There were a bunch of different ways I* considered writing about this, but the one that I think makes the most sense is to just start with a deceptively simple question:
Why do we love Spike?
Every Spike fan will likely have a different set of specific reasons. But what I think they’ll all have in common is what a complex and amazing character arc he’s had. To go from where he started to where he is now has been a true hero’s journey.
I’d like to state for the record that I wholeheartedly love Spike. I root for him. I think any story with him in it is better for it. No one the Angel team has an agenda when it comes to his relationships. Well, that’s not entirely true. I think he and Angel should probably settle down in a little house somewhere and just admit that they need one another. The way he and Angel play off each other, complement each other, and force each other to be better, is probably my favorite partnership in both series. But really, the only thing I want to see from Spike is continuing his character evolution. Because as far as he’s come, I don’t think his character is done exploring and growing.
I’ve loved every mistake Spike’s made, even the ones I really hated seeing him make. Sometimes the best characters make the worst decisions.
And he’s making some now.
I know that some of them are really hard to reconcile with who Spike has become. I know they’re unpleasant and uncomfortable. I can’t tell you why just yet, but I can tell you this: It does have a reason, and it will make sense. Issue #35 starts dealing with it more directly and it’s building to something really important for the character that I think you’ll all want to see. Seriously.
To me, what sets Spike apart from Angel, more than anything else, is that he fought for and earned his soul. The journey that led him there is every bit as important as the good he’s done since. Because without that, it just wouldn’t mean as much. It wouldn’t be as significant or important, or downright epic. And that’s true for the next stage of Spike’s development, too.
As an editor, my first responsibility is to the story. As much as I may love a character I have to be willing to let them mess up. Sometimes that means they do things I don’t like personally for the sake of their arc. No one is supposed to like some of the things Spike is doing right now. But he went through a lot in After the Fall and we’re just now seeing some of the fallout. As heroic as Spike is, he’s still flawed. That’s a basic concept in the Whedonverse, all heroes are flawed, and I think we owe it to the character not to forget that. Because I think he is as heroic and important as Angel or Buffy. I think he’s earned the right to make mistakes and come out the other side. With all he’s been through, I think he can handle it. Besides, there’s always more at work here than initially meets the eye. I don’t think anyone wants to see Spike stagnate as a character.
Just as I completely respect canon and know when we’ve done things that may seem to contradict it, nothing is being done accidentally, we’re just expanding on and enriching the world. Everyone on the Angel team has watched the show, I can personally attest to that. Things like the limb-dusting are not arbitrary and it’s explained, at least partially, in issue #33. Along with who James really is and a bunch of other story elements that set up the arc. It’s all part of what we’re exploring. And it’s very much based on what’s been previously established. The same is true for Spike. We know how he’s acting, we know it’s rough, and we’re moving towards something big and incredibly important for him.
To my mind, the worst thing we could do to these characters is not respect them enough to allow them to be flawed and mess up. Right now we’re exploring the consequences of AtF and the time shift that occurred to reset everything. In a world like this, time shenanigans open up a lot of possibilities and the potential for some really strange things to happen. Some of that is certain characters questioning their purpose, redefining their roles, deciding what they’re going to do now, and what they really want. Other characters are growing and changing based on what they’ve been through, like Connor, and we’re allowing them the chance to prove themselves. Each character deserves the same care and attention, and they all deserve a real arc that takes them from one point to another.
Where Spike is headed as a character is going to be one of the most important leaps he’s ever made. On par, I think, with him earning his soul. It's going to be brave and compelling and something that should make every Spike fan proud to call him a hero. I hope you’ll stick around to see it.
* You may be wondering who I am. I edit the current storyline of Angel for IDW. And now you know!