Joss Whedon met with a few thousand of his closest friends during his Saturday panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego and spent an hour talking about his new projects from Dark Horse Comics while fielding any and all questions the crowd had regarding his numerous television, comic book and movie projects.
The panel began with an introduction by Dark Horse editor Scott Allie, who announced that Dark Horse Digital will be releasing an exclusive “Spike” comic book written by Jane Espenson. The one-shot is free for anybody that visits a comic book shop in August to receive the download code.
With that, Whedon took to the stage and began by continuing to discuss his comics projects. New books based on Whedon’s properties will be hitting the shelves this summer, beginning with July’s five issue “Dollhouse” miniseries debut. In August, “Angel and Faith” will see the vampire and slayer reunited under the Dark Horse banner. “They’re a wacky team,” said Whedon. “They’re cops, they don’t get along, but then they learn from each other.” During the Q&A, Whedon said the story will focus on not only Angel and Faith, but will explore the past of the now-deceased Giles. “They are living at Giles’ house and they are going to be immersed in his world a little bit.”
The saga of the original slayer continues in September with the release of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer – Season Nine.” The next chapter in the “Buffyverse” finds the slayer returning to a more relatable setting and story. “I was so excited to get back the Buffy from the show, who’s living a life you can all relate to,” said Whedon. “I know many of you have been generals in mystical wars and had sex-created universes, but I think we can maybe get to a little more universal stuff than that.”
After sharing what was going with him and his Dark horse projects, Whedon asked the audience how they were doing, leading to one member of the crowd tell him that “Firefly” addiction hurts. “There are groups that can help you with that,” said Whedon. “They’ll get you on ‘Babylon 5’ for a while, and eventually, you can rejoin society.”
The Q&A session began with a question regarding the upcoming Blu-ray release for the original “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” movie. One audience member asked if Whedon would be providing a commentary trackfor the movie. As it turns out, Whedon wasn’t even aware of the release. “They didn’t call me,” said Whedon. “They had a DVD party and I wasn’t invited,” he quipped, to which the crowd immediately let out an “awww” of sympathy. “Yes, feel sorry for the man who has everybody cheering for him. I can get your affirmation and your sympathy? What a day!”
Looking at the various storytelling and character development boundaries “Buffy: Season Eight” broke, Whedon was asked if the show would have continued down the same path as the comic if it had stayed on television. “There’s no way you could have done on TV, certainly not for the money we were given for the show, what we did” replied Whedon. “And also, you couldn’t have an entire episode of them having sex. That could never happen — except in season six.” Joss admitted that just because he was no longer constrained by a budget when it came to creating giant monsters and huge special effects, they may not have been the best fit for Buffy’s recent comics adventure. “People were more interested in her life than the fact that we can draw bigger things.”
The next questioner asked if Whedon had any plans to work for Marvel Comics again, as he did for his “Astonishing X-Men” run. “Hmmm, I don’t think any of my upcoming work has anything to do with big comic titles,” the director for “The Avengers” mused. Whedon confirmed that he had no plans to work with a big comic title outside of his own projects. “The X-Men, of all the titles, of all the books I could have written for, was really the grail.”
Asking about past works, one Buffy fan asked about the plotting out of Buffy and if the show was always written with the big finale in mind, or on a season-by-season basis. “Every season was designed for us to be canceled,” said Whedon. “Oddly enough, something I didn’t prepare that for was ‘Firefly.’ It is an uncertain life, so every season we wanted to go out with just enough so we could say, if we never came back, There’s a sense of closure.’ That’s why we never did cliffhangers.”
Regarding the twisted romance of “Angel” characters Lila and Wesley, Whedon gave some insight on the creative decision to pair the two characters. “Well, let’s see. They hate each other, they agree on nothing, they’re diametrically opposed and they’re both super sexy. I don’t know what made me think to put them together,” joked Whedon. “They had quite the chemistry. When you get people that can’t stand each other in bed together, fun ensues.”
Moving back to the present, the next question asked about the supporting characters that have been created during while “Angel” was under IDW’s creative purview and whether they would be showing up in the Dark Horse comics. “All the Buffy and Angelverse characters are under one roof now,” said Whedon. “I do want to thank the IDW guys for shepherding Angel for so long and doing a wonderful job of it, but at the end of the day, it makes life easier and better to have them all in each other’s worlds. And the best part will be taking people from Angel’s world and putting them in Buffy’s in a way we never have before, and vise versa.”
Speaking of crossovers, one fan asked about Whedon’s experience in bridging Buffy with his future Slayer spin-off, “Fray,” during “Season 8.” “That was actually some of the easiest and most fun stuff I got to do,” said Joss. “Those two worlds being so separate and so connected made writing it pure joy. Basically, all of the Buffy comic has been affected by ‘Fray,’ which I wrote thinking, there’s no way this will ever affect Buffy. It’s 200 years in the future, so I’m totally safe.”
Another questioner asked if Spike would be making appearances in the upcoming Buffy comics, along with his newly acquired flying bug ship. “He’s going to be a real factor in Buffy’s life,” said Whedon. “You’ve got to put those two in a room. It’s just too much fun. I can’t say which room but…”
When asked if Whedon ever had characters from the Buffy universe that he ever regretted killing off or introducing, Whedon shared his view on using unpopular characters to their potential. “I don’t have a lot of regret,” said Whedon. “Every character that we have, we got to milk for some really interesting stories. If people didn’t like them, we either found a way for people to like them or played that up as part of their persona.”
Moving over to the Firefly universe, Whedon says he doesn’t have any current plans to visit the backgrounds of those characters in new comics. “I want to,” said Whedon. “I don’t have anything on the drawing board right now because of busy-ness, and craziness, and laziness, and dizziness, but yeah, we’d like to do some more backstory stuff. I think at this point we have license to move forward with these characters.”
It’s common knowledge among the Buffy fandom that the character was partially inspired by the X-Man, Kitty Pryde. With that in mind, one audience member asked if Whedon’s character from “Dollhouse,” Echo, was based on another X-Man, Rogue. “Echo was an attempt at something very different. Somebody with no support system or identity of any kind,” said Whedon. “That really didn’t come from the same place, except in the sense that I always write about helplessness and the gaining of strength and the building of identity. Echo was a more pure version of that.”
However, the influence of Kitty Pryde appeared to be more deeply rooted than even Whedon reaized when another audience member asked about influence on the Firefly character, Kaylee. “I never even saw the connection, but then I often don’t. I’m often not aware of my, let’s call it ‘theft,'” said Whedon. “But now that you say it, yeah. It was not deliberate, but I do see the connection, now.”
The next topic of discussion involved The Powers That Be from “Angel” and whether Whedon had conceptualized them before the spin-off series started. “Everybody had some kind of controlling force out there that was supposed to be benign, but didn’t quite seem to get it done,” said Whedon. “On ‘Angel,’ we defined them differently, but on ‘Buffy,’ there was always not just the Watchers Council, but the people that had made the first slayers. There was always some new weird council of old men, or women, or beings, or clouds, or something that was out there that you would basically need as something to invoke or something to move the story along or something to rail against for not making things better. Something that would seem to be in opposition to the very dark forces that were obviously personified by Wolfram & Hart, but at the end of the day really proved, more than the evil ever did, that everything is just shades of gray and that no matter who is out there, that we have to do this ourselves.”
A more lighthearted question asked about the chances of seeing Buffy, who once had a successful musical episode, hit the Broadway stage. “I would,” said Whedon. “I can’t say that I will, or that by the time I try to anybody will want me to, but yeah, I think she belongs there. In the theater opposite where Dr. Horrible is.”
One pessimistic Buffy fan got straight to the point about “Season Nine,” asking just how badly Whedon was planning on smashing the hearts of the readers with misfortune and death for his characters. “Look, you all know I want you to suffer,” joked Whedon. “‘Season Nine’ is not designed around tragedy, but then, life seldom is. It just happens. Do I plan to do something awful and break your hearts? I’m not going to tell you. It is not built around darkness per se, except in the fact that Buffy is always trying to find out who she is, which can be complicated and sometimes dangerous, and sticky, and weird. But whether or not I’m going to do something appalling in ‘Season Nine’ I will not reveal, because that would take out the fun of your suffering.”
The next audience member asked Whedon how he felt about the gay community’s embracement of his work. “You wouldn’t think I was going to bring up ‘Alien Resurrection,’ but I am,” replied Whedon. “‘Alien Resurrection’ sold for me because, when I was writing it, discovering the idea of clone-Ripley and robot-Winona kind of coming to terms with the idea of being considered less than human in spite the fact that they were both powerful and beautiful and internalizing that and feeling like an underclass of human being. To me, this was a very powerful metaphor, in particular for the gay community, and for teenagers who are struggling with that. Ultimately, it’s a metaphor for everybody who feels like an outsider. ‘Buffy’ was basically an extension of that kind of storytelling. I didn’t actively go out with an agenda, but it absolutely means everything to me that the gay community has embraced the shows because they are for them as much or more than for anyone else.”
When asked about what if any life experience as a child had contributed to his writing, Joss apologized for not having much of a story to tell. “I actually managed to get through my childhood without having a life experience,” joked Whedon. “I stayed in my room, and my life experience was reading Frank Herbert. Does that count? I didn’t have a terrible childhood or anything, but I didn’t have a remarkable one, either.”
Moving on to the growing market of direct-to-DVD animated features for comic books, the next audience member asked if there was the possibility an animated “Buffy: Season Eight” in the future. “I ain’t against it,” answered Whedon. “I spent a lot of time and noble effort trying to put a Buffy animated show on the air with zero success. It still baffles me to this day. I’m also waiting for somebody to call me and tell me, ‘It’s time to make that “Serenity” sequel.'” The mention of which caused the audience to cheer wildly. “But they won’t.”
Recognizing a pattern in Whedon’s work, the next questioner asked why he consistently writes about strong female characters. “At the end of the day, I have many answers for it. They have to do with my mom, an extraordinary woman and a great feminist. They have to do with the people in my life. They have to do with a lot of different things, but I don’t know. Because I’m not just writing strong female characters for other people. I have a strong desire to see them in our culture that was not met for most of my childhood, except occasionally by James Cameron,” said Whedon. “I don’t know why I think I’m a fourteen year old girl with superpowers. I don’t look like one, but I can’t get past it. In fact, the only trouble I’ve had with ‘The Avengers’ is that I’m like, ‘Where is the fourteen year old girl with superpowers? I’m very confused! Is it you, Robert Downy Jr.?'”
The next audience member asked Whedon if he had any desire to lend his pen to the “Star Trek” universe in some fashion or another. “I don’t think so. I’m actually going to say ‘no’ to this one, because I think what makes ‘Star Trek’ great is a little ephemeral and not something that I would be chasing because they are their own voices,” said Whedon. “For me, the comics, it’s harder to capture — and I’ve not read them, there may be wonderful Star Trek comics and I’m not dissing on them — but for me, it’s not something I’m attracted to because I’m interested in the way they’re going to create the universe visually in a film or a TV show. I’ll see every new incarnation of it, and I did love JJ [Abrams’] film, but for the comics, if I was going to spend my time, I would not want to wade into something with that much history and that much difference. I don’t feel the payoff would be great. I would rather work on something new or something that I’ve already done and made money in comic book form, because I seem to do that all the time.”
A short question, asking about whether there was going to be a “Dr. Horrible 2,” was answered with an equally short answer. “The thing you have to understand,” said Whedon, “is, yes.” The announcement caused an eruption of cheering from the crowd, and when it finally died down, Whedon discussed the songs currently in the works for the project. “I’ll just say this. I’ve worked on a number of songs. I got a demo from Jed and Marissa, a song that actually Zach pitched that they wrote, and as soon as I heard it, just like I did in the first one, I just said, I’d respectfully like to withdraw my songs, because it’s just that good.”
Bringing the conversation once more to “Buffy: Season Nine,” the next question asked if Ben Edlund, creator of “The Tick” and former writer for “Firefly” and “Angel,” would be lending his talents to the new book at some point. “I have not approached Ben about this, but if I can get Ben in any of my houses at any point, I want Ben in my house,” said Whedon.
Referring to past episodes of “Buffy” and “Angel,” the next questioner asked why the seventh episode of every season tended to set up the story arc for the remainder of the season. “It was based on the fact that, usually the seventh episode would be the second one I could direct, and so I would save all the goodies for myself,” said Whedon. “It’s not kind of me, but there it is.”
Referring to an earlier statement Whedon made about the rejoining of Buffy and Angel’s universes at Dark Horse, the next question asked which five characters would he like to make spin-off books for. “Obviously, Willow has a journey to go through. As I mentioned, Illyria is near and dear to my heart, and you know the Kennedy/Riley book I think is probably going to be the most popular. There are a lot, it’s hard. I’m sort of deeply in love with all of these characters and I could give them all solos. There are a few that I would like to see get highlighted. Some of them are dead, but how often has that stopped me?”
The character the next questioner was concerned about was Buffy’s sister, Dawn, and whether the upcoming stories would make her a stronger character. “I’m not going to turn her into a superhero,” said Whedon. “She is going to be going on her own life’s journey and having her own identity and not just be the little sister anymore, which is going to become increasingly problematic for Buffy. But I don’t think of her as a particularly weak character. I think we all know that she might have complained once or twice in the show, but I always felt that she had more reason to complain than almost any teenager I knew. I wanted to play more variations of her character than I got to. Dawn is, for me, a touchstone of the non-extraordinary. That’s why she and Xander are together,” said Whedon. “Dull and whiney.”
Next came a question about the difference between writing for comics instead of television. “The difference is not great, it’s just really about rhythm,” said Whedon. It’s about how much you can give because the comics come out just once a month and if you’re telling a story over more than one issue then it breaks down into acts.”
As for whether or not there will be a “Dr. Horrible” comic book, Whedon’s answer was again to the point: “We have made some. We will make more. The beating heart of the Dr. Horrible comic book universe is scribe Zack Whedon, who has always done such a great job. I mean, I’m in charge and it’s totally my vision and I’m super important and I should have my own panel, but Zack has really carried that banner, and it’s been such a delight for all of us.”
The next question asked about “The Avengers” and what sort of challenges Whedon has had in working with the combined cast and story of four different movies. “It’s not that difficult. You come to a relationship with an actor that you build on the set and in pre-production. You take what parameters you have. And in something like ‘Avengers,’ there are an enormous amount of parameters,” said Whedon. “With ‘The Avengers,’ it actually hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. What I find is that these characters mesh through their differences really well, and what I also find is that these actors are having a great time playing against each other. They are, as a troupe, actually a much better team than the Avengers are.”
Recalling the often rumored but never materializing spin-off, “Ripper,” the next questioner asked if there was still hope of seeing the story of Giles’ sordid past. “I would still and always want to do an actual Ripper series or movie. I have broached it and been close to it so many times that I think if I ever mention it to Anthony Stewart Head again, he would put a knife in my throat,” said Whedon. “He is a lovely, gentle man, and I think he would take up a big knife and deservedly kill me.”
The next question asked whether or not Whedon has ever looked back on his past writing over the years with disfavor. “No, everything I’ve written is awesome,” joked Whedon. “No, actually I recently pulled out a script for a film that I’d written about twenty years ago, one of the first of many to not sell, and it was fun, it was interesting, I liked it a lot, but I was like, “This guy’s young.”
Noting that for a writer who’s had such an impact on the gay community he’s never written a male gay character. With that in mind, the next questioner asked if Whedon had plans to ever do so. “Absolutely,” said Whedon. “I do think it’s about time. Eventually, you write enough lesbians and people will realize this is just a guy. This isn’t feminist, this is Cinemax. I think it’s about time for some equal opportunity.”
After a suggestion that he wrap up the panel with a song, Whedon gave the audience a very special gift. “I am going to not sing,” said Whedon. This prompted calls for him to end the panel with the dance of joy, which Whedon chose to share in a different way.
“I have great joy,” said Whedon. “I will express it by saying thank you.”
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