Thursday, December 10, 2009

Angel #28 Countdown: Mariah Huehner Interview Part One

As we count down the days to December 16th and the relaunch of the Angel series at IDW, I had the good fortune to do a host of interviews with the creative team behind it. While I love talking about what's to come, my favorite thing to do is really dig in deep and find out what people love about the characters and the stories before they get creative control. Mariah Huehner, editor for the upcoming arc, and I had an epic IM interview where we talked about everything we love about Angel and co. We talked so much that I've split the interview in two just so you don't get overwhelmed. Enough of my yammering. To the interview!

Buffyfest: Fancy meeting you here.

Mariah Huehner: Hi!

Buffyfest: How goes it?

Mariah Huehner: Not too bad. Looking at a proof of Angel #29, actually.

Buffyfest: Nice! How's it look?

Mariah Huehner: Pretty fantastic. Getting in the bigger narrative, fun character moments, etc. I'm enjoying working on it. Partly out of a very fannish "squee!" factor, but also because, obviously, I love a good story.

Buffyfest: I can't even imagine. Brian [Lynch] and I used to talk about how exciting but daunting it is to write for a character you've been a fan of.

Mariah Huehner: Well, there's definitely more anxiety around it and I tend to be concerned with maintaining with continuity and character integrity, without stifling the team. Editors generally get the lion's share of the blame if someone doesn't like something, so, I've learned to live with that.

Buffyfest: I think fans have a tendency to spread the blame around but, you're right, as an editor I think the buck does ultimately stop with you. I sometimes wondered how Chris [Ryall] dealt with the continuity and canon related backlash that came from the whole Dark Horse vs. IDW situation. Do you find yourself thinking about that now that you're taking charge at all?

Mariah Huehner: I honestly try not to think about it. I mean, like it or not, the editor is responsible for greenlighting any content in a book. So, while I certainly don't want to upset fans, I also want to make sure we tell the best story possible.

Buffyfest: Was there anything either of the Bills [Williams or Willingham] proposed that you rejected?

Mariah Huehner: Thankfully, they both came into it knowing the show, and already having a really great sense of the characters and where they needed to go. We've had a lot of awesomely nerdy conversations about why so and so does what, where they're going, what would be funny, what needs to be explored, etc. By the time we were talking about the details of the story lines, it was more about making everything fit than needing to throw anything out.

Buffyfest: Did you ever consider starting the numbering of the comics over again since you had a whole new team involved?

Mariah Huehner: I'm not sure if that was discussed before I came on board, but I think we wanted to make sure the fans knew this was on-going. So they could feel safe getting invested.

Buffyfest: Tell me the story of how you took over for Chris.

Mariah Huehner: Well, I'd been here for awhile, working on collected editions. I'd let it slip a few times that I'm a Whedon fan, and that I was really interested in how they were handling "Season 6" in the comics. It may or may not have involved some really geeky conversations about themes in Angel, and commiserating on the galvanizing episode, "A Hole in the World". Chris asked if I had any interest in assistant editing on some of the Angel books, which of course I said yes to. Then Bill Willingham came up as a potential writer for the new storyline, and Chris knew I'd worked with him on "Fables". That was pretty much it. When Bill came on board, it was like we hadn't stopped working together, and I just sort of transitioned into being the editor for this series. Chris still works on plenty of Angel titles, of course, and he's a huge help on this one too.

Buffyfest: That's awesome. So you'll be handling the main Angel ongoing, you have been editing Scott Lobdell's Only Human mini, and Brian mentioned you'd be editing his Spike book next year. Is that everything you're working on?

Mariah Huehner: That I can announce, yeah. Although working on Brian's Spike series is something that hasn't been made official. I hope to, though. Brian's so much fun.

Buffyfest: He really is and he's passionate about telling a story that will satisfy fans. He's kind of happened into becoming the voice of Spike.

Mariah Huehner: Well, he really "gets" Spike, I think, on a fundamental level which is harder than people might think. Spike isn't as broody as Angel, but he's got some interesting layers going on.

Buffyfest: I think getting his own story was way overdue. It always felt like he was vying for attention in someone else's series

Mariah Huehner: Which he sort of is, really. He's always second fiddle to Angel, because of the Shanshu. Although Spike's motives as a "hero" are less ambivalent than Angel's, which I find interesting.

Buffyfest: What do you think motivates Spike to be the hero?

Mariah Huehner: Earning his soul, I think. He didn't have it forced on him, he fought for it. Even when he was evil, he sought it out.

Buffyfest: Do you think he feels that he always has to be earning it? That he has to fight for justice or else what's the point of having gotten the soul at all?

Mariah Huehner: Sometimes. But I also think Spike, once he got over the crazy basement phase, understood that he'd chosen this, so he had to live up to it. He doesn't dwell on it the way Angel does.

Buffyfest: Is he still fighting for the love of that blonde girl with the wooden, pointy thing who shall not be named?

Mariah Huehner: Probably yes and no. I'm sure some part of him will always be fighting for her, because that's Spike. He's a fighter. He doesn't know how to quit but I also don't think doing the "right" thing is all that difficult for him. Just like being evil wasn't when he had no soul.

Buffyfest: You talked a bit on your journal about the ups and downs of the Twilight fandom and one of the big downsides was the normalizing of the abusive and unhealthy relationship between the protagonists. Is there a big difference between that and the relationship that Spike had with Buffy. What about Angel and Buffy? We saw a lot of unhealthy stuff in both of those pairings. What's the difference? Is there one?

Mariah Huehner: Well, Buffy is a supe. Things that apply to "normal" or regular girl characters don't with her. Plus, it's pretty clear every time Angel or Spike do anything negative towards Buffy that's it not okay. Or vice versa, really. The Buffy/Spike relationship in particular was all about self-destruction through sex. It was sort of mutually abusive, and I never got the impression that it was supposed to seem in any way good.

Buffyfest: I agree with you but I know that many people wouldn't.

Mariah Huehner: Sure, and I can see why. A lot of what's great about the Whedonverse is that interpretation is largely encouraged. It doesn't shy away from being difficult or challenging to assumptions.

Buffyfest: Maybe that's another difference between those relationships and the ones in Twilight. There seems to be an openness and an honesty in what's happening even though there's a lot of gray area. I don't know that Edward and Bella have that kind of depth.

Mariah Huehner: I think it's also the difference between portraying something and advocating it. You can portray abusive relationships in a nuanced and gray way, but just the act of portraying it doesn't mean you're encouraging it or saying, hey, that's a great idea. With Twilight, it seems to be suggesting that this is love and that it's okay in some way.

Buffyfest: Right. I want to bring this idea of telling complicated narratives that portray choices and relationships that are very gray area back to the Angel comic. What kind of issues are our heroes going to be dealing with in this upcoming arc?

Mariah Huehner: A lot of the next arc will focus on Connor and Angel and trying to figure out their relationship. They're not the most demonstrative father/son team and Connor has a lot to learn about being a champion. During the Hell Moment was one thing, but being part of Angel Investigations is something else. We start out with Angel being mysteriously missing, so Connor steps up. And quickly learns that doing what Angel does is not easy or simple at all.

Buffyfest: The right way to handle these extraordinary situations is not so black and white.

Mariah Huehner: Nope. Angel makes it look easy, but when you're dealing with so many other personalities, you really start to see why Angel needs to be a leader and why that's such a heavy burden sometimes.

Buffyfest: Will wee see Connor make mistakes?

Mariah Huehner: Boy, will we. When you think about it, there's so much they all have to adjust to. There was something simpler about the Hell Moment. It was pretty obvious what they had to do in terms of fighting, helping, and defeating evil. Now you've got L.A. back to "normal" and everyone remembers what happened. Only it technically didn't.

Buffyfest: Seems like the lines between right and wrong came into sharp focus in Hell but, now that they're out, the lines are blurrier than ever.

Mariah Huehner: Exactly. There's the whole Super Famous Heroes thing to deal with, too. L.A. is pretty celebrity obsessed as it is.

Buffyfest: Right. And there's this subplot of Angel being forced to turn people into vampires which opens up so many issues. We've seen how people with souls can act pretty savagely. It's almost like the lines between monsters and humanity have blurred too.

Mariah Huehner: Absolutely. Which has always been an interesting concept in that world. There's also some really fun Spike/Gunn stuff coming up, and Illyria will be playing a significant role in dealing with Angel going missing.

Buffyfest: How are those relationships. Spike and Illyria had an intense relationship in the Hell Moment and, in the here and now, Gunn and Illyria have gotten close. What will those relationships look like as we begin this arc?

Mariah Huehner: Even though Illyria hs been getting closer to some of the other people in the team, she still has a fundamental disconnect about what it means to be human and she really doesn't get emotions at all.

Buffyfest: She's kind of like Evil Spock.

Mariah Huehner: A bit. And she's almost sexless, too. Or beyond it.

Buffyfest: So no more kisses between her and Spike (or anyone else for that matter)?

Mariah Huehner: Well, I won't go that far, but she's definitely not going to be the "hot chick" anytime soon.

Buffyfest: She's definitely "awkward" personified, that's for sure. Does anyone in that group not feel like the odd man out? The team isn't very team-like these days.

Mariah Huehner: I think they're all kind of struggling with that, how to get back to that place. Most of these characters have gone through some pretty traumatic stuff during AtF and it's going to take awhile for them to really get it together.

Buffyfest: Is there a way to get back to where they were or do they just have to move forward and hope for the best?

Mariah Huehner: I think they have to move forward. Too many things have happened, too many consequences. Too much loss.

Buffyfest: Angel has a line in "Aftermath" and I'm going to actually quote it since I pulled out the book. "I've redeemed my past and am coming to terms with my possibly uncertain future." More than any either part of that arc, that was the thing people zeroed in on so I'm going to ask your opinion: do you think Angel has redeemed himself?

Mariah Huehner: I would say that he can't really redeem himself. He might be able to reconcile it, and work at it, which is sort of his pathos...always striving. Being good doesn't come easily or naturally to Angel so, maybe he thought he had for awhile...but really, he can't ever be non-vigilant about that part of him. The part of him that's been evil. Plus, his story is, to me, less about redemption as it is about fighting the good fight no matter what. Even when you don't want to. Even when it's hard. Even when there are terrible sacrifices. Redemption would be nice, but I don't know that, deep down, he thinks that can happen. Being good now doesn't change anything he did. There's no, save one life, make up for killing another, equation.

Buffyfest: Do you think it's good for Angel to work with others even though anyone who gets close to him winds up being emotionally and physically damaged, dead, or irredeemable (sometimes all three)?

Mariah Huehner: I think it's the only thing that keeps him honest. Even though tragedy tends to follow him around, without other people, I suspect he'd revert back to the way he was just after he was ensoulled. Eventually, anyway.

Buffyfest: Do you think he could ever commit horrible atrocities even with his soul if ever he lost everything that ever mattered to him? Can Angel be even worse than Angelus?

Mariah Huehner: I think that's what he struggles with. He wasn't a particularly stellar human, but he wasn't evil, either. I think the whole conundrum with the Shanshu is that in the right circumstances, with the right amount of despair, Angel can do some less than great things even with a soul.

Buffyfest: Do you think you could tell a story where he totally crosses the line while still having the soul and still redeem him enough by the end of it to bring him back to hero status?

Mariah Huehner: Good question. I'm really not sure. I'd like to think it would take a lot to get him to that place. Something worse than the Apocalypse, probably.

Buffyfest: He'd have to lose everything. For a loner, he's got a lot to lose.

Mariah Huehner: He's been pushed before. Losing Cordelia and Fred were what snapped him out of the Wolfram & Hart ends justifies the means haze...and Connor's death let him see how to get out of the Hell Moment.

Buffyfest: Sometimes that loss spurns him to do the right thing against impossible odds.

Mariah Huehner: I think sometimes loss is the only way we truly see what something is costing us. Angel has a tendency to be really self-involved, and that's been disastrous at times.

Buffyfest: He's surprisingly human that way. Let's talk favorites. What were your favorite episodes of Angel?

Mariah Huehner: "A Hole in World" is, without a doubt, my favorite. Which sounds incredibly morbid, I know. "Not Fade Away" is also way up there.

Buffyfest: Was Fred one of your favorite characters?

Mariah Huehner: My favorite, really. Her character arc is really impressive.

Buffyfest: How did you feel about Illyria during that last act of Season five?
Mariah Huehner: Sort of a weird love/hate thing. She's fascinating as a character. Something that old, that vast, that completely inhuman now trapped inside this much less powerful body. Adjusting to a world that's completely and entirely alien.

Buffyfest: I want to go back to Fred. I'm curious what it was about her specifically that made you so attached to her. Did you identify with her at all?

Mariah Huehner: A lot, although we're not necessarily all that alike. Some of it is just that she's so...normal and she's the only one who retains a sense of conscience. Although she certainly deals with the W&H thing, she's not really seduced by it the same way.

Buffyfest: Do you think her connection to her own ethics and to humanity is rooted in the fact that she's the only character who still has a positive relationship with her parents?

Mariah Huehner: Definitely. Having that relationship is what kept her from being any more crazy in Lorne's world and I think it's what makes her vital to the team in a lot of ways. She had a consistency of heart.

Buffyfest: Will we see anyone take up that role in the new team?

Mariah Huehner: It's hard to say. That type of character is pretty unique, and we've come to a point where everyone is pretty damaged and unsure of themselves in certain ways. Part of the reason Fred sort of had to be the character that died, is because that kind of...uncomplicated goodness is such an easy target. Her dying mattered in a way a more "gray" character wouldn't have. So it's tough to say who could fill that role again.

Buffyfest: Does Kate have any of that in her or is she just as damaged as the rest of them?

Mariah Huehner: I think she might, but after AtF and even being a former cop, she's probably seen a lot of uglier things than even demons can manage. I don't know that that means that she doesn't have heart, but probably not in quite the "pure" way as Fred.

Buffyfest: The team is pretty big, come to think of it. Are they all going to make it out of this next arc alive?

Mariah Huehner: Ha! You know I can't give that away. But who knows? Whedon never had a problem killing folks off.

Buffyfest: Speaking of dead characters: do you think it's best to move forward and leave characters like Wes and Cordy out of the narrative from now on or can you still make them a part of the current storyline in a meaningful way without sullying what came before?

Mariah Huehner: I think it's important to know when characters are gone. Even though it's fiction, endlessly resurrecting characters feels like a cheat to me, and lessens the impact of their loss. I think this particular universe has always been really careful about that. Resurrections always come with major consequences and some deaths are final.

Buffyfest: Do you think Wes's death is final at this point?

Mariah Huehner: I do. I think he's done everything he can and he should get to rest. I loved that character a lot, another great arc, but without Fred, I don't think there's a lot for him. He helped Angel in AtF, he had his moment, isn't the right word, but I respect the idea that some love is not diminished. Like sometimes someone really won't move on.

Buffyfest: Wes had that final moment. In a way he gets a satisfying end because he and his friend get to work hand in hand one last time to save the world before he walks off into the sunset. That's about as good as it's ever gonna get for him without Fred.

Mariah Huehner: Pretty much. I believe really strongly in endings.

Buffyfest: Me too. In an ideal world, how does Angel's story end?

Mariah Huehner: Oooh, now there's a question. Since so much of his narrative is about the good fight never really ending. I mean, he should get an ending...he deserves one but I'm not sure it's "and he lived happily ever after with the woman he loves". Because A. boring! but also B. the good fight really can't end.

Buffyfest: He has to die sometime. This was something Bill Willingham talked about when he said he wouldn't have written this story at all if someone hadn't already started it. The ending on the show was so perfect

Mariah Huehner: I feel like a bit of a cad, but I agree. Even though I think there clearly are more stories to tell, that's still the only way I can see it ending. On Angel heading out and fighting. There's something really powerful about that.

Buffyfest: Part of me will always imagine Angel and Buffy together in the end though but that's a personal preference. Maybe that would be fair: another ending where he's fighting but she's at his side. Too cheesy?

Mariah Huehner: No, I think both those characters deserve that. I don't know that heroes always get what they actually deserve, but they should.

Buffyfest: What do you think it is about Angel and his story that is so universal that it continues to connect with people in such a deep and powerful way? Is it just the tragedy of it all or is there something more?

Mariah Huehner: Oh, there's definitely more.Redemption stories are, I think, universally appealing, surmounting great odds. Plus, I think we have a deep fascination with immortality.

Buffyfest: We do. I've heard it argued that we need the reminder of our own inevitable death to make life worth living but I wonder, if we were immortal, wouldn't we keep finding a reason to keep going? Angel has.

Mariah Huehner: Well, I think we're sort of intrigued/horrified/envious of the idea of immortality because imagining it is as close as we're going to get to it. So we project. It would be a terrible burden. It would be worthwhile. We could do so much good. We'd lose everyone we love.

Buffyfest: If you could take Angel (or any other character in his universe) and team him up with/pit him against any other established character, who would they be and why? Bonus points if you choose another immortal

Mariah Huehner: Any other established character ever? Hm. Well, I'm a Tolkien dork, so I'd probably love to see Angel team up with Gandalf sometimes. The conversations alone would be worth it. Angel could be broody, Gandalf could be bristly.

Buffyfest: Will there be hobbits?

Mariah Huehner: Though I love some hobbits, probably not. But maybe Death from the Discworld novels.

Buffyfest: Here, I was just going to team Angel up with the titular immortal from Doctor Who because, if there's anything more dangerous than immortality, it's time travel.

Mariah Huehner: That's a pretty swell team up, too: Angel in Space.

Buffyfest: Now, for the most important question of all. You’re in a demon karaoke bar seeking guidance: what song do you sing and what are you drinking to build up your courage to get on stage?

Mariah Huehner: Well, I'm a light probably something really boring like red wine. Although lately I've wanted to try an Old Fashioned. As for singing, that's a tough one. I nearly checked my ipod. "Feelin' Good" by Nina Simone, I think. You know who'd be great in a Whedonverse karaoke off? Lorne and Sweet.

Buffyfest: Oh my God. I think a million fanfictions were just born.

Mariah Huehner: They probably already exist. I doubt I could think of any combo that someone else hasn't first. And probably slashed.

Buffyfest: Oh, for pete's sake. Yes, and furries are probably involved. Also: some dude gets impregnated somehow. Oh, internet...

Mariah Huehner: It's a fun, fun, fun place.

aaaaaaand that's it for part one! Stay tuned right here for more details on what's to come and more of Mariah and I obsessing over Angel, Spike, and the rest of the gang.


Emmie said...

Now this is good stuff! Mariah is a very welcome and insightful breath of fresh air.

Sla said...

wow great interview, really, I'm already loving her.

Emily said...

That was a fantastic interview guys! She sounds like a great person.

Saline said...

Mariah sounds like a great new editor, but I was wondering if you could pick someone less shipper biased as an interviewer next time.

No offense, but got a bit in the way of the interesting stuff.

Bitsy said...


The topic of opinions that get us in trouble came up naturally during the course of the conversation so we talked about it like any two fans would. I'm sincerely sorry if that got in the way of your enjoyment.

The interviews that are coming up next week don't touch on these topics so I hope you'll stick around and check them out.