No matter where you land on the Joss Whedon fan spectrum—whether you socialized among the Bronze, the online community of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, in a past Internet life, or just loved The Avengers—there’s something for you in Amy Pascale’s new bio of the cult-magnet screenwriter and director. Even big Jossheads might be surprised by the candid, exhaustively researched interviews with Whedon, who reveals some previously unearthed gems, such as his vision for his never-realized Wonder Woman movie, in which he reimagined the superhero’s introduction to our world as an adolescent rite of passage.
From the get-go, Pascale makes no bones about her longtime fandom. Following a charming foreword by the reliably charming Nathan Fillion, who starred in Whedon’s one-and-done sci-fi show Firefly, her introduction details how she channeled her inner Buffy Summers to get over a “twenty-year burden” and confront a man who had once broken into her home. Pascale also appeared in the 2007 documentary IRL (In Real Life), which examined the culture of the Bronze. More recently, she worked as a director on the coming-of-age MTV comedy Awkward.
On her tour through “the Whedonverse,” Pascale manages to strike a balance between hyperknowledgeable devotee and a serious chronicler. We’re taken through not-so-humble beginnings (private schools, professor mom, TV writer dad); a pained adolescence (fodder for tales of heartbreak); the loss of his mother after she suffered an aneurysm; and the inceptions and cancellations of Buffy, its spinoff, Angel, and the previously mentioned space western that could not quite.
The prose is rather lackluster, and too often needlessly expository (does anyone really need a primer on the Wonder Woman mythos?). Perhaps Pascale didn’t feel up to the task of matching wits with Whedon, who created whole worlds and even a novel patois, Slayer Slang. It’s more likely, though, that she was content to let him speak for himself. When she does, we get everything from angsty anecdotes about growing up an outsider to endearing stories about falling in love with his field and, later, his wife, Kai Cole.
The book faithfully charts Whedon’s career highs—his stint writing for Marvel comics, the unexpected success of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and being handed the keys to The Avengers kingdom. Pascale also examines Whedon’s flops, but it’s with the strained intention of extracting a moral where even Whedon doesn’t see one. The writing is mushiest when she attempts to speed from his darker periods (such as the cancellation of Firefly) to the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel (say, the birth of his first son).
Still, there are a handful of revelations. Despite appearances, Whedon’s casts and crews weren’t always happy families. For instance, frequent Whedon collaborator Tim Minear describes a turbulent start to their relationship—the producer almost quit on multiple occasions. And to Pascale’s credit, there’s no idle gossip or supposition. There’s no need; the story of Whedon’s life is often more intriguing than his fictions.