"Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion" Book Review
Edited by Mary Alice Money
2012, 485 Pages, Non-Fiction
Book released on May 1st, 2012
For years, nerds have worshipped at the altar of one Joss Whedon. Known for witty dialogue and impressive character development, the man personified the underdog after having his cult show Firefly cancelled by Fox. He created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, and co-wrote Cabin in the Woods which was only just released. He also directed and co-wrote that little indie flick The Avengers that broke a few records. It's no wonder that his work has caught the attention of geeks around the world, myself included. What I didn't realize was just how much his work was studied. When I say "studied," I don't mean a few people talking about it on a forum. I'm talking thesis papers and people with doctorates writing essays about things like feminism, the exploration of self, and Bible studies. Yeah, I didn't get that last one either, but all those and more are included in Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion from Titan Books.
The book is broken up by topic, going from Buffy and Angel through Firefly and Serenity into Joss' work in comics and Dollhouse and beyond. Each section includes a brief introduction of the 'verse and a series of essays and interviews about the subject. It's clear that these people are very passionate about Whedon. His work has touched many people in many different ways.
The essays range in quality. Some are very well researched, written by professionals that are able to get their point across in a very concise manner. These can be a little dry at times though. On the other end of the spectrum are the college kids that are clearly just trying to get away with writing their English paper about a TV show. Yes, Joss Whedon's work means a lot to you, but sometimes it's a blatant stretch for you to write about Buffy for your homework. The downside to these more amateur writers is that they idolize Whedon so much so that they try desperately to mimic his writing style and fail miserably. There's a reason that Whedon is writing and directing movies like The Avengers. He's good at it. Leave the funny talk to the professionals.
Each section has its breakout essays. I don't have a favorite, but I can tell you a few of the ones that really stood out. In the Buffy chapter, there's Failure of the Everyman: The Lost Character That Was Xander Harris by Kyle Garret. This explores the character of Xander and his growth throughout the series. He was always the one person that didn't have any powers, like Buffy's "man on the street" providing a real world viewpoint. Also within the Buffy section was TV's Grim Reaper: Why Joss Whedon Continually Kills the Characters We Love by Kristin M. Barton. This one should come as no surprise to any fan of Whedon's work as that guy can make you squeal in a fit of nerd glee or send you into a geek rage at the drop of a hat. He does this by making us care so much for the characters, but as we've learned time and time again, no one is safe, even if your name is in the credits.
Other standout essays include Lindsey and Angel: Reflecting Masculinity by Lorna Jowett, The Night Billy Buddy Died: Dr. Horrib'es Tragicomic Inversion of Spider-Man by Kevin M. Brettauer, and Identity and Memory in Dollhouse by Ryan Jawetz. All three present interesting theories and observations about different Whedon works that really open up discussion.
Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion is a mixed bag. This is certainly not for everyone, but if you're a diehard Whedon fan, you'll eat this up. Casual fans will find segments of the book a little dry and a bit too much like a textbook for a course they signed up for and then instantly regretted. If you're just looking for a few facts about some of the guy's work, look them up on Wikipedia or IMDB. If you're ready for a deep discussion comparing Mal Reynolds to Han Solo, then look no further.
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