Big things happened in the year 2012 A.D. Things like Disney buying Star Wars, the re-election of President Obama,and the Mayan apocalypse come to one’s mind while looking back on the past twelve months. But, I think the person that is having the biggest year out of all of us is writer/director Joss Whedon. Not only is his little movie “The Avengers” the highest grossing film of the year, but the horror flick that he wrote (and was in development hell for years) “The Cabin In The Woods” was released to critical acclaim. His prematurely cancelled show “Firefly” celebrated its tenth anniversary (and received its own special on The Science Channel). His most famous TV project, “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” celebrated its fifteenth anniversary (twentieth if you count the movie..........but honestly who does?). His web-series musical “Dr.Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” premiered on television. A supernatural romance that he wrote called “In Your Eyes” is in production. ABC announced that he’ll be the show runner(along with his brother and sister-in-law) of the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV series. He announced that he’s writing/directing “The Avengers 2” and “Dr.Horrible 2”. And on top of all of that, he directed a black & white feature adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at his own house. Makes your head spin doesn’t? So, who is this Whedon guy anyway? Why is it that people like myself consider him to be not just a personal hero but one of the greatest writers ever? Well, pull up a chair why don’tcha?
Joss Whedon is a self-described “third generation” TV writer. His father wrote for shows like “Golden Girls” and “Benson” and his grandfather wrote for “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. Joss started his career as a writer on the show “Roseanne”. He then moved on to be a script doctor, touching up films like “Waterworld” and “Speed”. In 1992 his spec script “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” was turned into a film staring Kristy Swanson and Paul Reuben(you read correctly. Pee-Wee Herman played a vampire). The film was a box office bomb and was very different from what Whedon had intended it to be. The same type of incident happened with his script for “Alien: Resurrection” People just simply didn’t “get” him.
The most famous aspect of Whedon’s writing is his talent to write extraordinarily powerful female characters. There’s no better example of this than the character of Buffy Summers. In his TV series, Buffy is a your average California blonde that wants to be a cheerleader and have a boyfriend............she also happens to be a vampire slayer. Female main characters are hard to find these days and strong female characters are even harder. Too many times one either sees the Xena type character or the damsel in distress. But, Whedon is master at making each and every one of his characters (whether it be male, female, or demon) incredibly human. Throughout the corse of seven seasons, Buffy grows from teenager to woman. She is filled with humor, sadness, maturity, brains, and makes a number of big mistakes. All of these traits(and sometimes more) are visible in other Whedon ladies such as Willow (my personal favorite), Faith, River, Zoe, and Illyra. His character work deserves its own chapter in every book on the subject of creative writing.
Whedon also knows how genres work better than any other writer working today. Take for instance his show “Firefly”. Set in a post-apocalyptic outer space, Whedon took the space western concept of “Star Trek” and ran with it. Literally taking bits of westerns and Sci-Fi and cramming them together. While most would say that it’s a terrible idea (I could write an entire essay on why those two genres actually DO fit together but that’s neither here nor there.) the show has become one of the biggest cult series of all time. Even though it only lasted one season. His properties work not just because they are steeped in genre or that they are celebrations of geekdom, he understands that the reason why speculative fiction has lasted for so long is that they tell stories about the human condition in the midst of high imagination.
It’s really that simple. Joss Whedon’s stories are filled with humor, terror, sadness, death, joy, heartache, anger, and despair. Joss Whedon teaches us what it means to be human.