Since 2007, Dark Horse Comics has provided readers with the canonical continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's trials and tribulations in the fight against the forces of evil. "Buffy" is about to begin its tenth season adventures, with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10" launching in March 2014 by previous "Angel & Faith" creative team Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs, while a new volume of "Angel & Faith" hits in April 2014 helmed by writer Victor Gischler with art by Will Conrad.
Following on the success of its "Buffy" line, Dark Horse will expanded their stable of Whedonverse properties with the January 2014 launch of "Serenity," a canonical continuation of the fan-beloved space-western, written by Zack Whedon and featuring art by former "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" interior artist Georges Jeanty.
Ahead of the publisher's NYCC panel -- to be held Friday at 6:30 PM ET in room 1a06 -- Comic Book Resources spoke with Gage, Gischler and Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie for an exclusive look at "Buffy Season 10," "Serenity" and the coming of a new breed of Vampire.
As "Buffy Season 9" and "Angel & Faith" came to a close, readers saw certain story points and characters return to status quo: Dawn was saved and (mostly) everyone survived their respective battles. On the other hand, there were a couple radical changes to the world as the Scoobies know it: London was suddenly flooded by magic-mutated residents, and the rules of Vampirism seemed to be drastically altered.
"Somewhere near the end of 'Season 9,' Sierra [Hahn] or Freddye [Lins] proposed a tagline for issue #16: 'Back to Basics,'" said Allie. "It was a particular turn in the plot, and the fact was it was a red herring. Buffy was trying to turn her attention to slaying -- to basics -- when everything was actually about to go to hell: get very high level and kind of cosmic, with Illyria coming into it. But when we saw that ad, we thought, 'Hey, that is what we want to do.'
"'Season 9' was different than 'Season 8' in that we got it focused on the core characters, eliminating a lot of the big world-shaking, army stuff," Allie continued. "We focused on the characters, but we also split the characters apart. 'Season 10' won't just be about us bringing them back together -- it'll be about them actively bringing themselves back together. The outcome of 'Season 9,' both in 'Angel & Faith' and in 'Buffy,' brings magic back, but it takes it all down a notch, and messes with the vampire thing in a way that makes it all a challenge again, but a challenge they can engage with on a very personal level."
With "Season 10" comes shifts in the creative teams behind the books. Gage and Isaacs have stepped over from "Angel & Faith" to take the helm on "Buffy," while Victor Gischler, who penned the "Season 9" spin-off "Spike: A Dark Place," takes over "Angel & Faith" with artist Will Conrad. While "Buffy Season 9" writer Andrew Chambliss was in attendance at the "Season 10" writer's summit, Allie said he's now focused primarily on his television writing, and if he pens anything for "Season 10," it will be something small.
"We loved Christos' work on 'Angel & Faith,' both him and Rebekah, and we were torn about what to do with them next," said Allie. "We had a great book with 'Angel & Faith,' and it would be foolish to screw with it. I asked Chris what he wanted to do in 'Season 10' -- which book he wanted to write. I was having a similar conversation with Rebekah, and they both said they would do whatever I wanted them on, but all they cared about was that they get to stick together, and stick with Dan Jackson, their colorist. That was Rebekah's very firm request, but Chris said it too at one point.
"It wasn't until the day of the writer's summit, this spring, that Chris said he wanted to write 'Buffy,' we left it up in the air that long," Allie continued. "Victor flew to [Los Angeles] to be a part of this thing without even knowing which book he was writing -- and, I'm sure, sort of wondering if there really was a job in this. It might have felt like I was stringing him along, and he probably didn't know me well enough yet to know that my promises were gonna be good for something. But I loved his work on the 'Spike' miniseries last year, and knew he could get in the groove with one or the other of these books. When Christos decided on 'Buffy,' Victor got 'Angel & Faith.'"
"Angel & Faith" artist Will Conrad is a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" veteran, having inked several issues as far back as 2001. Allie remarked how greatly Conrad's work has improved in the interim, and was determined to bring him back for "Season 10." Though it took some time to lock him in, Allie's perseverance eventually paid off.
"Before I started working with Victor, his agent, David Hale Smith, sent me a stack of books he'd done, including some 'X-Men' drawn by Will [Conrad]," said Allie. "I kept looking back over those pages. I just couldn't believe how good he'd gotten, so I started feeling out the possibilities of bringing him back to Dark Horse. He was pretty cagey with me, and it dragged on for a long time, when I maybe should have been getting more antsy about locking someone in. I knew if I didn't get Will, I had to aim pretty high, and you can't bring someone great in last minute. Everyone great is booked, so if you wait too long you might wind up hiring the guy who knocks on the front door that day looking for work.
"Then I was a guest at this show in Argentina," continued Allie, "and Will was there. We got to spend more time together than we ever have before, and it was really nice, and it gave us a chance to talk through the book in detail. And by the end of that show, I had my artist."
Gage left some threads dangling at the end of his "Angel & Faith" run, and as the Season drew to a close, many characters parted ways. While Faith set out to meet up with Kennedy, adolescent Giles headed to San Francisco to check in on Buffy. Gischler's "Season 10" will focus, at least at first, on Angel as he struggles to pick up the pieces in a magic-plague ridden London.
"[It's] safe to say they won't immediately reunite," said Gischler. "They each have some issues to explore on their own, and it's important we give the characters room to do that ... Chris was kind enough to leave me with a little place he created in London called Magic Town and it's going to take a special sort of guy -- [Coughs] Angel [Coughs] -- to ride herd on such a unique community."
With many residents of London suffering from the fallout of Whistler, Pearl and Nash's magic plague, Angel has his work cut out for him. The air in London's new "Magic Town" district is ripe with fear.
"People who were once friends or neighbors have been turned into --things," said Gischler. "It's going to be a long time before this community feels 'normal' and it's never going to be the same ... [Angel] has to try to get on top of that situation right away, if he can. More long term is his having to figure out what his relationship with Faith is. When the arc begins, they're not even on the same continent. As for Whistler, I think Angel feels fine how it all came out."
As Gischler steps into "Angel & Faith," Gage and Isaacs move over to "Buffy." With the transition comes, for Gage, no small amount of intimidation: while he's grown familiar with the cast of the Buffyverse, he's about to face a new set of characters and challenges.
"[It's] not as intimidating as setting foot in the Buffyverse for the very first time -- at least now I've written folks like Willow and Giles before," said Gage. "But still, this is the flagship title. And I was worried about whether I had a good enough grasp of the characters to guide [Buffy] and the Scoobies' adventures. Fortunately, we had a Buffyverse writers summit with folks who have a bit of experience doing that -- Jane Espenson, Drew Greenberg, Andrew Chambliss and some fella named Whedon, not to mention ["Buffy the Vampire Slayer" actor] Nicholas Brendon. By the time that was over, I was so excited about our plans I wanted to get started right then and there. It also helped knowing that I had the good fortune to have Rebekah Isaacs continuing to draw the scripts. She is so good at character 'acting' -- body language and facial expressions -- that writing for her is almost like writing for actual actors: you can be subtler with your dialogue, knowing the emotions you want to convey will still come across. So, really, I'm the weak link. If it goes bad, it's on me. No pressure. Now I'm intimidated again."
As Andrew Chambliss' "Buffy Season 9" came to a close, Buffy and the gang were recovering from a harrowing battle at the Deeper Well. Buffy managed to dust the rogue slayer-turned vampire Doffler, Willow emplaced a new magic seed and the Scoobies successfully saved Dawn from vanishing out of existence. With those successes, however, come some new challenges.
"We're going to pick up fairly soon after the end of the previous series, not the several-month gap the seasons of the show used paralleling the 'summer break' of high school and college," said Gage. "Buffy and the gang are dealing with a horde of Zompires that are overrunning the town of Santa Rosita -- seemingly an old threat. But a new one is coming, ready or not. This series has always paralleled the life stages of people. Buffy has moved on from the phase of her life where she's tries to figure out, 'Who am I and who do I want to be?' Now she's where people are in their mid-twenties, being responsible for their own lives and choices -- plus the often crushing sense of responsibility and unforeseen consequences that come with them. As always with Buffy and company, this will happen on a much bigger scale than it does for most of us.
"Some of the challenges are hinted at in the last issue of the previous season, which Andrew wrote after the summit, with knowledge of where we were going," continued Gage. "We see at least one new vampire that isn't bothered by sunlight, and isn't the feral, drooling creature the Zompires were. And something weird has happened to Buffy's 'Vampyr' book: the pages are all blank. Of course, the meat of this series is the characters, their growth and relationships. Xander isn't feeling too good about where he stands with Dawn. Willow is facing the 'be careful what you wish for' aspect of magic returning. Spike is in a good place, perhaps as heroic as we've ever seen him --so of course there will have to be complications. And Buffy, having accepted her role in life as the Slayer -- by her own choice, not as the 'Chosen One' -- is facing up to what that means, while trying to hold her 'family' together. There's a lot going on. Not the least of which is the Buffy/Giles reunion -- don't worry, it'll happen on-panel. Oh, and there'll be a surprise development in our first issue that is something Joss wanted to do in 'Season 9' but we didn't end up having room for. Drew Greenberg reminded me of it when I ran into him at the DC Comics 'Man of Steel' screening, and I'm actually thrilled it didn't happen last season, because it fits so much better this time around."
When pressed as to the fate of Illyria, who, by all appearances, sacrificed herself in the Deeper Well, Gage remained uncharacteristically silent: "Oh, I know whether or not she died," said Gage. "I'm not going to tell, though."
As the Buffy canon moves into "Season 10," Dark Horse is also launching the canonical continuation of Joss Whedon's "Serenity," in a series written by Zack Whedon and featuring art by Georges Jeanty.
"'Serenity' shook things up on 'Buffy' more than anything else," said Allie. "We'd known for a while that if we were going to do more 'Serenity' it would be Zack writing it. We loved his work on 'The Shepherd's Tale' [OGN] as well as some other stuff he's written for us. He was at the 'Buffy Season 9' writer's summit, but he never really planned to write any of Season 9 -- 'Serenity' was where his interest was. He loves the characters, the world, the voices. Then Zack had asked for Georges on 'Serenity,' and we thought shaking everything up severely would be nice. By the time Christos asked for 'Buffy,' we knew Georges was doing 'Serenity,' which made it easy to shift Rebekah with Chris to 'Buffy.' Giving Georges a 6-issue series would take him out of the monthly grind that we'd been hammering on him since 'Season 8' started. We were also able to team him with Karl Story and Laura Martin, two of his very good friends, and the very best at what they do."
Whedon's "Firefly" and "Serenity" have a zealous fan base, and Allie, for his part, is as excited as anyone to see the Firefly crew back in action.
"I'm excited to bring these characters back out, to see new adventures with them," said Allie. "When Zack turned in the first few pages of 'Shepherd's Tale' script, we all felt, just reading the script pages, that the world was alive again in a way it hadn't been since the movie. Zack did something unique with these guys, and we'd been dying to see it again."
With the 2005 "Serenity" film came drastic changes to the "Firefly" ensemble. Challenged with providing an somewhat solid ending, the film offered a conclusion of sorts, along with the loss of several key characters. The biggest challenge facing Zack Whedon may be recreating the chemistry of an ensemble cast with fewer pieces.
"In a way, everything that makes 'Serenity' what it is was changed by the movie," said Allie. "The show was so much the chemistry of the nine characters, and you remove two, it's not the same. So not only do they need to recreate an amazing sense of chemistry in this ensemble, but they need to redefine it, with essential pieces missing. River is different, too. She's not the same character she was. I actually think she's an easier character to deal with now, but I don't have to write it. Joss had Patton Oswalt make Zoe pregnant in that one-shot that Patton wrote, and it's been long enough that we have to pay it off. And what they did at the end of the film makes the characters more notorious, more hated, than ever before, so the stakes are raised."
Allie is confident, however, than the fans of the series will embrace the story as it moves forward this January.
"We're lucky because the fan base, the die-hard 'Serenity' fans --Browncoats -- are a really enthusiastic and uniquely positive bunch, and they've known the work of these two guys for a long time now," said Allie. "I think they're really going appreciate the scope and ambition of the story Zack and Georges are delivering, and they're going to get the kinds of moments that they crave in any Whedon story.
"It's a challenge," continued Allie, "but we have the two perfect guys in there for it."
"Buffy Season 10" begins March 2014, while a second volume of "Angel & Faith" hits stores April 2014.