It's taken nearly a year for Joss Whedon to go back to the future — and in the Buffyverse, the future is Fray.

Let's back up — for the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator's first foray into comics, back when the show was still on the air, Whedon decided to tell a slayer story about a chosen one several centuries from now. "Anything set years in the future wouldn't affect anything creatively I did on the show," he told MTV News. And so Fray — or rather, Melaka Fray — was born.

She was drawn by Karl Moline over the course of a limited run of eight issues. Mel, a feisty 19-year-old, was a street kid, a thief, but only half slayer, since the dreams and memories she was meant to have instead went to her twin brother, who used that knowledge to become leader of the vampires when he was turned. Nice self-contained little story — which let Whedon go about his business on "Buffy," "Angel" and "Firefly" without giving it another thought.

But once "Buffy" as a TV show ended, Whedon realized he had some unfinished business because of what he had set up in "Fray." In the series finale, all the slayer potentials are activated, creating a worldwide network of thousands of slayers. But in "Fray," we're back down to one. So how did that happen? To try to answer that question, Whedon came up with Buffy's eighth season in the form of a comic book series that takes up where the show left off.

"The world of Fray has been a huge influence, in fact, the influence on season eight," Whedon said. "At the end of the series, I had something that categorically did not connect, and rather than throw out continuity, I used that. The present is so interesting with tons of slayers, and the future as we know it is quite the opposite. So why is that? And is that the death of magic?"

So far, in the dozen-plus issues that have come out, Buffy and her slayers are up against Twilight, who wants to bring an end to magic because he believes that the slayer activation caused a major imbalance between good and evil. (This Twilight, however, is not related to the other series about a girl in love with a vampire. "It wasn't actually an original idea, so I can't say, 'Oh, "Twilight," they stole it from us,' because when it comes to star-crossed lovers, honestly, who else is she going to love?" Whedon said. "Besides, vampires are sexy.")

In the middle of this fight, in the crossover issue out Wednesday (July 2), Buffy somehow gets transported into the future. Just as she was telling best-friend witch Willow, "I thought we weren't expecting fighty," she's suddenly smack-dab in the middle of a fight with Fray. Fray isn't the first slayer Buffy's fought, but she's the first one she can't understand, thanks to Fray's more devolved slayer slang. ("Lurks," for instance, are vamps.)

"You have to go, 'Talk slowly, and stop hitting me!' " Whedon said. "It takes a moment to get into it. Buffy blames herself for what's happened to the English language, and there's a lot of hubris in that joke. I like to think that adding Y's to words that don't usually have Y's is going to destroy the whole fabric of our society."

Keeping up linguistically is only half the battle, considering all the flying cars buzzing around, off of which Fray hops from one to another as easily as the rest of us cross the street. "This future isn't as simple as it was the first time," Whedon said. "Everything's bleaker. That's the way Karl and I approached it, where we just take it further. New York is a mega New York. You push everything so when you get emotionally to the dark places, everything feels right. Everything feels edgier than in Sunnydale."

So what else is in Buffy's future, as she unravels this and other mysteries in season eight? Whedon and Moline won't say, other than to reveal that younger sister Dawn will be going through even more changes (as a sort of mystical STD she got from sleeping with a thricewise, she's already been a giant, and soon she'll become a centaur). Also, we'll be seeing a naked Willow soon.

"I had my fiancee pose for that one," Moline said of the drawing. "It'll be a nice, special-looking pose."

"It'll be tasteful, unless he does it the way I wrote it," Whedon laughed. Don't assume it's another sex scene with Buffy, but something is about to happen that will rock the Scoobies' world. "Things really start to change after the Fray story arc," Whedon said, "and the next thing we'll be doing is seeing that from various points of view, with stand-alone issues dealing with larger issues of the world of the slayer and Twilight. There's someone in the picture who hasn't been there before, and the trick is, what's the most unexpected, and who's the most obvious and where's the most pain?"

Following that big twist yet to be revealed, there will be an arc with Oz — yes, Willow's ex-boyfriend/werewolf is back — written by Buffyverse alum Jane Espenson. "This is the first time I've said anything about that," Whedon revealed. "It'll be less stand-alone than the Brian K. Vaughan/ Faith one, but he's the central figure." From there, Brad Meltzer and Whedon will wrap up the season with an arc apiece.

As for season nine, "I've already figured out what it is," Whedon teased. But all of that is a long ways away, considering this Fray crossover marks the halfway point of season eight. Funny thing, telling the story issue-by-issue takes a lot longer than he ever dreamed, since he originally thought an issue would equal roughly an episode of television. He's since recalibrated.

"This year turned out very differently than I thought it would," he said. "Luckily Buffy lends itself to a comic book universe more than anything I've ever done. Buffy is a comic book."