Candace Havens, Joss Whedon: The Genius behind Buffy (BenBella Books, 2003)

'As an aspiring filmmaker with waist-length bright red hair, and eccentric points of view, Joss had some disastrous pitch meetings.'

The author's reverence for her subject is clear, and we're given lots of comments from those who adore Whedon. This is very much a book in praise of its subject, rather than about him. Other than the inclusion of Whedon's self critiques, the lack of negatives sometimes creates imbalance. I found myself wanting to know more about how the great man has dealt with people and problems which have occurred away from the public eye. The space where this insight might have gone is given over to photographic content. Images are presented at a rate of one every three pages. All are b&w snapshot poses, which put faces to names but often feel non-essential. The text is also frequently split by large box-outs of white text on black backgrounds, which adds to the light, youthful, pop magazine feel.

'The work was extremely lucrative, with Joss making $100,000 per week on certain assignments.'

After learning that at one time it was routine for Whedon to be paid a fortune by the standards of most folks, we're told nothing of whether he likes 'nice things', as Elton John put it. Whedon is quoted as believing that his work is not about money -- which is what the wealthy always claim -- but what he actually does with his wonga remains a mystery. Considering Whedon's prodigious imagination, finding out just a little about how he uses these comparatively vast earnings would've been fascinating. Does he sponsor a beaver defrosting team at the Eskimo Olympics, dress up as Count Duckula, or collect antique European merkins? If Havens knows, she isn't telling. What the author does reveal is that despite Whedon's empathy with the underdog, and finger-on-the-pulse writing style, his life has always differed from the norm. The positive aspects including elite schooling, plus a father and grandfather who both worked in television. Whedon is shown to have been in the right place at the right time, with the necessary contacts to get a foothold in the business. But it's what Joss did next that made all the difference.

'I don't want to create responsible shows with lawyers in them. I want to invade people's dreams.' -- Joss Whedon

As moguls go, Whedon comes across as someone who is genuinely liked by those he interacts with. He's appreciative of others and nurtures the talents of his employees. We're given a glimpse of how Buffy The Vampire Slayer evolved from an idea, through a movie wrecked by its director, and finally into a TV show that set new standards of excellence. Disappointingly, Havens puts minimal focus on the mechanics of Whedon's creative flow, or his writing techniques. Toward the end of the book, we do get to see a little more of who Whedon the man is, as opposed to what he is and the things he's achieved. That glimpse reveals a slightly nihilistic individual at the top of a cliff. Whedon is well aware that he could fall, but the smart money says he'll fly. Is Joss Whedon as genius? The answer will always be a matter of personal opinion. What this book convinced me of was that Whedon qualifies as a genius loc, which in Latin means the distinctive atmosphere of a place, or its guardian deity. Whedon is the genius loc of quark, strangeness and charm.

[Nathan Brazil]