In the past two decades Joss Whedon has emerged as one of the most influential figures in all of pop culture, most famously by altering many of the standard conventions of television, but also through his screenwriting for films and his extensive comic book work.
With principle photography of the Marvel Studios superhero epic The Avengers, directed by our Spotlight subject Joss Whedon, soon to commence, PopMatters considers it is a auspicious time to look back over the entirety of Whedon’s remarkable career. In the past two decades he has emerged as one of the most influential figures in all of pop culture, most famously by altering many of the standard conventions of television through series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, but also through his screenwriting for films like Toy Story and Serenity and his extensive comic book work as in The Astonishing X-Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight. The best may be yet to come, with Whedon expressing an intention to focus in the future primarily on on direct-to-Internet productions similar to his Emmy Award winning online hit Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, where he can escape the restrictions placed upon him by studios and networks.
For the next five weeks on PopMatters, nearly 50 writers and scholars will examine and explore every one of Joss Whedon’s major—and most of his minor—series, movies, comics, and Internet musicals, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dollhouse, from Alien Resurrection to Cabin in the Woods, from Sugarshock to Runaways, from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog to The Avengers. The essays represent a wide variety of viewpoints and approaches, but the writers are united in the conviction that Joss Whedon has had an unparalleled impact on popular culture and that his work deserves and compels intense and focused examination.
(Edited and produced by Robert Moore and Sarah Zupko)
Thursday, March 3 2011
Proving that from small things great things come, the path breaking, critically adored 1997 television series was preceded by the critically abhorred, terminally silly 1992 film.
PopMatters will, over the next five weeks, publish almost 60 essays and/or interviews on pop cultural icon Joss Whedon. So just what has he done that is worthy of such attention, and why should we care?
Sunday, March 6 2011
Taking aim against critics of Buffy who see pervasive evidence of sexism, racism, ageism, and class bias, Ronald Helfrich looks at some of the lessons concerning interpretation that Biblical studies can better inform our readings of Buffy.
Prior to gaining fame as one of the foremost pop cultural creators, Joss Whedon gained fame within the film industry as a screenwriter and script doctor. But of these early efforts, it was his script for Alien Resurrection that contained themes that dominated much of his later work.
Monday, March 7 2011
Xander Harris was the member of the Scooby Gang on Buffy the Vampire Slayer positioned as the one most like us, the most average, everyday individual among a group of exceptional members. Kyle Garret argues that later arcs in the series undermined this role for Xander.
Whatever else that Joss Whedon achieves in his career, he may forever best be known as the creator of one of the landmark series in TV history, as well as one of TV's most iconic characters, a blonde cheerleader turned vampire slayer named Buffy.
Tuesday, March 8 2011
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been praised for its use of language. Most investigations have focused on the use of language by Buffy and the Scoobies. Here the vampires get their due.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Joss Whedon intentionally set out to blur the boundaries between genres, creating a show that was part drama, part comedy, part horror, part SF, and very definitely part fantasy. Here "Buffy" is analyzed in terms of nature as fantasy.
Wednesday, March 9 2011
Over the course of seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow Rosenberg goes from a nerdy computer geek filled with heterosexual longing to powerful witch and lesbian.
Although Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rightly celebrated as a landmark in the depiction of strong female characters, relations between women are often complicated by their viewing one another as sexual competitors.
Thursday, March 10 2011
In this essay, Rhonda V. Wilcox provides a penetrating commentary on one of the greatest Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes that Joss Whedon neither wrote nor directed.
While Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured many superb "Big Bads", Season 3's Mayor Richard Wilkins is not merely among the most remarkable on Buffy but among the most memorable in TV history. We talk at length with the man who brought the Mayor to life, Harry Groener.
Sunday, March 13 2011
The implied pedagogical theories undergirding both Buffy and Giles's guidance of her evince a particularly American pragmatic understanding of the learning process.
Although dreams permeate Buffy the Season Four finalé "Restless" consists of a series of dreams in which the characters confront their unconscious dreams.
Monday, March 14 2011
Although Buffy and Faith may be the most famous Slayers created in the Buffy verse, the Slayer from the future Fray is just as compelling.
One of the more interesting minor characters on Buffy and Angel is Anne, also known as Chanterelle and Lily, who matures over the course of five episodes and several seasons from clueless vampire wannabe to someone helping teen runaways.
Tuesday, March 15 2011
From his debut on Buffy as a stiff, silly-ass buffoon to his eventual emergence as one of the most ruthless and competent demon hunters on Angel, few if any characters in the Whedonverse have had such a fascinating or varied history
After three seasons as Buffy's love interest and sometime enemy, Angel, the vampire with a soul, departed in 1999 for Los Angeles and his own series. Acclaimed Angel scholar Stacey Abbott sums up what makes the series so special.
Wednesday, March 16 2011
There are few if any prematurely cancelled shows whose demise is more lamented than Firefly.
The last great new character to be added to Angel was Illyria, the former hell goddess who takes over the body of the beloved Fred. Through examining the crucial Illyria episode "Time Bomb" through the lens of psychoanalysis, can we learn what makes her tick?
Thursday, March 17 2011
Both an integral part of the Whedonverse and a major television creator in his own right, Tim Minear was the co-creator of Firefly in addition to working as a writer on both Angel and Dollhouse. He is currently the showrunner of the FOX series The Chicago Code.
Friday, March 18 2011
Although Joss Whedon's Sci-Fi Western Firefly was cancelled after the completion of only 14 episodes, DVD sales and fan support was so exceptionally high that Universal Studios acquired the rights to make a film sequel, Serenity.
Sunday, March 20 2011
Joss Whedon's Firefly and its film sequel Serenity achieved acclaim for their generic hybridity, a sci-fi western offering a dystopian vision of the future. Here Serenity is positioned as a postcolonial text.
Monday, March 21 2011
After the end of Angel on the WB and following his previous success with Fray, Joss Whedon has worked on a series of acclaimed comics, commencing with his pairing with John Cassaday on Astonishing X-Men.
Joss Whedon's science fiction western Firefly was revolutionary in several ways, not least its embrace of a degree of realism regarding human motivation, in contrast to the utopianism of earlier TV sci-fi such as Star Trek.
Tuesday, March 22 2011
Several years after the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV, Joss Whedon with the help of illustrator George Jeanty and a string of writers continued Buffy's story in comic book form.
Joss Whedon is famous for the many heroes in his shows, especially female heroes, but the humanistic nature of this heroism hasn't been appreciated.
Wednesday, March 23 2011
Joss Whedon and comic writer Brian K. Vaughan have enjoyed an interesting relationship, shown in part by Vaughan's writing the "No Future for You" arc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 and Joss continuing Vaughan's great series "Runaways" for Marvel.
Although Joss Whedon is widely regarded as espousing a variety of liberal positions, here the author argues that this does not extend to his views concerning casual sex.
Thursday, March 24 2011
From the moment it first hit the Internet in the summer of 2008, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog received near universal acclaim as one of the web's first great creations. With Whedon proclaiming that his future work will be direct to Internet rather than TV, this could be the shape of Whedon's work to come.
Among other things, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog provides a meditation on good and evil and the role that choice plays in embracing one or the other.
Sunday, March 27 2011
The accidental death of Penny, the girl Billy Buddy aka Dr. Horrible loves, has parallels to the deaths of several comic book deaths, though none so much as the death of Spider-Man's girlfriend Gwen.
Dr. Horrible repeats many of the themes found in Joss Whedon's television series. Here we are reminded of three "lessons" found in other creations.
Monday, March 28 2011
Dollhouse is in many ways Joss Whedon's most challenging and most cutting edge show, trying to deal with issues that are rarely or never addressed on television. With low ratings making a third season unlikely, Joss Whedon and his writers packed the second and final season with several seasons' worth of story arcs, resulting in one of the richer narrative arcs found on TV.
In many television series, the actions of characters neither have long-term consequences nor cause long-term change. For Joss Whedon actions always have consequences and often change the show's narrative.
Tuesday, March 29 2011
Originally released in 2007 on Dark Horse's MySpace page, Sugarshock! was later released in printed form in 2009. Concerning a hard rock band led by a female lead singer with an almost pathological hatred of Vikings, the band engages in what turns out to be a literal intergalactic battle of the bands.
In an age of a deeply fragmented television audience, did Fox Television make a mistake in trying to market Joss Whedon's Dollhouse to a general audience instead of the niche audience that represents Whedon's fanbase?
Wednesday, March 30 2011
All of Joss Whedon's shows raise questions about personal identity. Here several major characters from the Whedonverse are subjected to a philosophical analysis.
Thursday, March 31 2011
While all of Joss Whedon's shows examine the nature of personhood, none does so to the degree of Dollhouse. Here the role of memory in establishing identity is examined.
Both because of his several roles in Joss Whedon series and because of his extensive interaction with fans, Nathan Fillion has emerged as one of the best-loved actors in the Whedonverse.
Sunday, April 3 2011
Zombies have been one of the more popular monster types in films and television in recent decades following the popularity of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Joss Whedon's somewhat different take on the Zombie in his various projects is here examined in detail.
Monday, April 4 2011
When Angel -- confronted by a small army of hostile demons, a giant, and a dragon -- said to Spike, Gunn, and Illyria, "Let's go to work" immediately before the screen went to black and the series ended, fans of Angel wanted to know what happened next. In After the Fall Joss Whedon and Brian Lynch answered our question.
Unlike most teen shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn't constructed around romances. And while viewers followed her epic romances with vampires Angel and Spike, whether or not she would ever find true love was never really the point of the show.
Tuesday, April 5 2011
Among Joss Whedon's greatest contributions to television has been the invention of the Body Count, the willingness to kill off recurring characters in order to ratchet up the narrative tension and create a sense of danger. This is the first of two essays examining Joss Whedon as a televisual mass murderer.
Wednesday, April 6 2011
While Buffy has been universally acclaimed as a great work of TV feminism, Dollhouse has been denounced as anti-feminist. But have the critics of Dollhouse been too quick to dismiss its feminist credentials?
Thursday, April 7 2011
Most of Joss Whedon's work has been characterized by Big Bads. But the lines separating Good and Evil are more complex than one might expect.
Sunday, April 10 2011
In contrast to the utopian vision of the future found in sci-fi series like Star Trek, Joss Whedon's creations show a different vision of the future. And it isn't pretty.
Monday, April 11 2011
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's Cabin in the Woods has been as star-crossed as a show can be. Although Goddard and Whedon had finished principle filming, MGM requested a year delay to convert the film to 3D, and then promptly went bankrupt.
While viewers watch television and film for entertainment, it's easy to forget that these media are industries. In this essay the changing relationships between creators, studios, distributors, and an increasingly active fandom are examined.
Tuesday, April 12 2011
Among Joss Whedon's greatest contributions to television has been the continual use of the Body Count, the willingness to kill off recurring characters in order to ratchet up the narrative tension and create a sense of danger.
Wednesday, April 13 2011
The Avengers will be Joss Whedon's most ambitious project to date, the culmination of a string of Marvel Studios superhero films, including the Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America films.
It was announced last year that Joss Whedon would direct the most ambitious superhero movie ever, teaming Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye all in one enormous film. Matthew Hurd thinks Whedon was the perfect choice.
Thursday, April 14 2011
A member of Whedonites United, a Tennessee group associated with the Can't Stop the Serenity movement, explains how a group of fans of Joss Whedon and the film Serenity takes fan activism to a new level by actively trying to make the world a more humane and just place.
The formal creation of Buffy Studies -- and therefore Whedon Studies -- was born with the creation of the online journal Slayage 10 years ago. Here the coeditor of Slayage, Rhonda V. Wilcox, offers some reflections on our obsessions with the output of a certain TV creator.
Joss Whedon has not only created great shows; he caused fans to reach out to other fans to share their mutual enthusiasm for shows and for specific characters within shows. Here Lily Rothman writes of her involvement with others who came together thanks to Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.