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Let’s be honest. In the decades they’ve existed, superheroes have been done to death. Ideas have been recycled countless times. We’ve seen heroes “die” and return over and over again (I’m looking at you, Captain America), identities change, and on and on. It’s starting to seem a bit like a cheesy daytime soap opera—and that’s without scratching the surface of the new wave of superhero cinema in the last decade, this generation’s the Good (The Dark Knight), the Bad (Daredevil),  and the Ugly (The Fantastic Four).


And so we come to The Avengers. Of course it was bound to happen. They are Marvel’s most famous team of superheroes, headlined by Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. Their rich history in comics dates back to their debut in 1963, and now they are entering a new medium: that of the blockbuster summer movie. By the time The Avengers is released, we will have seen Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and two chapters of the Iron Man franchise hit the silver screen. All three of these films will contain elements steering us toward the debut of The Avengers.


The challenge of The Avengers film is threefold. First, the film will need to put a fresh face on our heroes, updating them for a new generation. This while still being faithful to the Marvel Universe, its rich history, and its legions of fans. Lastly, there’s the Hollywood connection: on top of pleasing longtime fans of the comic books, Marvel Studios needs at the same time to appeal to a mass moviegoing audience. And that’s just the public relations side—we haven’t even touched the multimillion dollar budget and the star-studded cast that has to be contended with.


Since the project was announced back in 2005, names rumored for the job of directing The Avengers have included Iron Man director Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk), Kenneth Branagh (Thor), Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger), and Zak Penn (initial scribe forThe Avengers).


And then came San Diego Comic-Con 2010, and the announcement that rocked the comic book movie universe. The director of The Avengers would be Joss Whedon.


Reaction was swift and varied, ranging from the unabashedly thrilled: “I’m on the floor, choking on happiness, while my brain is simultaneously imploding and exploding with disbelief and rapture” (EW.com’s Darren Franich); to the less optimistic, like that of Iann Robinson, Craveonline.com: “The Avengers is a film where even a seasoned veteran of a mammoth production could be taxed to his limits. So far Whedon has done nothing that proves he can handle that kind of pressure.”


So the question is, what drove Marvel Studios to entrust what is possibly their largest moneymaking tentpole of the decade to Joss Whedon, of all people? And even more importantly, could it possibly have been the right decision?


Whedon’s movie credentials are admittedly thin. He’s only made a few feature films, none of them blockbusters, and most of his writing and directing experience comes from television, where his recent series have an unfortunate habit of being prematurely cancelled.


So why Whedon?


I would contend that there are six reasons why he’s the perfect man for the job.


1) Serenity


To understand the importance of Joss Whedon’s Hollywood directing debut, you’ve first got to understand how it came about.


Following the successes of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff series Angel, Whedon’s space-western series Firefly found a home on the Fox Television Network, premiering in September 2002, with a cast featuring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Monica Baccarin, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, and Adam Baldwin. Less than four months later, after airing only 11 of the 14 produced episodes (many out of their original order), Fox cancelled the series due to low ratings and flagging viewership.


By the next year, the film rights had been purchased by Universal Pictures. Scripted by Whedon as a continuation of the TV series and featuring the return of all nine major cast members, the film was in front of cameras by mid-2004. The film was Whedon’s first foray into feature film directing. It opened to a $10 million weekend at the box office, with an eventual total of $38.8 million earned. Strong DVD sales also boosted the reputation of the film.


From a technical filmmaking standpoint, Serenity is quite an achievement. The typical budget for a film on par with Serenity is $100 million, and the usual length of a shoot is 80 days. Whedon arranged to shoot his film with a budget of $40 million and a shooting schedule of 50 days…


Dear reader:


Joss Whedon’s importance in contemporary pop culture can hardly be overstated, but there has never been a book providing a comprehensive survey and analysis of his career as a whole—until now. Published to coincide with Whedon’s blockbuster movie The Avengers, Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters (May 2012) covers every aspect of his work, through insightful essays and in-depth interviews with key figures in the ‘Whedonverse’. This article, along with previously unpublished material, can be read in its entirety in this book.


Place your order for Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters, published with Titan Books, here.


Spotlight: Joss Whedon
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