This article talks about events in the Dark Horse comic book series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and contains spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine #7.
When we’re kids, all we need from our comic book heroes are superpowers, simple plots, and a clear line between good and bad — as an adult, though, it gets more complicated. Now we need complexity and relevancy. We need to be shocked and we need our emotions tweaked. The world around us and the issues that matter most to us need to be poured into our fiction now, even if it cuts through the most fantastic of settings and even if those issues shock or offend.
There is a proud history of that in comics, with creators pushing back against both the Comics Code Authority and the loud voices of those who think that ignoring an issue is akin to addressing it. When Stan Lee ran a story about substance abuse in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 without the CCA stamp of approval, when the story of Terry Berg was told, and any number of other stories that focused on equality, intolerance, spousal abuse, and several other hot button issues went out, there have been people standing up and people trying to push them back down with a bottle of white out.
Joss Whedon is the type of force that we expect to see standing up. He’s a behind the scenes comic book hero who knows how to write for adults; his work on Astonishing X-Men and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics show that, and his ability to write strong female characters and strong LGBT characters for television and comics are second to none. That’s why it didn’t seem out of character for Whedon to grab a hold of the proverbial third rail that is women’s reproductive rights in February when he produced the Andrew Chambliss-scripted Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine #6, a book that revealed the eponymous protagonist’s intention to abort her unborn child.
Now, it’s important to note that Whedon clearly didn’t go into this jumping up and down in celebration. I also think that it’s safe to say that nobody loves abortion or the heat that comes off the issue, but Whedon felt it was important for his iconic character to “go there” and so she did, that is until now.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine #7, which was released on March 14, 2012, it is revealed that Buffy is, in all actuality, a Buffybot, albeit one that does not appear to be self-aware. Now, the impact of this won’t be fully known until future issues, but as of right now it seems like the Buffybot is not really pregnant, which means there will be no need for an abortion.
There are two ways that we can look at this: either Whedon and Co. found a genius way to “say something” on a molten hot issue, taking Buffy through the painstaking process of deciding to end a pregnancy and then found a way to, not invalidate that process, but strip away all lasting (and controversial) effects that would have remained with Buffy had she gone through with it.
Or, Whedon betrayed his own words — “It’s not something we would ever take lightly, because you can’t. You don’t. It’s not an easy thing for anyone” — and did treat the issue lightly by throwing out a robot left turn that seems like an uninspired, “It was all just a dream” level trope.
I asked Dark Horse Comics Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie if Whedon had, in fact, betrayed his previous quote and he responded in the negative, “I’m proud of the job that Andrew [Chambliss] and Georges [Jeanty, the primary artist on the book] and everyone involved did, dealing with the seriousness of the choice. Putting that out into the world was important for us. We knew that the surprise with the robot would lead somebody to say we weren’t taking it seriously, but I don’t think you can read the comic and accuse us of being glib or exploitive. We dug into a topic we cared about and handled it with respect.”
With all due respect to Allie, questions and disappointment surely still remain. Did Whedon back down and call an audible during the creative process when he suddenly realized that the book would be creating a firestorm shortly before the release of The Avengers? No, according to Allie, who says that “first Joss came up with the robot thing, and that led to the other stuff. It wasn’t a case of us wanting to do an abortion story, then trying to figure a way out of it.”
How about the “Satsu situation”? Remember back in 2008 when Buffy had a momentary same-sex affair with Satsu to much fanfare and little relevancy? Is this another similar act, one that generates buzz and does little else? Let’s not forget that while Whedon is a gifted writer, director, and producer, he’s also a talented showman and provocateur.
That’s something that begs for an ample amount of cynicism if we’re chalking this up to a mere buzz hunt, but at the end of the day all we concretely have is that sharp left turn and the shell of what would have been a landmark moment in comics — a moment that would have gotten people thinking and talking for a long time about an issue that is largely ignored in the medium.
Whatever this was, why-ever Whedon decided to do it, the fact remains that no matter the hype and no matter how clever you are, you can’t really say something without actually saying it.