Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
If you haven’t been following the drama around the big reveal of the identity of the villain Twilight in Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, here’s a quick rundown on what’s been happening since Thursday. And I promise I’m really not trying to be a smart ass when I say SPOILERS WARNING, just in case you haven’t heard the news or seen any of the numerous covers depicting who exactly Twilight is (It’s nobody from the books/movies of the same name, so let’s just get that joke out of the way, and it’s not Freddie Prinze Jr. either, if you had him in the betting pool) and want to stay in the dark …
Last week Dark Horse released its solicitations for April 2010, and as they popped up around the web on Thursday evening at various sites (and on Friday morning at CBR), a collective “What the hell?’ rang out at Buffy fan sites like Buffyfest and Whedonesque. The two covers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer #34 showed Buffy making out with her former lover Angel (dressed as Twilight) in one, and the two of them clutching each other passionately in the other. The solicitation text read, “Twilight has been unmasked. Buildings fall, oceans churn, and the earth moves as titans come together in a bizarre twist!”
The release of the actual covers, versus versions that didn’t give away Twilight’s identity, was a mistake, Dark Horse editor Scott Allie would say later. He posted an explanation as to what happened over on the Dark Horse web site:
Late Thursday afternoon (January 7), I got an email from Georges saying that a friend of his had called to ask if this spoiler that had leaked was really true — the uncensored covers to Buffy #34 had been released to the internet. I felt like the ground was yanked out from under me. Sierra and I just stared at each other with our mouths open. I called Georges up to confirm, and yeah, this had happened, and it was on the fansites. I don’t mention the fansites to cast blame. The blame is all with us at Dark Horse. We put a lot of energy into containing this secret, and then a colossal error was made. Our first instinct was to figure out how to retract the images that leaked, but the fact that it was on fansites told us the cat was out of the bag. Had it just been Diamond’s website, maybe we could’ve retracted it; but once an image is on the internet, anywhere on the internet, I don’t think you can ever get it back. The fact that it was on multiple sites, including many that we don’t have close relationships with, meant we shouldn’t waste time talking about a retraction.
He said they considered a plan “to try to make it look like this wasn’t really as spoiler,” but decided that was the wrong approach after speaking with Buffy creator Joss Whedon:
Because of which images leaked, and how far they’d spread, Joss felt that there was no putting the cat back in the bag. I misspoke when I told Buffyfest that the pics were posted on the fansites; they were linked with spoiler warnings. The point was, the information was out there. We discussed Dark Horse’s plan to obfuscate, and came up with another more outrageous idea. But ultimately, we both felt it would be wrong if you got this answer by accident and were left to debate it for nearly two more months, with Joss and the rest of us playing cute in interviews, only to have it all pay off with the fact that yes, you had the answer after all. We know that the readership isn’t monolithic, that you’re all going to have different thoughts about something like this, be we knew that in your shoes WE’D feel cheated and manipulated. Joss felt that owning up was the only option, that there are still twists and turns aplenty, and that this spoiler merely opens up a whole other range of questions. You can certainly disagree with the decision, but this is the truth, and this was what we all agreed upon Friday morning, when the Dark Horse team met and hatched a strategy to address this situation head on.
In approaching it head on, though, Allie says they made a mistake in not marking anything as a spoiler for fans who might not have seen the solicits or fan sites (or who purposely avoid them, as many people do). Once the reveal was out there, Dark Horse posted it very openly on Facebook and Twitter, which led to a firestorm of responses from fans — stuff like “Thanks for the freaking spoiler!!! Explain to me why I need to buy it now?” and “Thanks for the spoiler, can you spoil Hellboy next please so I don’t have to buy the issues,” as you can see for yourself at the Facebook link.
CBR soon followed up with an interview with Allie, where he confirmed it was not a ruse, and that they’d been planning for Twilight to be Angel for the last four years. CBR also took some hits from its readers for not only talking about it openly in the story itself without any sort of spoilers warning, but also for including those spoilers in the image and text that were used to link to the story on the home page.
CBR news editor Kiel Phegley posted a comment about CBR’s coverage in the forums:
While I understand that longtime Buffy fans are taken aback by the news, considering both the fact that ALL the images that hit and the new image we received for this story featured Angel prominently and that public discussion and promotion behind the reveal had already started off by discussing the facts of the reveal and not just that it happened (I mean, the Twitter tag they went with is #twilightisangel)…well, with all that on the table when we reached out to Dark Horse for an interview, it only made sense that we’d report on the news as is rather than hide it behind spoiler warnings and such.
I get that you’re angry this hit, but it hit suddenly, and we tried our best to give DH their say on the implications of the reveal without spoiling the particulars of the issues that are coming in the months ahead.
I truly believe that if you’re a Buffy fan who spends any time at all on the internet reading about or discussing the series, this would have been spoiled for you long before the issues in question shipped whether we put the image front and center or not. And because of that, we decided to go with a hook to the story that would bring in as many readers as possible, something I still stand behind.
So that’s one piece of Buffygate, and you’d think that would be enough, wouldn’t you? But it doesn’t end there, as we learned yesterday when Phegley posted a story that included comments from Bill Willingham on the big reveal. Willingham, of course, is writing the Angel comic for IDW Publishing, something Allie talked about with CBR:
One immediate concern fans may have over the news that Angel and Twilight are one and the same is exactly what that means for the character’s own canonical comic book series, which just recently wrapped its “After The Fall” continuation of his spinoff TV series for IDW Publishing. While IDW continue to tell stories with the character under the pen of writer Bill Willingham, Allie promised that Whedon had plans to reconcile both versions to make a cohesive Buffyverse. “I talked to Chris [Ryall] at IDW last night, and I’m going to talk to him today to reassure him that it all connects and it’s all going to jibe. That’s one thing we wanted to reassure him of and to make clear. This isn’t going to be some big conflict with the IDW continuity. It’s all going to be made to work.”
I would like to respond to your article of January 8th, titled BEHIND BUFFY’S TWILIGHT REVEAL, and clear up a few points, making clear that I am speaking only for myself, not IDW or Fox.
Five scripts in, and counting, on IDW’s ongoing Angel comic book series, I am not coordinating, nor have I ever coordinated stories with Scott Allie, Joss Whedon, nor anyone else at Dark Horse Comics. No one at IDW has ever instructed me, or suggested to me, ways in which I might conform my scripts to what is going on with Dark Horse’s Buffy comics, which I’ve purposely not read, specifically to avoid being influenced by them. I’ve had exactly one short conversation, in passing, with Joss Whedon, which took place years ago and had nothing to do with these matters. To my knowledge I’ve never had a conversation with Scott Allie, beyond being introduced to him, at conventions and such, though I doubt even that much contact has occurred. I have however been told, in no uncertain terms, that Mr. Whedon is not available for contact concerning anything to do with the Angel series at IDW, because he is only working with Dark Horse. So I’m not sure how Scott Allie imagines he and Mr. Whedon plan to coordinate IDW’s Angel series into their Buffy series, as is implied in the seventh paragraph of your article.
For Allie to suggest that he is in coordination with IDW, as he did in that seventh paragraph, is grossly misleading, at best. By intentionally allowing, encouraging in fact, the notion to exist among the comics reading public, that Whedon and Dark Horse are in any way steering, or influencing, the stories I help to produce in IDW’s ongoing Angel series, Allie and Whedon are committing what is tantamount to taking credit for the work of others, a repugnant practice in any business, although I understand it is all too common in some.
As long as I am writing the Angel series for IDW, I will not be coordinating stories with any Dark Horse comic, period.
CBR asked Allie to respond, and he said “I haven’t talked to Bill, but I’ve been talking to Chris Ryall, and I think we’re gonna work things out. My line about making the continuities jibe was something I’d said to Chris the night before I did any interviews, and he seemed okay with it. We never intended to go in and screw with what Bill’s doing, though.”
And finally, posted just a few minutes ago, Joss Whedon goes into a lot more detail with CBR on the spoilers, how Dark Horse can use characters like Angel and Spike in their comics, and his involvement with the IDW Angel comics … or lack of, as it turns out.
And I think that’s where we are as of today, although there are a few more links of note if you’re interested in reading further. Rich Johnston speculates in two posts that Dark Horse revealed Angel was Twilight on purpose, in order to help drive sales. Allie said in his post on the Dark Horse site that they created dummy covers for issues 34 and 35 to be used in the Diamond catalog. “When you see the catalog for April-shipping books in a few weeks, you’ll see altered versions of the two #34 covers, spoiler free. If those images had been the ones sent out, as they should have been, none of this would have happened.”
If this was really about driving sales, then wouldn’t the real covers appear in Diamond’s catalog as well, with a big headline aimed at retailers that says “Hey, buy these friggin’ books, Angel is going to be in them!”? The Dark Horse note to retailers that Rich quotes sounds like it was written after all this broke, and sounds to me like maybe they were trying to squeeze out a little lemonade now that the cat is out of the bag. I think Rich is right, though, that the end result will be a bump in sales; I know I was considering dropping the book, but I’ll stay on for a few more months to see how it all plays out. And I have a few Buffy fans in my family who have cooled on the comics, but will likely dig this news.
Speaking of issue 35, over at Splash Page, you can see the two covers for issue #35.
And if you’re interested in the actual storyline that’s led up to this development in the comics themselves, Stinky Burger Productions has a good rundown of Twilight’s appearances in Buffy thus far, as well as some questions about this version of Angel we’ll be seeing in the Buffy comics.