Joss Whedon’s movies don’t make billions. His last foray into TV, Dollhouse, was canceled after two seasons. The one before that, Firefly, lasted only eleven (glorious, unforgettable) episodes. But more than any other writer or director working in Hollywood, he represents the authentic voice of the fan in the big-studio world, and more than any other writer or director, his fans are fanatically loyal to him.
He’s also, as it happens, quicker and cleverer than just about anybody I’ve ever interviewed. I caught him in a green room at Comic-Con just before he went on for a talk about the Buffy comics he’s doing with Dark Horse. Although he’s been hard at work directing the new Avengers movie, and he was fresh off giving five other interviews in a row, he seemed relaxed and fit and sharp as ever.
(PHOTOS: Comic-Con 2011)
One reason Whedon gets it right so often is that he pays attention when he gets it wrong. In Season 8, as the first run of Buffy comics was called, he went big, doing the stories he didn’t have the budget to do on screen. "But I think ultimately I made a miscalculation," he says, "because as much as I could do anything I wanted, what people wanted was that metaphor of their lives, reflected through the monster stories. And we went on this grand epic journey. So I think we lost a little bit of the ethos of the show. I didn’t think people would want something as mundane as the show in a comic book, but they do.
"Season 9 we’re getting back to that. It’s Buffy’s daily life. There’s definitely monsters, but they really are this metaphor for, here you are at this point in your life. And for Buffy that point is, I’m not in charge of an army, I’m not prophesied to die in the next five minutes, so what exactly am I supposed to do?"
I ventured an analogy between what Buffy’s life must be like and the later life of Harry Potter, another kid who saved the world as a teenager. I also ventured an opinion: I think that Rowling’s ending didn’t sufficiently take into account the psychic aftermath of what everybody had been through.
"I also felt that Ron and Hermione would have gotten divorced," Joss says. "I’m sorry, I just do. The end of Harry Potter did feel ultimately to me…just the fact everybody had married everybody. The books were so real and so grounded in what things are really like when you’re that age, she nailed that so beautifully. And then there was this slightly fantastical ending. I know that was there for her to say, ‘Really, I mean it, no more books,’ but you do sort of go, people who were in a war are different from people who haven’t been, and how does it affect them? But I’m going to second-guess my favorite writer? I think not."
Whedon takes a very active role in planning the Buffy and Angel & Faith comics, mapping out the story arcs and the plot beats. "I get it on its feet, and then I’m involved as much as I have the bandwidth to be." The current challenge being that Whedon is making The Avengers at the same time. That one just might make billions. Whedon recently rented out a NASA facility in Ohio for a shoot. "We’re about 2/3 of the way through shooting, and I live somehow to tell this. I think it’s coming along really well. I have yet to make it more than the sum of its parts, but I’m really excited about the parts."
I want to know more about those exciting parts, but Whedon can’t say much. "It’s getting two characters together who have never talked, and never even been in the same universe. It’s the little moments between them. I mean, there is so much action in this movie, I’m appalled that I wrote it, because apparently I have to film it. But it’s the little moments between the characters, where you really get to feel both of their voices, and their different perspectives. That’s thrilling."
Amazingly, Whedon can still walk the show floor at Comic-Con relatively anonymously — he stays behind the camera, so his face isn’t as well known as his name. "I was down on the floor just now with my friends," he says. "It’s always fun to bring a noob, because their eyes just pop. I love to go around and look at the different art and displays. It helps that I suddenly lost all my hair, I don’t get recognized as much."
Inevitably, he runs into his own creations in cosplayer form. "I ran into an Illyria [a character from Angel], and a cast of Serenity. That was fun." He pauses for thought. "Still not as exciting as seeing a Mulan though."