In Review: Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe

In the new book, Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe, author Amy Pascale has succeeded in writing a beautiful, engrossing, biography of Joss Whedon, the brilliant writer/director, who,...

In the new book, Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe, author Amy Pascale has succeeded in writing a beautiful, engrossing, biography of Joss Whedon, the brilliant writer/director, who, at the age of 50, is hopefully merely in the middle of his story.

While mostly a meticulously researched, well-written homage to the creator of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ ‘Angel,’ and ‘Firefly,’ and ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ writer/director, the book, while always respectful, refrains from portraying Whedon as flawless. Pascale recounts tensions among actors and crew on the set of Buffy; problems that writer Tim Minear had with Whedon’s inattention to the work done on Angel, and occasional tactless comments toward him while working on the series early on; and the waning in quality of both Buffy and Angel series when Firefly became his obsession. She also makes clear her own dislike of Buffy Series 6, which I personally liked, though to her credit, Pascale makes her arguments well.

Some of the accounts of the missteps Whedon made, especially in the early years of establishing Buffy, et al, made me ambivalent about reading further, but I am truly glad that I did.  Just as the flaws of, and mistakes made by, Buffy and virtually every other Whedon character made them more interesting, and ultimately did not undercut our love and appreciation for them, the same can be said for Pascale’s portrayal of Joss Whedon. The reader is more likely to be amazed, and floored, by the sheer energy, drive, talent, and genius the man possesses. He seems to be able to accomplish in a week, more than most of us will accomplish in our entire lives.

Every chapter recounting Whedon’s series and movies is a revelation, but the most interesting chapters for me (as a longtime activist, as well as the parent of a university theater major and budding playwright and director) were the ones about his years before Buffy, the accounts of his political and social activism, and his prominence in the 2007-08 strike of the Writers’ Guild of America. Pascale highlights how his passion for justice and fairness informs his work, from the female empowerment messages starting with Buffy, to the anti-corporate message that informed the stories in Angel, especially in Series 5, to the anti-war statements slipped into the dialogue in the last season of Buffy on the eve of the start of the US war in Iraq in 2003.  Pascale’s chapter on Firefly addresses how Whedon tells stories of the average people who have to live with the consequences of the policies and decisions of the people/organizations in power, while nearly every other TV series tells only the stories of the people who make the decisions and have power over others.

Most of the information in the book can be found somewhere online, and many of us who have followed Whedon’s work for more than a couple of years can remember his posts on Whedonesque.com, or The Bronze/Bronze Beta years; however, most of us have lives beyond our fandom, and may choose not to devote years of hunting down every tidbit we can find on everything Whedon. Pascale does a splendid job of synthesizing decades’ worth of interviews, biography, and accounts of events, which can either serve as a great trip down memory lane for fans of Whedon who have followed his successes and disappointments over the years, or a way for both older and newer fans to learn more about the man and his work. She presents the information with a very clear, crisp, entertaining style that is easy to understand, while never underestimating the intelligence of her audience.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan, old or new,  of Joss Whedon’s work.  I will caution new fans that the book is spoiler-heavy, so if you have not seen all of Whedon’s shows and movies, I suggest you see them before you read the chapter(s) about them.

Release Date: 24 July 2014
448 pages | £20 (hardback)
Author: Amy Pascale
Publisher: Aurum Press

Grade: A


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