The world of Joss Whedon's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" has always been forward-thinking in the kinds of characters it invites into the story whether they be gay, straight, demon or robot. But this week, Dark Horse Comics grabbed attention by announcing that their "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9" would cross maybe the franchise's final frontier with a gay man joining the cast who also happens to be the latest Slayer to the ever-changing world.
"We 'announced' this, so to speak, at least a year ago," Editor Scott Allie explained to CBR about the story. "We'd mentioned that we'd be introducing a significant gay male character. Or at least a character who is out, because we've got Andrew Wells who is...well, I'm not even sure what he is."
Still, when it was revealed that the character starring in Jane Espenson and Drew Greenberg's two-part story would also be a new vampire slayer, it was enough to add a unique wrinkle that got fans talking. Part of that is the questions bubbling up in fandom about how any man, gay or straight, can become a Slayer given that terms specific history in the series. But another big part of the draw has been a recent run of gay characters making a splash in mainstream comics from Alan Scott to Northstar.
"It's funny. When we started seeing what Marvel and DC was doing, we thought, 'Damn. They're racing to get these stories out one after the other, so it'll look like we're chasing them. But we'd had this story planned for quite a while," Allie said. "But I think you can see this as a natural extension of stuff Joss has done all along. Getting a gay male character doesn't seem unusual for 'Buffy.' And it wasn't so much that we wanted to get a gay character out in the mainstream for whatever reason. It was more that this is a story that Jane Espenson and Drew Greenberg wanted to tell. When you read the story, you'll see that it's responding to things in the culture beyond just representing gay male characters. There's a bit of a response to the whole 'It Gets Better' campaign in a way that's more than subtext. For Jane and Drew in particular, with the kinds of stories they're used to telling and what they care about, the Buffy mythos was an extremely appropriate place to empower this young guy who needed to find a way to stand up for himself."
The editor revealed the origins of this specific story. "This might be the most detailed I've ever talked about the writer's summit," he said. "Shortly after 'Season 8' ended, around February of that year, we had a writer's summit at Joss' house. And Jane and Drew were there with no expectation that they'd write any part of 'Season 9.' Joss just wanted them in the room to be a part of the discussion about where we were going. Andrew Chambliss was there as he'd been chosen as the main writer for the season already. Chris Gage was there, who we knew was going to write 'Angel & Faith.' And Zack Whedon was there with a few other people.
"We'd been throwing around ideas, and a lot of stuff came up that day. Joss told us that Buffy was going to get replaced by a robot and that it was going to be a surprise where we wouldn't know she was a robot at first. And on the day Joss threw that one at us, he revealed that the way she'd discover she was a robot was through a pregnancy test. And on that same day as we talked about a whole bunch of things, Jane and Drew started talking about the idea of a gay male slayer. There was a lot of talk about how that would work and what it would mean. So we asked if they'd want to write that, and they decided it'd be best if they co-wrote two issues together where they'd outline it together and one would write the first issue while one wrote the second. Jane scripted #14 and Drew scripted #15. At that time, we didn't know when in the season it would fall. It just wound up being at #14."
The story's full revelation, of course, brings up many questions for long time "Buffy" fans, but Allie was quick to say that the best way to experience the story is to wait and see what happens. He promised that Billy's introduction would be different than what one might expect. "I've read some of the comments online, and on the internet, everyone's figured out everything about this before they've read it. They know every line in the story. So hopefully, people still stand to be surprised when this comes out. People are assuming a lot about who Billy is. They think he wants to emulate his hero, Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But I think there's maybe one line of his that relates to Buffy at all. He's not obsessed with her, and he's not even obsessed with vampire slayers. He's more looking for a way to stand up, and he finds a role model for that in the culture of vampire slayers that, after 'Season 8,' became something of a household word in Joss' world. They became very known in the general populous, and then they suddenly vanished. That's when this boy comes along."
Typically, only women can be slayers in the world, but Allie said Billy's status is different than being hand-picked by the powers that be to fight bloodsuckers. "That is part of the story. But part of the story too - part of Buffy's story and a typical trope in a story like this or even Hellboy is that any character who is a 'chosen' character tends to not want to be chosen. The chosen one or the anointed one is usually a reluctant hero. They don't want to be a hero. Buffy wanted to be a cheerleader, but she was chosen to be a vampire slayer. And a little bit what 'Season 9' is about, one of the recurring ideas in the season, has to do with self-determination," he said.
Speaking of determination, one of the twists awaiting the story's particulars is references to a Watcher made in the solicitation copy for the incoming issues. If Billy is truly a vampire slayer, who and how does his Watcher exist? "The Watcher is definitely a key ingredient to the Slayer," Allie said. "And one of the complaints I've seen online is 'Well, if Wesley was a rogue demon hunter or if so-and-so is that, what makes this Billy guy a vampire slayer?' And the answer is that he's a vampire slayer. What goes with that? There are all these things that come with that idea, and the Watcher is one of them for sure."
Overall, this two-part arc fell where it did in the season to help fans get reacquainted with zompires - the brainless undead vampires that have been proliferating since the Seed of magic was destroyed at the end of "Season 8." Allie promised as a final tease that this plot thread would become more important for the second half of "Season 9" from Billy's introduction forward. "It's partly because the zompire situation is escalating, and we need to show it escalating," he said. "In the regular flow of the 'Buffy' book, there's so much going on where we don't always have the room to dwell on what's been happening with the zompires. The funny thing about Buffy is that so much of what she does is more than fighting vampires or zompires. With the introduction of Billy, we get to refocus on that battle, and it lets us open the story up and use his story as a way to give the reader a ground-level view of what's up with the zompires. The covers for both #14 and 15 feature zompires, and the story takes some opportunity to talk about them in a way we haven't had much room for yet. As this escalates, it steps into the forefront more, and as this boy becomes a slayer, you'll have to look closer at the things he slays."