One thing that Joss Whedon’s now-classic franchise “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” has always been known for is taking the weird and wild aspects of horror fiction and making them relatable to the lives of young adults. But that task has gotten more challenging since the series shifted to the ongoing run of Dark Horse comic books, making bigger, crazier, more unbelievable magic easier than ever to portray.
So it should come as no surprise that the just-launched “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 11” is putting a premium on bringing the real world back into the equation. After a number of comic seasons featured world-altering magic twists and character-morphing status quo shake-ups, the 12-issue “Season 11” is looking for a more focused, relatable adventure for Buffy and the Scoobies, all under the charge of franchise veterans Christos Gage and Rebekah Isaacs.
Of course, a giant Chinese dragon attacked San Francisco in the first issue, too.
To catch up on where the series is headed after its politically-charged opening chapter, CBR spoke with both Gage and Isaacs about the long-term plan for “Buffy Season 11.” Below the writer and artist dig into their approach to complicating Buffy’s personal life in an increasingly tense world, the humor and horror of their collaboration from the covers on down and Joss Whedon’s masterplan for 2017.
CBR: This year, Buffy is back with a new format that will deliver a year-long epic. Obviously, there was a lot of long term planning that went into the idea beforehand, but when you guys got down to brass tacks with this first issue, what was the most important thing you focused on? In other words, how did you deliver that “Season Premiere” feel in issue #1?
Christos Gage: With the first issue, we wanted to serve notice that it wasn’t going to be business as usual. That we were going to shake things up right off the bat. One way to do that was to flip the traditional script for a season. Instead of building up to a huge crisis or enemy that our heroes have to defeat, we threw that at them at the start… and they failed to stop it. It only gets worse from there. On the other hand, we wanted to try to make the issue accessible as a jumping-on point for anyone who may not be up to speed with the comics. Anything you need to know to enjoy and follow the story is in the issue.
Rebekah Isaacs: Everyone is really content and satisfied with their lives at the beginning of issue #1, so you know things are gonna get bad, real fast. The mood I was going for in the first few scenes was a Norman Rockwell painting… but with a mild dash of tentacle monsters and witchcraft.
One thing that makes this season stand out compared to previous ones is that on the surface, everything is going great for the Scooby gang for once. How did you view the team’s long-term happiness prospects?
Gage: We wanted to show that the Scoobies have grown from the events of last season… and also, of course, when things are going well in their personal lives, it’s a perfect time for the world around them to go all to hell. That was a big theme Joss wanted to explore this season: at a time when it often feels like our world is falling apart, let’s do the classic “Buffy” thing of applying a supernatural approach to that and seeing how our characters react.
Isaacs: I feel the cast has gotten a lot better at handling conflict and chaos in the last few seasons. They’re all way more mature, but that makes it more and more difficult to place obstacles in their way that they can’t easily get around with teamwork and spells and superpowers. Without giving too much away, I think the main conflict this season is so brilliant (and terrifying), because no one can magic or fight their way around it.
Of course, we’re getting hints that Buffy herself is a bit out of sorts — always her own worst enemy in some ways. I know that a big idea for Joss has always been to let her journey reflect a certain stage or feeling in the life of a young adult. How do each of you view where she’s at in Season 11? What makes her remain relatable in this crazy world?
Gage: I think she’s relatable because she is very much one of us — albeit awesomer than most of us could ever be — just trying to survive in this crazy world. Last season, her challenges were more internal, as she struggled to feel confident and make the right decisions in terms of the “Vampyr” book and her life. Now, it’s more about the world around her going crazy, and she has to figure out the best way to respond for herself, her loved ones, and the world itself. Which is something we will all have to face at some point.
Isaacs: Same here. As long as Buffy is still figuring it out as she goes along, then I don’t feel guilty for doing the same!
Then again, I’m sure there are plenty of challenges coming up for Willow, Xander, Dawn and the rest. Which cast member are you most excited to mess with this year, and why?
Gage: For me, I felt like Willow got a bit neglected last season, and I felt bad about that. We’ll be making up for it this season. We’re going to start out seeing Willow as almost a spiritual leader for a growing community of Wiccans. As we go on, there’ll be huge challenges for her both in that role as well as on a personal level. As a result, and due to the shorter season, Xander and Dawn will be pushed more to the background, though they’ll be around. It was unfortunately impossible to give everyone the room they deserve. But fans of young Giles will be glad to hear that Joss himself is co-writing a miniseries about him!
Isaacs: Spike has been pretty settled into “real” human life lately, but this season he’s being thrown into a situation that will force him to bring out his violent, feral side again. While I feel for him, it’s fun to draw!
Looking at the big picture of the book, it feels like one of the themes for this season will be how the world of magic clashes with the world of humans – particularly in a modern political sense. Why is this the right kind of story to be telling with Buffy right now?
Gage: Part of it had to do with Joss’s wish to raise the stakes, which I hope we definitely did in issue #1. As a father, he very keenly feels the current state of worry and uncertainty pervading the world… war, political division, environmental crises, etc. He wanted to explore that. Also, we felt like in the last season, the supernatural was starting to become almost too commonplace. Vampires are trendy, and everyone is now aware of the existence of fairies, demons, and other magical beings. We didn’t want the supernatural to start to feel too safe, like just part of the landscape. We’re going to see that change in a big way… a way that’s dangerous for all concerned.
Isaacs: We can’t spoil what’s coming up in issue #2, but you’ll find this season is very, very relevant to current events.
Let’s talk about Rebekah’s visuals for a minute! The big set piece for issue #1 was a “Chinese storm dragon,” which seems like not just an opportunity for big action splashes but also a different kind of cultural and art tradition to mix in with the classic vampire stuff Buffy is known for. How have you been looking at evolving the look and feel of this comic on those terms?
Gage: Working together as long as we have, I’ve gotten so confident in Rebekah that I just throw stuff at her. I have a feeling she probably wants to strangle me by now! It’s her own fault for being so good at it. I loved the storm dragon! As you said, it was a look at a different pantheon and mythology than we’ve seen, and something the show probably couldn’t have managed for budgetary reasons. All of which seem like great reasons to do it.
Isaacs: No wishes to strangle Chris here. On the contrary, the most exciting part of the work is drawing new and interesting creatures. Weren’t there some Buddhist mythology touches in Season 8, too, when they were in Tibet? The magic world is much, much more open since Season 8. Anything can happen.
One of the most fun things we’ve seen so far about Season 11 are the “deleted scenes” variant covers. How have you guys been zeroing in on the kinds of moments you want to do with these? What’s the challenge of doing one-page gag strips in this world?
Gage: They’re not all going to be gag strips, though a lot are. With the tone getting as serious as it is this season, the alternate cover seems like a good opportunity to add a bit of comic relief. And sometimes, in a season where things are going to move very fast, it’s a chance to have a quiet moment. The challenge is finding something that can be done in a couple panels, but doesn’t spoil the story inside!
Isaacs: They take a bit more time than a regular cover, surprisingly, but are less challenging to design and compose. They’re really just a twenty-third page. My favorite so far is the one of Giles shopping for school clothes with Buffy and Willow. We couldn’t have justified a whole scene of that in the interiors, but it’s a great character moment that unfortunately these characters won’t have much time for when the s*** really hits the fan.
All in all, the one thing we don’t know much about yet for this season is who the Big Bad is… or even if there is one! At this point, what can you say about the forces who are, as the title says, “Spreading Their Evil”?
Gage: One of the things we’re avoiding for most of this season is giving the characters a single figure to point to and say, “That’s the enemy.” However powerful and challenging a Big Bad may be, they come with a simple built-in solution: beat them. It’s a lot more complicated than that in Season 11. I’m not saying there won’t be a Big Bad eventually…but I’m not promising one, either.
“Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 11” #2 is on sale now.