Buffy Summers is back on the beat, but the laws of vampire slaying have changed.
This month saw the debut of Dark Horse Comics’ “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 10” — the canonical continuation of Joss Whedon’s legendary TV series. And while this latest installment of the continuing adventures of Buffy and her demon-stomping Scooby Gang presents a “back to basics” approach, the return of magic to their world is set to upend the way they slay. In our world, the core Buffy title has seen some changes of its own as writer Christos Gage and artist Rebekah Isaacs have taken the reins on the flagship title after creating the spinoff “Angel & Faith” in Season 9.
With Season 10’s first issue in the hands of fans, CBR News is happy to roll out BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 10 — our ongoing exploration of the comics with the writers, artists and editors behind the stories. This time, Chris Gage unpacks the events of the season-launching “Buffy” #1 by explaining what Whedon and his co-writers plotted out at their annual Buffy Summit, how the birth of a new magic seed has changed the laws on how vampires operate, what the emotional reunion for Buffy and Young Giles (not to mention the rest of the Scoobies) means for the future of the books and whether Xander’s conversations with his dead fiance Anya can be taken at face value.
CBR News: Chris, let’s start with where you fall in the massive collaborative that is “Team Buffy.” For “Season 10,” you’re reuniting with Rebekah Isaacs, but you guys have also shifted to the core “Buffy” book instead of “Angel & Faith.” What was your initial reaction to being tapped for that gig, and how do you feel about it now that you and Rebekah have settled in?
Christos Gage: Currently, I feel great about it, thanks to the readers being very kind and accepting of what we did with the first issue. I’m also seven issues in, and I’m having a lot of fun, so that’s a good sign. Initially, I was extremely nervous and uncertain. Going into the Season 10 summit, [Dark Horse editor-in-chief] Scott Allie let me know that Andrew Chambliss, who wrote Season 9, wouldn’t be returning, due to increased producer duties on the TV show “Once Upon A Time,” and if I wanted to write “Buffy,” the job was mine. I knew I wanted to stick with Rebekah, but Scott said she had told him she was fine working on either book, she just wanted to keep the team intact — which was very flattering, but also nerve-wracking, because now I was choosing for both of us! I had loved working on “Angel & Faith,” and collaborating with Rebekah, Dan [Jackson], Steve [Morris], Comicraft, Scott, Freddye [Lins], Sierra [Hahn], Joss and the whole team. So sticking with that team provided some security. But I also felt like, while I was comfortable with the cast of “A&F,” I didn’t feel like I knew Buffy well enough to say, “She should do X and feel Y about it,” and I wasn’t sure how involved Joss would be to guide that, given his work on “Avengers 2” — I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had to miss the summit altogether. So initially I was leaning toward sticking with the comfortable territory of “A&F.”
But then we had the summit, and Joss was there, and worked his magic — not just coming up with great ideas of his own, but bringing out the best in a room full of incredible creative minds, from “Buffy” TV show veterans like Jane Espenson, Drew Greenberg and Nicholas Brendon to folks like Andrew and Victor Gischler. By the time we broke for coffee, I told Scott that if the “Buffy” gig was still open, I wanted it! I was so excited to write the stories we’d been talking about. Hopefully that translates onto the page!
Obviously, a lot of these things shake out at the Buffy creative summits led by Joss Whedon. In the past two comic seasons, we had a giant, world-shattering arc and then one that seemed to draw the focus back on the cast a little bit. What’s your memory from the summit of the challenges or concerns that Joss wanted to tackle coming into this year of the book?
There wasn’t a ton of looking backward. Joss did reiterate what he said prior to Season 9, which was that in Season 8, they had really leaned into the freedom of the comic book format and scaled things super-big, and in Season 9 we’d brought the focus more back to the characters. He wanted to continue that focus, even increase it. There was a general agreement that we didn’t want another looming apocalypse — we were kind of apocalypsed out for a bit. There’s not much else I can say without seriously spoiling upcoming plotlines, but we did talk about the way the show has always reflected the life stages of the characters, and we wanted to continue with that. Through the magic of comic book timing, the characters aren’t the same ages as the actors, they are mostly in their early to mid-twenties. They have left college, or the immediate post-high school phase of their lives, and are entering adulthood. Season 9 examined that to a point, and I plane to keep doing so. My recollection of that part of my life is that it feels like you are being thrown into the deep end of the pool, into this world of grown-ups, and you’re trying to make the transition while figuring out what the new rules are — how you want to shape things going forward, and how those hopes and expectations mesh or clash with reality. So that’s what our characters will be experiencing, both in their lives and in the supernatural adventure sense.
On a more personal level, last season’s theme was one of acceptance. Everyone in the gang had to both accept what role they’d played in the war over the Seed of Magic and accept their role in life in a broader sense. At this early stage in the game, what can you say about the theme of Season 10?
It’s right there in the title of our first arc, “New Rules.” Having reached that acceptance you spoke of — that understanding of who you think you are or want to be – you have to decide how you’re going to move forward. Every choice you make carries a ton of weight, and has tremendous ripple effects, on you and on others. And quite often, life throws obstacles in your way, or just won’t cooperate. That’s the theme. Deciding who you are and what you want is great, but it’s just the first step. Now you have to put it into practice.
As for the issue itself, we jump into the story with a “back to basics” approach with Buffy in a California town slaying away. But maybe everything is not so basic as it seems. What did you want to get across to make this a strong first issue but also a solid first chapter in a larger story?
It was a tricky issue because I wanted to both acknowledge what had happened in the recent past and provide a good jumping on point for new readers. I think the TV show did that well, often using the clever device of the first day back at school in the fall for their first episode of a season. You got caught up on where your characters were, and got an idea where they were headed. They’re not in school anymore, and in fact there’s probably less “story time” that passed between seasons 9 and 10 than ever passed between seasons of the show, but I was sort of going for that same feel. We get caught up with old friends, but the whole “vampires are different now” revelation points us solidly forward. I was worried about achieving the right balance, but people seemed to like it, so that’s a relief.
At the heart of “Buffy,” as always, are the relationships. One of the first ones touched upon here is Buffy and Spike, and she labels where they’re at with “Yay For Maturity.” After so many winding roads for the pair, what’s the value in having those two relatively happy and in synch for once?
It’s where they are. Season 9 got them here. Spike got to a place where he can stand on his own, and Buffy has embraced her role as Slayer. It’s a good place for both of them. But sometimes I think we want to put people in an easily labeled category — i.e. “in love/out of love” — when real human feelings are a lot more nuanced and complicated. So where they are in issue #1 isn’t necessarily where they’ll be in issue #2, 3 or 27.
We also get a strong introduction for Vicki — the “new breed” vamp who debuted at the end of last season. Again, we’re early here, but should we take her role as leader of this vamp camp (couldn’t resist) as a sign that this is a major new player in the Buffy world, or are there more forces to be seen behind the new kind of vampire?
Vicki is one of those characters who started out as purely a plot device — she appeared at the very end of Season 9 as a representation that people sired as vampires will now be something new and different. Along the way, she grew into her own person. As I wrote her, I got a kick out of her bad attitude. She’s just snarky and mean to everyone. It’s a sort of fun thing you can’t really do with Spike anymore, or not as much, now that he has a soul. You can do it with Harmony, but Vicki is smarter. Vicki isn’t the elected queen of vampires or anything — at least, not yet — but being the first of her kind seems to give her some standing among her peers. But she’s not the cause of the change in vampires, more the beneficiary.
And hey… Anya’s back! Or her ghost is! Or Xander is just hallucinating! We’re just not sure! At this point in the game, do you see this storyline more as a mystery as to whether or not Anya is ready to play a bigger role in the series or as a reflection of Xander’s guilt for his brief time as turncoat?
I think the take-away, for now, is just that Anya’s back. Whether she’s some sort of figment of Xander’s mind, or her actual ghost, her presence is going to give us more insight into Xander as well as helping Xander take a closer look at himself — all with the fun of having Anya around, a character I and many other fans love. This was actually something Joss pitched for Season 9 — I still remember his pre-summit e-mail of ideas for all of us to think about including something to the effect of, “I think it’s high time Anya starts haunting Xander, don’t you?” — but there didn’t end up being room in the season, with everything else going on. That kind of ended up working out for the best, because I think after his experiences in Season 9, Xander is more in a place to benefit from Anya’s presence — or be driven completely insane! Kind of the same way I’m benefiting from having the actual portrayer of Xander, Nicky Brendon, co-writing several issues. Except in that case, I only reap rewards from having him there — it’s our long-suffering editors who might be driven crazy by the naughty jokes we keep trying to slip past them!
The return of Giles is something everyone who followed “Angel & Faith” last year was probably waiting for, but you played the page where he reconnects with Buffy in total silence. Why make that choice for this moment so long in the offing?
I’m a big believer in letting the art speak for itself when words aren’t needed, and this was one of those times. It helps to be working with Rebekah, and know she can totally get across everything that needs to be said in the characters’ facial expression. Scott also was a big champion of letting this be a big moment with plenty of space. I think originally it wasn’t a whole page, and he said it deserved to be, which it did.
At the very end of the issue, the gang’s all back together. This is the first time we’ve seen all the Scoobies together in a while. What does that hold for the future? Or maybe I should say, how does having them as one group impact who goes where in “Season 10” #2 and the new season of “Angel & Faith”?
I don’t think I’m telling tales out of school when I say that Faith is only guest-appearing and will be seen in her own book going forward. As for the others, you’ll see how things shake out in issue #2. Then the cast as of issue #3 will pretty much be what it is in future issues. But as we saw last season, crossovers aren’t out of the question!
Stay tuned for more on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” as we continue to go Behind Season 10!