Roz Kaveney: “Gifted and Dangerous” Joss Whedon’s Superhero Obsession.
Anyone can see that the Superhero genre is at least as influential on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as any horror genre. The really nice thing that Roz did in this talk is trace some unexpected details of the influence, including the strong link to Chris Claremont era X-Men. The character of Willow, in particular, grows right out of Claremont’s Kitty Pryde, a link which Joss has acknowledged. Interestingly, Joss was able to do with Willow things that Claremont was never able to do with Kitty. For instance, it is widely believed that Claremont wanted Kitty to grow up to be a lesbian, but this was nixed by his superiors at Marvel. In a nice turn of events, Joss now writes for the X-men, and the first thing he did when he took over the book, is bring back Kitty Pryde.
Early in her talk, Roz situated Whedon in a group of artists she calls the “fanboy creators,” which include Joss Whedon, Alan Moore, Kevin Smith, Neil Gaimon, and a bunch of other people whose names I did not recognize. Apparently she has a contract to write a book on this movement. Again she is able to draw connections back to comics aesthetics that go well beyond the obvious, aided clearly by her encyclopedic knowledge of superhero comics. Interestingly, she asserted that the only reason there are no fangirls among the fanboy creators is the presence of glass ceilings in their various industries. I’m unsure about that. At the very least, I think the oeuvre of the fanboy creators would look different if there were women in it.
In any case, I voted for Roz’s paper for the best of the conference, in part because it did something that pop culture criticism should do: it presented a detailed understanding of the artwork in its own terms and its own context, without importing excess theory or feeling obliged to make comparisons to high art, and when I walked away from the talk, I had a genuinely deeper appreciation for the art discussed.