Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Countdown to Angel #28: Bill Willingham Interview

Tomorrow is the day of days: the release of the much anticipated Angel #28 and, as we wind down our countdown, we've saved our interview with Eisner Award winner (many times over), Bill Willingham, for last. In case you're a living under a rock demon, Bill is the man who will be writing the main story for the coming Angel arc and is probably best know for his absolutely incredible, ongoing Vertigo book (seriously, go read it), Fables. He recently took the time to answer a few of our questions. Here's what went down:

Buffyfest: What frame of mind is Connor in as we begin this story?

Bill Willingham: He’s feeling the guilt that we all feel when we reach a certain age in our maturity and realize what a complete shit we’ve been to our parents at times. We thought of them as stupid and mean and unfair, when we didn’t get our way, only to realize later that they were smart and loving and fair, acting in our best interests all along, but in ways a childish mind couldn’t grasp. Connor has more excuses than most in being a vindictive brat. He got a dealt a bad turn, and so it was understandable that he lashed out at his father the first time – and then the second time – but by the third or fourth betrayal it was getting a bit much. Connor had some growing up to do, and like everyone else, he eventually matured enough to wonder at how smart the old man has gotten lately.

Buffyfest: Who does he trust and who is he wary of?

Bill Willingham: He trusts his dad – finally – which makes him distrust himself. His own instincts are still to strike out and fight and undermine. That’s the residue of his basic immaturity. But a certain amount of wisdom comes from age, whether we seek it or not. Connor has realized that his instincts have been 100% off practically all of the time. So maybe it’s time to follow his father’s guidance, even when (or especially when) he doesn’t fully understand the reasoning behind it.

Buffyfest: What about Angel? Where’s his head at?

Bill Willingham: Angel’s head is spinning. He’s not built to be famous. In his long past life (and unlife) he was most famous when he was doing the most terrible things imaginable. Anonymity has been his greatest asset in his ages-long struggle to redeem himself. But he doesn’t get to be anonymous any longer. He has some adjustments to make and needs to do so quickly. Unfortunately, a guy who’s been around as long as he has forgets how to do anything quickly.

Buffyfest: And the rest of the team?

Bill Willingham: Spike is more or less still the same old Spike. He’s a contrarian by nature and the one who will always ask, “Why do we have to do it that way? Who says, and why listen to him?” We’ve seen this before and it’s a strong streak in him. Why can’t he be the great love of Buffy’s life? Why can’t he be the vampire-with-a-soul that is featured in the Shanshu Prophecy. Of course questions lead to actions. Spike is about to do some things to really test the system. Who decides who gets to write prophecy, and why can’t I do it? And so on. Needless to say, it will cause some ripples.

Gunn is a mess. He’s screwed up and he knows it. The fact that his betrayals never actually happened, in the great Reality Reset, doesn’t help much when everyone can still “remember” what he did. He’s got a lot to make up for.

Illyria is perplexed. For better or worse she’s thrown her lot in with these people, to fight the good fight against evil. Now all she needs to do is learn what differentiates good and evil. It isn’t part of her mental makeup. She only looks human, but her mind is pure demon and her natural value system is as alien to ours as it can be. But she has an impressive intellect, which will lead her to work the problem and come up with a solution. The solution she comes up with will add (one hopes) a very Whedonesque mix of dark humor and terrible jeopardy to our story.

And since this answer is rambling on so long, I’ll just add that the other regulars each have their own concerns that will lead to interesting story possibilities.

Buffyfest: Connor was born from prophecy and his father is in several prophecies. How do you think Connor sees his own predestination versus free will?

Bill Willingham: I don’t see prophecy and destiny as absolute or perfectly synonymous. In my mind prophecy is what could happen, provided the central players step up and do their duty when the storm comes. Not to get all Biblical on you, but this is too good an example not to use: According to the New Testament, Jesus was the messiah of prophecy, but his ordeal on the mount, the night before he was arrested, heavily implies (if it doesn’t outright state – my biblical reading is tardy of late) that he had a choice in the events to come. He could agree to be sacrificed and fulfill his mission, or he could have opted out to save himself.

So, with that said, Connor is confused about his place in the grand scheme of things. No one likes to be confused and uncertain about the important stuff, so he’s going to want to look into the nuts and bolts of the various prophecies concerning him and his father. Spike, as we’ve seen above, will play a part in this, and hilarity, or tragedy, or both, will ensue.

Buffyfest: The upcoming story seems to involve Angel being kidnapped and forced to turn celebrities into vampires.

Bill Willingham: Yes.

Buffyfest: Are we actually going to see other vampires with souls in "Immortality for Dummies"?

Bill Willingham: No comment. Seriously, that’s the crux of the entire story arc, so it’s the one thing I really shouldn’t give away. But we are definitely going to meet an interesting new vampire or two. Fun times.

Buffyfest: How would that affect the Shanshu Prophecy?

Bill Willingham: I suspect it would add to the already overwhelming confusion.

Buffyfest: Kelley Armstrong's Aftermath arc began with Angel saying, in so many words, that he's redeemed himself.

Bill Willingham: Yes.

Buffyfest: Do you think he's redeemed?

Bill Willingham: That’s the vital question, isn’t it? I think, despite his supernatural alteration, Angel is fundamentally human – at least as far as his psychology – and every single human who has lived or will ever live has this much in common: We think one thing one day and think something else the next day. One day I might believe I’m a greatest living writer in the English language, while the next day I can suddenly look at the same material and conclude that I should be arrested for crimes against locution and syntax. Does that make me a hypocrite? Nope. It just makes me human. So, Angel may have truly meant it when he said his redemption is complete. He was enjoying a rare moment in the heights. But we’ve also seen that Angel can suffer the lowest of lows. Therefore I believe the question is still outstanding. We’ll see.

And this brings up another interesting question, one that Spike might ask, for instance: Who gets to decide? Who’s the redemption authority? It might make an interesting story to try to find that out in the Angel/Buffyverse.

Buffyfest: Can any of the Angel characters ever truly be redeemed without losing a necessary part of the narrative?

Bill Willingham: I hope so, because I have to hope there is at least the possibility of a light at the end of this very long, dark tunnel. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

Buffyfest: While rewatching the Angel series, were there any episodes or story arcs that struck you as being really exceptional?

Bill Willingham: Of course. The best of the best of course has to be the final scene of the final episode, where one fight has been won, at a terrible cost, only to find out that the war continues. That’s where Angel showed his true character: “We still have a job to do, so let’s get to work.” It may be the best ending to any bit of serial fiction ever, so much so in fact that, had I been offered the helm of the Angel comic book then, I would have had to turn it down. I’m not so arrogant or suicidal as to think I could have followed up on that.

Buffyfest: Are there any characters from Angel that you find yourself feeling especially connected to, that you really identify with?

Bill Willingham: Connor. It’s time for him to stop being a brat and grow up a little. It won’t be smooth sailing, but it’s time. I like Spike, of course, because how can you not love the rogue? Illyria has tons of interesting potential, provided I not yield to the temptation to try to bring Fred back. Illyria only works as a character (for my skills at least – maybe a better writer could do what I can’t) if Fred is irretrievably gone. Then the sacrifice and drama actually has meaning. Wesley had the best character arc of the entire series, so I’m almost happy he isn’t available to me, because there’s nothing there that needs fixing or improving, so I could only do damage.

Buffyfest: If you could tell a story anywhere in the continuity other than what's happening now, where would it be?

Bill Willingham: It would be the Last Angel Story of course. Who could resist the challenge of telling the story’s end, whether happy or otherwise? And yes, a certain you-know-who would have to have a significant part in such a tale.

Buffyfest: Chris Ryall said in our last interview that he wanted to steer clear of telling too many crossover stories but, 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?

Bill Willingham: I love crossovers. In the trade we’re calling them mashups now. They’re tough to do well and easy to screw up. Once again, who can resist that kind of challenge? Hell, let’s make some news here and make it official. I’m right this minute seriously proposing that we do an Angel/Bigby Wolf (Fables) crossover. Two tough bastards fighting the good fight, side by side. Guest starring their two sons of course, Connor and Ghost. I know exactly how we can get Bigby into Angel’s fictional universe. Chris, Mariah, I assume one or both of you’ll pick up the phone to DC/Vertigo and make this happen, please?

Buffyfest: 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?

Bill Willingham: An easy question at last: Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner (from the merely magnificent Warren Zevon), fueled by three strong mixed drinks: vodka with fresh-squeezed (don’t you dare come near me with anything out of a can) grapefruit juice. Tall glass. Lots of ice. Did you know Williams used to be a bartender? Damn good one too. How do you think he got this gig?

And that, my friends, is that. A huge thanks to the entire team for taking the time to answer our questions. If you're as curious as I was about the chances of an acutal Fables/Angel mash up I can only say that, yes, there is a serious desire to make that happen but, as with all things, it's gonna take some work. I'm hopeful though, as are Mariah and Chris, that it's possible.

I'll try and have a review up for Angel #28 as soon as it drops but, honestly, don't wait for my opinion. Just go get it. This team is truly amazing and there's no doubt that they are all huge fans of these characters. Our fandom is in very, very good hands.


Greg said...

Please: No Fables/Angel crossover! I love them both, but totally separate. Part of Fables appeal would be cheapened if it were to crossover with something like Angel, and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Angel/Fables crossover? No, no, oh God, no!

Missie, The Unread Reader said...

Great Interview! Thanks for posting!

Veiriti said...

Awesome interview! I’ve just ordered my issue and I can't wait to read it! As I mentioned before –the art is fantastic and I loved the story. And I’m really appreciate to you for non-mentioning about “abusive relationships” or characters this time! ;)) That’s much better! Sorry, if I was I bit harsh with some of my comments, but I think I’m starting to like you! ;))