Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion [BOOK REVIEW]

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Seriable’s Mark Jones reviews Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion

It’s true that you should never judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, judging its subject by the book’s cover is no bad thing. Depicted in the style of the oft imitated Obama campaign poster, Joss Whedon is presented to us as the president of geeks, and if you’re not convinced of this fact before reading it, you will be afterwards. Examining each aspect of his varied career through academic essays, articles and interviews, there are few perspectives that aren’t covered, offering something for everybody. The target audience is as varied as the texts it contains, and while I can’t profess to having seen, or read, all of Whedon works, fan of his as I am, it did allow me to approach the book from several angles. As the life-long fan (Firefly/Serenity, Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog), the casual viewer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse) and the complete novice (Angel, his comic books).

Published by Titan Books, the companion features a chapter for each TV series and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, while the comic books and movies (with the exception of Serenity which is coupled with Firefly) are gathered together in one chapter. It’s structured chronologically so things kick of with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which not surprisingly has more pages dedicated to it than any other series and ends with his latest project The Avengers. Each section of the book begins with a “Joss Whedon 101” which serves as a primer for anyone who hasn’t seen the work in question, followed by a selection of critical essays and interviews, and at the end there’s an appendices which includes episode lists for each TV series and information on each of the authors who contributed to the book.

Out of the Buffy pages there were a couple of essays that really stood out to me, not only for their analysis of the series but because of how they applied to serialized TV in general. These were “I’d Very Still: Anthropology of a Lapsed Fan” and “How Buffy Changed Televsion”. The first is really a personal perspective of what it’s like to be a deeply involved fan of a series, recounting author Lily Rothman’s attempts to get back in touch with the group of people she discussed Buffy with online back in the days when she was obsessed with Seth Green’s Oz. Even for non-Buffy fans there are several points that ring true and certainly helped me to gain a new perspective on my own fandom (though my big obsession was LOST).

In the piece which is certainly the most personal of all the texts collected (and all the better for it), tells of her quest which is triggered by her realisation that Season Nine of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the comic book version, was being made. Along the way she makes contact with one of her fellow Oz-fans from her days before her interest waned in the online group after the character left the show, and talks about the depth of her fandom, videotaped libraries (something which will ring true for many people even if it’s an obsessive fan trait which is now obsolete) and how a fan’s OTP (one true pairing) never really goes away.

… There was something there, instantly visible to those with the potential for fandom, something that made that first night in 1998 imprint itself on my memory the way big life moments have the tendency to do. I remember so well my classroom and the face of my friend when we discussed it the next day. I remember the couch my parents used to have. I remember the light in the room.”

It may be centred around her love of Buffy, and certainly reminds us that that universe is very much still alive and well, but will help anyone who’s ever been a dedicated fan of any show to understand their obsession a little better.

Similarly “How Buffy Changed Television” is another essay that is focused on Buffy but is revealing in a wider context as well. The first point it deals with is probably one of Whedon’s greatest achievements: how Buffy sparked the rise of female heroes on television. One thing that becomes apparent throughout the book is how much respect the great man has for women, it’s said more than once that he’s a self-confessed feminist, and how Buffy was a turning point for the female hero in TV. Before Buffy the Vampire Slayer there were few strong female leads in TV shows, at least in the way Buffy was, and the author Robert Moore highlights the fact that arguably the strongest female character before Buffy was Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel from The Avengers (the iconic British 60’s TV show, no relation to the comic books or movies).

At the end of the first section, he compares those who followed her to those who preceded her, which really brings home the influence Buffy had. Following on from that, Moore looks at how Whedon was the first creator to kill off main characters (a trait which has certainly become a staple of Serialised TV and is now almost expected), and the influence Buffy had on the narrative structure of TV and its place in serialized history. Connecting the dots between soap operas, Hill Street Blues, Twin Peaks, The X-Files and finally to Buffy, it’s essential reading for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of the history of serialized television.

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