WC11 EXCLUSIVE: Gage is Touched by "Angel & Faith"

The long-awaited announcement of a new Dark Horse ongoing series for Joss Whedon's Angel came with a few surprises, as fans at WonderCon discovered on Friday. When Season 9 begins this Fall, the hard-as-nails former Slayer Faith will join the vampire-with-a-soul in "Angel & Faith," written by Christos Gage with art by Rebekah Isaacs and Steve Morris. Jo Chen will provide covers, as she did throughout "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8."

Though Dark Horse was the first company to publish Angel's adventures, Angel comics have been published by IDW Publishing since 2005. But as "Buffy Season 8" wrapped up and preparations for Season 9 began, Whedon decided to bring the Buffyverse characters under one roof, and Dark Horse regained the license. The final issues of IDW's "Angel" ongoing and "Spike" miniseries will arrive in May. Despite the licensing arrangements, Angel had a not-insignificant role to play in "Buffy Season 8," taking on the role of masked antagonist Twilight in an effort to show Buffy her true potential. When their powers combined -- through super-powered sex -- to create a new universe, events began to spiral out of control. Ultimately, Angel became possessed by the sentient "Twilight" universe and murdered Giles, Buffy's mentor and confidant, and, to stop Twilight and a larger mystical cataclysm, Buffy banished all magic from this plane of reality. As the season ended, Angel appeared catatonic, unable to cope with his latest actions.

CBR News spoke with Christos Gage about "Angel & Faith," his take on Whedon's characters and moving familiar characters in bold new directions.

CBR News: Christos, bringing Angel back to Dark Horse in his own series is a pretty big deal. How did you get set up with this gig?

Christos Gage: Scott Allie approached me in the men's room and said he loved my "Area 10." I realize that sounds like the opening to the worst Penthouse Forum letter ever, but it's true. It was literally the last minute of the last day of the first C2E2 convention. We were both hustling to hit the bathroom while we still could, and he said he'd just read "Area 10," the Vertigo Crime graphic novel I wrote that was stunningly drawn by Chris Samnee, who had just drawn a "Serenity" book for Dark Horse. "Area 10" is a mix of noir and the supernatural, and from reading it Scott felt that I could pull off the tone he and Joss were looking for in the Season 9 "Angel" comic.

Will "Angel & Faith" have rotating creative teams, as "Buffy Season 8" did, or are you writing for the duration?

I'm the writer for the long haul! As I understand it, Season 9 runs 25 issues, though there can and will be specials, one-shots, miniseries, etc.

You've handled some big characters and properties before, with "G.I. Joe: Cobra" at IDW and, of course, "Avengers Academy" and all your work for Marvel, but this is your first crack at the Whedonverse. What is it like to have the opportunity to shape these characters, working with Joss himself?

It's really amazing. It's like writing Spider-Man and having Stan Lee as your editor. On the one hand, it can be intimidating, because you want to get the characters right and you have to realize you will never know them half as well as the guy who created them... but on the other hand, if you have a question, you can go right to the man who brought them to life and say, "What kind of beer does Angel drink?" Which is an incredible resource. Even beyond "Angel & Faith," studying what Joss has done with the Buffyverse has had a tremendous influence on my approach to writing "Avengers Academy..." not so much in terms of literal plotlines, but in terms of crafting the stories, how action has to stem from character to really have meaning. It's funny, because I had met Joss once before, when I found myself sitting next to him on the train back to L.A. after Comic-Con in, I think, 2007. At that time the only work of his I knew was "Astonishing X-Men," which I adored. I had never seen an episode of "Angel," seen maybe pieces of one or two episodes of "Buffy." We talked about our love of comics and how awesome it was for him bringing Colossus back, and I could see we grew up on a lot of the same things, so I knew if I ever started watching the shows I'd fall in love with them, and of course I did. We had a Buffyverse writers' summit at Joss' house a little while back, and I kept asking all these relentlessly nerdy process questions, like, "If vampires are created when a demon enters a dead person's soulless body, but Earth is now cut off from the Hell dimensions, how are new vampires being made?" I was the guy in the Bill Shatner SNL sketch: "What was the combination of the safe?" So even though I may not have been a fan as long as most of the readers, I have the zeal of the newly converted. I know how much these characters mean to people, and I take that very seriously... every bit as seriously as I do writing Spider-Man or the X-Men, who I've been reading for thirty years.

However, and this is important, you can't be too precious about it. I learned that from working on "G.I. Joe." I knew nothing about the characters or their history -- that was my co-writer Mike Costa's department. So we'd do things like Mike's brilliant idea to kill Jinx, or my reconceiving of Serpentor as a cult leader, and I'd say to him, "If the fans hate this, I'm going to blame it on you." I know how I'd react toward some jerk who decided to make Daredevil kill the Black Widow, or reimagine Dr. Doom as Jim Jones, but the fans loved it. All these characters became the icons they are because their creators made bold choices, and if you treat them like porcelain dolls you're afraid to break, you're doing them a disservice. Plus, in this case, you've got Joss right there, and he's not going to let you ruin his babies... unless it's in the service of a good story. So I guess that's a roundabout way of saying if you hate it, blame him!

Just to address one more business-y bit before getting into the story, how does writing "Angel & Faith" fit in with your Marvel exclusive deal? Was this arranged before, specially carved out, etc.?

I started talking with Scott about writing this book a couple months before Marvel approached me about going exclusive, and I really have to thank David Bogart and everyone at Marvel for being really terrific about letting me have my cake and eat it too. They were happy to put an exception in my contract allowing me to write "Angel & Faith." From their perspective, it's not a competitive project the way a superhero book like, say, "Dr. Solar" would be. And I'm speculating here, but it seems they have a pretty good relationship with Joss themselves, with him writing and directing the "Avengers" movie and all. It's all been wonderfully amiable, and I am the luckiest nerd in the world.

From what I understand, "Angel & Faith" will be part of the Season 9 banner with Buffy -- but pointedly not simply as a part of "Buffy Season 9." To what degree will the events of your series be intermingling with what's going on in the next Buffy series?

It's not all that different from the way they functioned when both shows were on TV at the same time. They take place in the same universe, but in different geographic locations. There may be references to each other, and characters from one may even cross over to the other at times -- but they'll essentially be separate stories in the same world, for the most part. But the larger landscape -- a world now cut off from magical realms, with different interests moving to adjust to the new status quo in ways both beneficial and deadly -- is common to both books.

Angel is in pretty rough shape after the events of "Buffy Season 8," as is pretty much everybody else in the cast. Where do we find him as the series begins?

Well, he's not essentially catatonic, as he was at the end of Season 8... sorry to disappoint anyone eagerly anticipating 22 pages of Angel staring at the wall! I don't want to get into spoilers, though... let's just say he has found a reason to get back on his feet, and we will learn that reason in #1. It's a doozy.

The Twilight business put Angel at the center of some catastrophic events, both for the world of magic and for the personal lives of Buffy, Willow, Xander and the others. To what degree does he blame himself for what transpired, and how much guilt do his would-be friends place on his shoulders?

This is a big part of our story, so I'm going to start sounding like a broken record about not revealing spoilers, but anyone familiar with Angel will know that he is not one to absolve himself of guilt. Now he has new sins to add to the things Angelus did. And while he was possessed by Twilight at the moment he killed Giles, he doesn't have that excuse for the entire time of his activities as Twilight. We'll be addressing what Angel was thinking as Twilight in the first issue, for anyone concerned we might gloss over that and let him off the hook. As for his friends, well, there's a reason Angel's in a separate book... and a separate continent. As we saw in "Buffy" #40, Faith is the one person who is sticking by him, as he stuck by her in her own darkest moments. That's not to say that Buffy and the others all despise him -- their feelings are as diverse and complex as their personalities, and will be examined at the appropriate time -- but none of them can be around him right now.

It's interesting that Faith shares top billing for this book. What is her role in the series, and why, to your mind, does it merit putting her name in the title?

We didn't want her to feel like a sidekick or gal Friday. She's never been that, and she won't be here. I was telling Scott that I think of all the Buffyverse characters, Faith has matured the most. You could make an argument for Xander, but I think Faith started further behind the eight ball than him. And post-"Twilight," she might just be in the best place of anyone. Which leads to the question of whether being around Angel, who is probably in the worst place, is a good idea...

What is Faith's relationship to the Scoobies at this point? Since she was working so closely with Giles, does his death at Angel/Twilight's hands affect her more profoundly than it might for the rest of the cast?

I don't know that you can put degrees on how something like Giles' death affects people as close to him as these guys were. They're individuals, so they'll be reacting in different ways... but I don't think it'd be fair to say that because, for example, Willow wasn't traveling with Giles right before he died she's not taking it as hard. It's a devastating thing for everyone -- Angel included -- and very much informs a lot of what happens going forward.

What can you tell us about the story you'll be telling in the first arc? Heroes, villains, somewhere-in-betweens, and what they're after -- anything at all you're able to share.

I'm really not able to share much at this point. I can say there'll be some new characters introduced... it'll take place mostly in London and the surrounding area... it'll have a darker, more creepy/magic noir vibe than Buffy's book... and really, that's it for right now! Sorry.

Your artist for "Angel & Faith" is Rebekah Isaacs. What does her style bring to the stories you'll be telling?

Rebekah is perfect for the book. She gets embarrassed when I tell this story, but I think it's illustrative. I worked on an upcoming Marvel miniseries called "The Iron Age," in which Iron Man goes back in time to the Marvel universe of the past, and interacts with characters as they were back in the day. My chapter is penciled by the great Lee Weeks -- a guy who has been in this business for 25 years, and is highly regarded enough to have a volume of TwoMorrows' "Modern Masters" dedicated to him. Our story follows immediately after the opening issue, written by Rob Williams and drawn by Rebekah. Lee was sent Rebekah's last page splash so he could make sure it lined up with our first page. He called me up and raved about Rebekah's work, saying he was so inspired by the energy of it that he redrew his opening page. Now, that speaks volumes about Lee -- that after all he's accomplished he's still open to being inspired by someone relatively new to the field -- but it also says an immense amount about Rebekah's work, that it had this effect on someone with Lee's level of experience.

I've been a fan of Rebekah's since my buddy Ben Abernathy showed me advance pages of her "DV8" series with Brian Wood at Comic-Con one year, just before it came out. I immediately got in the short line of fans waiting for a sketch from her, because I knew there wouldn't be any short sketch lines in the future. She can do it all... she's great with character as well as action. Working on "Angel & Faith," I've discovered she's amazing at design as well. One new character she designed got Joss' approval on the first try. When your feedback from Joss is one word -- "Lovely" -- you're doing something right. For me, the real revelation is her demon designs. They're so cool and creepy, and stuff you could only really pull off in comics. I can't wait for people to see them!

"Angel & Faith" #1 arrives in August from Dark Horse.

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