It must be a tricky thing to write a biography of someone who is still at their peak. Presumably you can’t be guaranteed an objective perspective when the people you’re interviewing are still hoping to work with the person you’re asking them about. When your subject is as beloved a pop culture figure as Joss Whedon, objectivity must be nearly impossible. Along with creators like Neil Gaiman and Guillermo del Toro, Whedon occupies a very special place in fandom. His work isn’t just culturally important, it holds a very special place in the hearts of those who love it.
Which, frankly, made us a bit worried about Amy Pascale’s biography. Could it be more than a 400-page tribute? There are a couple of indicators early on that Pascale isn’t interested in putting anybody through the ringer. She introduces the book with a personal story about Buffy affected her life, Whedon is referred to as “Joss” throughout, and it is called Geek King Of The Universe.
It’s clear that this is written by a fan, but it’s also very much written for fans. Pascale understands the relationship that Whedonites have with the man for whom they are named, she understands the passion they have for his creations, and she also understands how much they’re going to know already.
It’s this latter part that makes Geek King Of The Universe such a worthwhile investment. Pascale has done a tremendous amount of research; with the early chapters on Whedon’s parents and childhood an informative (if occasionally overwritten) glimpse into his formative years, and the sheer number of interviewees and sources is very impressive indeed.
Another criticism often levelled at biographies of people still working is that they’re incomplete. What this book shows is just how much work Whedon has done in the years since he was a staff writer on Roseanne. Pascale goes into his unmade early screenplays and his time working on Speed, Alien Resurrection and Toy Story, gives us a glimpse into why Goners never got made, shows how hard he fought for The Cabin In The Woods to remain unchanged, and reveals how close he actually came to making Wonder Woman.
Indeed, the book is at its most compulsively readable when the author is writing about the period when Whedon was running three different shows at once. The stories of the writers’ rooms and the careers they helped launch (Jane Espenson, Drew Goddard, Marti Noxon, David Fury, etc) are fantastic and are a fascinating reminder of the sheer scope of the Whedonverse at its TV peak. The loyalty that he inspires in everyone from writers, producers and actors rings through time and time again and Pascale conveys the incredibly hard work that went into establishing these relationships and success stories.
It helps that there are some stories about how life wasn’t always a bed of roses at this point: difficulties on the Buffy set and Tim Minear’s frank memories of how long it took for the Angel writing team to gel with the show, and with Whedon himself, are crucial in giving us a more rounded viewpoint of the creator as someone more complex than the flawless renaissance genius (which some of the interviewees are sometimes a little too keen to paint him as, especially once we reach Dr Horrible and The Avengers). Pascale also offers some good criticism of Buffy’s more troubled years, Angel Season Four and the fitfully great Dollhouse, and charts the rise and fall of Buffy fan forum The Bronze and Posting Board Parties.
Whedon-sceptics may find the parade of praise difficult to get through, but this is written for those of us who have watched through Buffy, Angel and Firefly (at least once). It’s comprehensive, entertaining and thoughtful and, perhaps most importantly, it will send you running to your box-sets to relive his work.
To order Joss Whedon: Geek King of the Universe A Biography at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p* (RRP: £20.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and quote the offer code APG176.
*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.