Slaying Alive: Whedon talks "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

Thu, February 15th, 2007 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

target="PopUp">When "Chosen" - the final episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - ended, many fans were left wondering what's next for Buffy Summers and friends? On March 7th , they can stop wondering because Buffy creator Joss Whedon returns with the eighth season of their favorite show, but the action won't be happening on the small screen; instead it will be unfolding in the pages of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" #1, the first issue of a new comic series written by Whedon, drawn by artist Georges Jeanty and published by Dark Horse Comics. CBR News spoke with Whedon about the book.

For Whedon, the new Buffy series isn't about making cash; it's a chance for him to have some fun with some of his signature creations. "I expect it to sell dozens and dozens of copies. I don't make sales expectations," Whedon told CBR News. "I think it will do well out there. I think they would be wise to push it and they [Dark Horse] were caught unawares with 'Serenity.' This is getting more heat than anything I've done in a while. But for me it's, 'Is the comic good? Did they get it on the stands?' And then somebody tells me the numbers later on. It's not like I'm going to make a fortune. It's a comic book."

One of the appealing aspects of doing Season Eight of Buffy as a comic book instead of a television show is that it allows Whedon a whole new range of creative freedom. "The network left us alone and the actors did what they were told, not because we were mean, but because they liked what they were given to do," Whedon said. "It's not like I was ever harangued while I was making it. But there were definitely budgetary limitations and the limitations of having to deal with the daily life of Buffy, which is sort of what made the show work, but there were a lot of things you couldn't do just in terms of scope. We've broadened it a little bit, which is fun. People are jumping from helicopters and there are giants. There are no limits and certainly that is fun."

target="PopUp">Another television limit that Whedon will be doing away with on the "Buffy" comic is length. Fans shouldn't expect "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to end around issue #22, like a TV series would. "It will be more, because I have so many good writers jumping into the mix," Whedon explained. "I'm just going to keep going until I run out of writers and then I'll wrap it up. I'll be doing some stories in between other people. I originally had sort of thought of it as about 25 issues, but this is not like a season in the sense of you know a season always begins three months after the last one, and through the school year, then ends in May. We were pretty religious about that. We didn't do that on 'Angel' one year. We wrapped it up every year as though it was never coming back. I do have an arc for the season that will come to an end, and then it could be a new season if people were still into it or we would walk away wiping our hands saying we're just so awesome. [Laughs] I'm keeping it open lengthwise. It may become even bigger than I'm imagining it, or you know, I might decide it needs to tighten up and finish."

Like Whedon mentioned, some of comics' biggest names will be writing future story arcs of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." These writers will occasionally co-ordinate story details with Whedon but will pretty much have free reign to tell their stories. "It's not like I'm gonna tell Brian [K. Vaughan] how to write," Whedon stated. "The man is one of the gods of comics. We did the story breaking together and I'm going to be sort of overseeing everything. I'm not going to get in his soup; I'm not going to tell him how to do his job. But every now and then I go 'Well, this character feels like they should be in this space.' Sort of what I like to refer to as executive producing a comic book. Some people I'll be working with closely, some I'll just be checking in. It depends how they work.

"I wrote a manifesto of what the plan was, the mood in the arc and some of the issues within that, and by issues I mean ideas not, 'issues,'" Whedon continued. "And then you know, you sit down with every person and they say, well, I'm really interested in this character. Okay, well, let's talk about what we need to know about this character, how has this character changed, what have we learned, just like how we'd do with the show. And then is there a part of the arc we can fold that into? For instance, is there a part of the arc we can service with that?

"Some of the comics will be straight up arc, moving ahead, and some will be side pieces. Where you see the arc is going on and you see something about it while you learn something about this character for a while. It's like a late season of any show, where the ancillary characters are getting a lot of screen time."

target="PopUp">"Buffy" #1 picks up about a year after the events of Season Seven and addresses how the U.S. government explained away the destruction of Sunnydale, California and hints that those in power and in the know about the supernatural might not be too pleased with the fact that there's now thousands of Slayers wandering around. "I'll just go ahead and say they might not be totally thrilled," Whedon said. "Strong women make some people nervous, don't ask me why."

In future issues readers can also expect to see the demon and vampire communities' reaction to the dramatic increase in the number of Slayers. "That isn't something that I've dealt with that much upfront," Whedon explained. "They're still going about their business, but it becomes an issue later on. They're not pleased."

With the number of Slayers now in the thousands, Buffy and her friends find themselves in a new situation when issue #1 begins. Instead of being able to rely on only a few trusted confidants, Buffy and the Scoobies now have the might of an entire organization backing them up in their fight against supernatural evil. "They're divided into units, all of which are pretty big," Whedon explained. "They're still trying to figure out how to run this thing. They had all these girls from college and gradually we get to see more of how they built their organizations and the ways in which they're working and the ways in which they're really not.  They're a ragtag team of misfits. It always sounds good when you say it. They're a bit like the A-Team. They do pity fools. [Laughs]"

When readers are re-introduced to Buffy and her allies in issue #1, their immediate goals are fairly simple. "They're just fighting demons and trying to, you know, make sure all the Slayers are accounted for," Whedon said. "Then right away they start seeing things that mean something funky is going on. Some old friends show up, not necessarily in the friend way.

"The first story really sets up the world, where Buffy's at and what they're going to be facing over this storyarc," Whedon continued. "It kind of puts the pieces in place and allows me to have a tremendous amount of fun with my guys again. The first four are just like a straight up comic where, you know, I'm playing with the world and seeing our characters and riffing on it and having an intense adventure.

target="PopUp">The second story in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which is penned by writer Brian K Vaughan, puts the spotlight on a character who began as an ally of Buffy and the Scoobies, then fought against them, and by the TV series end was fighting along side them again - Faith the Vampire Slayer. "When Brian and I sat down, it was more like doing the show in terms of 'what do we learn about faith?" Whedon said. "Why is she different at the end of this than she was at the beginning? What are we saying about her? What are we saying about Buffy?' It was like breaking the show."

As "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" progresses, readers will get reacquainted with more of the Scoobies. "Those are characters that we roll out," Whedon stated. "We see a few of them in the upcoming issues. We see most of the hard scoobies, but there are plenty of people we need to find out about. But everybody's still themselves. Nobody's gone really loopy. They're not all around each other, and there are some questions about where some of them have been. But when they are around each other, it's like old times."

It's not just Buffy's regular supporting cast that Whedon has plans for in "Buffy." He also hopes to check in with loads of other characters like Buffy's ex-boyfriend, government monster slayer, Riley Finn. "I have plans for everybody," Whedon said. "I cannot tell you if these plans will come to fruition because somebody might have a better idea. Or we might run out of steam. Or people might reject the comic wholesale. Although I'm hoping they don't - I'm hoping they reject it retail. [Laughs] But I've thought about how everybody could fit in."

Later on in the book's run, Whedon says there's a possibility readers will see a few of the characters from the Buffy spin-off show, "Angel." "IDW has the 'Angel' license and although I can use those characters in 'Buffy,' it makes sense to keep the two separate and let them be their own separate worlds. That's not to say that Angel and Spike aren't on Buffy's mind, that's not to say that they won't show up, but it'll be sparingly and in no way interfere with what they're doing at IDW."

Buffy's organization has grown quite large in the "Buffy" comic, but Whedon currently has no plans for them to confront another large villainous organization, the law firm of Wolfram and Hart, which was a reoccurring menace on "Angel." "Anything that's truly an 'Angel' thing, unless I was doing some big crossover, I would keep on 'Angel,'" Whedon stated.

As readers of the five page preview of "Buffy" #1 might have noticed, Whedon does touch on a plot thread introduced in one of the episodes from the final season of "Angel," Buffy's alleged romance with a being known as the Immortal. "When I started writing the comic I had Buffy dating the Immortal," Whedon said. "I liked it, but I didn't love it. I realized, 'No, I think we need to start with classic Buffy and classic Buffy is alone.' And then I thought, 'Well everybody said how obvious it was that that wasn't Sara Michelle Gellar in the episode, wouldn't it be hilarious [laughs] especially since Andrew sort of said, 'Oh gentlemen, yes she's dating the Immortal, it's so wonderful.' If Andrew had just been messing with the guys, I found that to be such a delight and perfectly in character. So, it was a retcon, but it was kind of a beautiful one. I don't think retcons are necessarily pejorative. It's not Gwen Stacy bones the Green Goblin, okay?"

Some people who may not have seen any episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and perhaps became acquainted with Whedon through his later work on things like "Firefly" or "Serenity" might be wondering how new reader friendly the new "Buffy" comic is. "That's a good question. Believe it or not it's not one that I've ever been asked really or thought about that much," Whedon stated. "I do sort of explain people as they show up, but there is nothing that lays out the full history of, say, 'Well, Xander is blah blah.' It does assume a certain amount of knowledge. It's sort of like when I started reading 'The Authority.' That came from books I had never read and that had an assumption of a past, but I didn't really need to know it. I was just like, 'what are their powers? Who likes who? And who are they fighting?' And it worked just like gangbusters. Hopefully people who haven't sent the show will be able to jump on and just enjoy the fact that it's pretty good fun."

After the "Buffy" and "Angel" TV shows wrapped, Whedon floated a number of ideas to tell more stories in the world that he created. Some of those ideas will be explored in the new "Buffy" series. "We never intended there to be an 8 th season of 'Buffy,'" Whedon said. "We did talk briefly of something about a group of slayers, so that dynamic might show up a little bit. Obviously we wanted to do a Faith series, but that never got off the ground. This is pretty much uncharted territory. I had not planned to revisit these characters. I'm not entirely sure why I am except that I love these characters."

Whedon is a very busy man these days. He's making movies, writing other comics like Marvel's "Astonishing X-Men" and "Runaways" and handling a number of other projects. Some fans might be wondering how his busy schedule will affect the new "Buffy" comic. "I have not been late with a single issue of 'Astonishing' since the first arc," Whedon explained. "Marvel decided to go bi-monthly, this was not because my scripts were late. I say all this with absolute integrity because now I'm late with one. [laughs] I just wanted a stop because of 'Buffy' [pants]. I'm actually so far ahead on scripts on 'Buffy,' and now Brian's working on his, so I'm not going to have to write a script for the better part of a year, well, more than a year before it's time for me to even write another one."

If the new "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" comic does well, Whedon has no problem telling stories beyond the ones he currently has planned. "If there's juice, fire up the machine," he said. "If you're starting to make them because people are buying them, then stop. If you stop having stories to tell, walk away. Don't let it be that thing. But there are so many stories I'd be surprised if that happened any time soon."

In celebration of "Buffy" Season 8, MySpace Comic Books and Dark Horse Comics have created a very special contest for fans. Submit your own "How Buffy Changed My Life Essay" and you may win a chance to appear in the comic! Check out all the details at Dark Horse's MySpace page.

CBR's Jonah Weiland, Emmett Furey and Andy Khouri contributed to this article.

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