SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8” #35, in stores now.
As it nears its conclusion, Dark Horse’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8” has been gaining more and more buzz with readers, both for the controversial leak of the series main villain Twilight and for the arrival of all-star writer Brad Meltzer on the penultimate “Twilight” arc, which concludes with this week’s “Season 8” #35.
To help prepare fans for the hit series’ impending finale, CBR is back with an all-new installment of BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8 – a monthly column featuring interviews with the creators and staff behind the creation of Buffy’s last two stories highlighting the questions being answered, the characters thrown into crisis, and the future of the entire Buffy franchise. This time out, Meltzer wraps his in depth analysis of “Twilight” with a look at the philosophical debate that will help define the Buffy and Angel relationship for years to come.
So read on for Meltzer’s take on the Easter Eggs hidden in Buffy’s clothes, what ’80s band inspired him and more secrets from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8’s” penultimate arc.
CBR News: So Brad, whenever I see the phrase, “The Power of Love” -Â even as a Buffy story title – I think [to the tune of the News] “You feel the power of looooooooooooooove!”
Brad Meltzer: I promise you that there was almost a Huey Lewis joke at the end of the third issue. That was absolutely intentional. I did not pick this title for any other reason than the Huey Lewis reference. How could you not?
Well, a lot of people might think of Huey Lewis as cheesy. I think he’s feel good. A lot like “Buffy” in that sense.
I think when you say “The Power of Love” in a vacuum, it’s taken very seriously, but when you say it in “Buffy” it gets that almost uncool cool from it. That’s what I wanted it for. We’ve said this before, but so much about what’s great about Buffy is not just putting the tongue in the cheek but everything in the cheek. I really love that about the book and about the character, so of course I think those references kick off best.
We’ve talked about how each issue has its own feel in a genre sense, but the thing that stood out to me here was that the issue really felt like an old school stand alone single issue. Even though it’s the last part of a four-part arc and arguably the point the whole series has been building towards, everything you need for the story is there on page one: “It’s always a trap.”
And this was very much intentionally similar in setup to what I did in “Justice League” #11 with Gene Ha. It absolutely stands alone and runs with a specific problem and specific solution, but the resolution cuts to the very core of who every character is. And that to me is the best kind of problem to play with.
When you’ve got these ongoing serial properties that you don’t often get to “change” so everything is blown apart and different from where you started, isn’t part of the fun finding ways in the telling to hit those grace notes with the character?
We’re always hit with that set up. As readers of this entire medium, do you really need to be shown a giant explosion and people running to get it? What I love about the Buffy readers is that they already know the genre. They know what to bring to it and already know the set up, so let’s get to the character beats.
There’s a rhythm in the opening panels where Buffy is very intensely waiting for orcs to come over the hills, and then we get a butterfly!
I love that moment. And all credit to Georges again. He’s the true star, and this is a true team project. You talk to me every issue, but we all know that 50% or more should be credited to him.
When you’re writing the script for someone who’s on top of their game as Georges, how do you determine how your going to do things with the idea of Buffy and Angel’s clothes changing as the story goes along? Some of these past Slayer/vampire combos we saw last issue, but did you go through the whole history of Buffy to find certain elements and stories to reference and give them to Georges?
Joss and I specifically spoke about it. This is one of those things where you have to check with the boss, and I said, “Okay, I really want to go through the history of the Slayers.” The idea here, very simply, is that everyone’s been faced with this problem whether they knew it or not. This set up has been here for centuries. Buffy’s just the only one who ever got out of the maze. So I love the idea that what has happened to her very much has been able to drive home that idea that this isn’t just her problem but it’s been a problem throughout history. It not only takes the scope and makes it bigger just for the sake of “bigger must be better,” but I’ve also always loved that in the continuity the idea that this has been going on and on. Whether it will continue to go on, we’ll see.
As for who we picked, some of them I was very specific about. I knew I wanted the Slayer who Spike had killed on that subway. I knew it. She was selling the moment for me. Some I didn’t know their names, but I could say, “I want the Slayer from India in this exact year.” Georges and all the editors would incredibly find them, and then he would come up with a few when I’d go, “Pick what you like.” I feel like in a collaboration, all the writers who write comics think, “I’m the director of this” and all the artists who draw comics think, “I’m the director of this.” The truth is, it always works best when you both are. So I tried to solve half of this, and Georges tried to solve half of it. I think that’s the best way – let everyone bring their energy to it. We talked for a long time about how it would look and the backgrounds and what they’d wear when they first got there. It’s hard, and it’s all on Georges shoulders to carry off.
As we move on to the next scene back with the others, this conflict centers around the idea that while everyone is accusing Giles of holding things back, all he can say is “You have no idea how much stuff I know that I don’t talk about. How was I to know this one myth was the one that’s true?” In his dialogue and in that shot that Georges draws, he looks really regretful.
He’s burdened. That’s absolutely the goal here. From where he’s standing in that shadow…well, he is the only one standing in that shadow. That’s very much intentional.
When you come in to a story like this where the story is shared amongst so many writers, you don’t get to complete everyone’s arc, do you try to take a character like Giles and give him a turn or an idea that leaves him in a bit of a different shape than when you got him?
I think as writers when we look at these other arcs we see what we want to see. For me, I always saw this in Giles. And some people would say, “That’s just been pulled out of whole cloth,” but it’s not. In Brian Vaughan’s arc when Giles was running around with Faith and we couldn’t immediately see why that was, my first thought was, “That’s great. We’re going to use that too.” That’s what I saw. To anyone else just reading the comic, you can’t possibly see it like that. And again when I saw Giles going to yet another country because yet again he’s the good “explanationer,” everyone else sees “That’s the role he plays,” I see an opportunity to try and roll all these ideas together. And sometimes that works, and sometimes that doesn’t. I love as a reader when it all makes sense. We talked about it, and Joss said, “I love the idea that he knows all these things that we don’t know he knows.” And I can show you any number of examples that are just like that, right back to his origin story which comes out of a very old secret. I always say the best writing with a long-established character…well, I think it’s horrible when you just pull something out that’s brand new because “I need it for my story.” That’s bad writing. The best thing is when you pull something out, and the reader goes, “How did I not see that there. Of course, that’s always been there.” That’s letting the character lead you as opposed to you leading the character.
As the series has gone on, one thing that Georges has brought out is how different and varied the demons can be. On the show, it seems we always got the California demons.
Yeah. You got the humanoids.
The book has now opened up that possibility on that front for creatures that, like with any comic, you can’t do on a TV budget. Did you try to take specific advantage of that?
Listen, once you give Buffy superpowers -Â true superpowers and not what she usually has -Â where she can fly through the air and lift a train over her head, you’re now in the $100 million or $50 million budget world. I have to credit Georges here though because I think it’s easy to go, “Now I’m going to draw the big, ugly thing, and it’s going to scare everybody,” but Georges on the page you’re talking about came back with very specific questions on which demons we wanted to do because it was him who wanted to tie it back to those first issues of the comics series, and then Joss realized he could tie it back in with what he’s got coming up. So a real discussion broke out -Â what do they look like? We weren’t going to just make them super ugly because they’re crazier than the humanoid version.
Back to Buffy and Angel, it must be hard to write a scene like this where you’re juggling costuming and scenery changes and also get to the core of the debate and who’s winning the argument while making sure you get the big mythology info worked in in a natural way. Did you have to do a lot of reediting to go back and tweak that balance?
I think it’s just one of those moments as a writer where you hope your gut is leading you right. I don’t ever sit down and go, “Now I need 10% jokes, 10% background and 40% of whatever.” You just know it in your head. When I write dialogue, I just hear that “ping, ping, ping, ping” that tells you what the rhythm is. I can’t tell you how I know it – you just know it. To me, when you’re having this philosophical discussion and you’re dealing with the history of the characters and you’re dealing with history that goes back thousands of years, you just have to not let any of them be the master. You have to service each one equally and there will come the best broth. If it works, I’m thrilled.
“Reality is what you make of it” is Angel’s argument for how this whole scene is working and why the background fades out, but it seems the more important reason to do the Daffy Duck bit is because you want to go, “Here are our two characters. They’ve been through everything together, and now they’re at odds. Let’s focus everything on them.”
This was absolutely intentioned in that this is not about arguing who to fight. It’s not about arguing who to kill. It’s a debate about their entire existence and their approaches to life. It’s the conversation you haven’t had since you were a Freshman in college. I felt like if you were going to do that and you were going to pull it off, let’s bear it down to exactly what it is, which is just them. This is them and their approach and their existence.
How hard is it to split your empathy for each character’s point of view while writing them? Buffy has so much history with the Scoobies and her family and reasons for going back, but it seems with Angel who’s lived so long alone and through so many lives you want to put yourself in his shoes to a certain extent so you can make his half of the argument that much stronger on the page.
I can say very clearly, there’s not a question of who I agree with. Buffy sings in this issue because I so firmly believe what she’s saying in every panel. I really do. I just can’t view anything as more important than those ties we have with our family and friends. It’s at the core of everything I am as a person. So yes, it is absolutely more difficult for me as a writer to get into that mental mode where you see Angel and what he sees. I think it’s a similar thing whenever you write that “immortal.” There has to be this cerebral/emotional distance you see in that character. When Brian [Bendis] writes Christian Walker in “Powers” or even in something like “Highlander,” it’s not just that it’s cool to be quiet. I really think to have gone through that much death and that much horror and that much loss of loved ones, there has to be a disconnect from yourself and reality. Otherwise you’d go insane. And that’s not something I ever want to be able to relate to, but I certainly try hard. What’s also important here is that Angel is not being cold or uncaring. He just has a different view here because of his own experiences. There is a real fine point on that.
There are a few more Easter Eggs thrown in here, and on page 18 we’ve got the Union Jack…
That’s Georges’ pick. That’s Jenny Sparks [from “The Authorty”]. [Laughs] This is where we really divide the geeks from the geeks.
Letting the pendulum swing back to the serious, we’ve got this page where you do what I think a lot of comics writers try to do these days and sometimes they’re less successful than others: you distill down everything about who our main character is into one moment. “I never do what I’m meant for.”
The one great piece of advice that’s taped to my computer is “Show don’t tell.” That’s the rule, right? This is an absolute “tell.” The only reason it works is because there’s also a great “show” going on at the same moment. This decision she’s making is the ultimate show. If she just walks into a bar and goes, “I never do what I’m told to do,” you go, “God, that’s the worst writing ever.” But when she says that right in the moment of making that decision, it makes me just love that character even more.
And as Buffy makes that choice, we have to wait for a minute there and see what Angel is going to do. I’m not reading this in the final print form, so I don’t know how the ads will lay out, but I’m assuming the moment where he says, “Let’s go” is going to be a page turn.
That better be a page turn! [Laughs] I think I specifically told them to make this a page turn, of course. This is it, right? I will wager good money -Â and this is one of those things where for myself as the writer I can absolutely see you turning the page and getting a different result. That’s what the moment is. You don’t know what Angel is going to do. You just don’t. That’s the best cliffhanger of all: where you can absolutely see both paths.
And it’s the fun conceit of this story that they can make that choice and then directly jump back into the action.
Right. I couldn’t get away with this in my novels. My editor wouldn’t let me do it. There would have to be so much more explanation. How did they get into this? How can they just go and fight? You’d need all that stuff, but in “Buffy” you can do it because with “Buffy” we all know what the tropes are.
And we’re not going to show this, but we move into a double-page splash after this that’s just a return to classic Buffy and Angel.
That’s it. It’s supposed to be classic Buffy and Angel. You’ve debated your existence. You’ve debated your approach. And what wins is the reality that you’ve always been a part of.
There’s a lot left in this story for Joss to pick up on later, but the one thing you do get here at the end is just what we talked about last time. When it comes to Spike, “Soon is soon.”
Truth in advertising. For once, I don’t think anything needs to be said. If you’re not ready after that ending, I’ve got nothing else for you.
Well, Brad…it’s hard as a writer to really critique yourself honestly sometimes, I’m sure, but since you came in with the goal of wrapping everything up and taking on the big arc, how do you feel you did? Did you get to use all the pieces you thought you would when you took on the “Buffy” gig months and months ago?
How can I possibly answer that? [Laughs] To reveal who Twilight is. To reunite Buffy and Angel. To let them sleep together and have a completely beautiful explanation of how the entire Buffyverse works only to have them debate whether or not they believe in that explanation. Then for the cherry on top, here comes Spike. I think the only thing that can be said is what a generous person Joss is to let that all go. I love that he would hear my crazy ideas, but to let me play with all of that is generosity beyond compare.
You’ve got your book “Heroes For My Son” about to hit, and I know you often go back and forth between doing a whole book and doing a whole comics arc in one fell swoop. Does that mean we might be seeing another comics project from you soon?
Well, first off there’s a book tour for “Heroes For Son” which starts in three days. So anyone who wants their Buffy comics signed, please come! And then, I handed in a draft of my next novel, and when that’s all done I can really look and see what I can play with next and what’s out there. To be completely honest, I can’t focus on that until we’re there. But I hope people see where my passion for this medium is and how great it is that I get to come back like this weird uncle every Thanksgiving.
For more on Brad Meltzer’s “Heroes For My Son” tour, go to www.BradMeltzer.com and check back to CBR in the months ahead for more news on the finale of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8.”