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From the ashes of film, Joss Whedon gave life to `Buffy' on TV. Now, he's turning a new page.

March 04, 2007|Kate Aurthur | Times Staff Writer

WHEN audiences last saw the cast of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in May 2003, Buffy and her friends had won a nearly apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Their hometown of Sunnydale, Calif. -- also known as the Hellmouth -- was a gargantuan pit as a result. After peering into the crater, Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, walked away with a smile, and the television series came to a close after seven seasons.

On March 14, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" will return in comic book form. Joss Whedon, "Buffy's" creator, has written the first five issues and will oversee -- or "executive produce," he says -- the whole arc as if it were a television show. Whedon has enlisted former "Buffy" staff writers, along with a few writers from the comic book world, to join him in continuing the story, which is scheduled to run for at least 30 issues to be released monthly. Whedon, the show's fans and the series' publisher, Dark Horse Comics, have deemed it "Buffy Season Eight."

"When you create a universe, you don't stop living in that universe -- I know a lot of the fans didn't," Whedon said. "But I was surprised to find myself back in it so firmly as well."

It's yet another reinvention for "Buffy," which Whedon turned into a TV series after being disappointed with the results of the frothy 1992 movie, starring Kristy Swanson, that he had written. So, in summary: "Buffy Season Eight" is a comic book run like the television series from which it came, which itself evolved out of a feature film -- a classic evolving specimen for this era of ever-shifting media platforms.

The common element is Whedon, 42, the movie-TV-comics auteur behind "Buffy," "Angel," an "X-Men" comic series, the screenplay of "Toy Story," and the flop television show "Firefly" as well as its movie resurrection, "Serenity." In recent years, he has expressed frustration with both the television and movie businesses, but the less pressure-filled world of comics has been a constant.

Scott Allie, senior managing editor at Dark Horse Comics, knows his company is benefiting from Whedon's urge to create more "Buffy" stories. Excitedly and without hesitation, Allie said, "Oh, it's gonna be huge."

A moderate ratings success on the WB and for its final two seasons on UPN, "Buffy" nevertheless inspired as worshipful a cult as you can find in the pop landscape. It told the sneakily dark coming-of-age story of a young woman who was special, in that she was chosen to save the world from vampire-led evil, but yearned to fit in. Buffy was surrounded by loving friends and family, bad boyfriends, and demons. Her high school was literally hell, she died a couple of times during the series, and as her tombstone once read, "she saved the world -- a lot."

Since the show ended, "Buffy" fans have made do with what was left to them. Across the Internet, the show continues to be parsed: its feminism, its use of language, its influence on current shows such as "Lost," "Heroes" and "Veronica Mars."

More concretely, a public sing-along of the show's musical episode, "Once More With Feeling," has grown so popular that its inventor, a film programmer from Brooklyn, is planning a "Rocky Horror Picture Show"-like national tour. Penguin recently published "The Physics of the Buffyverse," a book in which science writer Jennifer Ouellette explains the principles of physics using examples from "Buffy" and its spinoff, "Angel," which ran from 1999 to 2004.

"It really was like being home again," Whedon said wistfully about returning to "Buffy." " 'Oh, here are my old friends. They're so funny!' You can hear their voices so specifically. It was a comic spoken in the voices of actors you worked with for seven or eight years."

Whedon, interviewed over lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, looks like a ruffled college student. A third-generation television writer, he has a deadpan delivery but affects voices as he talks to illustrate or emphasize important points. "Buffy" was known for its characters' tone and banter, and hearing him is like listening to the show -- making its translation into comics reliant on, or at least greatly enhanced by, a reader's familiarity with the original.

Or, as Jane Espenson, a former writer and co-executive producer of "Buffy" who has signed up for comic book duty, put it: "The voices of those characters are in my head forever and ever. The reason characters talked like that on 'Buffy' is they talked a bit like Joss -- and we all ended up talking like Joss."

Season 8 begins

DARK Horse's Allie said that the voices come through in the comic's dialogue, and the visuals will reward fans. "You don't have cute Sarah Michelle Gellar running around, but you've got good-looking characters and much better-looking monsters."

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