The course for Dark Horse and Joss Whedon’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9” has already gone far beyond what most Buffy comics have done before. This run of the canonical continuation of the fan favorite franchise has been the first with two ongoing series, including “Angel & Faith,” and has recently added a number of solo mini series starring the likes of Willow and Spike.
But with the latest arc of the core “Buffy Season 9” title, which started with last week’s issue #16, the series is also expanding out the cast of the hit series in many directions. Aside from welcoming new character Billy The Vampire Slayer and his Watcher Devon, the aptly named “Welcome To The Team” arc sees the return of a major mythological piece of Buffy’s world in the form of Old One Illyria.
As part of its regular BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 9 exploration of the run, CBR News spoke with Chambliss about his return to writing duties, the impact of Billy on the book, Buffy’s search for herself, Xander and Dawn’s latest storylines and how Illyria and The Council will ramp up the story as Season 9 gets closer to its eventual conclusion.
CBR News: Before we get into the latest issue, I wanted to pick up on something from your last arc, “Guarded.” In a big way, it seems more and more like the question for Buffy over the course of this whole season is what she will do long term. In other words, “What does she want to do with her life?” How do you see Buffy’s rejection of slaying for money impacting both her personal journey and the shape of Season 9 in its latter half?
Andrew Chambliss: Buffy’s rejection of Kennedy’s job offer is just another step in her realizing that being a Slayer isn’t something you can treat as a job. It really is a way of life. What Buffy realized in the Guarded arc is that as soon as you try to turn it into a job, it’s no longer about doing the right thing… it’s about protecting the person who hired you. And I don’t think that’s something Buffy could ever be comfortable with. Sure, it might have been the first time she felt like her life was coming together. It might have been the first time she had a decent paycheck. A shot at having any sort of life a 20-something would aspire to. And it was especially tempting coming off the Apart of Me arc where she saw a life that was very attractive to someone who is broke and directionless. I think Kennedy was right when she told her that it’s time she put herself first. That maybe the world owed her for all the times she saved it.
But at the end of day, for a girl who’s put her life on the line… and even given it up to save the people she cares about, I don’t think she could ever fully settle into that world where she’s doing something for a paycheck. This idea of a higher calling is going to be something Buffy grapples with for the rest of the season… and particularly something that she’s going to have to consider now that Illyria has summoned her to join The Council.
“Guarded” also brought back some old faces (or, you know, kind of faces) in Wolfram And Heart while deepening the story of newcomer Eldre Koh. In the case of the latter, how vital a role will he play in the series moving forward? When can we expect to learn more about the mysterious name he was given by WR&H?
Koh will definitely be back before the end of the season. I don’t want to say exactly when. He didn’t actually get the name that Wolfram and Hart promised him. Theo was able to destroy the connection to the hell dimension before the information was transferred. So his desire to know who imprisoned him will still be an x-factor in the rest of the season.
In between that arc and this latest issue, fans got to welcome back longtime “Buffy” writers Jane Espenson and Drew Greenberg. Obviously, you work with Jane on ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” so I’m assuming Buffy talk becomes part of the regular water cooler routine for you guys there. Why was now the moment in the life of the book to introduce Billy the Vampire Slayer?
Yeah, it was amazing to have Drew and Jane join Season 9 for the Billy arc. They created a fun character and got to ask the question — what does it mean to be a Slayer? — from a new POV. Buffy’s always approached that question as a person who was chosen, but Billy approaches it as someone who chooses to be a Slayer. One of the perks of working with Jane on “Once,” aside from the awesomeness that is working with Jane, is that I can pick her brain about all things Buffy. A question came up a couple weeks ago from the Dark Horse editorial team about something on that happened in Season 7 and we all had different interpretations of what had happened. It turns out the answer was in an episode Jane had written so I was able to get a quick answer and understand exactly what she was going for. I sent an e-mail back to Dark Horse saying that everyone writing in the Buffyverse should have their own personal Jane Espenson at hand.
Placing Billy’s story where we did in the season seemed to make sense with where Buffy was in her arc. After the Guarded arc, Buffy’s back in a place where she’s beginning to embrace being a Slayer again. It seemed like that would be the perfect time to do a story about a teen who is doing the same thing as a way to empower himself. Bringing him into the fold in San Francisco also made sense since Billy’s someone Buffy can teach the ropes of being a Slayer. He’s going to look at this world with fresh eyes — which in its own way will help Buffy look at Slaying in the same way.
Outside of all the planing that went into their two-part introduction of Billy and Devon and the stuff you knew about that story in a general sense, what were your impressions of their story in its final form? In other words, what was the biggest takeaway you got that’s influenced how you write these new members of the Buffy cast moving forward?
I think the thing that I loved most about Drew and Jane’s treatment of the Billy story was the way that Billy became a Slayer to empower himself. It was such a positive thing. Something he WANTED to be. Like I said before, I think it reminded me of a lesson that Buffy needed to learn, especially after she had been in a place where she saw Slaying as a burden… where she was reminded of all the things she couldn’t have. Sure, maybe it prevents you from living the life of a normal twenty-something, but it also means that you can kick-ass, dust zompires, and ultimately help the people you love. When I’ve been writing Billy, I’ve been trying to look at Slaying through the eyes of an enthusiastic sixteen-year-old who’s excited by every single little Slayer trick he’s learning.
So issue #16 jumps right back into the action with Billy and Devon. The name of the story is “Welcome To The Team,” which holds many meanings in and of itself, but overall, why has it been important for everyone from Joss on down to expand out the characters beyond people who were portrayed in the TV shows?
I think it’s important to keep Buffy’s world expanding so we have new relationships to explore without retreading familiar ground, and adding new characters to the mix also helps to change up the dynamic between existing characters. Since Joss really thinks of Season 8 and 9 as a continuation of the series, which just happens to be in comic form, I think we can look at adding new characters in the same way as the show did. Spike, Anya, Dawn, Andrew… they weren’t there from the beginning, but by the end of Season 7 they felt like they had been. Although we’ve spent a lot of time with some of these new characters, it doesn’t mean that we’ve forgotten the old Scooby gang. The end of run of Season 9 will definitely bring together characters from the TV show with a dynamic we haven’t seen so far in Season 9. Buffy, Xander and Dawn’s interactions in #16 is just the beginning of that, and we’ll definitely get more of them together… along with some other surprises from characters from the TV show.
Meanwhile, we’re getting some movement on the zompire hoards. We’ve seen them building nests, willingly siring new vamps and maybe even evolving. How does this new lady zompire whom Buffy may or may not know represent the next level of species for that portion of the expanding “World Without A Seed” storyline?
The zompires are becoming an inescapable part of the Post-Seed World. To the point where the SFPD has begun to train its officers to deal with the new threat. The zompire that gave Buffy a run for her money in #16 is definitely a sign of things to come down the road for Buffy and the rest of the team in terms of how vampries are evolving in a world without magic. Exactly why they’re evolving is a question that they’ll have to answer.
On a completely different track, Dawn and Xander are so far removed from magic that they seem to finally settling in to a normal domestic life together. What’s the attraction to that more grounded element of the Scooby gang right now? Should we be waiting for the rug to get pulled out from under us like Xander joshed about when Dawn caught the flu?
The attraction to portraying Dawn and Xander’s very grounded, domestic life has always been about providing a counterpoint to Buffy’s supernatural life — which has been anything but domestic. As much as Buffy’s contemplated the idea of living in a world without magic — especially when she saw the idealized life her body was living in the “Apart of Me” arc, she’s never been able to achieve what Dawn and Xander have… a life where an adventure for them is something as mundane as coming down with the flu. After so many years of facing all sorts of threats to their lives, Dawn and Xander definitely deserve a shot at a normal life. But, yeah, I think it’s safe to say that Dawn and Xander are quickly going to realize that even though they’ve walked away from a supernatural life, that doesn’t mean the supernatural has necessarily walked away from them.
The issue has a rather scary moment for Buffy’s new “not a boyfriend” Dowling. I’m putting odds that his story isn’t done yet, but what does this relationship represent for Buffy as she’s getting into this part of her life, and what does endangering it so soon mean for the story ahead of us?
Buffy and Dowling have an interesting relationship. Just as Buffy’s dipping her toes in the real world, realizing that she might like a guy who has very little history with vampires and demons, Dowling, on the other hand, is dipping his toes in the supernatural world and getting a taste of what that’s like. And part of Dowling’s learning curve is that the supernatural world often has a cost. He already saw the death of his partner. And now he may be in trouble. Part of the reason Dowling got caught off guard by the compare was because Buffy got called away, and there will obviously be some guilt about that from Buffy. Not to mention anger at Illyria. Once we see why Illyria has called Buffy away from the vampire nest, we’ll begin to see a choice Buffy has to face — whether she’ll stick around and fight Illyria’s cause or go home and help her friends. That question is one that Buffy’s faced before, and one that she’ll have to face as the season progresses and she’ll be torn between duty and her friends.
Illyria! There are probably a billion questions one can ask about the end of the issue, but let’s just try to be big and broad with it. The Old Ones are a group we haven’t heard much from since the Seed’s destruction. How does their appearance add a new wrinkle to the idea that there’s a barrier between the world of the earth and magic?
Illyria’s presence is just another reminder that Buffy’s actions in Season 8 have had huge repercussions across the world. It’s not just about Buffy, her friends, and the zompire population in San Fran. It’s affected some of the most powerful players in the magical world. What’s cool about exploring this idea through Illyria is that this sin’t the first time she’s seen a huge change in the way magic worked in our world. She was around millions of years ago when the Old Ones ruled. But then she was defeated and entombed in the Deeper Well. Millions of years later she was resurrected in Fred’s body and had to deal with the fact that she wasn’t an all powerful god anymore. The order of things had changed. And just when she got used to the way things are now, the rug was ripped out from under her again when Buffy destroyed the Seed. So Illyria definitely has very strong opinions on what Buffy did when she destroyed the Seed, and we’ll see a lot of that come out in #17. Just because Illyria recruited Buffy to join “The Council” she keeps talking about doesn’t mean that Illyria’s going to be best friends with Buffy.
When Illyria appears, wrinkles in the status quo follow. How does her pitch to Buffy here echo that idea of “Welcome To The Team”? What thematically links this arc overall?
On the surface, this arc is literally about characters joining new teams — Billy and Dowling becoming Scoobies with Buffy. Illyria calling Buffy to join The Council. Dawn and Xander fully settling into the “real” world. But this idea goes a little bit deeper. Thematically this arc is really about characters realizing that the world is a lot more complicated than they thought. And that being part of a team often comes with costs. Just when Billy and Dowling begin to get comfortable with the idea of being part of Buffy’s new patrol, they get a reminder that Slaying can be a lot more brutal than dusting vampires so you can get home in time for breakfast. Just when Buffy begins to figure out how to make a life for herself in San Francisco, Illyria teleports her away from that with an offer to join a group that Buffy didn’t even know existed.
What can you tell us at this stage about what’s to come in issue #17 as the arc takes its next turn?
#17 is going to answer questions about Illyria’s motives in ripping Buffy away from San Francisco. What does Illyria need her to do? Why Buffy over any of the other Slayers? Who else is on the mysterious Council Illyria mentioned? They’ll definitely be more of Dawn and Xander, and we may also see a couple of story threads that have been set up earlier in the season begin to come together as we head into the final run.