From his “that just happened” meeting with legendary director John Landis to talking about what he and the rest of the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9” creative teams have in story for Buffy, Angel, Faith and the rest of the Sunnydale alum to his approach towards “The Avengers,” Joss Whedon had something to talk about.
The director/writer spoke with CBR’s Kiel Phegley on the floor of Comic-Con International in San Diego, where he explained what went into the recently-completed Buffy/pregnancy/abortion/robot storyline, developing the new world rules in “Angel & Faith,” Nick Fury’s Machiavellian approach to protecting the world and more.
Check out the interview – and complete transcript – below!
CBR TV: What up partners? It’s Kiel Phegley here on CBR TV and I am in a secret enclave within the Dark Horse booth at Comic-Con 2012 with Mr. Joss Whedon and they didn’t get to see this, but John Landis was just here! That was really crazy and fun!
Joss Whedon: John Landis just stopped by and said, “Hey, I’m John Landis!” as if he needed to tell me that.
He said, “I really liked your movie,” and I said, “That’s good because you were a big influence.” And then he left!
Obviously, we’re at the Dark Horse booth and I spent a lot of time for the site talking to Scott Allie and Andrew Chambliss and all these guys who have been working on the Buffy books, but I feel like they’re the team who are playing out your playbook on that series and SPOILER WARNING, everybody, there’s been so many twists to “Season 9” so far. We’ve had a pregnancy scare, we have a choice for an abortion, we have a robot twist at the end of all this and as that arc took shape for you, what piece came first and in what way did you feel all those disparate parts to fit together for the character in this moment?
Well, it’s all in the service of telling this story about somebody who’s twenty who doesn’t know how to start creating her identity. All of her friends seem to be on a path. When you’re in your twenties, you choose a path. Usually, that doesn’t change. Usually, when you’re in your thirties, what you chose in your twenties is who you are now. It’s kind of this weirdly crucial time that people don’t talk about very much because it doesn’t sound very mythic. The thing about Buffy is she’s mythic and it’s always grounded in the mundane. The mundane truth is she has a skill set that she doesn’t know how to use. She doesn’t have a lot of other skills and she never really thought about direction because she assumed she was going to be killed. To me, I am one of the few people I know that always had a pretty clear idea of what he wanted to do from college on. But most of my friends were like, “Who am I, what do I become?” and for her to deal with the idea of “Okay, if I’m pregnant, that makes me think about my life. If I’m a robot watching myself in a different life, that makes me figure out who I am.” Everything was always in the service of — I’m at an age where I could be one thing, I can be another, I see variations on it and the urgency of needing to make those choices are what’s driving it.
There has been so much change since Buffy has moved into comics full time, but with the idea of a pregnancy, I kind of feel like it would have been hard to go through with that on many different fronts. A baby specifically, but even an abortion — do you have a fear sometimes that you can change too much about that character and that world that takes it far off from what you initially intended?
You’re always trying to figure out the line. When I see something where a character completely violates something that I understand about them, I’m done. I’m not watching. This has happened with shows that I’ve watched through religiously and I saw one false move and I’m like, “I’m out.” I always have to be aware of that. At the same time, we are always changing in what we do, what we think is okay — you have to change. If people just do the same thing all the time, the comic would get super boring. I think with the abortion, for me, I was never going to give her a child because that’s not the journey she should be on right now. It was really about “How is this going to affect how she thinks about her life” and it was also as political as I’ve ever gotten, just that somebody should say, “I am going to do this.” It is a choice over a third of America will make in their lifetimes and nobody was really talking about it. But it was never about going through the process. It was just about articulating the decision. And robot. The robot was always in the mix. The first issue I wrote, everything was designed to call back to “Wait a minute–”
You’ve also got the “Angel and Faith” book coming along. That book seems to be so involved with how the world has changed, but in a completely different way than what “Buffy” has been. We know we’re in a world where magic is a rare commodity now and the rules don’t quite work anymore. How do you expect by the end of “Season 9” those two books in terms of the characters and their personal journeys will clash back together?
That’s actually something we’re still working out. Theirs is this sort of weird and tenuous, yet strong bond. We want to shake it up, we want to change the parameters, but at the same time, we’re always having discussions about “Do they come here? Do they come apart? How separate can we make it and still have it be ‘Angel and Faith?'” which is a team.
On the movie side of things, I’m going to be the twelve billionth person to tell you this weekend that “The Avengers” was great, it was so much fun, I saw it twice. I took my mother. She laughed and then she was confused about things, then she laughed again.
[Laughs] That’s sort of what it was like to me. Funny, I didn’t really know what was going on.
Well, one of the threads that really struck me as I was watching the film is that all the Marvel movies ended up being a play on this idea of militarization of technology and that we have something that’s introduced into the world and we have opposing sides trying to weaponize it in some sense. Your really seemed to want to take that thread in some sense and kind of run — not unknowingly — but just a facet of the world and push it essential to the conflict. What for you made that a story that worked for these extraordinary characters coming together.
Well, I didn’t really think about it in terms of what they had done for the other movies, except as useful to me. I didn’t think about it as a thematic thread, I thought, “Oh, this is a piece I can use is that they’re interested in this stuff” — because why wouldn’t they be? The idea that they were going to weaponize the cube, for me, was about playing more of the reality in terms of “The Ultimates” or “The Authority” — that kind of thing where — or Straczynski’s book —
Yes. No, it’s not “Rising Stars.”
Oh! “Supreme Power!”
Yes, sorry. Sorry, J. Michael. But they all deal very poignantly with the reality of “Superman’s here and he’s in a bad mood. What do we do? We’re humans! We’ve got nothing. We’re in trouble.” To lay that on the table was such a perfect thing for this because it made Fury seem Machiavellian, but I think he’s totally right. I mean, absolutely they need to protect themselves. There’s aliens now. Thor’s an alien and he’s stronger than us. It brought up issues that would help everybody’s point of view coalesce and it would also help separate the Avengers from S.H.I.E.L.D., which is the other really important thing — making sure that people didn’t think, “Oh, it’s a group that these guys run.” It was very important for them to kill daddy in order to become their own grown-up family. That’s the other thing that I like to raise. Fury even knew that. He knew he had to get them together as a team and then take himself out of the equation.