BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8: "Home Sweet Hellmouth"

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8" #37, in stores now.

Though he's gearing up for big screen glory with a certain Avenging superteam, Joss Whedon is nearing the goal line of the comic book project closest to his heart: Dark Horse's canonical "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8." After a series of twists and turns that have stretched over the past three years, the series has reached its final arc.

To help prepare fans for the hit series' impending finale, CBR is back with an all-new installment of BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8 - a monthly column featuring interviews with the creators and staff behind the creation of Buffy's last two stories highlighting the questions being answered, the characters thrown into crisis, and the future of the entire Buffy franchise. This week, "Buffy" editor extraordinaire (and final arc co-writer with Whedon) Scott Allie stops by to dig into issue #37 - part two of the "Last Gleaming" arc - from the Scooby gang's return to the Hellmouth that was their hometown of Sunnydale, the meaning of magic in the Buffy universe, the roles both Spike and the Master play and how the final battle will play out in the next two months!

CBR News: Right out the gate in this story, we get a sort of "Creation Myth" for the Buffyverse. How important is the setup of those big, overarching ideas for this story?

Scott Allie: It is Creation Myth. We're kind of retconning the whole universe a little bit, but I think it's really just a level of information that Joss never got into before about the origins of vampires and of this world. We're placing significance on Sunnydale in this particular way, and it definitely changes the backs story cosmically.

To help refresh my own memory, how did the original explanation of the Hellmouth in Sunnydale go, and are these two ideas really contradictory?

No, they're not contradictory at all, and they're not mutually exclusive nor are they necessarily linked. There's a number of Hellmouths around the world, and they're gateways to Hell or to other dimensions, depending on how you look at it. There are a couple different ones, and yet the Sunnydale one seems to be the focus of all Apocalyptic energy in the world. So the Seed is basically the reason why the Sunnydale Hellmouth is as important as it is. You don't just have this potentially really dangerous gateway to another world. You also have the source of all magic in the world and embodiment of the soul of the planet in this one little location - the removal of which would be more catastrophic than simply opening the Hellmouth.

Last week, we spoke about Buffy, Angel and Spike in terms of these characters no longer being in a triangle since there should be no doubt the Buffy/Angel connection is the strong, true love in the universe. Should Buffy's almost embarrassingly ill-timed fantasizing about Spike be seen as a kind of residual effect from the cosmic sex she had with Angel?

Well, it just kind of happens when you're her. I think that's part of it. Buffy has these strong feelings about a couple of different people. If you're talking about her mind getting carried away with her after seeing Spike again after not seeing him for so long, I don't know that you necessarily have to attribute that to the residual effects of Twilight. This is just her, and following what goes on in her head is a little easier to do in the comic than in the TV show. And this is her genuine lustful relationship and feelings for him.

The line that really stands out here is when she tells him "you're my dark place." In a way, Spike has always played that bad boy role in the triangle. What do you think he still offers the series in that position?

Different people certainly have different ideas about the relationship between Buffy and Spike, but to me this thing about him being her dark place feels very consistent. That seems to be a very unchanging aspect of their relationship. She could share things with him that she couldn't share with anybody else in part because she knew she wouldn't be judged. And it's not just that he's "the bad boy." There's a real level of understanding between the two of them.

On the other side of the relationship stuff, we've got the interaction between Xander and Dawn. As you guys are breaking out the story, how important has it been to keep turning back and giving the supporting cast their own place in the finale?

You know, it's been really difficult. I was talking to a couple of people about this earlier today. I saw the movie "The Town" over last weekend - great movie. And they made some really interesting choices about taking characters that were right there in the middle of the action and making them practically invisible. In there, you've got these four bank robbers, and only two of them get fleshed out as real characters at all. You've got two guys who are there for ever job, and you never get a sense of who they are as people. And that's the autonomy of storytelling you need sometimes - to let your supporting cast drop out into the background. But with "Buffy" and a number of Joss' things, you have this ensemble with quite a number of characters, all of whom have very distinct personalities and very distinct plots that need to be served pretty well over the course of the series. It's totally a challenge.

This one page right here with the two of them was necessary for major plot points later on, but it's a challenge to give all the notable characters in the book that space. It's funny when fans write in about how they wish that Marcie Ross was there or this character or that, because with all the characters we've got we can't fit anybody more in here. And there are things in "Season 8" with our supporting cast we didn't get to develop as much as we would've liked. And in some ways we're done. In terms of scripts, we've reached the end so we don't get to do more with character A or B who didn't already get it. There are certain threads that didn't get as much room as we would've liked. For instance, we didn't see as much of what Faith and Giles wanted to be up to as we would've liked because we had to keep the story moving and couldn't stop it all for their thing.

Getting this scene with Xander and Dawn was very important. They're totally at the core of this whole story, and we couldn't get to far away from them. What's going on with them contributes to things that'll happen next issue. But it's a real wrestling match trying to get enough room for everybody while keeping it simple enough to move it forward.

The other significant tease on this page is our mustachioed interloper at the end. What significance can we draw from his eavesdropping as we move into the last two issues?

That's the general who's been involved in things since pretty much the very beginning, and we will see more of him. His overhearing this conversation doesn't simply lead to him wanting to plead his love to somebody else in the next issue. [Laughter] He's listening intently. He's definitely paying attention to what Xander's saying.

We get a great bit of Georges tapping into his inner Cthulu in the battle. Did you have an idea that he'd be delivering these kinds of massive creatures from the start, or did you discover his skill for this stuff as you were going?

Discovered it. It's funny because as a fan of the "Buffy" TV show but also as a serious horror and Lovecraft fan - being a fan of the show, I was always a little disappointed with the monsters because there's only so much you can do. You're limited to an actor in a rubber suit generally. So in the comics, I've always wanted to go bigger and do something that would be harder to pull off with just an actor and some limited CG budgets. There's a tendency when you're working on a property to be consistent with the vision of the property. The fact that you've had so many bipedal monsters and demons over the years - it makes sense to stick with that to some degree. But I didn't expect Georges to be quite so good about doing really twisted, weird, demonic stuff. Because I came on as co-writer for the final arc, I really made a point to push that in the script and ask for things like "Georges, I want you with this monster to break away and do some things you've never done before." And he really rose to the occasion every time really, really well. I don't think I expected that from him when we started this book, but his ability to grow with it and create things like Kenny the Thricewise back in issue #25 shows that Georges is just great with designing really cool monsters and stuff that's not typical to a superhero comic book artist.

This sequence also features a lot of Angel throwing himself into fighting back against what's happening. How much of this arc is a redemption arc for him?

It's pure redemption. He feels the need for it, and Buffy and all of them know he has a lot he has to make up for right now. He felt he was serving a purpose by being Twilight, and to whatever degree he was wrong - and he was a little bit wrong, at least - he needs to make up for it by getting out there and helping in the fight now that the fight is as big as it is. Angel's life over the past couple of hundred years has been making up for his sins and the really evil things he's done, and he's back at it. He's back at having to make up for recent sins, and that's really his place in the book - to redeem himself. And Buffy knows he needs to redeem himself, though there are a lot of people close to her who don't think he can redeem himself. Those people are going to have to decide if they can forgive him.

And it's funny. We get a lot of letters from readers that literally complain that or accuse us of "ruining Angel" because of the things he's done. And it's like "Wow!" I don't see it that way, but it's a pretty strong reaction, and I know what they mean. He did some pretty unforgivable things. And he's done them before - before there was a TV show. And he's done them now in "Season 8." Does that make him ruined? Does that make him irredeemable? I don't think so. It means he just has to work that harder.

On page 18, we get Buffy to the rescue, but the thing that really stands out here is...

That last line, right? [Laughter]

Well that, and the other thing is that we get the briefest interaction with her and Willow on the top of the page. Willow's part in this issue teases the idea that there will be a betrayal against Buffy. How aware is Buffy of this broader mystical stuff going on, and how will her understanding of the big picture affect the finale of the arc?

One of the challenges in this final five is nailing the focus down to what needs to be done in the midst of this colossal crisis and conflict. We've risked a lot of repetition with having Willow say, "You've got to protect the seed. Keep everyone away from it." Willow's repeating herself a little bit because, yeah, Buffy is a little unaware. We've got to make sure she's not completely unaware. We've got to make sure she knows a fair amount of what's going on and has a clear agenda in all this. From this point on - from late in #37 and through on to the end, there's going to be a tremendous amount of action, and she needs to stay focused.

I would say Buffy's inability to pay attention leads to her being taken by surprise at the end of #37. But Willow's repeating herself just to make damn sure that Buffy knows what the priority is here. I think Buffy know and Spike knows, and the team in general is on mission in terms of what they need to prevent from happening, and it's just a question of whether they're going to be able to.

On the next page, we get the briefest of those supporting character vignettes that makes the whole book come full circle to an extent thinking of that first arc being "The Long Road Home." To what extent have your discussion with Joss been about bringing things full circle to the original series and the first few seasons?

I'd say that we always knew where things were going to wind up, but over time, the significance of that became increasingly clear. We knew where we were going to go, and we knew the location of where everything was going to end, but the importance of that has just grown and grown. Focusing down to the core characters as we reach the climax, focusing on Sunnydale and the emotional significance of the return to Sunnydale and the emotional significance of bringing this girl back to where she was when she was just a girl - we knew that's where we were going, and we've played it up harder as we've approached the climax.

Page 22 is a great spotlight for Georges to do another major action beat, but the thing I end up asking about the whole scene is "What is the significance of the Master's commentary?" Does he protect the Seed not so much because he loves this world but because he things they have done nothing to deserve another?

"They" as in Buffy and Spike?

Well, I guess he think it's Buffy and Spike who have done this, although I guess we'll find out if his confusion on that has significance, won't we?

Well, mainly we're playing it for laughs that he was expecting Angel and its actually Spike. But I think that when you're looking at big power - at these huge, colossal, supernatural powers - everybody has a different perspective on it. Buffy knows what she knows, and Spike knows what he knows, but they didn't know the Master was down there. And now they know, and he holds different information than they hold. In some ways, he holds more information, though that doesn't necessarily mean that he's right and they're wrong.

One thing I find kind of fun with the supernatural stuff is that it's just like religion. Christians can look at Muslims and go, "Oh, you guys don't get it. You just don't understand God" just like Muslims can look at Christians and go, "What? You guys don't understand God." that's what we see in religion and what I'd assume we'd see with the supernatural stuff too. Everybody thinks they've got all the answers when all they really have is their own perspective. That's kind of what's going on. That's where the Master is speaking from. There are bits of information he holds that are totally true that Buffy and Spike don't have, but that doesn't mean he holds all the answers.

The one question the whole issue begs - like when you read the scene with the bugs piloting the ship where Spike says to Buffy, "That's a story for another time" - is that for all the answers and conclusions we're about to dive into, is there some things Joss is holding back in the pocket for other projects and pieces of this universe?

Yeah, some stuff and some stuff not. One of the joys of this stuff, as it was on the TV show or in "Hellboy" or all these things, is that it's like the old "Star Wars" movies. There was some stuff that they'd make reference to that 30 years later would come up in "Episode 1" but there were other aspects you'd never get more on. Like in "Empire," where Han says to Leia "Oh yeah, when we did this..." you never get the story. There's going to be a certain amount of that in "Season 8." These days, people expect to have every nook and cranny plugged in, and that's not necessarily going to happen.

But the "story for another time" that Spike tells Buffy about, that particularly is a spot where IDW pretty much should have paid us for an ad because that's the story that they're doing with Brian Lynch at IDW. When Spike tells Buffy "it's a story for another time" what he's saying is "You'll get it in the IDW series." That's one of the little things in Joss' pocket, and there are some other of those things that'll show up in "Season 9" or somewhere else. But some of it, you won't. That's the thing I think some Buffy fans can't overcome. Some of it doesn't need to be spelled out. It's not about spelling out every minute of someone's life. Sometimes it's just a good line to throw out there. That's all you get.

As I was going through this issue and making questions for the interview, the one that literally popped into my mind when I saw the last page was "What the f--k is this thing?"

[Laughs] You've got to go back and read Brian K. Vaughan's arc. None of this stuff is stuff we just made up or pulled out of our butts. At the end of this issue, people who have been reading along carefully are going to see that page and go, "Holy shit! We thought you forgot about that!" But we didn't! Don't flip through too fast or you'll miss it. It was a seed that was planted, so to speak, and it's way more important than anybody thought given the amount of space it was given. You have seen that thing before...though you'd think you'd remember. [Laughter]

"Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8" #37 is on sale now. And tune in next month for more of CBR's BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 8!

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