Bill Williams on "Spike: the Devil You Know"by Shaun Manning, Staff Writer
Bill Williams is the writer of an ongoing backup feature in IDW Publishing's "Angel,” and is the man behind indie publisher Lone Star Press. His next move is to take Joss Whedon's other charismatic vampire out for a chaotic adventure in "Spike: Devil You Know," a four-issue miniseries shipping in June. Spike, a one-time slayer of Slayers, former lover of Buffy, and perpetual nuisance to Angel, finds himself racing to prevent new Hellmouths from opening in Los Angeles. But while he may not have the usual crew at his back, that doesn't mean Spike’s alone. CBR News caught up with Williams to discuss the book, which is illustrated by Chris Cross with covers by Franco Urru.
Spike is joined in “Devil You Know” by Eddie Hope, a blue demon obsessed with hunting down LA's most wicked denizens. Williams introduced Hope in his back-up stories in the "Angel" ongoing series. The back-up serial was introduced when "Fables" writer Bill Willingham took over "Angel" and worked Williams into the title's new direction. "I’ve been lucky to have Willingham as a friend for a long time now. Before this whole IDW deal got put into place, I helped him move from Las Vegas to his snow fort in Minnesota," Williams told CBR. "We were trapped in a U-Haul truck for three days moving the last of his gear and we had plenty of time to chat. Along the way, we talked about the kind of projects we were working on so I guess that was fresh in his mind. When he talked to IDW about writing the 'Angel' series, he mentioned me and he wrote a role for me into the pitch. Once IDW agreed, the two of us talked about what the Eddie stories needed to do and I took the relevant part of the pitch document and went to work.
“On the execution of the Eddie Hope stories, space is a key consideration. I have four pages a chapter, which works out to about sixteen panels a month to tell a story. It’s a challenge and it makes every panel and every line of dialogue that much more important.”
Williams continued, "For the first few stories, I am free to wander around and have fun with the character, knowing that Eddie is crashing into Team Angel pretty soon. I managed to mix up a one-shot story with a three-parter and another one-shot story. One of the things I bring from doing digital comics is the feeling for story compression. When you sit down to read the Eddie stories all at once, they really zip along. Our first trade paperback should be in an upcoming Previews catalog and it will ship later in the summer. It is my understanding that the Eddie stories will be in that trade."
Eddie's mission overlaps with Spike's for a brief but defining period of time. "Eddie is hunting down the villains that revealed the depths of their inhumanity when Los Angeles went to Hell in 'After the Fall,' and he is doing that with a single-minded determination," Williams said. "At the beginning of the story, he has tracked a very bad guy to the group that is opening the new Los Angeles Hellmouth. After that scene wraps up, Spike talks Eddie into helping him stop the Hellmouth from being opened by the bad guys. Eddie is a bit restless, so he rides along with Spike and the two of them work to unravel the mystery.”
The events of “Devil You Know” take place between the events of “Angel” #32 and #33. “The Eddie stories are pretty easy to keep track of because Eddie keeps a hit list of the worst people in LA,” Williams explained. “He assigns a person a number when he finishes them. So in 'Angel' #32, Eddie Hope meets Electric Gwen Raiden and in 'Angel' #33 he crosses paths with Charles Gunn. This story takes place over the course of two nights so it does not step on any of the other IDW Whedonverse titles, including Brian Lynch’s upcoming 'Spike' series."
Though ostensibly a hero, Spike is known for his mischievous streak. It should come as no surprise that "Devil You Know" begins with the bleach-blonde vampire getting in over his head. His long experience of such adventures, though, has taught him a few things about how to get back on track and do what needs doing. "Spike is a clever character, so when someone tries to kill him, he suspects there is more to the attack than mere chance. He finds a clue that leads him to a long lost vampire sired by The Master who is attempting to open a Hellmouth somewhere in the city," Williams said. "Since Spike and Eddie have a habit of killing the monsters that cross their path, they struggle to find the unholy location and stop the disaster.
"At first, Spike doesn’t really know what to make of Eddie, but he’s happy to have a sidekick that doesn’t know him from Team Angel. Having seen what vampires do first hand, Eddie is suspicious of Spike," the writer continued. "Even though Spike has a reputation as a hero, Eddie follows that Reagan maxim 'Trust but verify.'”
As to what ultimately convinces Eddie to join Spike in this particular quest, Williams said, "Spike makes the case that a Hellmouth is a bad thing for Los Angeles. The name of the thing gives it away for starters.Plus, the Vengeance Road that Eddie is on is a pretty lonely place. Maybe he just needs a break from himself and his mission even if it is a short break. I think that Eddie realizes that he is living a high risk life as a freelance monster hunter. I think he is looking for allies in that whole Champion subculture. Plus, he wants to see if Spike lives to his reputation as a hero.
"Spike is trying to claim a mantle for himself as a singular hero. Much of the time, he is associated with Angel and he wants to be more of his own man. In 'Angel' Season Five, Spike was a bit of a punchline and he wants to erase that by performing heroic feats. Shutting down another Hellmouth would certainly qualify."
Beginning as a self-proclaimed "Big Bad" on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Spike's path to the side of angels (or Angel) has involved a considerable number of twists and turns, a pattern that has continued throughout the IDW's various "Angel" and "Spike" series. "Spike is a lot of things. He’s a romantic who is between relationships. In Los Angeles, he’s a famous hero who loves to fight. He is the one Whedonverse character who always seems to be having a good time," Williams said of the character's appeal. "Spike is also a bit cocky and overconfident, which comes around to bite him in this miniseries. In the first issue, he takes a beating from a pair of body-builder vampires because he is certain of the outcome before the fight starts. He gets a few things wrong. That’s where Eddie comes into the picture.
"While Spike has a wicked sense of humor, he is trying to walk the heroes path in this mini-series. I think that it is fair to say that Spike is growing out from under Angel’s shadow. This story continues that growth. His ultimate direction is up to Brian Lynch. And Fox, of course."
Wlliams told CBR that, aside from having created the character, he had another advantage when writing Eddie in that Whedonverse fans do not yet have a preconceived notion of how he should act. "That is somewhat liberating," the writer said. "Part of the fun of writing a new character in an established universe is that Eddie can bounce off of established characters and we can see them with fresh eyes.
"In the story, Spike explains the Shanshu Prophecy to Eddie, which holds that a vampire with a soul will regain his humanity after a great battle. Eddie has a unique take on the situation and gives Spike some fresh perspective on his position."
This interplay between Eddie and Spike ultimately decided the tone that "Spike: Devil You Know" would take on. "When I pitched the project, I shorthanded it to '”24” with vampires' and the comparison was an easy one to make," Williams said. "Spike is running around LA trying to prevent a supernatural disaster. But when I added Eddie to the mix, I had a blast knocking those guys around in scenes together. It became more like '48 Hours' with a pair of alpha males making fun of each other and punching out bad guys.
"One of the entertaining things about the World of Whedon is that when they needed something for the television series, they just whipped it up and ran with it," Williams continued. "That said, I have a new arch-villain running around behind the scenes. There is a new demon-run casino in Los Angeles where Spike and Eddie go looking for information. Eddie gets into a poker game with a table full of demons. It’s big fun stuff. I love being able to play in Whedon’s sandbox without having to worry about my effects budget. Chris Cross and Marc Deering and Felix Serrano are doing a phenomenal job on the art chores and I’m lucky to be working with them. Opening up digital files and seeing new art for a story you wrote is one of the best things about being a comics writer."