Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion [Book Review]

Fade in on Sunnydale High School. It’s nighttime, so all good students should be home studying. Nevertheless, we see a pair of teens break into the building. He’s got amorous intentions and she’s nervous. What if they get caught? Or worse, what if he’s some kind of monster — as in, the teen-boy-gone-wild, human kind?

A noise. She startles. Are they alone?

They are, he assures her. She smiles then bares her fangs and chomps down on his neck.

From that moment on, I was hooked.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was unlike anything I’d ever seen on TV before. At first glance, the series looked like a fluffy, teen horror show that wasn’t going to last long.¬† But like Buffy herself, there was so much more going on. It was sharp and witty and the dialogue sparkled with pop culture references that they never bothered to explain. You either got it or you didn’t. No apologies, no dumbing down.

The show struggled, but made it through its mid-season start on the also struggling new netlet The WB. Then it began to pick up steam. Critics began singing the praises, Sarah Michelle Gellar and company started doing photo shoots and interviews. I was lucky enough to be one of those early reporters who got in while the show was still finding an audience. I sang their praises to everyone who would listen and even to a couple of people who begged me to stop.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the most creative show on television and I couldn’t see why everyone else couldn’t see it. Then I realized that it didn’t matter. Buffy wasn’t created for the whole world to enjoy, it was created for the chosen few – for the Cult of Joss and that made it even more special.

Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion could be the cult’s bible. It’s 475 pages of essays and insights crafted by a forty different writers, all of whom have sipped the Kool-Aid. And I don’t mean that as a snipe, I promise you. I say that with all love and affection for these folks who put their thoughts on paper and for the PopMatters editors who pulled it all together.

You see, this book wasn’t written for the masses. It’s not a biography of Joss Whedon, it’s an academic look at all of his projects including Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Dollhouse, his comic books and his movie work. Each entry examines a project from a specific angle. “When Buffy Met Biblical Studies,” “Destiny and Free Will in Dr. Horrible,” “Identity and Memory in Dollhouse.”

Every author in the book is a fan, but that doesn’t mean they give Joss a pass when things didn’t add up. They call him on his failures, praise him on his success and ponder the parts that fell somewhere in between. It’s heavy reading and in places, the authors reach for connections that might be more coincidence than a plan. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Joss gets us all thinking about religion and feminism, and power, and morals, and the evil that men do.

As Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion not-so-succinctly points out, Joss is a man of many talents, the greatest of which is his ability to entertain.

What is your favorite Joss Whedon project? Tell us about it in the comments below.


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