EXCLUSIVE ART! Dark Horse Comics' Scott Allie On The State Of The Buffyverse

With Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel & Faith in full swing at Dark Horse Comics, and Spike and Willow mini-series waiting in the wings, we thought this would be a great time to talk with Buffyverse Editor (and writer) Scott Allie about everything Whedony. From the return of a "fan-favorite" character (that would be Kennedy The Vampire Slayer), to the much discussed abortion storyline, to why Season Nine won't end like Season Eight... Read on. Oh, and stay tuned afterwards for some exclusive art from upcoming Buffy books!

MTV Geek: Going into this second wave of the Buffyverse, with the Spike and Willow miniseries on the horizon, what is the state of the Buffyverse right now? What is the mission statement, if you will?

Scott Allie: The mission statement going into this season was to keep it personal, and make all the stories very personal. But we also have some pretty high stakes in a real, magical genre kind of way. So you’ve got Angel - and Faith, to a lesser extent - trying to resurrect Giles in that book, and you’ve got characters wrestling with a plot in Buffy that’s only beginning to emerge. The latest issues have only just started hinting at a bigger picture, at a big magical disaster that might be headed towards us.

The spin-off books, having Willow go off in her book, and Spike go off in his book... With Willow, since the moment the Seed was destroyed, since the moment magic was banished from the world at the end of Season Eight, Willow’s been wanting to see it come back. She’s decided to set out on the road to try and make that happen. She had been trying to get Buffy motivated about that, and it didn’t really work, so she split to go pursue it on her on. You will see her quest to make it happen, as she shows up in Angel’s book, then gets her own miniseries down the road.

For Spike, he doesn’t really have a big mission to go off on, but the issue of Buffy that comes out, I think next week, has him and Buffy parting ways for the time being. Basically, it wasn’t our intention to take Spike out of the Buffy book when we started Season 9. We thought that Spike really belonged in her title. But as the story started going, we really clearly saw that what Buffy had to do didn’t really leave room for Spike to be more than play second fiddle to her... And we didn’t want him doing that yet again. He’s taking some time out to deal with his own stuff.

His arc, in particular is going to be really character driven, really dealing with who he is at this point in time. There will also be a lot of action and adventure, but in the case of his book, the genre stuff is really there more to explore the character stuff. Whereas in Willow, he has a mission to pursue, and along the way she explored where she is at this point in her life.

The Cover to Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #13

Geek: Let’s talk about the tone of the books a little bit... Right now, there’s almost an opposite trajectory with Buffy and Angel. Buffy is very much about the future, and her figuring out what her future will be, while Angel & Faith focuses on the past and how that affects us. Are we going to see the same sort of delineation in Willow and Spike?

SA: That’s a great point... We didn’t really set up the season with the idea that Buffy and Angel would be opposite tones, we didn’t think about that specifically, or on purpose. But we wanted Buffy, for the first time, to really be thinking about her future beyond just being the chosen one that’s destined to die at any minute. This is her chance to look forward, while for Angel, he’s just done one of the crappiest things he ever done, causing him to even be more mired in regret, and the past than he usually is.

That’s is an interesting dichotomy with those two books, and I think it’s just true to who those two characters are in a big way.

With Willow and Spike, the biggest contrast there I’d say - I don’t know about looking forward or looking back - but they’re both... Willow’s really looking to the future, trying to take charge of the future; while Spike is more just trying to get solid ground underneath himself so he can HAVE a future. He’s a little bit stuck in the past. But more, he’s just looking at himself. He’s taking the most self reflective path of any of the characters this season over the course of the five issues.

Geek: Obviously the Buffyverse has a lot of rich characters to it, but do you ever see a time when you could spin a character you created for the comic books into their own title?

SA: We’ve talked about that. Joss is really keen on Satsu, Buffy’s girlfriend from Season 8. There’s a character popping up in Spike that has a lot going for him, and some of the Slayers that have been introduced in Angel & Faith are real solid. But commercially speaking, there’s a real motivation to stick with the characters that the readers know from the TV show. The fans themselves have a constant push and pull between, “You guys gotta introduce new characters!” and many readers complaining that we’re not focusing enough on the established characters.

Over the course of seven years of the Buffy TV show, they stayed focused on the core four: Buffy, Willow, Giles, and Xander, from the very beginning, somewhat consistently through to the end. So I think the main characters, including Angel, Dawn, and Spike... They offer so much that we really take seriously the idea of adding a new book to the line up. Comics are pretty expensive these days. To add a new book, we have to feel like this is an important story that can’t be told within the context of the main books.

With Spike, we considered just doing what we needed to do with Spike just in cutaway scenes in the Buffy title. But we felt there was too much to do, he needed his own book. To get to the point where a new character had so much to say they needed their own title feels pretty remote to me right now.

Spike #2

Geek: Let’s talk about Buffy in specific, and what’s coming up in the next few issues.

SA: The issues that have just wound up, the one’s that I wrote, most of the action has been centered around Buffy, Spike, and Andrew. They were just really fun to write, Andrew is a riot, and Buffy just plays off Spike so much, and Spike and Andrew have a weird chemistry... It was a fun time writing those characters. For the next few issues, we get pretty far away from what’s left of the core four. We stay pretty focused on Buffy, but Kennedy winds up taking an important role in the upcoming issues. And everybody just loves Kennedy as a character... Uh, not very much. [Laughs]

But Kennedy is very important, this season is about Buffy trying to figure out a career, and Kennedy winds up sort of coming up a career option for Buffy. In terms of the team, they’re splintered. Willow went off to try to pursue magic. Xander and Dawn are just trying to lead a normal life... But as Buffy starts getting distracted, they wind up having to get involved. But they don’t want to. They’re not there side by side with Buffy. The team, which is so much what Buffy is about, isn’t so much engaged this season together, which is part of the problem. But one of the interesting things, in regards to supporting characters, or new characters that we create is that Buffy is going to sort of form a team with some new characters that we’ve introduced in the comic. It’s not the same as her long standing adventures with Xander, Dawn, Willow, and Giles. But it gives her a potential new team, and a new start.

Geek: Taking a step back, let’s talk about the abortion storyline that happened a few issues ago. I’m wondering about the decision process on setting that up as a cliffhanger, and then - spoiler, of course - revealing that she wasn’t even pregnant, she was a BuffyBot.

SA: The way that it happened was pretty organic. The thing that caught the most attention was the last part we put together. It started out way back in the writers summit we had at Joss’ house two years ago. Joss said, “Oh, and for a while, Buffy is going to get replaced by a robot.” And then he explained what that was going to be. Very organically out of that, but in that initial round of conversation came the idea that she was going to discover she was pregnant. Only when she discovered she was a robot was she going to discover she was not, in fact, pregnant.

It’s so funny talking like this, because there’s there’s this spoiler light going off in my forehead. Like, “Don’t say that! You can’t say that! Oh wait, it’s okay, those comics are out already.” I’ve beat it into my head to keep my mouth shut so much.

So the initial idea was to have Buffy be a robot, Joss had an angle on it, an idea of what it would say about where Buffy is at this time in her life. The pregnancy thing came hot on the heels of that, and it was only a little later as the story was getting hammered together that the abortion thing came out of that. So that’s how it came about.

The decision to put things at the ends of issues, the way they fell - because the Pregnancy is revealed at the end of issue five, the decision to have an abortion is at the very end of issue six, I think, and then the discovery that she’s a robot is at the end of issue seven... The deal with that is that the revelation of the pregnancy is a really sweet cliffhanger, so that’s the reason that happens on page twenty-two of that issue.

The thing with the abortion was-- the whole reason we decided to do that was because we wanted to explore the choice, we wanted to deal with the idea of this woman making this choice. Twenty-two pages, all in all, doesn’t feel like a lot; but twenty-two pages was what we felt was the right amount to give to that choice. We didn’t want to do a story where three pages in, she’s made the choice, and then she spends the rest of the issue thinking about it, and talking about it. We wanted to put off the decision until the end, have the whole issue be, in a sense, about the decision. So that’s why that’s at the end of the that issue.

We put that out there with the idea that, okay, there’s going to be thirty days between this comic and the next one, thirty days for readers to believe that this is where the story is going. We knew we’d be accused of sucker punch, red herring, pulling the wool from under you, by having it turn out that she’s not pregnant, and doesn’t need to have an abortion, so phew, we don’t need to draw an abortion scene. But that was never the point. That would be another story, having one of these characters go through the full experience. But the experience we wanted to deal with was the experience of making a choice.

We understand people being frustrated that we didn’t go through all the way, but I don’t think that was necessary for the story point we were trying to get to.

The Variant Cover For Angel & Faith #14

Geek: Can you talk a little bit, before we move on, about putting together the creative team on Buffy?

SA: Sure, it’s been pretty complex... Joss wrote the first one, Andrew [Chambliss] wrote a little bit, I’ve written a little bit. We had Karl Moline and Cliff Richards come in to relieve Georges Jeanty. But it’s been a great team, it’s been a fun team. Andrew is relatively new to comics, but he’s a real comics fan. He worked with Joss on Dollhouse, he worked with Joss on the Dollhouse comics, and he’s done a lot of great genre TV. He’s been on Once Upon a Time most recently, Vampire Diaries for a while. He’s been working really, really hard between TV shows, and always willing to give it the extra go. There’s been tough scripts to get through, there’s been notes from Joss that require pretty extensive rewrites, and Andrew just never hesitates to dive in and tear stuff apart to get it right. We’ll do whatever we can to work with him in the future.

Georges, the main artist on the book, really defined what this new age of Buffy comics is all about in Season 8, so it’s really important to keep him around. The way that he gets the characters, gets the acting, is really very emotional, but kind of understated. That’s key to what we’re trying to do... And also the clothing. One of the unique contributions to these books is, of all the people that work on them, Georges has the keenest fashion sense. We got a fair amount of women working on the books, but it’s Georges who knows how to dress the characters, better than anybody else. He really takes that seriously, and it’s great. When we have a fill in artist, we have to work really hard to keep the level of costuming up to what people expect from Georges. This sort of conversation doesn’t really feature much into the Hellboy books I edit, but it’s definitely crucial to Buffy.

Geek: Okay, let’s move on to Angel & Faith... Let’s start with the creative team there, what can you tell me about working with them?

SA: There’s been less fill in stuff. Chris [Gage] has written every issue, Rebekah [Issacs] has drawn all but two issues at this point, five and ten. The two of them had never worked together before, but they have synced up like the best kind of comics creative team. I love their work together, it really feels like the work of one mind, in the best kind of way. I love seeing the two of them turning in pages, turning in themes. Chris has learned that he trusts Rebekah so much that his panel descriptions get shorter and shorter, because he wants to give her as much freedom as he can. The results are great, and she’s turned out to be an incredible monster designer as well - we love her monsters, and demons and whatnot.

Chris has been the most incredible addition to the Whedonverse, as far as I’m concerned. It’s always hard bringing in writers who haven’t worked directly with Joss, that haven’t been as hands on with Joss in the writers room of the TV show; bringing in a comic book writer who hasn’t had that experience, and expecting them to step up to the plate in the way that they need to to get these stories right. Chris has just nailed it. He understands the characters, he understands so much that you’d normally have to teach somebody, that Joss would have to coax out of somebody who wasn’t naturally attuned to it. Chris is a real revelation, and for sure, whatever we do in Season 10, come hell or high water, Chris Gage will have a big part in it.

I should mention Dan Jackson, he’s been doing great stuff coloring, him and Rebekah are a dynamite team. We’d be blessed with really good covers, too. Steve Morris is a guy that we pretty much discovered. He did a new talent book with us years ago, and he’s been doing covers for a variety of things, but his main gig right now is Angel & Faith. He also did the first five issues of Buffy. He puts so much thought, and so much crazy detail and subtext into his covers.

Angel & Faith #14

Geek: Obviously Buffy, and Angel & Faith have their own tracks to run on, but will we eventually see these two trains crash together?

SA: Probably not in the way some fans would want to see. There won’t be “Crisis on Infinite Buffys” or anything. There is some synchronicity, like Willow shows up on the last page of Angel & Faith #10. Willow left Buffy in number five, shows up in Angel & Faith #10, will stick around for a few issues, and then will get her own thing... Then without giving away too much - Willow doesn’t die or anything - she will find her way back to the Buffy title later on.

We’ve managed carefully, not crossover, but cloud cover between the two books. Like making sure Zompires, the new versions of Vampires work the same in both books. And also taking some care in the way Zompires roll out... They operate differently than vampires, and we wanted to make sure that the way readers got information worked in both books, little rewards for the people who read both books. For the most part, though, we wanted people to read one or the other.

I think that’s the important thing about comics. One of the things that’s turned me off of mainstream comics is how hard it is... If there’s one writer, or one character that you love, it can be very hard sometimes. There have been Marvel and DC books I say, “I’ve gotta read this book, because of this writer, or that artist,” and after a few issues, I realize... They don’t want me to. They don’t want me to read the book, unless I’m reading everything. And so we don’t want to do the Whedon books that way.

Absolutely the Buffy and Angel books, you could pick which one you read, and not the other, and you wouldn’t be unable to understand the book you’d be reading by not reading both. I got to admit, it’s probably harder with Willow and Spike, with those five issue series. They more or may not be more dependent on you having a foundation with the rest of Season 9. Both Buffy and Angel are going to be twenty-five issues long. I wouldn’t want to do a thing where suddenly issue twenty-one of Angel, now you HAVE to read Buffy, or you’re not going to get the whole story. So we won’t be doing that... Although there will continue to be some sort of interaction, and they clearly, clearly take place in the same world.

Geek: Okay, looking forward then: what’s the mission statement for the second half of the Season?

SA: We know how they end, and so the job for everybody is to ramp it up and make sure those endings are earned, and justified, that they don’t come out of nowhere and the readers are with us the whole time. We’ve got big things to do in both books... In Season 8, we had really big things to do in the one book, and we had some stumbles, in terms of making it all work. We’re just trying to learn from that, and make sure the big finish we have cooking, all the beats get hit along the way, and that we’ve shed some light on all the characters that are appropriate.

There’s going to be Buffy fans - because Buffy fans are very passionate, and Buffy fans have their favorite character, it’s not just Buffy and Spike and Angel... We want to make sure by the end of the Season we’ve done our best giving a good story to each of these characters; but in the end you can only do so much. So by the end, Buffy will have a much more involved and nuanced story that Xander will, but Xander will have a pretty good story that’s been told; even though it’s been told in tiny little bits up until the later part of the season. There’s some ways in which there were things we wanted to do with characters in Season 8 that we never got around to, and so we’re carefully trying to manage this season.

One of the things we’ve tried to do is, even though we’ve had this overall outline of the entire season for both of the main books... Once we start a five issue arc, the writer will write in more detail, maybe three or four pages of what happens each issue, to make sure that as we head into the next arc we have a really clear idea of where we’re going. One thing that we did to make sure the ending ties together more properly is that instead of outlining five issues, both Chris and Andrew have been working and revising outlines for issues sixteen through twenty-five... So a ten issue outline that makes sure we don’t leave too much stuff for the last five issues, which is always kind of a danger.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #13 Variant Cover

Geek: Talking a little bit more about the ending of Season 8, versus Season 9... I say this as a total fan of the books, but it did feel like things went slightly off the rails at the end.

SA: I think the problem was, there wasn’t enough cosmic sex. More cosmic sex this time and it’ll solve all the problems! I think the thing that went off the rails was, we wanted to go big and crazy, and ridiculous, and we did. We did stuff that could only be done in a comic, and realized that’s not really what we need to do. But that was where we were going, and we followed through on that.

When you say off the rails, and when some fans say off the rails, I think what they mean is that we shouldn’t have had Angel and Buffy in space having sex. And I get that. But that was the call from early on. I feel less bad about that than the fact that we did wind up having a lot of story stuff to cover in the last five issues, and it got bogged down. That’s the lesson that is at once harder to learn from, but more important to learn from. The space f**king? We’re just not going to do that. It’s easy to not do that again.

But what’s harder to do, and in a way more crucial to do is to make sure that there’s room to do all the character stuff. At one point, when we were working on the final ten outline with Andrew, it started looking like the final five issues wouldn’t have that much happening in them. Part of me was like, that might be okay. Not having too much to do might be exactly what we need to make sure that all this has room to breathe. Not that there wouldn’t be big things happening in each issue, but there wouldn’t be tons of big things happening in each issue. That’s still being massaged, that outline is still being worked on... But when you have a lot of big, climactic events taking place, it’s hard to have those sweet little moments where character is really revealed. That’s what Joss’ books are all about.

Again, for me, what went off the rails was just how hard it was - and I co-wrote the end of Season 8 with Joss, so I’m pretty intimately aware of what was problematic at the end there. Making sure we’ve got the room for all of it to breathe while ending climactic fashion is something we’re all keeping a real close eye on. Making sure the ending feels like a big enough pay off, without feeling like the kitchen sink.

VMAs 2018