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BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 10: Christos Gage’s “Return To Sunnydale”

by  in Comic News Comment
BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 10: Christos Gage’s “Return To Sunnydale”

As he’s been writing the latest canonical “season” of Joss Whedon‘s legendary “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” TV show for Dark Horse Comics, Christos Gage has also been rewriting the rules of magic. Or at least, his characters have.

The major plot of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 10” has become the impact of the “Vampyr” book that featured prominently in the TV series opening credits. Since the world regained its connection to magic at the end of “Season 9,” the whys and wherefores of demons and such are literally in the hands of the Scooby gang, and each cast member has been tested as to what they might want to do with that power.

With this week’s issue #9, the new “Return To Sunnydale” arc kicks into high gear, so what better time for a new installment of BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 10? CBR News caught up with Gage to talk about where “Return To Sunnydale” is heading as Andrew steals the book in an attempt to resurrect Tara. We also discuss what actor Nicholas Brendan brought to the table in co-writing the adventures of Xander, and why this season is all about the Scooby gang confronting their younger selves and finally moving beyond high school.

CBR News: Let’s start by catching readers up on what the first arc of “Season 10” really accomplished. While the headline for “New Rules” became Nicholas Brendon’s return to Xander via his co-writing, the end result of the adventure is that Buffy and company have the “Vampyr” book which they can use to literally rewrite the way bloodsuckers function. Was this the big hook that you, Joss and the rest of the creative crew lit upon for the entirety of Season 10?

Christos Gage: Pretty much. When we had the Season 10 summit — which included me, Scott Allie, “Angel & Faith” writer Victor Gischler, Nicky Brendon and others not directly writing the comics this season as yet, like Jane Espenson, Drew Greenberg, Andrew Chambliss and my wife/screenwriting partner Ruth — plus, of course, the man who makes it all possible, Joss “The Boss” Whedon — we were talking, and it was almost like the notion materialized by magic. Nicky commented on it when we broke to get coffee. He was like, “Where did that book thing come from? It’s great, and all of a sudden we were talking about it like it was always there!” Which, of course, is the beauty of a writer’s room with awesome people and chemistry. With the Vampyr book, it’s not just rewriting the way vampires function, it’s that our guys are literally responsible for writing the new rules of how magic works, before some more sinister influence shapes it.

In a bigger thematic sense, I feel like the stories in this season have been about the characters reconnecting with their younger, “original” selves and finding a lot of conflict in looking back. Why was that the important thread to pull at across this year?

While I think you’re right, I would take it a step further. Going back to Season 1, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” has always been about the characters going through life stages we all experience — adolescence, college/post-high school, etc. — with a supernatural twist. We saw Buffy go through high school and college, and now our heroes are coming to grips with adulthood. That point in all our lives when we have to decide what we’re going to do, and really come to terms with the fact that we are responsible for the decisions we make, how they affect us and others. No one is holding your hand. You may not be ready, but you have to put on your grownup pants and try to act like an adult, even if you don’t feel like one. That happens in our story both in the more universal aspects of jobs, relationships, finding a place to live, etc., but then we give it that Buffy spin by making our characters responsible for The Rules Of Magic. If you screw this up, the consequences could be huge, and horrible, you’ll have ruined everything, and it’ll be all your fault. I think we have all felt that way at one point or another. It’s a life stage when you look back, then look forward, and decide on those first big steps that will determine the rest of your life.

The “I Wish” arc continues to push that idea forward. Issue #6 started things in a dreamworld where the gang lived life as they would have if they never came to Sunnydale. Buffy dreamed of a life as a dutiful daughter and sister free of responsibility, Giles dreamed of being free from his schooling. Which of the desires glimpsed of the cast do you think was most telling to where we’re going in the future?

In a way, they all were, but more in the sense of depicting the past you can’t have — and that, in most cases, never really existed. It was hardest for Giles, because he is the one character who had to pretty much become an adult while still just a really little kid — going to Watcher Academy, learning how to kill vampires at an age when he should’ve been playing with model trains. So he never got to be a kid, and now he is one…whether he likes it or not. But for many of the other characters, this issue was about looking back at their more youthful days, realizing they have to stop wishing for what might have been, and getting psychologically in a place where they are looking forward. Of course, even when you’re looking forward, you can’t fully escape the past…

Meanwhile, a growing factor in this season is the demon D’Hoffryn who seems very interested in influencing the rewriting of the book of magic. How much can we trust that he’s going to be a help and not a hinderance?

I think the point is that you can’t. We will see going forward that our heroes are being lobbied by many and varied interests throughout the supernatural community, including D’Hoffryn, and they all have their own agendas. There is no one who is going to tell our guys what to do — at least, not without significant ulterior motives. So our characters have to trust themselves. They have to listen to what everyone says, and consider it all, but in the end, they have to sink or swim on their own. Just like we all ultimately have to do in life.

We had one passing moment in issue #6 that mentioned Riley being off on some sort of secret mission. What can you say about whether Buffy’s former flame will make it back to this series, and does he have a bigger role to play later on in Season 10?

That’s actually being played out right now in the pages of “Angel & Faith”! Riley is missing in the jungles of Central America, and both Faith and his wife are looking for him…and hmm, doesn’t Faith have some unresolved past interactions with Riley that could make this a very intriguing encounter?

Looking on to issue #7, we get another assist from Nicholas Brendan and another Xander-central story. What’s it been like both having him to really give voice to the character, and shaping this arc as a series of solo adventures around the new San Francisco?

It’s terrific. I always expected Nicky would be a help with Xander, and he definitely has been. He always says that Xander is basically him, except that Xander is into nerdy stuff like comics and D&D while Nicky was into baseball. (Luckily I have the nerdy side pretty well covered.) But I feel like he’s also helped me grow as a writer in general, by bringing an actor’s perspective to the storytelling. I’ve always said there’s no sense in writers collaborating when they have the same set of skills. But having Nicky looking at it from the point of view of an actor has opened a lot of doors. For example, the idea of getting across that a character is lying by having them repeat the thing they’re lying about a lot. He’s shown me that you can bring performance-based techniques to a comic book story. Also, we have a lot of fun working together!

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Xander. Even though it seems like he know messing with the rules in the magic book is bad, he also leans towards making another bad choice. At this point, who do you think he’d lean towards writing a rule about first — Dawn or Anya? And whether Xander does it or not, eventually someone’s got to write a rule in that thing with dire consequences, right?

We’re seeing that play out right now with Andrew having stolen the book to try to undo the thing he feels worst about: Tara’s death. The ability to “fix” mistakes or things they regret is a key temptation for our characters, and we will see them all struggle with it in one way or another. And if a bad guy ever gets hold of it, watch out. For Xander, he has to balance the urge to fix things with Dawn or Anya with the fact that it’s not what either of them wants, or what is necessarily best for them. We’ll see how that goes.

The brand new “Return to Sunnydale” arc seems to be tying a lot of threads together for the cast. And as everyone is struggling to accept their place in the new team, we get a revenge-happy elder god as drawn by Richard Corben! What was it like to get the horror master to come in for the flashback in #8, and how does that Slithering Doom of a monster reflect the challenges the gang has back at the Hellmouth?

Ever since I started working with Scott Allie, I have been bugging him mercilessly about working with Corben. I know Richard writes a lot of his own stuff, and is very choosy about drawing other people’s scripts, but I kept harping on it like a kid saying, “Are we there yet?” Finally Scott relented, and I think it pleased him as much as me to have Corben art in a Buffy comic. It was one of those situations where I didn’t quite believe it until the art came in, and even then it was surreal. Richard Corben is, justifiably, a legend in comics, and someone I’ve been a fan of for at least thirty years, going back to his Warren stories and his self-published time travel/dinosaur miniseries “Rip In Time.” He’s a genius, like no one else out there. His art just seems like it’s about to rise out of the page and grab you. So yeah, it’s definitely a career highlight — one of those things I can cross off the bucket list. And the arrival of the Soul-Glutton (the Corben monster) is just the beginning of some daunting challenges for our heroes!

But the real sparks for this issue come from Andrew’s quest with the Vampyr book. In particular, it was fun to see “robo-ghost Jonathan” as our most recently resurrected character. These guys remain fan favorites, but as we’re seeing in the story, Andrew remains an untrustworthy member of the cast. Will this arc finally kind of settle his place in the Buffy world?

Wait and see. It will definitely be different coming out of it than it was going in.

And, of course, the last page reveal opens up the full scope of what’s happening here: A potential return for Tara. After all the debate about who could be brought back via the book, I’m betting that for a lot of fans, she is the only real choice. Do you think that feeling could be mutual for the cast? What does Tara represent to the series overall?

Given the wish-fulfillment ability of the book, I wanted to go right for the biggest unfulfilled wish in the Buffyverse. The idea of the “Return to Sunnydale” story is to bring the characters face to face with the toughest parts of their past — Tara’s death, Buffy’s resurrection and unhealthy relationship with Spike, Andrew’s villainous past. You can’t grow as a person until you come to terms with things like this — although the way you try to come to terms with it can be disastrous in itself.

“Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 10” #9 is on sale now from Dark Horse.

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