who wonder why nothing on the radio these days is as good as Wham! But clearly, while the specific consequences have yet to be explicitly defined, the end of magic has affected Earth in a fundamental way. Some people feel it more than others - those for whom magic was a daily part of life, or who are more vulnerable mentally and spiritually. It's open to debate whether it's a ticking time bomb or just a change that needs to be adjusted to. Buffy seems to lean toward the latter, while Willow and certain other characters consider it a huge threat that must be dealt with right now, and by any means necessary, before it's too late. Again, Whistler's story will show us another perspective on this.
This arc brings a lot back in from the "Angel" series which I'm sure both you and the readers are quite happy about. As you were planning out the season, what kinds of discussions did you, Joss and the rest of the writers have about the status of Angel's cast? Between the end of the TV show and the end of the IDW comics, it seems there's a few unanswered questions as well as some untapped story potential for the likes of Gunn, Illyria and the rest. Why reveal what you've revealed here, and is there a chance we'll see more of the "Angel" cast in the future?
One more member of the "Angel" cast will show up, but not in "Angel & Faith." And a member of the cast who hasn't been in "Angel & Faith" yet will pay a visit. (Okay, it's Spike.) The basic reason for the callbacks to the show were because, with Connor showing up - which was pretty essential, we all felt, no way would Angel just not have any contact with his son the entire time - it seemed natural. It was actually Scott Allie's idea, I think, that Angel has Gunn keeping an eye on Connor and other old friends for him, and that he should appear in the story. At the writer's summit, we did discuss the cast a bit…Joss laid claim to one person, and I asked about Lorne. Joss said he wasn't going to be doing anything with Lorne because the loss of Andy Hallett (the actor who played the character and tragically passed away)was still too painful, but that I was welcome to if I came up with a good story for him. But no such story presented itself, so I left it at Gunn's cryptic comment to Angel, "I don't have to tell you about Lorne," which you could take as confirmation that the IDW story in which he moved on to a higher plane is the definitive take on what happened to him, or as a hint that there has been some further development. I like to think that he came back somehow, and now that magical beings are publicly known, he is a famous crooner, touring with Barry Manilow, but really, whatever you want, go with that. Maybe he'll show up next season.
Of course, the big relationship here is Angel and Connor. I feel like for all the pain and anguish you've been able to pile on Angel this year, his relationship with his son is one of the areas that almost brings a brighter side to his life. Why accentuate the positive in this part of the story, and how does the conceit of Connor as a messiah of love in the world of Quor'toth provide the right story platform for these two reconnecting?
The whole idea of Connor as the Messiah to dissident demons was to, in a sense, have him walk a mile in Angel's shoes: feeling this huge responsibility to right wrongs against impossible odds. Obviously, there are significant differences in their situations - Connor was never a mass murder, though he did try do blow some people up once - but what I hope this story did was change the relationship between Angel and Connor to one of a father and his adult son who have come to some understanding and acceptance of each other. It's a more grown-up relationship. As for why I accentuated the positive, I felt like if Connor's situation were a bad one, Angel is a jerk to not drop everything and go help, and more importantly, having them at odds had been done, and I didn't want to retread old ground.
Speaking of the "darkest of the dark worlds," Rebekah's monster making has really been popping in this arc with everything from multi-eyed bats to jackal people to snot beats on chains. What very the visual cues you wanted to hit hardest here based on what little info we had from the shows, and what was your impression of how Rebekah pulled off the big guy, Quor'toth himself?
I thought Rebekah's design of Quor'Toth (or, as she calls him, "His Majesty Quor'Toth of Quor'Toth") may have been her finest hour. She is so amazing with creature designs that I've come to a point where when I provide any guidance at all, I just throw out a list of words that might have nothing to do with each other - like "exposed brain, wings, slime - GO!" and she turns it into something brilliant that totally works, usually taking whatever random crap I said, actually making sense of it, and adding her own touches, like the birds constantly flocking around Quor'Toth and eating its rotting flesh, which I loved. You look at this monster and you accept him as an Old One right away. As for Quor'Toth the place, it was kind of a tough nut to crack. We know it's the worst of all Hell dimensions, but obviously it has to be a place where Holtz and Connor could survive for, what, 17 years, so it can't be THAT bad - like, a chlorine gas atmosphere and perpetually on fire. Instead I decided it was the ultimate predatory world, but what really made it such a horrible Hell dimension was that it brought out the worst in every being that set foot there. So yeah, there may be worlds that are less hospitable to life - just masses of magma and giant sea monsters and maggots that chew up your brain -- but this place is worse because it makes YOU into a monster. The interesting question is, what does that mean to an already evil being? If Angelus went there, would it make him good, or would it make him so rabidly evil he couldn't carry out his schemes because he was too busy just bloodletting? Hmm, interesting to ponder…
Within the course of their being in this world, we saw into the heads of some of the cast, and Faith's darkest dreams appear to involve killing Angel. While we know she'd never do such a thing in the course of a normal day, what do these thought bode for the future of their already strained relationship? How strong will this duo be as the series keeps going?
I think it's not so much that she wants to kill Angel specifically as that we were seeing a return to the old Faith, who was very paranoid, a loner, and hostile to those who tried to help her. But as there always is, there may be some truth in the things she thinks at her worst moments. Forget killing for a minute. Has hanging around with Angel been good for her? Might she be better off without him? Would it be better for her to abandon him to the insanity he's pursuing and look out for herself instead? These are questions she may have to ask herself again.
With Dark Willow's return, we saw not just a tease of how seductive that kind of power can be to Willow's own well being but also how Angel still, always, will have that dark side in him. With their connection at the end of this story, do you think it puts a capper on the idea that they can lose control, or if anything, does this make it more likely we'll be grappling with those issues again before the season is over?
I don't think you can ever truly ignore the dark side of Angel (or Willow) as a threat. But I think they do have some understanding of each other that wasn't there before. As a writer, just turning Angelus loose isn't something that appeals to me, because it's been done already. But I love the fact that he's always there, under the surface, influencing everything. What I enjoy is the challenge of making Angelus a presence in the book without actually having him running around slaughtering nuns.
The other really important character idea from the finale of this arc was the fact that we're seeing a bridge built between Angel and the classic Scooby crew after all the Twilight madness. So far this season, you've kept things pretty much in their own world as far as "Angel & Faith" goes, but what does Willow's connection here mean for whether we'll ever see the two Season 9 series merge in the future?
I wouldn't go too far with that. Yes, there's been a bridge built between Angel and Willow. And I think I have hinted that Andrew doesn't mind talking to him. And of course Spike is coming by. But as far as the two books merging, or doing an all-out crossover, we all felt that it was better not to, because it would be this huge thing and kind of derail the stories that each book is telling. I think Spike's appearance in A&F is the closest we'll get. That said, we are always looking for ways to reinforce that the two books (and associated miniseries) take place in the same world, whether it's the use of Zompires or what have you. But as for a direct crossover, it seemed better not to do it than to do it halfway. Not to say it won't ever happen, but don't look for it in Season 9.
Meanwhile back on earth, we've gotten a tease of what's been happening with Pearl and Nash and everything that's been simmering under the surface of London's vamp and demon community. The most pertinent tease here seems to be Whistler and Angel's "anniversary" and the former's plans for that. After doing a solo story that was a little more silly and one that was a little more serious, what did you most want to accomplish in revealing that back story in #15?
Issue 15 is all about the motivation of the villains, and how every villain is the hero of his own story. Ideally, after reading it, people will see that Whistler has a reason for what he's doing, and arguably is completely justified. In fact, he may not be all that different from Angel...