BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 9: A Plague Unleashed in "Angel & Faith"

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for "Angel & Faith" #23 and #24.

With the recent release of Issue #24, Dark Horse Comics' "Angel & Faith," continues to careen towards its season finale, and as always, writer Christos Gage and artist Rebekah Issacs are behind the wheel.

Whistler and his accomplices, Pearl and Nash, have managed to concentrate a sphere of magic energy with which they plan to unleash a mystic plague over the whole of the Earth, in hopes of restoring magic to the world and balancing the scales. Unfortunately for everyone, the plague would also result in millions of deaths around the globe.

Angel, Faith, a newly youthful Giles and the rest of their crew are attempting to stop Whistler from carrying out his plan -- though reasoning with the half-man, half-demon doesn't seem to be an option. As the battle rages, the stakes for both sides continue to rise, and it appears no one will escape the conflict unscathed.
In this installment of BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 9, CBR spoke with Gage about the escalating battle, the effect of loss on our heroes and series creator Joss Whedon's interest in the little-guy.

CBR News: Much of this season of "Angel & Faith" has focused on the conflict between Whistler and Angel as the former, with the aid of Pearl and Nash, is trying to unleash a magical virus in a bid to re-balance the scales following the world's loss of magic. With Issue #23, the third part of "What You Want, Not What You Need," Angel and Faith leap into battle against the trio. As they scuffle on the rooftop, Nadira, Faith's former pupil, joins the fray and is soon fried to a crisp by Nash. How does this affect Faith as we move forward with the battle?

Christos Gage: It's pretty devastating. Faith started mentoring Nadira and other Slayers to help them -- to steer them on the right course in their lives. She feels that with Nadira she failed pretty spectacularly, but Nadira got some payback in #24. We will explore Faith's feelings about all this more in #25.

We're also treated, in #23, to the revelation of Whistler's demon form, a great embodying of opposites.

Yeah, with this I was kind of influenced by the character of Doyle from the first season of the "Angel." He was half demon, and had a human looking form as well as a demonic looking one. So I figured Whistler had another face as well. I think Rebekah did a terrific job with the design -- you can still tell it's him under the fire and horns!

As the battle continues in Issue #24, and the fourth part of "What You Want...," the crowd in the streets has been infected with the magic virus, and is transforming into pretty ghastly mutations -- did you just tell Rebekah to go wild with her designs?

I feel guilty just completely dumping the burden on the artist, so I try to throw out ideas. At the same time, I know that Rebekah is amazing at coming up with creepy, cool looking visuals, and to the extent she wants to cut loose, I want to let her. Usually in a situation like this, I'll offer some thoughts or suggestions, but make it clear she can take it or leave it and do whatever she likes. The only time I'll get specific is if I need specificity for a character for purposes of the script, i.e. we need someone who can fly or breathe fire or whatever.

As with most of this series, I think the transformation sequence is a great example of collaboration bringing out everyone's strengths, including our colorist, Dan Jackson, and letterer, Jimmy Betancourt.

While Angel and Whistler duke it out, Angel is trying to reason with the half-demon, who's all set on this issue of "balance." How does this magic virus restore balance to the earth?

Assuming the virus spreads worldwide -- and "virus" is an imperfect analogy, because it isn't really spread between people; you have to be touched by the sparkly energy -- what it's going to do is make magic part of the biology of every being it touches. So Earth will have magic back as part and parcel of the creatures living on it. It's like, Angel doesn't lose his vampiric powers due to the loss of magic, because they're part of him -- now magic will be part of everyone. Of course, some of the people touched by this mystic energy will not survive -- two billion, give or take. In his current mindset, Whistler feels that's necessary collateral damage. But I always felt that, as a being who is all about balance, the loss of magic would really hit Whistler hard, and that's exactly what's happened. He's not the same guy he was before.

How accurate is Angel's accusation that Whistler's simply in need of "a fix?"

I think that's one way of putting it. But it's not totally selfish; Whistler's actions are rooted in truth. He had a vision showing him that without magic, Earth would degenerate into a polluted, lifeless husk, a shadow of itself. Willow would agree with him that restoring magic is imperative to the planet's survival. What I think Whistler's imbalance does is ramp up the level of urgency for him. We're probably not at the point yet where we need to kill two billion people to save the rest of the planet -- but Whistler feels like we are, because he needs magic so badly. It's a classic example of someone's personal circumstances affecting their view of the world at large. If this is how it is for me, it must be this way for everybody.

As Lavinia and Sophie head out into the streets to look for the orb and do crowd control, Lavinia compares it to the blitz bombings of London in WWII, and Sophie agrees, saying, "The elite play their power games, fight over the right to shape the world in their image, catch the rest of us up in their madness." Sophie seems like an unlikely source for political critique, in some ways -- that aside, to what extent do you see this idea as one of the themes of the series?

It's true that the girls are hardly political scientists. But they have lived a very long time, and seen a lot. They have very strong innate magic ability, but rather than use it to become spell-casters or movers and shakers in the supernatural community, like their great-nephew Giles, they used it to stay young and pretty and keep the party going forever. And sure, that could just be vanity. But it could also be a rejection of the power games so much of the magical community seems to be caught up in. I do think that Joss' work often looks at the effect of larger-scale struggles on individual people, as opposed to elites. We saw that in the Buffyverse, in "Firefly" and "Serenity" with those affected by the war, and even today in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," with its focus on non-powered people in a world of gods and monsters. That viewpoint has definitely been a huge part of Angel's story, from his desire to "help the helpless" to running Wolfram & Hart in such a way as to minimize collateral damage from the magical big shots doing their thing. So yeah, it's absolutely a theme of the series, but I also think Lavinia and Sophie have very personal reasons for expressing it.

As Whistler and Angel talk -- and punch each other -- over the ethics of acceptable losses, Rupert and Alasdair are having a somewhat similar conversation, in a way, about lost power versus potential power. Does Rupert see any potential in his newly youthful form?

I think right now Rupert Giles is having a hard time seeing past the drawbacks of being twelve years old. Conversely, Alasdair is struggling with being in his sixties and having lost his ability to cast spells -- so it's about losing power in a number of different ways. Both of them are questioning whether their circumstance is bad enough to risk potential disaster in order to change it.

Nadira, burnt half to a crisp, peels herself off the pavement to strike one last blow against Nash at a crucial time. As Faith drives the blow home, Nash falls, alongside Nadira. With Nash down, will Pearl be able to go on?

When Nash died, his half of the power they shared went into Pearl. What that does to her remains to be seen!

In the end, it comes down to Angel and Whistler, head-to-head. What sort of wild ride can readers expect as we head into the conclusion?

In the best Spider-Man stories, even when he wins, he loses. I think that applies to Angel, too. 'Nuff said, Whedonite!

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