The editor of the Buffy comics at Dark Horse, Scott Allie, recently did an interview about Angel+Faith #5. It included this exchange:
AndrewCrossett: I have a question about the "zompires" and the mechanics by which they are created. In Buffy #3, Willow says "When someone becomes a vampire, a demon possesses their dead body. But without the Seed, demons can't pass into this world. The demon has to possess the vampire's body from another dimension." I took the last sentence to be Willow clarifying that [...]
So, could you clarify the real explanation behind the zompires (at least insofar as the characters understand it at this point)?
Scott: [...] This season has also led to a lot of conversation about the metaphysics of the demon/vampire/human connection, and we have some varying theories. Joss doesn't want it nailed down in a scientific kind of way, so we try to make sure that what we do loosely works within a few differing ideas for the metaphysics of it. We think that giving the readers something to ponder in terms of the nature of these characters is more interesting than explaining it. [my emphasis --wa.]
I once referred to Allie as a 'glorified project manager' rubber-stamping Whedon's scripts and getting a shitload of free publicity for what seemed to be other people's work, and that was unfair and small-minded of me. He did write the second most incoherent arc of Buffy Season 8, so he has more to apologize for than enjoying secondhand Whedon publicity; but it was still a totally inappropriate comment which embarrasses me greatly.
But this answer is straight amateur-hour bullshit -- a writerly failing rather than a publicity-tour faux pas -- and he's made this mistake often enough that I'm starting to get embarrassed for him too.
Ambiguity is not ambivalence. (Cognate: complication is not complexity.) How many times must I and everyone else with half a brain say it? Incoherent plots are not the same as complex thematics; multiple explanations for a plot device are not the same as multiple moral frames for a story. JESUS CHRIST!
If you can't make 'there's a demon inside you and it wars with your human self for control over your actions' resonant without making a half-assed mystery out of the logistics because you can't be bothered to finish building the world your employers licensed, you're in the wrong business. Whedon handwaves his metaphysics all the time; he's infamous for it, in fact. But he never handwaves the meanings of his stories; he never misunderstands 'open to interpretation' as 'we don't have to work out super basic plot details.' Simple plots, complex stories. That's Joss's strong suit.
Y'know where the Dark Horse Buffy comics went badly off the rails last year? When the story called for one of Whedon's patented 'here's the big unbelievably-thematically-freighted plot cliché which we'll spend the rest of the story complicating' moments (Glory is a god, Buffy curses Angel, Buffy 'came back wrong,' Faith 'turns evil'), and the best the writing staff could do -- unbelievably -- was 'the universe did it; it's fate.' (I can't even bear to explain what this means; just typing out that offensive shit will lower my IQ by a good 30 points.) It felt like Whedon simply let the story get away from him for the rest of Season 8 -- indeed, in interviews he's given the impression that the offending plot-shit wasn't actually his idea, though he's justly taken the blame for the comic's incoherence.
That was an example of complication, rather than complexity, of storytelling weighing down the tale. Instead of making a clear, strong plot choice for the audience to interpret however it liked, Whedon/Allie/Meltzer made a half-assed plot choice without really committing to it, which robbed the rest of the season of almost every drop of its moral weight. As a result, what should've been one of the most tragic events in the 14-year(!) Buffy story made absolutely no sense -- and was robbed of so much of its impact -- in Allie's telling of it.
Too much plot 'cleverness,' too much business, not enough story. That ended up being the unexpected problem with Season 8. And this 'zompires' silliness sure seems to be more of the same. Joss is partly to blame, yes. But the TV series sure didn't have this problem...
As much as anything, my frustration here comes from the knowledge that -- perhaps, perhaps -- the Buffyverse is running out of steam again, because it's once again lost its prime mover. Season 4 of the original show was an enjoyable mess, a recovery period during which the writers searched for a way to write the Scooby Gang, who had been clearly written as unjustly burdened adolescents through the show's first three years, as adults. Whedon had planned to tell 'high school is hell' stories on Buffy, and the show had to shift gears, somewhat uncomfortably, before it could become a story about accepting the selflessness and entry into real community that so much constitute adulthood. (Marti Noxon's knack for depicting burgeoning eroticism and heartbreak helped the show move into its triumphant second season, and she was instrumental in guiding the series through seasons 5-7.)
The last three seasons of the show were explicitly about the deepest nature of the Slayer (mythos and character), but they were even more about the expansion and overflow of personal and group identity: Buffy joins the world, main characters drift apart and reconstitute themselves, families grow and are reimagined (remember the episode 'Family'!), destinies are grappled with and ultimately rejected, and private moralities are explored in a grey zone way way way beyond the simple 'Slayer good, demons bad' rules of the early episodes and seasons. The finale of the TV series showed Buffy simply blowing up the entire premise of the show -- the Slayer mythology itself -- and in the process giving away her birthright...so as to become a whole person, without it. ('Cookies,' in the parlance of the series finale.) The story had come to a natural ending and exhausted itself.
Then the comic began. And suddenly Buffy was...a supporting character in her own book. The mythos came back in the clumsiest way imaginable: a plot as old as the universe, by which a Slayer/supervillain teamup was preordained so as to bring into existence a magicless world and...oh fuck it, it's still too stupid; the point is, the nature of the Slayer was trivialized instead of deepened by the 'Twilight' plot. The comic was burdened, in the end, by a lot of conspiratorial gobbledygook, which wasn't enough to hide the fact that the story -- the characters, their development, the play of actual human desire -- had been lost.
I have no idea whether 'Season 9' will be any good. But it's clear from the first couple of issues that one of Whedon's key storytelling ingredients -- a dead-simple premise which ramifies and signifies in an ever-expanding assortment of (usually painful) ways -- is still missing, or deeply buried in plot mess. 'Magic has left the world' just doesn't feel personal; the 'Twilight' thing still doesn't make sense to me; Spike flying around with a spaceship full of bugs feels like a bad joke; the Xander/Dawn pairing isn't desperately necessary (it's just...limp). It's all business.
That's a sign of a faltering story: business. (For a show consisting entirely, solely of business, see Lost or the laster seasons of Galactica -- two promising shows that crawled right up their own respective assholes double quick.)
Or maybe the problem is I just don't care about comics anymore. 20 pages a month? Are you kidding me? Give me Dave Sim or BKV or even 100 Bullets, but it's just not working for Buffy. Or rather, for me. I'm the problem.