SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9” #s 1 and 2, in stores now.
You can’t keep a good slayer down. Back in comic shops full time from of Dark Horse’s is the canonical continuation of Joss Whedon’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season” – a story comprising the “BTVS: Season Nine” series as well as “Angel & Faith.”
And CBR News is back with BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 9 – a monthly column featuring interviews with the creators and staff behind the creation of Buffy’s latest two comic series. Going behind the scenes for an in depth look he future of the entire Buffy franchise, this week we welcome “Buffy” editor extraordinaire Scott Allie to discuss the start of “Season Nine” proper in issues #1 and 2.
With the first comic written by Whedon himself and part two the first effort from incoming scribe Andrew Chambliss (and both drawn by returning artist George Jeanty), the comics comprise the start of the inaugural “Freefall” arc. And as Allie explains, Buffy’s new life in San Francisco holds plenty of new friends, new foes, new dangers and classic character-driven moments to kick off “Season 9.”
CBR News: Welcome back, Scott! It’s been a few long months since we last saw Buffy in comic shops, and a busy time for both you guys and Joss. What’s it like to finally have “Season 9” underway? Has the launch been what you’d hoped, and what’s the reaction been like from readers?
Scott Allie: Yeah. It’s been great. The reaction’s been really positive so far. Our first issue came out right in the middle of the whole New 52 thing, and that was kind of a bummer that the whole industry was focused on one event when our biggest event of the year was happening. But the fan response has been good. Sales have been good. And mainly I’m really happy with the team. The new writer on the book Andrew Chambliss has been great. He’s been really good to work with, and he’s really busting it to keep doing this while he’s working on a TV show “Once Upon A Time” right now. That keeps him pretty busy, but things are going good.
Let’s talk about the new “Freefall” arc. Right from that name is really telling because the end of “Season Eight” from the reveal of Angel as Twilight to the death of Giles was so big that the whole bottom of Buffy’s world kind of fell out from beneath her. How did you and Joss talk about starting this with such a focus on the lives of the cast?
We wanted to be able to make it more about their real lives and where they’re at personally. So in the first issue, there’s a lot of the main plot points for the season twisting up around Buffy and the rest of the cast, but we wanted time for them to interact as people and take their relationships to the next level. Everything’s changed for everyone in the wake of “Season 8.”
Joss scripted issue #1, and I think if I pointed out every little detail and line of dialogue that jumped out at me in his story, we’d be on the phone for three hours. It seems on every page there’s a nod to past stories or great specific character moments. Was the plan for him to really set up the core of where everyone is before Andrew moved forward with the bigger adventure?
Yeah. Plotwise and storywise the pieces were in place based on our various meetings about the book. So this was more about Joss setting a tone and establishing what she’s acting like and how that’s affecting everyone else. A lot of this series is just us looking to execute the plan laid out, but what Joss did was show Andrew and all of us “this is the tenor of the humor we’ll have” and “this is the vision for the series.” And also, there were some little things in the script that weren’t so much surprised but were things where we had to go “What’s up with that, Joss?” and he’d let us know what new things had occurred to him while writing that hadn’t come up in our overall discussions previously.
What’s the process been like comparing “Season 9” to “Season 8”? Has everything been structured as much as the arcs last time, or are you running more loose?
It’s different because the truth is that in “Season 8,” Joss was running a show to such an extent that we didn’t know where the story was going sometimes. I came in to co-write the finale with him, and at that point I was still learning things he hadn’t said to us as well as things he was still working out as he went. I wouldn’t say one was more or less laid out than the other, but I would say in “Season 8” that Sierra [Hahn, the book’s other editor] and I knew less of the plan while in “Season 9” we were there to help create the plan and will be controlling the rollout. He’s so tied up. So with “Season 8,” even in a comic Joss didn’t write, he was the editor on the script. I’d never see anything before a second draft for most scripts. He did a series of notes with the writer and then he’d send us their second draft. I guess it was Jane Espenson’s arc where she started sending scripts to me before she did to Joss, and then Brad Meltzer sent them to both of us simultaneously. But with “Season 9,” we’re editing the scripts while Joss is doing the more high level planning and talking things through with Andrew. But when a script comes in and needs to go to an artist, that’s coming to us.
Looking at the page, we meet Buffy’s new roommates Anaheed and Tumble. Instantly upon seeing them, I thought back to the show and how we’d meet someone like Oz as a social friend of the gang who would then slowly be pulled into the craziness of Buffy’s world one way or another. What can you say about the role these two will play in the stories as they mesh with the gang some?
Well, the thing is that the gang isn’t very enmeshed. You see this big party in issue #1, but the gang isn’t as tight as they used to be. They’re not as intimately and constantly involved as they were before. So don’t expect that to happen. Don’t expect Anaheed and Tumble to get absorbed into a group that doesn’t totally exist right now.
And is there any significance we can make that Tumble’s real name remains a mystery?
[Laughs] The whole thing happens where Dawn’s trying to get more about his name, but don’t expect too much more information on that front. I think his name suits him pretty well.
The issue is framed by the morning after the party as Buffy tries to remember what happened the night of. That makes the story stand on its own very well, but it also kind of lets Joss’ part stand free from the rest of the arc as Andrew writes it. Will we see a more stand alone feel across the series issues like that?
I think that is partly the reason why Joss wanted to write the issue – the opportunity to do that weird structure. There’s also a pretty weird structure to issue #5 and how Andrew tells that story, but #2 through 4 is pretty much straightforward action adventure storytelling.
Part of the build to that is this feeling of dread that Spike has, but I get the feeling here that this isn’t just a gut reaction thing. There’s still a vampire community he’s engaging with. How strongly will that play into the series?
There is one. And I think you’ll see that in “Angel & Faith” too -Â the way the natural underground continues to exist and work together with [society] or the two against each other. In the “Angel & Faith” book that’s more what the story is about than in “Buffy,” but without saying too much, the greater community will be an important part of where Buffy’s story goes.
We also get our first glimpse of this hunter villain who’s introduced in a scene where he’s breaking through some portal. The big question after the Seed was destroyed in “Season 8” taking magic away from the world is how much magic is left. Does this villain show us there’s still a connection to the world of magic, or is everything we’re seeing here pretty much earthbound?
In that scene we are somewhere on earth. It’s kind of irrelevant where, but as one of the demons says, the spells that bound him have weakened. We talked about this a lot, and we thought it was okay to be a little vague on when exactly this two-page scene happens. Did it happen a few months ago? Did it happen right after the Seed was destroyed? Whatever the case, it happened sometime after the Seed was destroyed so the spells were weakened and it allowed this creature named Koh to break free.
He very much feels like a villain from the show. I can imagine a guy decked out in the makeup and stalking Buffy around town. A big part of “Season 9” for Joss was taking the size of things down a notch after “Season 8” was so big. Does a villain like that fit in with that conception?
It’s funny. Nobody knows quite yet what’s happening as far as Koh is concerned, but we’re still telling a Buffy story here. Even though we’re smaller than “Season 8,” we still got to throw some players on the table. Koh doesn’t lead a giant army of demons or anything. He’s not the next great Apocalypse necessarily. But like you say, he’s a singular demon character who shows up, and it’s going to be a bit more personal than Buffy against an army of demons.
Of course, artist George Jeanty is back with the book, and I think his standout page from this issue is the party montage where Buffy of the next morning floats mid-page. She’s so removed from what happened to her the night before even as she remembers it in pieces. What’s it been like to have Georges back and what he brings to the series and characters?
I feel like Georges is really given us his A+ game again. And it hasn’t slacked off. I’ve got pencils through issue #6, and he’s not backing off of any of the detail or the life he’s giving to this. That particular page you mention, there’s just so much storytelling and so much happening in different ways there. Georges is uniquely suited to pull that off and bring so many characters to life. I love what happens on that page with Buffy looking so pouty at the same time you’re seeing her have a blast.
The final question on this issue is in regards to the idea that we’re really introduced to a mystery through its structure. We want to know what exactly happened and who Buffy was with, and it turns out she meets the unseen neighbor whose name is Heinrich. When will we learn more about this guy?
There are a great number of things that I can’t say anything about right now, and that is certainly one of them. [Laughter] It’s rewarding and fun to watch speculation that things like that turn up. And the point is to throw out a number of things that’ll have people scratching their heads. Nobody knows right now what the Big Bad or big challenge or theme of this year is. But there’s a number of things floating out there that different readers are focusing on and saying, “Ah ah! We need to know about this!” And some of those things are absolutely essential to know, and some of them are, for right now, maybe just there to mess with you.
Let’s talk a bit about issue #2 then. One thing that stood out to me jumping in to this scene where the demon is chasing Buffy down for her student loan payments is how it synched up with Anaheed’s line in issue #1 about how she went through four years of grad school to be at age 30 working as a fact checker for a website. Overall, it feels like the story is shaping up to be about a whole new phase in the life of Buffy and the cast. In the TV show, we had them in high school and then transitioning to college and 20-something life. How much did you guys talk about this being a phase of life that’s reflected differently than the past?
Part of the challenge as we were trying to shape up this season was that when “Buffy” started, it was entirely about the changes you go through in high school. And there’s a way in which for you or me or anybody else, you look back on your high school years with a kind of mythic reverence that doesn’t necessarily apply to the other years of your life. There’s a heightened drama and a falsely heightened sense of conviction to what’s going on in your life. That was a big part of what the show was when it started, and then when they went to college, there was not that same mythic aspect in the way that your identity is shaped in high school. So what we had to do was talk about what a similar metaphor was that you could come up with for in your life – a similar mode of expressing what this post-college moment is. What point in Buffy’s life is she at that people can really relate to and that we can explore through the kinds of stories we like to tell?
The thing you referenced about Anaheed and the state she’s in or Buffy facing down that student loan…they just show how there’s a way we have to decide who we are in our 20s that will take us into the future. I think these days a lot of people put those decisions off into their 30s even, but in your 20s there’s really an aspect where you’ve got to figure out what your life is going to be. That’s a pressure that isn’t on most of us when we’re teenagers or even necessarily in college. Even though you pick your major, you know as well as I do that most people when they reach 45 or 50 aren’t doing the job that they trained for in college. In college, you think you’re making decisions about the rest of your life, but it’s really “Eh, I don’t know.” But into your 20s, you are making decisions about what your life is supposed to be.
And Buffy always thought that he adult life was going to be cancelled. She thought she was going to die. She had to either save the world or fail to save the world, and that was going to be everything for her. But now maybe Twilight was the final Apocalypse she had to put off. Maybe she really won and succeeded in that Slayer existence that most girls never got through. She won and she survived. “Oh shit. Now what?” In my mind, that’s what a lot of us are facing when we’re 24 or 25. You go, “I’m not apparently a rock star or the president or whatever I thought I’d be to change the world. I’m just me dealing with my crap. What does that mean?” That’s where Buffy’s at.
You mentioned the gang being very much on their own right now, and one of the standout scenes in issue #2 was where Buffy tries to crash at Xander and Dawn’s to realize the couch was made up for Xander and not her on the lamb. Will we continue to watch the other characters develop on their own, or will it be more through the prism of Buffy crashing into their lives?
Well, that is kind of Buffy’s M.O. [Laughs] But there is this thing evolving with Xander and Dawn, and within the first five issues you’re going to barely get a glimpse of it. It’s just because with the amount of room we’ve got to use to tell Buffy’s story, the supporting cast’s stories will move along a bit slowly. But there’s major developments for Willow before issue #6. You won’t see too much transpire with Xander and Dawn until further into it, but there’s a really cool storyline cooking with those two that doesn’t have much to do with Buffy. That will develop on its own a bit more while she’s dealing with her own terrible crap.
The other big plot point for this arc is that Buffy has been caught by the police slaying -Â some might say at long last -Â and while we saw a lot about vampires in the public eye in “Season 8,” is this story with the cops a sign that we’ll continue to learn about how the magical world intrudes upon human lives?
A little bit, but not that much partly because we want to stay focused on the main characters, and the main characters aren’t run of the mill humans. The vampires went public before the Seed was broken, so society has changed a bit. One thing you’ll see through our characters and these San Francisco cops is that the cops have to figure out what to do with vampires. If vampires are an accepted part of society, how do you deal with that? How do you deal when you have a bunch of murderous vampires and a girl kills them, but there’s no evidence left behind? What do you do with that? How do you process that crime scene? One could make the argument that the vampires came out months ago, so shouldn’t the cops have figured it out by now? Yeah maybe, but we’re going to see them figuring it out. We’re going to tell that story instead of just saying it happened, and we’ll tell that story through Buffy and Spike and some other various interactions.
Finally, I have to ask about this new guy with this new kind of Slaying ability. I’m sure everything around him is secretive, but my question is whether we can assume that’s he’s been around a while or whether the Seed breaking has affected who he is and what he can do?
The breaking of the Seed has something hugely significant to do with his origins that you’ll find out next issue. He’s been at this only a very short time. The ability that he has emerged very recently, and he’s just kind of figuring it out. But the way in which it emerged has a lot to do with vampires going public and the destruction of the Seed. In issue #3, he reveals a lot about that.
Be sure to check out “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 9” #3 in comic shops next week and stay tuned for more “Behind Buffy Season 9” on CBR!