Joss Whedon's name might currently be associated with Marvel Cinematic Universe, but to his longtime fans, it was the Whedonverse that made the creator a trusted name in genre entertainment. In recent years, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel" and "Serenity" have transitioned from television to comics, courtesy of publisher Dark Horse Comics, and at Comic-Con International in San Diego 2014, the Whedonverse's top writers, editors and artists gathered to inform fans what the future holds for their favorite slayers, vampires and space outlaws.
Panelists included Dark Horse editor Scott Allie; original "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" actor and "Buffy Season 10" co-writer Nicholas Brendon; "Season 10" scribe Christos Gage; television veteran and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" executive producer Jane Espenson; and "Serenity" artist Georges Jeanty.
Allie kicked off events by introducing "The Whedon Three Way," a one-shot one dollar comic designed to give a chance fir "big 'Buffy,' 'Angel' or 'Serenity' fans who aren't up to date on the comics to read "Buffy: Season 8" #1," "Angel & Faith" #1 and "Serenity: Leaves on the Wind" #1" all for one dollar." Addressing the tongue and cheek title, Allie said, "We were trying to come up with a way that a title could encompass all of these things. I asked Joss and he shot the title back to me, to which I said, 'That's great, I think people will love it.' We put it together, we sent it to him -- he tends to write back slower these days -- and he went, 'Oh dear lord, you're going with that [title]?'" "The Whedon Three Way" will hit stores this Fall to coincide with the release of the first collections of "Buffy Season 10."
Moving on, Gage laid out some background on what's coming up for "Buffy Season 10."
"[With] Season 8, things got very cosmic," Gage said. "With season 9, [Joss] said he wanted to get down to Earth -- or as down to Earth as the Buffyverse gets. Buffy has always been about people going through life -- stages people can relate to -- they are just doing it with supernatural monsters and aliens."
Gage then went on the inform the crowd where the cast of Buffy are in their own lives. "They are in the post college, early adulthood years and having to make decisions that are going to affect the rest of their lives," He said. "We're dramatizing that in the Vampyre book, which Giles gave to Buffy in season one, now that magic is not on Earth, words in the book are slowly beginning to be filled in. Our guys begin to realize it is their responsibility to write the rules of magic ... which terrifies them, but if they don't do it, someone else may not be as nice." Gage said, like all people, it's time for the cast of "Buffy" to "put on their big boy pants."
Allie then moved on to Gage's co-writer, Nicholas Brendon, who discussed what it's like revisiting characters he hadn't seen in quite some time. "[I have] a hard time writing for the other characters, because I know Alyson [Hannigan] as Alyson, because I saw more Alyson than I saw Willow, but Xander and this guy Nickie are very much alike," he said. "I'm really good at Xander, I'm really good at Giles because he's now a kid."
In terms of adapting the Buffyverse for an ongoing Dark Horse series, Allie said it all started with Joss Whedon's initial conception, and bringing on Espenson. "But with 'Season 9,' we began this writers' summit at Joss's house," he said.
Brendon got to take part in the "Season 10" summit and was amazed by the power of a writer' room. Sticking to the topic, Allie asked Espenson how the "Buffy" writers room worked compared to television.
"The 'Buffy' room was so unique in that it was so very top down, all the big ideas came from Joss and the rest of the writers scampered underneath him with baskets trying to catch the ideas," Espenson said. "In other writers rooms like 'Battlestar Galactica,' ['Battlestar' creator] Ronald Moore would craft the narrative and the rest tried to bounce of this thing ... and I feel the same thing happened in the [comics] room when Joss is there, everyone is talking, but when Joss says, 'Ahem,' everyone listens to Joss ... the magic of Joss is the universe he built."
The questions then moved to artist Georges Jeanty, who recently transitioned from the monthly "Buffy" comic to "Serenity." Allie asked the artist if he was still reading "Buffy."
"Now that I'm not involved in the book in any way I can actually read it as a fan ... but it does feel a little like I'm watching my girlfriend with some other guy," Jeanty said. "Rebekah Isaacs is a great artist and the book is in capable hands, but it's not in my hands."
However, Jeanty is still in Whedonverse territory with "Serenity," currently written by Zack Whedon and supervised by Joss Whedon. "There was a familiarity," Jeanty said. "I really approached 'Serenity' with an eye of, let me get away from 'Buffy' ... because of that I think the book definitely struck a different cord, it had the echo of Joss and that universe ... it was a lot harder to draw that particular book."
Following that particular track, Allie asked the panel if there is a difference between "Buffy" fans and "Serenity fans.
"It's hard to imagine someone who likes 'Buffy' but not 'Firefly,'" Espenson said, pointing out that the setting really differentiates the two. The world of the Buffyverse could be the world outside the door, but "Firefly" -- even though it is filled with relatable and human characters -- is still in outer space.
Jeanty added that with "Serenity," "the interest might be more intense because we only had fourteen episodes and a movie."
"With 'Buffy,' we had seven years," Jeanty continued. "With 'Serenity,' it was cut short and the idea that these characters could go one for a good seven years or ten years is very evident. I think we will only see that in comic books." Espenson agreed, adding that the difference between the two fan bases is that it's "people who like potential versus people who like completion."
Jeanty is set to move over to "Batwoman" with writer Mark Andreyko, which will soon ("oddly enough," as Jeanty put it) be incorporating vampires. Even though Jeanty is moving to DC, Allie assured fans the artist will still work in the Whedonverse in some capacity.
Allie steered the panel back to the "Buffy" comic, and upcoming arc "Return to Sunnydale," which begins in "Buffy Season 10" #8. Gage called the newest arc "a great point for people who liked the show but lost track of the comics to look in and see what they think." Gage noted the opening issue contains "three wonderful pages by the legendary Richard Corben," an artistic hero of Gage's. Allie added that getting Corben to draw "Buffy" was a "career high."
Allie told a funny story about how Dark Horse wanted to do an "Odd Couple" cover with Xander and Spike as Felix and Oscar, but no one could decide who was who. Understandably, the story transitioned into "Buffy: Season 10" #7, which returns to the idea of Spike and Xander as roommates. Gage said the issue was inspired by the stories Brendon told of how much fun he had on the show during the period where his character and Spike (James Marsters) were roommates.
"Buffy does not have a large physical presence [in issue #7], but she looms large," said Gage. Looking a bit into the future, the "Season 10" scribe informed the Whedon faithful that issues #8 and #9 are Buffy-focused, with Andrew coming closer to the forefront -- with Espenson consulting on his dialogue.
As the panel transitioned to audience Q&A, the writers discussed their process for building complex worlds -- especially those created by Whedon.
"I just like to let Joss Whedon do it," Gage joked. "This is the same as characters I have been reading a long time, characters like Spider-Man. I know what Spider-Man is going to do because he's so well established. It's the same way with the Buffyverse characters because they're so well established by everyone that's done them before that. I feel I know how Spike would react to this or what Faith would do in this situation ... when there's a strong voice you kind of know."
"People have lost how inherently funny the title 'Buffy, the Vampire Slayer' is. Starting with an inherent contradiction like that is a great place to start building a complicated character," Espenson added.
In terms of the influence working in the Whedonverse has on other work, the panelists noted that there was quite a bit of crossover. "I, all the time, find myself writing in Joss's voice," Espenson said. "Once you got Whedon voice in your head, you want to keep it there as long as you can." Gage agreed, saying, "When I was writing a book for Marvel called 'Avengers Academy," there was a lot of thematic emotional crossover with the Buffyverse that really informed the book."
Allie continued the conversation, noting that Whedon taught him to never let a story be simply about the action. Gage added that Joss once said, "If something doesn't happen to a character we care about, you just don't care."
"Dollhouse" was another topic that came up during the Q&A -- to thunderous applause. Much of the universe of "Dollhouse" was expanded by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, and according to Allie, "The problem with writers that work with Joss Whedon is that they tend to get these amazing careers, and they look at comic book money and they say, 'Um, oh.'" While there are currently plans in place for more "Dollhouse" comics, Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are currently busy as showrunners for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
However, there's still more goodness on the way for fans of the collected "Buffy" comics -- Allie stated that oversized editions of "Season 9" are coming soon, and plans are in place to collect "Season 10" after all the trade paperback collections have been released. The "Season 9" hardcovers will also contain the "Willow" and "Spike" solo books.
Speaking of "Willow" and "Spike," Allie also addressed possible plans for more solo series in the Buffyverse.
"There is a lot of potential there but we are really trying to tell focused stories and if a great arc comes up ... if we really feel we need to address a character ... with 'Season 9,' the 'Spike' series and the 'Willow' series did things that needed to be done narratively that couldn't have been done in one of the books," said Allie. "So, with Angel moving to England and doing what he's doing there, there's not been an opportunity to address other characters." The editor went on the mention Conner, who is currently "kind of living his life," a sentiment with which Gage agreed.
"Conner deserves a normal and happy life which would be super boring to read about," Gage said. The writer also confirmed that Harmony and Clem will show up in "Buffy Season 10."
Wrapping the panel, Espenson gave some quick advice to aspiring writers. "One rule of writing: if you hear it, don't write it," she said.