Credit: Inset: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Image Credit: Dark Horse; Inset: Michael Buckner/Getty ImagesThe acclaimed (oc)cult TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air in 2003 after seven seasons. But for nearly four years, Buffy’s story has lived on in creator Joss Whedon’s “Season 8” comic book series, which finishes its 40-issue run today. Whoa, boy, did things go down. (WARNING: Some big time spoilers follow, for both “Season 8” and the impending “Season 9.” Consider yourself warned now.) Over the course of the “season,” Buffy became a god, battled (and boinked) her ex Angel, and watched him kill her mentor Giles. And then she effectively destroyed the seed of all magic on earth. Issue No. 40 deals with the aftermath, and — as Whedon makes clear in his exclusive Q&A with EW — it also gives some pointed hints for what to expect in Buffy “Season 9.” Whedon also talks about his new comic series about Angel with publisher Dark Horse, some of his controversial plot turns in “Season 8” — Buffy goes lesbian? Xander and Dawn get domestic? — and what actor Anthony Stewart Head’s reaction was when Whedon told him his character Rupert Giles was going to bite the big one.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So no more magic, huh?

JOSS WHEDON: [Chuckles] Well, let’s not use hyperbole. No more magic in the sense of not so much entirely convenient magic. I wanted to play with the idea of the world dimming a little bit. Possibly because that’s how I feel about it, or at least this country in the last 10 years. And I wanted to do a little bit of a reset, where things seem more back down to earth. I got very excited when I had a comic book with the idea that I could do absolutely anything. We hit a lot of beautiful notes and I’ve got a lot of great writers working [on the comics], and I’m very proud of it. But at the same time, it’s like, yeah, “You can do anything” is not really the Buffy mission statement. The Buffy mission statement is, “What does this feel like?” So I wanted to bounce it back a little bit to the real world.

Issue No. 40 is clearly setting up Season 9, and makes it seem like it is going to be far more human-scaled.

It will be more like the television show. With the comic, we just sort of said, “Wheee!” Ultimately, “Wheee!” caught up with us in a cavalcade of mythology. It became clear, as it did with the show, that people really liked when Buffy’s adventures reflect what she’s going through in her life [and] what we’re going through in our lives at that age. That was the thing in season 8 that we didn’t tap into as much as I think we ultimately should have.

You did seem to touch on that idea when you, essentially, made Buffy a god with her own idyllic world, and she pretty much rejected it right off the bat.

Yeah. I feel like we’re true to the characters. It was just that very basic mission statement of, “You know what, I’m going through this, too.” Not a lot of people are leading armies. Buffy, part of her charm is that the fact that, outside the mystical world, she was nobody. And it was interesting to put her in that power position and to play on that grand scale. But ultimately, I think the fans more enjoy her when she is the little underdog and not the little overlord.

Not that anybody who’s a Buffy fan should be that shocked that you did this at this point, but Joss, you killed Giles.

Yeah, I did. I did. I have several reasons for that, some of which I can’t reveal because ripples from that event are going to be a part of both [the Buffy “Season 9” comic and the new Angel comic]. Part of it was really just feeling that Giles’ place in the comic book did not sit the way it did in the show. To have this paternal, expositional guy there — it wasn’t really something that played in the comics the way it did when Tony Head [i.e. actor Anthony Stewart Head] does it. I wanted to make all this matter and have something that would send emotional ripples through all the characters. Also, I’m a prick. But I did tell Tony it was going to happen before it did. At first he said, “Oooh,” a little worried. Then I said, “Angel’s gonna kill you.” He said, all excited, “Oooh! That’s great!” [Laughs]

Perhaps the other most controversial choice you made was to enter Buffy into a lesbian relationship. For some fans, that did seem to come oddly out of left field.

You know, I didn’t hear any real objection to that. But I don’t go trolling on websites for people that don’t like me. I’m very fragile, like an egg. We had talked about the idea of Buffy having a lesbian fling as one of the things that does actually reflect where she is in her life, if you consider the events in “Season 8” to be her college experience. It’s that time in your life where that might happen. We just slammed right into it with a splash page, instead of tenuously inching towards it. And that was largely [writer] Drew Goddard’s call. He said, “You know what? It would obvious to start building toward this, and then seeing that play out, how that would be. I think in a lot of these situations, it just kind of happens, and then you deal with it.” It’s more interesting and it gives us a better opportunity to face the reality of a situation like that.

You also had Xander and Dawn ultimately become a romantic item, and you outed vampires to the world. It seems like you wanted to advance the story in a really meaningful, significant way on a lot of fronts.

You can’t just sit around and spin your wheel with these guys. The show lasted on the idea that people are constantly changing. What makes them interesting? So, is Willow destined to go dark? How is that future going to unfold? Who is in love with whom? Who can’t be with whom? That’s part of what makes their interaction rich. It’s not just, “We’re clever and funny, the murder is solved.” It’s just not the way I write. It was still very clear to me that Xander and Dawn were going to end up together by the very start [of Season 8]. And actually, I was surprised that anybody was surprised. All their interactions were so tight, and occasionally weirdly physical. It was all pointing there. He tried to have a relationship with somebody else, but some prick killed her.

You mentioned earlier about getting into a bit of trouble thanks to the freedom that comic books afforded you. But what was your favorite “We could never do this on the TV show” moment?

I gotta go with giant Dawn. I loved giant Dawn so much, absolutely more than the readers, but I didn’t care. The idea that Dawn becomes a giant and all the permutations of that, some of which we didn’t even get to do, that was such a delight for me. It just absolutely fit in the universe. It was the right kind of problem for Dawn to have.

On the penultimate page of issue No. 40, there’s a guy in John Lennon glasses who looks fairly evil. Am I right in thinking he’s new? Or am I just not remembering him from season 8?

He’s a new guy. I can’t tell you about him. But you are not wrong to say you don’t remember him, because he has not appeared yet. He has yet to come.

In the Fray storyline from “Season 8” — in which Buffy got sucked into the world of your spin-off comic about a slayer living far into the future — we met Dark Willow again, and we seem to be heading in that direction the way we left Willow at the end of “Season 8.”

Well, maybe. It’s a question we’re holding out there right now: Is that her destiny? Can she get her powers back? This idea of magic being taken out of the world — that’s going to be her personal obsession and will result in a miniseries. She can have center stage for a while. Whether or not that means that’ll send her to become the evil Fray’d version of herself is something we’re going to dangle.

Finally, all due respect to the amazing artists who drew the comic and did the covers, but do you ever miss having the actors to bring these stories to life?

I do. Particularly, as I said before, in the case of Giles. Tony has this cool sexuality that just doesn’t come on the page when he’s saying, [in a British accent] “Oh, this book says blah blah blah.” It’s hard to capture some of the stuff that the actors bring. Tony is astonishing. I can’t speak highly enough of how artist Georges Jeanty captured their likenesses, but still made it look like a comic book and not like balloon heads on hastily drawn panels. And the way he captured Buffy was really lovely. But yeah, you hear [the characters] so well, sometimes it’s like they’re there. It is frustrating at times. You’re like, “Why can’t they just be there? Let’s get the whole gang back together again.”

For more on Joss Whedon and the future of the Buffyverse — including how Whedon really feels about the recently announced plans for a Buffy reboot movie without his involvement — check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday, Jan. 21.

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