It could be said of Joss Whedon that he is the world's first third-generation television writer. He was born in new York City in 1964 into a family where both his father and grandfather before him were successful screenwriters, and the rest, as they say, is history. He grew up accumulating knowledge and a love of storytelling from his family. When he was 9 his parents divorced and he spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence living with his mother, history teacher Lee Stearns, before leaving home to cross The Pond. After two years at Winchester College in England he enrolled in Wesleyan University's Film Studies program. This period of immersion in the world of film theory gave Whedon the foundation from which he would launch his storytelling career. Raised by his mother with an ingrained feminist outlook, he graduated in 1987 with a BA in Film Studies and what he calls an "unofficial minor" in gender studies and feminist theory. This unerring attention to gender roles and stereotyping in narrative have since become career trademarks. He left university with the specific intention of not becoming a screenwriter, moving to Los Angeles to spend more time with his father.
Television & Film
But writing, when it's in your blood, is a hard thing to get away from. Whedon found himself in Los Angeles working in a video store and growing closer to his father than he'd been able to in many years. He also found himself writing spec scripts for the shows The Wonder Years, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and Roseanne, the last of which led to a staff writing position. He wrote six scripts the first year on staff, and then moved on to write for Parenthood. In his spare time he was developing his first film script, a low-budget horror spoof. Ever the academic, Whedon’s objective was to create a flipside to the “girl attacked in a dark alley” trope. He wanted to write a heroine who could rescue herself, and drew inspiration from Marvel fixture Kitty Pryde (at the time being written by Alan Davis in Excalibur). Buffy the Vampire Slayer opened in theaters in 1992, a modest financial success but less than satisfactory in Whedon's eyes. The film had been diluted and humourized, and the writer's original vision left as-yet unrealized.
Whedon began to work as an industry script doctor, polishing the writing for Speed (uncredited), Kevin Costner's Waterworld, and X-Men (in which a mere two lines of his were used). Working in 1995 with the crew at Pixar Studios he garnered an Oscar nomination for his writing on Toy Story. A year later he was approached by producer Gail Bermna with an offer: to move the character of Buffy Summers into the realm of television, and to tell the story his way. As would soon be made apparent, Joss' way is the best way. Whedon jumped on the opportunity, creating the Mutant Enemy productions label under which to produce the show. Starting in 1996 Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran for seven televised seasons, attaining cult-icon status and spawning the five-season spin-off Angel. An eighth season of Buffy changed mediums; Joss moved the story into the pages of comics in March 2007, where he would continue to explore The Buffyverse (these and the forthcoming Angel comics are considered canonical). Whedon's personal involvement in production has earned him recognition as not just a director but a showrunner, taking an intimate care with the telling of his stories.
Cult icons and Whedon are analogous. In 2002 he made a foray into sci-fi, creating the genre-mashup Firefly, a space western that aired sporadically on Fox between September of that year and July 2003. The network mis-ordered the episodes chronologically, and it was not until the show had been cancelled and released on DVD that a true fan following began to form. With the episodes properly arranged on disc the true genius of Whedon's vision became apparent, and there was an urgent cry for more. In 2005 Whedon wrote Serenity: Those Left Behind, a three-issue story arc published by Dark Horse. The comics were released in July, August, and September with the last issue coinciding with the release of Serenity, a feature length film that effectively capped the storyline. Whedon would later write two more arcs to help fill the chronological gap between the end of Firefly and the point at which Serenity picks up.
The "search for the cure" story arc presented in 2006's X-men: The Last Stand references Whedon's work with John Cassaday on Astonishing X-Men.
During the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, Joss Whedon set out with his brothers Zack (another writer) and Jed (a composer) to create a short work of film that would effectively circumvent the issues of the strike. Working as professionally as possible on a shoestring budget the brothers produced a three act musical, the astonishingly well-received Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog. In October 31, 2008, Time Magazine named the show #15 in their Top 50 Inventions of 2008. It won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form. And it cleaned up at the 2009 Streamy Awards (for web television), taking seven awards: Best Writing for a Comedy Web Series (Joss Whedon), Best Directing for a Comedy Web Series, Audience Choice Award for Best Web Series, Best Male Actor in a Comedy Web Series (Neil Patrick Harris), Best Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Music (Jed Whedon). The series also won a (slightly obscure) 2009 Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Special Class – Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs. It has become firmly cemented in the Canon of Whedon, showing Joss Whedon for what he is at heart: a storyteller that will let nothing get between him and his passion.
Collaborating in 2011 with writer Drew Goddard, Whedon helped make the film Cabin in the Woods a reality. Having worked together previously on Angel and Buffy, the duo produced the screenplay in three days. The horror film received critical acclaim for being exactly what it was intended to be: a satirical puzzle to be solved by fans of hegemonic "torture-porn", toying-with of the accepted conventions and tropes of the genre.
Other forays in television include the creation of short lived 2009-2010 TV series Dollhouse, exploring themes of ethics and technology. He was particularly concerned with cybernetics, memory, and the way the mental state of tabula rasa (blank slate) affects a person's identity. Whedon directed a 2010 episode of Glee called Dream On, guest-starring Neil Patrick Harris (S1Ep19). In late 2011, Whedon unveiled a formerly secret project: a modern film adaptation of the William Shakespeare drama Much Ado About Nothing. Filmed over the course of 12 days at Joss' house in Santa Monica, CA, Much Ado About Nothing will star alumni of various past projects, such as Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher (Firefly)), Amy Acker (Angel, Cabin), Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse), and Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, Cabin).
His more recent splash on the big screen as the director and writer of Marvel Studios 2012 Avengers film proved that Joss is a force to be reckoned with. The project proved well-suited to his talent of working with multiple lead characters at once, something that Firefly and Buffy had given him ample experience with. Fans of his writing have waited with bated breath for the man to produce screen adaptations of comics literature; with Whedon contracted to Marvel Studios until at least 2015 working to produce a second Avengers film and a S.H.I.E.L.D. television serial (with brother Jed and friend/writer Jeph Loeb), it looks like that anticipation is about to be redeemed.
If you’re going to write comics, it helps to be a fan, and Joss Whedon is a fan worth quoting:
“[N]owadays I'm really cranky about comics. Because most of them are just really, really poorly written soft-core. And I miss good old storytelling. And you know what else I miss? Super powers. Why is it now that everybody's like "I can reverse the polarity of your ions!", like in one big flash everybody's Doctor Strange. I like the guys that can stick to walls and change into sand and stuff. I don't understand anything anymore. And all the girls are wearing nothing, and they all look like they have implants. Well, I sound like a very old man, and a cranky one, but it's true.”
So from day one Whedon set out to give his readers just that, good old storytelling. He made his first leap into comics writing in 1999, with a three-issue origin story for Buffy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was already a licensed ongoing title under the Dark Horse publishing label at the time; Joss wrote two of the origin story issues, but only really started writing comics seriously in 2001. In January of that year teamed up with Karl Moline to write Fray #1, the story of a character from further down the timeline of The Buffyverse. Fray #2 didn’t arrive until July; the rest of the eight-issue run would be published sporadically over two years as Moline took a job at Crossgen and Whedon juggled a directorial career of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. In September 2001 he started writing a four-issue Angel run that ended in May 2002, simultaneously dropping in to write select months on Buffy.
In early 2004 he turned out five issues of issues of Tale of the Vampires, an anthology of short-stories focusing on the lives of vampires within The Buffyverse (the collection featured writing by Jane Espenson, Ben Edlund, and Drew Goddard). He was summarily hired by Marvel to work with illustrator John Cassaday on what would be become his most prominent mainstream comics endeavor. Starting with fresh issues #1 in July 2004, the team was tasked with merging Grant Morrison’s New X-Men title into an ongoing run of Astonishing X-Men. This title had last been used in 1999 for a series that been quickly cancelled; it was up to Whedon and Cassaday to resurrect it, which they proceeded to do with panache. Whedon's first and most decisive move, it has been argued, was to write Kitty Pryde as his strong female lead. He'd held the character in admiration for years, using her as his primary inspiration for Buffy Summers, and here he was able to make the character everything he dreamed her to be capable of. The team he built around Kitty became Marvel's go-to X-Men cast, with some variations, for years come: Colossus, Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Beast, and Lockheed. To aid and confront his heroes Whedon established a cast of original characters, the new material with which he could work his narrative magic. He made additions to the Marvel Universe in the form of Ord of the Breakworld, S.W.O.R.D. and the enigmatic Special Agent Brand, Kavita Rao, Hisako Ichiki, and Blindfold. The roster of the book was became focus of various limited series at the time: X-Men: Phoenix - Endsong and Warsong, and World War Hulk: X-Men. For the most part, though, Whedon made a concerted to maintain autonomy from crossovers; he saw them as hectic and a barrier to the reader, creating an off-puttingly dysfunctional continuity. As such, Astonishing X-Men remained disconnected from major events in the Marvel universe at that time, including House of M and Civil War. The 24 issues of Astonishing X-Men that Whedon wrote between July 2004 and March 2008 were a critical and commercial success, and Whedon was recognized for his efforts in 2006 when he was nominated for several Eisners including Best Continuing Series (which he won), Best Serialized Story, Best New Series, and Best Writer. With that he passed the series to Warren Ellis, with one big damn pair of shoes to fill.
Whedon as a creator is a viewed as an industry legend in part because of the sheer volume of work he has proved able to handle at once. In March 2007 he had begun writing the canonical comics continuation of his flagship TV show, Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Eight; in June he picked up Marvel's Runaways title from acclaimed writer Brian K. Vaughan. In November he started into yet another canonical comic, Angel: After the Fall, a story arc that picked up the life of his Buffy spin-off character where the TV show had left off. In March 2008 Joss Whedon was working simultaneously on six separate projects: Astonishing X-Men; Runaways; Buffy: Season Eight; Angel After the Fall; he had started publication of another Serenity comic to fill chronological gaps between the TV show and the film; and that month he began production of Doctor Horrible with his brothers Zack and Jed. If it is ever in question as to why exactly Joss Whedon deserves respect as a figure in modern comics, this is why.
The first arc of Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, "Gifted", was transformed into a motion comic by the same name through Marvel Knights Animation studios. Neal Adams acted as Animation director on the project. The same story arc served as inspiration for 20th Century Fox's 2006 X-men: The Last Stand
Whedon wrapped up Angel: After the Fall in February 2009 with issue #17; he also wrote a Buffyverse one-shot in December of that year featuring Willow. It took until January 2011 to bring Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Eight to a close with issue #40. Eight months later (September 2011) he wrote and published Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Nine #1; issue #13 of the series was published February 2013, and is his most recent comics work to date.
[last edited March 6 2013]