BEHIND BUFFY SEASON 9: Gage Builds Bonds in "Angel & Faith"

Harmony makes her comic book return in Christos Gage's "Angel & Faith" #5

For hundreds of years, before he was cursed with a soul, the vicious vampire Angelus committed countless atrocities, savage acts of torture and murder as he tore a bloody path through Europe, purely for fun. As Angel, however, he has struggled to atone for his sins and forge a hero's path. Last year, his redemption was compromised by his role as the mystery villain Twilight during "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8," in which Angel was manipulated toward a confrontation with his star-crossed lover that would end in tragedy. "Angel & Faith," under the Season 9 family of titles with "Buffy," teams Angel with another hero who has undergone a difficult journey, a rebellious Slayer who, with no claim to demonic possession or lack of soul, once betrayed her friends but now walks the righteous path.

The title's first four-issue arc by writer Christos Gage and artist Rebekah Isaac concluded in November, with both Angel & Faith facing hard and surprising choices. Comic Book Resources spoke with Gage to talk about the heroes' new status quo, what comes next and how Harmony and Drusilla fit into it all.

In the climactic final chapter of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8," Angel, possessed by the Twilight deity, murdered Buffy's longtime friend and Watcher Giles, a crime which sent Angel into a catatonic state once he regained his senses. At the beginning of Season 9, though, Angel has regained a sense of purpose, deciding that Giles and his arcane knowledge are too dear to lose -- so the vampire with a soul begins planning a resurrection. Enlisting Faith as backup, Angel searches out methods hinted at in the Watcher Files that may still operate in the magic-less world.

Over the course of the first story arc, "Live Through This," Gage established an interesting status quo for the titular duo: Faith backing Angel up, even though she's dead set against his plan, and Angel trusting Faith to stop him if he goes too far. Gage said that while this may be where things stand going into the second arc, "this is when we're going to see that dynamic start to be tested, as well as explore the fact that Faith herself, even as far as she's come, has some demons of her own."

Despite Angel getting top billing in the title and being the driving force behind the series' action, there is a sense that Faith is the true lead in "Angel & Faith." Faith is the point-of-view character for narrative captions, for starters, and, despite the fact that Angel's life spans centuries, she appears to be the level-headed adult in their relationship. Given Faith's rogue history -- and Angel's -- CBR asked Gage how readers are meant to view Angel's grandiose plans, whether we should be rooting for him or whether the tension lies in waiting to see what disasters he provokes. "It's my hope that readers look at Angel's plans the same way Faith does...with trepidation," Gage said. "You know he means well, but let's face it, Angel's good intentions have paved more than one road to Hell. But at the same time, don't you kind of hope you're wrong about it being a train wreck waiting to happen? That's how Faith feels. She knows this is what Angel needs, so she's sticking by him, helping him -- and also keeping a watchful eye on things to make sure that if he ever goes too far, she's there to stop him. She is definitely the level-headed adult in their relationship. It's come full circle from when she had hit rock bottom and Angel was the one helping her.

"But it's a valid point: can these two damaged people help each other without dragging each other -- and themselves -- down in the process?"

December's issue #5 features guest artist Phil Noto and very special guest star Harmony, who had a big impact on human/vampire relations during "Buffy Season 8," but hasn't had much direct contact with the series' leads in Season 8 or 9 so far. It was Harmony, of course, who brought vampires into the spotlight in her reality television program, winning a PR battle against the Slayers that has cast the bumpy-forehead crew in a positive light. Now, however, like any reality star, she's paying the price of fame. "Harmony needs help from Angel & Faith in quashing an impending scandal that could threaten her status as the celebrity face of new human/vampire relations," Gage told CBR. "As much as our heroes find Harmony vapid, shallow and annoying, they realize that making the volatile post-magic situation worse by threatening the standing of the world's top vampire icon is not in anyone's interest.

"Oh, and three words: Harmony sex tape."

The Harmony issue also sees an appearance from Clem, the amiable floppy-eared demon. Asked what Clem has been up to since fans saw him last, Gage said he's pretty much just soldiering on. "Well, when we last saw him, he was Harmony's best friend and trusty sidekick, doing the heavy lifting for her with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. And that's still what he's up to!" As to why he wanted to tell a story with Clem, Gage replied, "Why wouldn't I? He's just so lovable!"

With Harmony and Clem on board, issue #5 looks to be more lighthearted fare than the first arc, a shift in tone reflected in a change in visual style as Phil Noto steps in to relieve series artist Rebekah Isaacs for the month. "Phil is a big fan of the Whedonverse and has built a strong fan following for his beautiful depictions of various Joss-created characters," Gage said. "He's also a brilliant talent who does a great job with the humor in this issue. Even Harmony's dogs get loving attention in every panel!"

After this brief interlude, things get a little complex. Drusilla makes her return in issue #6, as does "a deadly, new kind of demon with ties to Giles' past," Gage told CBR. "Also, Faith's father -- who has never been shown before -- returns to her life, and you can bet that's not going to be a simple situation. But the 'Daddy Issues' referred to in the title also allude to the relationship between Drusilla and her sire, Angel. Drusilla knows him like few others do, and will reveal to readers a major part of Angel's plan to resurrect Giles -- a part that will potentially cause huge problems down the road."

Gage also told fans to expect the unexpected from Drusilla in this arc. "I think fans will be very surprised by Dru. You'll see her in a way you haven't seen her before. That's not hype, it's fact!" he said. "And yes, she's a great deal of fun to write."

The solicitation text for #6 describes an illness that turns ordinary humans into killers, and readers have already seen that things work a bit differently in this post-magic world -- what once may have been a miracle turns into an unspeakable horror when drained of mystical properties, with a demon blood panacaea Angel had sought in the opening arc being a clear example. As to the nature of this latest threat, Gage played things close to the vest. "There are different kinds of illnesses. That's all I can say about that without giving too much away."

Since Angel returned to Dark Horse's Whedonverse in "Buffy Season 8," not much has been seen of the extended supporting cast he developed over the five seasons of his own television show and which carried over into Angel's comics run at IDW. But, Gage said, that is about to change. "In future stories, you will see Connor and at least one more old friend from the 'Angel' TV show," the writer said, "as well as a couple of characters Joss had planned to use in the proposed 'Ripper' TV series but has been generous enough to let us play with instead!" ("Ripper" would have been a spinoff television series with Giles in the starring role.)

"I just want to say that I'm tremendously gratified -- and I know the entire creative team feels the same way -- by the wonderful response we've received for this book," Gage said in closing. "I know how much these characters mean to people and how important it is that they be treated right. I am thankful and humbled by the fact that most readers seem to feel we are giving them their due. From a personal standpoint, I feel like I was still feeling my way during the first arc and didn't really find my groove until issue 5, so I thank the readers for their kindness and patience and hope you agree that it only gets better from here!"

"Angel & Faith" #5 is on sale December 28.

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Tags: dark horse comics, buffy, christos gage, phil noto, angel and faith, behind buffy season 9

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