Several news outlets have prefaced their reference to The Avengers film with Joss Whedon’s name. The name might just mark the fact that Whedon is directing the film. And yet the possibility of a slippage in the possessive has sparked outrage amongst many fans who, having also reacted negatively towards DC’s decision to publish a series of comics focusing on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen without their consent, have threatened to boycott the film.
The moment marks an interesting case study involving two separate fandoms. Whedon fans have also struggled with an attempt by Warner Brothers to make a Buffy the Vampire Slayer film without either Joss or television star Sarah Michelle Gellar. Whether or not a Buffy fan or an Avengers fan should boycott the film is less interesting to me than the way that corporate-owned characters become associated with different authors who did not create them, especially when those authors have a celebrity status of their own. To what extent can authors like Brian Michael Bendis, Roy Thomas, or Kurt Busiek be said to have helped create The Avengers as we know them today? Each of these authors are widely considered to have contributed significantly to Avengers-lore. Also worth mentioning are the the legions of artists, inkers, colorists, and producers whose work made the monthly publication of The Avengers possible.
Charles Hatfield admits in his recent book on Jack Kirby that “[t]he underlying problem for the critic has to do with, again, the need to locate Kirby’s authorial voice, if not autonomy, in the face of a market and a genre justified mainly in heteronomous terms” (252). As a culture, we are trapped between a Romantic cult of the individual author, and a dwindling (but still powerful) mass media form of corporate production in comics and film that makes money from leeching off of the efforts of individual artists. In this light, consider this interview with Joss Whedon. When asked about what he changed that he fears might anger fans, he makes a joke about changing the sex of all the characters. “And She-Hulk is a fan fave, but I don’t know, maybe it was the wrong way to go.” The comment was tongue-in-cheek, but it also suggests a question that (in my mind) is fascinating, if purely speculative. What would a film that could truly call itself “Joss Whedon’s” have looked like?