Joss Whedon, The Complete Companion book review

Very few creative minds in the world of television are adored as fanatically or studied as thoroughly as Joss Whedon. Scholars flock to his work, exploring hundreds of topics in the Whedonverse from all angles; was Willow and Tara’s homosexual relationship on Buffy The Vampire Slayer a brave rally behind the LGBTQ community, or just a case of tokenism that displayed lesbianism as something other-worldly and magical? Was Dollhouse just another example of misogyny masquerading as female empowerment? Did Firefly and Serenity really change sci-fi television and the film industry? PopMatters has published Joss Whedon, The Complete Companion: The TV Series, the Movies, the Comic Books and More with the goal of compiling some of the many essays trying to answer questions such as these.

The book, which has 464 pages containing over 60 essays and interviews, seems to cover all of Whedon’s works, including Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Astonishing X-Men, and even Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers. However, for a book that compiles scholarly essays, only one question need be asked to assess its quality; would you be able to write a good essay using only this book as a scholarly source? The answer: yeah, I guess.

I can find few faults in the essays themselves; they are all logical, well written, and cover a wide variety of topics. While fans of Buffy will be well aware that it lends itself to be examined in gender studies, there are also essays that examine masculinity in Angel, providing the comparison that while Buffy is about how hard it is to be a woman, Angel is about how hard it is to be a man. The topics of moral ethics and language are also examined in several essays throughout the book and could all be used by students at the high school and university levels to write their own essays.

Sadly, the book was written before the release of The Avengers or Cabin in the Woods, so the essays contained can only speculate about the films. However, that does not make these essays worthless now that the movies have been released and watched by millions. The essay “Six Reasons why Joss Whedon is the Perfect Director for The Avengers is written from the perspective that, should The Avengers be a good movie, the reasons explained will be why. Having seen the film, I agree with every point the author makes and his speculation is spot on. Therefore, were someone to use these reasons in their own essay, they are only burdened with the task of finding examples of these things in the film itself.

However, the book’s greatest fault is its lack of differing opinions which would hinder anyone trying to write an argumentative essay on any of the topics discussed. Not a single essay argues that Buffy, Angel, Firefly, or Dollhouse were insignificant in any way. The closest thing we get is an essay that argues that, while a step in the right direction, Buffy is not a perfect feminist hero because of the cattiness in her altercations with other women which often emphasize physical attractiveness. However, this essay is somewhat flawed by ignoring and completely denying the way that Xander Harris will comment on the physical appearance of characters like Spike and Angel, who he sees as threatening his masculinity in the same way Faith may threaten Buffy’s femininity. But this is as close as we get to hearing that any of Joss Whedon’s main works are anything less than a masterpiece.

One author even goes as far as to say that Alien Resurrection being terrible had nothing to do with Joss Whedon’s script, which anyone who has actually read the original script knows just isn’t true. This mistake is somewhat redeemed by another author’s essay being entirely dedicated to how Joss Whedon explored the failed ideas in Alien Resurrection in his later works (such as Buffy’s apathy after being brought back to life in the later seasons of Buffy), but it shows the general theme of the book: Joss Whedon is a god who can do (almost) no wrong.

Before I continue, I feel the need to establish that I am very much a Joss Whedon fan. My mom and I used to toon in to Buffy every week from season 3 to the series finale, and though I may have only been 11 years old when the series ended in 2003, I made a point to rewatch the entire series in my late teens. My boyfriend and I were Mal and Inara for Halloween last year. I have mapped out an entire script complete with technical notes for a would-be stage production of Dr. Horrible. I am a fan. All this to say that any criticisms here are not because I’m hell-bent on disavowing any praise bestowed on Joss Whedon or any of his works. My criticisms here are because, in addition to being a Joss Whedon fan, I’m also a university student who spends a lot of time writing essays and knows that to really prove your opinion is the correct one, you need to show that other opinions are wrong. This is where essays denying Joss Whedon’s greatness would come in. Essays arguing that Agent Scully from The X-Files is a better female role model and did more to change the role of women in television than Buffy or how Firefly is derivative of Star Wars would have been a welcome addition to the book, providing students points to argue against in their own writing. But sadly, such topics go unexplored. Unfortunately, this theme is present in almost any scholarly discussion of Joss Whedon’s works, as though the only people who care enough to talk about him are already eager to lick his boots.

However, there is one small point for which I must rain praise down upon this book for, and that is its appendix. At the end of the book, after all the essays, there is an appendix which lists every episode of every Joss Whedon television series along with the episode’s title, writer, director, original air date, time, and what network it played on. These kinds of details are gold for a student when writing their bibliography. Citing television shows is notoriously difficult as they often have different lead writers and directors from episode to episode and finding original air dates can be tricky. It often requires a lot of fast forwarding to the credits of the episode you want to cite and paying close attention. No more for a Joss Whedon series; it’s all there in The Complete Companion. It’s a small detail, but it took time to compile and must tip my hat to the authors for doing so.

Overall, while the essays are of good quality and are on a wide variety of topics, Joss Whedon, The Complete Companion: The TV Series, the Movies, the Comic Books and More could probably not be used as your only source for a good essay. However, I would highly recommend it as one source of many and to anyone who’s looking to validate their fandom with a little scholarly reading. If you find yourself stuck when trying to explain to friends just why exactly Firefly is a must-watch show, or have no answer when wondering why people are still talking about a vampire hunting cheerleader nearly ten years after the show has finished its run, give this book a read.

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Genevieve LeBlanc
Genevieve LeBlanc 126 posts

Genevieve LeBlanc is a contributing writer for NerdReactor.com and lives in snowy Canada.