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After Joss Whedon's cult favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air in 2003, that didn't mean the end for the "Buffyverse," as it's know. No, Season 8 took up with the Buffy comics, published by Dark Horse Comics, and a series of graphic novels and comics have explored the history of the Slayer line. Needless to say, it has had a healthy fanbase that has continued to follow the slayers as they battle vampires and all sorts of otherworldly creatures. Now, Season 9 has a new plot twist and character: Billy, the first male slayer. Oh, and he happens to like guys.
If you know the mythology of the Buffyverse, then you know only women can be "called" (chosen by fate) to be a Slayer, so how is it that a gay boy is getting a chance?
Jane Espenson, who has been involved with Buffyverse for quite some time--working as a writer and producer on the television show and co-writing several comic book stories for Tales of the Slayers, Tales of the Vampires, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight--has collaborated with Drew Greenberg on this project. With the news last week that she was also working on a digital comic based on Husbands, we wondered, Why Billy, and why now?
"Billy actually predated the idea of doing a Husbandscomic," Espenson explains. "I already knew Cheeks, and he has a line in Season 1 of Husbands, that Brad [Bell] wrote, that really struck me about how Cheeks has an "exotic femininity" that's equated with weakness. I thought, Gee, all the work we've done with Buffy is about being female, and how that doesn't mean that you are lesser. It suddenly struck me: If being feminine doesn't mean that your'e lesser, then liking guys also doesn't mean you're lesser. For very good reason, we've focused on the female empowerment part of Buffy, but I wondered, Did we leave something out? What if someone in high school is looking up to Buffy as a role model, and we're saying: You can't be a Slayer."
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But doesn't the mythology dictate that only young women can be a Slayer, you might wonder?
As Espenson explains: "Batman doesn't have super powers. He wasn't gifted with an exotic foreign birth. So we take the Batman route; Billy is earning the Slayer mantle."
Fans may recall that Espenson and Greenberg worked together on the Buffy television show from Season 6 through Season 7, but this is the first time they've collaborated on a comic together. Greenberg says that Billy is about a young man who finds strength by standing up to vampires (a metaphor for bullies?) and defining who he is going to be rather than letting others tell him who he should be.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 9 #14 (variant cover by Georges Jeanty):
"Billy is someone who sees a need in his hometown and steps up to fill the void, even at great personal risk," says Greenberg. "He may not have the actual powers of the Slayers, but he's determined to be his own kind of hero, one who's sort of modeled after those who do have the power, and he sets out to make due with what he has. In the process, I think he hopes to follow the lead of all the strong, powerful Slayers who came before him and live up to the standard they set."
Greenberg admits that while working on Buffy together, they talked a lot about introducing a gay character to the television show.
"A typical conversation would go something like...
DREW: Maybe Buffy meets a gay demon hunter!
JANE: Why would anyone hunt gay demons??
(Long pause as I glare at her)
JANE: Have I used that one before?"
"But, yes, Jane and I certainly talked a lot about the metaphor of feeling powerless in a place overrun with people who, if you let them, could end up sucking the life out of you, and what it means to be someone who stands up and says, 'I want to make a difference in my life. And if I can make a difference in my life, maybe I'll be making a difference in others' lives, too.' "
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Espenson is not overly concerned about the critics who have said that the inclusion of gay characters into comic books lately--namely Kevin Keller in Archie and the wedding of Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle in X-Men--is just a cheap ploy for new readers.
"We're hardly pandering when we make a comic book," Espenson says. "There's always growing pains when making progress, but I think cycnicism in the face of inclusion may not be a profitable route in making progress."
Greenberg hopes that fans won't be confused by the introduction of a male Slayer--"It's a very honest, very sweet story (well, a sweet story with a fair amount of death and mayhem, but still sweet!) about a young man who wants to be a hero"--and thinks it's something that fans can relate to. Plus, Greenberg thinks it's a positive way of empowering young gay men.
"I have no problem telling a story about a boy who's always felt more comfortable identifying with what society tells him is more of a feminine role. So much crap gets heaped upon us as gay men -- crap from straight people and, frankly, crap from other gay people -- about how it's important to be masculine in this world, how your value is determined by your ability to fit into masculine norms prescribed by heterosexual society and, sadly, co-opted by gay society as a way to further disenfranchise and bully those who don't meet those norms," Greenberg says. "And those attitudes are a reflection of not just our own internalized homophobia, but of our misogyny, too, and that's something I've never understood. So if this is a story that causes people to examine traditional gender roles and think of them as something more fluid, I'm thrilled."
It turns out that the story doesn't revolve around just one gay character but two. And, as Greenberg adds: "I hope people read this and, in the grand Buffy tradition of seeing archetypes in entirely new roles, realize what I've known for years: That nerds are totally hot."