To this day Joss Whedon enjoyed a nifty career. Starting as writer on Roseanne, Whedon later scripted a movie called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A teen comedy about a schoolgirl fighting vampires, the movie was plain stupid and failed, but garnered some following. Moving on and working on other movies over the years (like Toy Story and Alien Resurrection), in ’97 Whedon eventually returned to the small screen with a show based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only with him being the main creator (rumors claimed that the producers of the movie shunned Whedon and took full control over the script). It became a cult hit and erased the bad taste left from the original movie.
The first season of BtVS was pretty much campy, but toward the end it started showing some promise and upon returning for Season 2 it established itself as one of the best TV shows of the late ’90s. BtVS gave birth to a spin-off show, Angel, a bit darker story about Buffy’s former vampire lover on a quest to fulfill a prophecy that’ll make him human once again. The former finally wrapped up in 2003 after seven seasons, the latter followed a year later with 5 seasons under its belt. In the middle, Whedon created a space western called Firefly, detailing the adventures of a pirate transport ship crew. It was canceled after 11 episodes (14 were filmed) by Fox, after the network did everything to screw it by messing with the show’s schedule. However, in its short existence Firefly became a cult hit and in 2005 Whedon scripted and directed Serenity, a movie that continued almost right after the final events of the TV show. Despite lots of hype and positive reviews, the movie failed financially. Like the TV show, it have become a cult hit.
I’m not looking at sales figures as means of judging the failure of anyone (it could sell poorly but still be the best written work of fiction ever), yet it was around that time that Whedon started to show signs of “losing it”, at least in my opinion. I still didn’t get it until recently, though. In ’04 Whedon was signed by Marvel Comics to scribe a new series called Astonishing X-Men. Months earlier writer Grant Morrison – signed on an exclusive contract from ’01-’04 – announced that he signed with DC Comics and that he’ll leave New X-Men in the Spring of ’04. Whedon talked about his love for the X-Men (namely, the Claremont and Byrne run from the late ’70s-early ’80s) over the years and about that time claimed that Morrison’s run was the one that brought him back into the X-Men universe and comic books. Marvel EIC Joe Quesada and co. didn’t miss an opportunity and approached the famed writer and creator to do his own version of the X-Men. Obviously, it was a huge hit. Partnered with artist John Cassaday (Planetary), Whedon wrote one of the best X-stories since the heydays of Claremont/Byrne. Unfortunately, like many comic books in recent years it suffered from schedule delays, and after the first amazing story arc, it seemed like the book lost its track. Four years and only 25 issues and a half later (24 regular issues, a giant-size finale and a short story published in Giant-Size X-Men #3), Joss Whedon was done with the X-Men but despite the good sales it seemed like most readers had a sigh of relief.
Another favorite of Whedon was Brian K. Vaughan’s Runaways, a formerly canceled teen team book that returned to the shelves thanks to a success in collected editions. Vaughan and co-creator artist Adrian Alphona announced they’ll be leaving the book in 2007 after the fourth story arc of the second series. Whedon was given the option by Marvel to pick whatever book he wants to write and Runaways was his choice. Writing issues #25-30, suffering (again) from delays and featuring less-than-stellar plot, Whedon actually did more damage than help. In the same year, Whedon wrote the first story arc of a new Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic series from Dark Horse, labeled as the eighth season of the canceled TV show. Slated with an impressive cadre of writers from both the TV show and the comics industry (including the aforementioned Brian K. Vaughan), Whedon would have continued as an “executive producer” of the series, like he did in the good old days. Getting a good place on the sales charts, the series was a huge success, however most of the story arcs were not received well by reviewers and online fanboys, mostly being criticized for its plot gimmicks. Following the next year, Whedon served as “producer” and co-plotter on a new Angel comic book series from IDW that also continued from the point the TV show ended. While not enjoying the same sales numbers, Angel: After the Fall is still being published alongside BtVS. As far as I can remember, it has been taken much more positively by readers.
During his time in the comics industry and what some will consider as sitting on the bench, Whedon tried more than once to return to the big and small screens. For years he’s been attached to the Wonder Woman production as writer and director, a movie based on the DC Comics character. After failing to work properly with the producers of the movie (namely, Joel Silver) and losing cred points with the financial failure of Serenity, a rumor about Warner Bros. buying a Wonder Woman script from two unknown guys ended with Joss leaving the production. Rumors of BtVS and Angel movies (in cinema or TV) over the years turned out to be just rumors, and probably came to be the comic books from Dark Horse and IDW.
Last year Whedon finally made his way back to TV, though not the way it was expected. Two huge mistakes were done by the creator when it comes to Dollhouse: 1. Creating a whole show just to save the career of his friend and former collaborator, actress Eliza Dushku, and 2. returning to Fox, the same network that screwed him all over years ago with Firefly. Signs of trouble came up before the show even aired; several months before the airing date Whedon announced that he was not pleased with the pilot episode and decided to shoot it all over again. While he believed that a new regime in the network will prevent the fate of Dollhouse from being the same as Firefly‘s, a deep involvement of executives affected the plot for the first half of the season, and a tough scheduling (Friday night) seemed like signs of doom for the show. Eventually, Whedon and co. were given freedom, but it seemed too late. The ratings remained low and the focus on Eliza Dushku in the lead role didn’t do well for the plot. Somehow, the show got another chance with a second season, however the ratings didn’t improve and recently the show went off the air for the duration of November, from which it will return for a schedule of two episodes a week, apparently in order to end it as early as possible. Obviously, there won’t be a third season.
Despite these failings (whether financially or creatively), Whedon is still a respected writer and director. His love for pop culture and experience landed Whedon the opportunity to direct two episodes of The Office in Seasons 3 and 4, and guest-star in an episode of cult favorite Veronica Mars, both shows Whedon claimed to be a fan of. Not everything was a failure for Whedon, like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a 3-part online superhero musical starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day. Now he’s in the middle of co-writing horror movie Cabin in the Woods with director Drew Goddard (Angel, Lost), so I still hope he’s going to get back on track. I’m not a “blind believer” (not that I ever was; I hope…) but I’ll tune up for any interesting project of Whedon’s. And if Eliza Dushku is in it, I hope she’ll have a background silent part.
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