‘Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion’ Book Review
Editor: Mary Alice Money
Publisher: Titan Books, PopMatters
Review: For those who have grown up on the internet (ie: a large part of our readership) the concept of a companion might be a bit different from what we have here. This isn’t a collection of trivia and facts, episode guides and pictures of the crew. It’s a bit heavier than that, and much more academic. What PopMatters has compiled is a collection of essays that examines the works of the Almighty Joss from a variety of different angles, delving far past the surface of the show to highlight exactly what makes these shows, comics and movies so gosh darn fantastic.
Things are spaced out in a chronological fashion starting with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s noted early on that Buffy is written about by academics more than any other television show and when you delve into these works it’s clear why. The show is picked apart on a narrative level, as a biblical study, with a focus on representation of educators, as an example of the fantasy genre, etc, etc. We get specific focuses on Xander as a character, Willow’s sexuality being linked to her sense of empowerment, female competition as depicted in the narrative, how Buffy redefined how television is made and two in-depth deconstructions of the episodes ‘Restless’ and ‘Passions’. Needless to say this provides a very deep insight into the show and people who made it (not to mention the people who watch it) that provides as much brain fodder as it does fresh perspectives on material that many of us have gone over time and time again.
Following on from this breakout series the book goes on to cover (in less detail) Whedon’s follow up works. Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Astonishing X-Men and The Avengers all has a separate chapter dedicated to it. Although these chapters have less pages dedicated to each of them it doesn’t mean that the material lacks the complexity of the Buffy chapter, and thee are many surprising topics covered. A psychoanalytic study of Illyria will change your perspective on one of the oddest characters in the Buffyverse, and a look at Angel and Lindsay as opposing icons of masculinity reveals that some people can read homo-eroticism into anything. Some of the comics such as Sugarshock and Buffy Season 8 only get brief mentions and recaps, which begin every chapter.
For people just getting into the world of Whedon there is a recap of the work and their significance at the beginning of each chapter. It is assumed, however, that you’re unlikely to be reading this unless you’re already a huge fan of Whedon’s work, and as a result have seen everything he’s produced and then watched it again. If the names ‘Illyria’ and ‘Xander’ have already caused you to furrow your brow in confusion then this may not be in the publication for you. If there’s any weak spot it comes from the interviews, and some of the authors conducting the interviews are not natural journalists. Some in particular ask very long winded questions that feel like they’re trying to lead the interviewee towards a specific answer, or they’ll pad out the question with background information that is only tangentially relevant to the eventual question.
As a person who was in film school when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was at its peak I’m aware of just how much fun it is to get right into some of these episodes on an analytical level (and the Oscar for dorkiest sentence of the year goes to…), especially Restless. For anyone who’s ever seen the works of Whedon as something more than entertainment whether it be on an academic level or a rabid fan level this book will shake off those Buffy cobwebs and have you sorting through your DVDs for another rewatch. This collection serves as a reminder of why Whedon is more than just a damn fine film-maker and television writer but the man who spoke to so many people through the most unusual mediums, whether it be a monster hunting cheerleader, a conflicted mad scientist, a rebel with a heart of gold or Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.