Yesterday, our world was rocked by the revelation that there's a new vampire slayer in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics — and he's a man! A gay man, named Billy. Of course, it turns out that Billy isn't actually a Slayer in the "chosen one" sense — he's just a self-trained badass with no superpowers.
Still, we were curious about how you go about adding this new character to the Buffy legacy. And why a series that's told us for years that "slayer" is a woman's job is adding a gay man, in particular, to that traditionally female role. So we asked writers Jane Espenson and Drew Z. Greenberg, and this is what they told us.
Minor spoilers ahead...
Are you worried that people are going to take a gay male slayer as saying that gay men are necessarily feminine?
Jane Espenson: I certainly hope not! If Billy had been "called" to this task, I guess I can see someone reading that in, however erroneously. But he is a hero, Batman-style, who has taken up this mantle on his own. What we hope people see is that the forces that acted on Buffy in high school aren't specific to females — EVERYONE (masculine, feminine, in between) has their own reason to feel different, excluded, in need of their inner hero. All those kids who watched Buffy and found themselves connecting with her — every one of them needs to be able to see their own value in the world of the larger story!
Drew Z. Greenberg: Gee, I hope not. When we all watch "Small Wonder," should we take it as saying all little girls are robots? (I'm assuming we're all still watching "Small Wonder." We are, aren't we?) Billy is a young man who decides to step up and do the right thing in dire circumstances, and he doesn't really care much about gender roles when he does it. He's doing what needs to be done.
I do think it's interesting, though, that, as a society, we find it so easy to make the leap from this comic-book story to "gay men are necessarily feminine." I have to be honest, I wish we could all try to remember that some gay men ARE feminine, and, by the way, what's wrong with being feminine? Why is that "less than"? Even more importantly, some impressionable boys reading this comic book might be feminine, too, and I think it's important to let them know that there's a place for them in this world. If Billy gives them that reassurance, if Billy reminds them that ANYONE can be a hero (which, by the way, is the original mission statement of BUFFY, isn't it?), then I say yahoo. (Also worth noting: some gay men are masculine. Some little girls are masculine. Some straight men are feminine. There's room for all kinds of qualities in people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and I can't help thinking that kind of diversity is really one of the cool aspects of humanity.)
How does an ordinary person with no superpowers train to become a vampire slayer? Doesn't it require massive upper body strength to stake a vamp?
Espenson: I recommend training with a heavy bag and other equipment that boxers use. You're going to be driving something wooden through bones and stuff, so you are absolutely going to want to work on your arms and overall strength. If you have a friend who can help back you up, that would be ideal. And don't forget to hydrate!
In the Buffy comics, vampires have become reality TV celebrities. How do you drag them back into being bullies or monsters? Will people think Billy is killing the equivalent of the Kardashians?
Espenson: In season nine we have seen everything change, obviously. The rise of the "zompires" has altered the equation. Readers know that these new vamps are brutal, but they are also brainless throwbacks. They don't scheme; they aren't part of the population that gained fame and followers during the run of the season eight comics. In my mind, the fact that they are not intelligent planners is part of what opens up the job description of Slayer.
Greenberg: First of all, I think the Kardashians have suffered enough, let's leave them out of this. But, to your point: the world has changed dramatically in Season 9, and the rise of the so-called "zompires" has created a whole new problem for humanity. Feral, vicious, not smart, but deadly: they're a real threat, and not the kind of personalities that make for good reality-TV celebrities. (Fox News hosts, maybe.)
Given that so many narratives seem to use vampires as a metaphor for gay people (vampires are underground, they're misunderstood, fundamentalists hate them) is it weird to sort of turn vampires into gay-bashers instead?
Greenberg: The beauty of the world Joss created is that it is constantly evolving: the characters grow and change, and so does the world in which they live. That means the metaphors must grow and change, too. So in the era of Season 9, with all magic gone from the world, with a new kind of vampire on the rise, and with Slayers basically out of commission, Billy has a perspective on vampires that other characters in the past might not have had. Once people read the story, my hope is they'll see the world in which Billy lives and understand his reaction to zompires taking over his town and coming after him in that context.
Also, I think it's worth noting that one of my favorite aspects of Joss's world is that it takes the things you know, or think you know, and turns them inside-out, plays on your expectations and subverts them, often a couple times over. For example, yes, vampires have traditionally been glamorous, flamboyant, and more than a little rough trade-ish. But when Joss created Buffy, most of the vampires we met wore street clothes, spoke plain California English (no grand, theatrical accents) (Spike totally doesn't count, he was actually British), and they were a little vulnerable even when they were tearing out your throat. So, hey, this is already a setting that said, "Yeah, our vampires aren't what you've seen in other stories about vampires." Which means, if you think about it, it's not weird at all to play them in this other way. It feels right at home.
Also, Espenson tells us that now that Dark Horse is publishing a comic book of her webseries Husbands, there's a chance for more crossovers and shout-outs between the two worlds. Already, Andrew was wearing a Husbands T-shirt in a recent Buffy comic. "Seriously though, my roots and heart have always been in genre, so the chance to cross Husbands into the science fiction world — whether or not they meet Buffy — was dreamy for me," says Espenson. "And I could seriously see Cheeks staking the heck out of a vampire, should the occasion demand it."