Generally, fans greet the cancellation of their beloved shows with shock, anger and disbelief. A majority of the cast and crew have even more intense, but similar feelings as the shows that established their careers cease production, especially if the show is cancelled “before its time.” No television mogul may be more familiar with these feelings than Joss Whedon.
Whedon is the brain behind popular cult television shows “Angel,” “Firefly” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” All of the shows, according to him and his fans, were cancelled before they had a chance to fully flush out their stories. “Buffy” was forced off the air when its star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, refused to come back for an eighth season. With little warning, the show’s spin off, “Angel,” was quickly replaced with a reality TV show before it could produce its sixth season. “Firefly,” though critically acclaimed and with an extremely loyal fan base; was cancelled half-way through its first season.
Each successive cancellation hurt Whedon progressively more, but there was hope. DVD sales of his shows were surprisingly strong. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was even producing action figures. Most notably were the sales of “Firefly” on DVD, which would eventually be large enough to encourage the production of a major motion picture based on the show, called “Serenity.”
Solid DVD and merchandise sales encouraged Whedon to continue the stories he had started on television in a new medium. Whedon was firmly rooted in the comic book industry both as a fan and as a writer. In 2006, he created his own series, “Astonishing X-Men,” which has become one of Marvel’s best-selling comics and has been nominated for multiple awards. Seeing the success that the X-Men spinoff comic has had, Whedon decided to move his most famous series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” into the world of comic books.
Teaming up with Dark Horse Comics editor Scott Allie and artist Georges Jeanty, Whedon produced the first issue of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on March 14, 2007. It was a direct continuation of the series, picking up a year and half after where it left off. Twenty-five issues were planned, one a month for just over two years.
The move became a phenomenal success. Fans instantly responded with joy to see their favorite characters once again, even if it was not on television. Critics applauded the use of the medium’s strengths. Stories could be told with no concern of budget restrictions, the only limit became Whedon’s imagination. Entertainment Weekly called it “One of the top 20 events of 2007.” The demand jumped from 25 issues to 40.
Whedon quickly expanded this tactic to his other two shows. “Angel: After the Fall” was released on November 21, 2007 and follows the same strategy with comparable success. It follows the events immediately after the show’s season finale and no longer has to work in the confines of a small screen budget. “Serenity: Better Days,” shows the characters of “Firefly” after the season finale but before the movie. It was first published on March 12, 2008.
Joss Whedon was hardly the first to adapt characters from movies and televisions to comic books. Comic books featuring Ash from the “Evil Dead” series were published as early as 1992. Cartoon Network has published comic books featuring their licensed characters for years. The Wachowski brothers helped to create comics set in the same universe as “The Matrix.”
Whedon was the first to treat the comic version of his show with the same enthusiasm and seriousness as his television series. All three of the series Whedon adapted into comic books carry the exact same style as their television counterparts because he remained hands on in all three projects.
“Serenity: Better Days,” utilizes the same character development, and ensemble cast as did the original series. “Angel: After the Fall” continues its exploration into grey morality, redemption and the definition of a hero that series was known for during its five-season run. The comic version of “Buffy” uses the sharp wit, metaphors and flawed characters to entertain its audience as the show years before.
Moving television characters to the pages of comic books is not going to stop with Whedon. Many writers in television, especially high budget sci-fi shows like “Lost” and “Heroes,” lead dual lives as they work on comic books and TV simultaneously. Also, the chance to continue virtually any story on a fraction of the cost will prove enticing to any story teller. Whedon’s work has the potential to inspire the return of dozens of television shows through a new medium.