Review: The fans of Joss Whedon – The Complete Companion

Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion is a collection of essays and articles about the veteran genre director and his various productions.

Whedon is a prolific producer of genre television and film, from his breakout, and still popular genre-bending television serial, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, through his helming of the recent Avengers film, with lots of projects, big and small, corporate and personal, in between.

The Complete Companion is not a collection of material by Whedon, however, it’s a compilation of non-fiction pieces about the universe of stories affectionately known as the Whedonverse. There are journalistic articles and academic essays, which range from glowing praise to neutral literary analysis.

The bulk of the book – approximately a third of the book’s mass – is about Buffy the Vampire Slayer specifically. This section kicks off with some articles that discuss the breadth of the series, and then offers us some analysis of specific episodes. 

The section about Buffy really makes it clear just how much thought went into the creation of the show, but more than that, showing how much love there still is for the series. It should probably be notd that most of the articles in this chapter are a little too glowing for proper objective analyses.

It’s painfully obvious that nearly all of the writers are fans of the show, and of Whedon himself, and often see intellect and commentary in the show’s plots and characters, where there may have been only a well-written show. There was a noticeable pattern however in what was criticized: almost unanimously, the authors of these articles and essays felt that the first and last seasons of the show were somehow lacking, though their reasons for what exactly went wrong is different from author to author. Even that critique, however, comes off almost as a critique of the audience, rather than of the show, seeming in many cases to be saying that when the show’s ratings slacked, it was because we didn’t get the vision.

The rest of the book is much the same, though only the Firefly section reaches quite the level of fan-fervor that is reached in the Buffy section. A few of the articles are interesting, even insightful, for example, the article entitled Tom Brokaw’s Coat by Dr. Shathey Q in the ‘Comics’ section of The Companion discusses Whedon’s approach to his run of writing for X-Men with a surprising amount of insight into X-Men in general, and how Whedon’s stories fit into that canon, and Buffy and Dollhouse by Angella Zhang in the ‘Dollhouse’ section, which artfully compares the two protagonists as symbols for femininity and relationship empowerment.

These are not the only insightful articles, but others are few and far between. Out of the nearly 60 essays in the Companion, perhaps a dozen are really worth reading, while the remainder are so much fluff, fan-worship, and pointing out of the obvious – like the several articles which discuss parallels between aspects of Firefly’s story-world and the American Old West or those which point out the super hero origin subversions in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, both points which are pretty clear to anyone who would actually be watching the shows.

Are the dozen or so insightful articles worth wading through the cruft? Absolutely. Just don’t get into it thinking that everything inside is a revelation. If nothing else, of course, the book makes a nice addition to your bookshelf of Whedonverse books. It might fit nicely next to your copy of the Dr Horrible’s Sing-along Blog shooting scripts and the art book from Cabin in the Woods.

Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion is avaiable now from the PopMatters division of Titan Books. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for a chance to win a copy sometime in the next few days.