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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The (possible) redemption of Joss Whedon

    Despite a tremendous resume, Joss Whedon has remained largely a cult figure for the past 15 years. Known primarily within the fanboy realms and those who grew up watching “”Buffy the Vampire Slayer,”” Whedon has almost no crossover appeal. I said his name around my mother once and she asked, “”Who is she?””

    Not exactly the best name recognition.

    Creator of four television series, guest director on “”The Office”” and “”Glee,”” co-writer of “”Toy Story”” and nominated for an Emmy, as well as an Academy Award for his writing, Whedon has never been a power player for anyone who doesn’t know what “”Runaways”” is or that can’t name Willow’s girlfriend. Yeah, I’m a nerd, so what?

    Whedon’s writing has been important in the comic book world as well. He writes spinoffs of his television material for Dark Horse Comics and wrote for Marvel, garnering several Eisner Award nominations for his work on “”Astonishing X-Men.”” He also made the phenomenal superhero spoof “”Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”” in response to the 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike.

    Whedon’s work helped identify him as a feminist and he has been honored for glorifying women in popular culture. Harvard even honored him last year with a lifetime achievement award in cultural humanism.

    Yet most have only heard his name in passing. That’s about to change.

    As reported by several media outlets, Whedon appears to be the writer and director for “”The Avengers”” movie, Marvel Studios’ colossal superhero medley. With Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Nick Fury presumed to be players, “”The Avengers”” will be Whedon’s largest title to date.

    And that is a gross understatement.

    “”Iron Man”” grossed $585 million worldwide, with the vastly inferior “”The Incredible Hulk”” still pulling in $263 million. Also, “”Iron Man 2″” drops next month and has more on-campus attention than Proposition 100. Marvel’s films are experiencing a huge pop culture draw thanks to Robert Downey Jr. putting down the crack pipe. “”The Avengers”” will be the culmination of Marvel’s films and could easily open to $70-plus million domestically. Comparatively, Whedon’s sole directorial credit “”Serenity”” grossed $38 million worldwide — total.

    This is like getting called up from Little League to play for the New York Yankees.

    So why Whedon? His career has not been all cult success and unfair cancellations. His script for “”Alien: Resurrection”” helped kill the franchise and “”Titan A.E.”” did anyhing for anyone. He has never touched material this big before or directed such a group of superstars. Furthermore, his detractors claim he is esoteric, dialogue-dependent and too quirky.

    You know what? Good. He’s writing and directing a comic book movie, not “”Casablanca.”” I don’t want my comic book movie to be mainstream. That’s what killed the “”Spider-Man”” franchise and sucked all the fun out of the “”Fantastic Four”” movies. Marvel needs someone who can tackle the absurdity of its product head-on and form a union between the Avengers and the real world.

    Whedon will be helming a film that combines a playboy billionaire, the Norse thunder god, a one-eyed superspy and the embodiment of America. Somehow he has to make them fit within the context of modern America. I’ll hedge my bets on the guy who successfully put vampires in high school and made it completely logical.

    Besides, Whedon has nothing to lose and everything to gain. With “”Dollhouse”” cancelled, Whedon can focus completely on using his strong comic book background to prepare for “”The Avengers.”” If he strikes out, he loses nothing. He remains an important comic book writer and a potential force if the television market ever overcomes its penchant for reality programming. If he knocks “”The Avengers”” out of the park, he becomes a viable Hollywood writer-director with a strong underground following.

    In the age of the Internet, that can swing momentum more than a carnival ride.

    Furthermore, Marvel stands to gain a lot from Whedon. Not only do they undo the idiotic move of signing Zak Penn on as chief writer — he wrote such gems as “”Elektra”” and “”X-Men: The Last Stand”” — but they nearly guarantee the importance of character over action. While Whedon has shown potential as an action director, his control of character kept “”Buffy”” afloat for seven seasons and led Empire magazine rate it the No. 2 television series of all time.

    Comic books are never about slick action scenes. For God’s sake, they were glossy squares initially. Character drives narrative, and Whedon has shown himself to be more than capable of building complex and fascinating characters from archetypes.

    Sure, this is all speculative. A lot can happen before “”The Avengers”” is released May 4, 2012. But for Joss Whedon, a man who has mostly garnered quiet accolades and hushed applause, this opportunity confirms that Hollywood is still in the business of making dreams come true.

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