Ballroom 20 was the place to be for Joss Whedon fans at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Friday. After showing off the premiere episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” hours before, Whedon returned to the stage for an hour long Q&A presented by Dark Horse Comics.
Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie kicked things off, taking a moment to tell the audience that the ongoing “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel & Faith” books are still going strong, with Buffy’s “Season Nine” wrapping up soon to make way for “Season Ten.”
After the introduction, Whedon took the stage to spend some time with the Comic-Con crowd. With coffee in hand, the writer/director started with a joke about his perpetually tight work schedule.
“Apparently I have an issue with too many jobs,” said Whedon. “I apologize in advance if I become incoherent or just sleep.”
With his new film, “Much Ado About Nothing” in theaters and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” premiering hours before in the same room, Whedon had nothing new to promote, so the panel dove right into the Q&A portion.
The first audience member to reach the microphone didn’t ask about Whedon’s recent work on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” or “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but instead went back to “Angel,” asking what would have happened between characters Illyria and Wesley had the show continued. Whedon guessed that had Illyria retained the personality of her host body, Fred, she and Wesley would eventually have to deal with those feelings.
“Wesley will cry and Illyria will cry and they will both die in each others arms and that will be fun. Then it will be turned black and white and everything will be all better,” said Whedon, referencing the reunion of “Angel” stars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof in his new film, “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Acker’s role on “Angel” proved to be a touchstone throughout the panel. The transformation of Acker’s character from Fred to Illyria was the answer to the second question: which of the many character deaths Whedon has written is his favorite.
“It was Fred’s,” said Whedon. “It was my favorite to write and my favorite to shoot because all the pain was there.”
With Whedon producing everything from television to blockbuster movies, the next questioner musically asked about any plans Whedon might have for a Broadway play.
“Not any time soon because to do something successfully on Broadway takes many years of work,” said Whedon. “And unfortunately I’m booked for many years of work.”
On a happier note, Whedon was asked about his favorite “warm fuzzy moment” over the course of his career. Ironically, Whedon went back to the death of Fred. “Not particularly because of the death, but the work those guys were doing,” said Whedon. “That whole day was kind of magically exhausting.” He also revealed that the now famous shawarma scene at the end of “The Avengers” was inspired by that day as Whedon, Denisof and Acker went out after the death scene was shot.
Keeping on the Buffy line of questions, one fan went for old-school trivia, asking why Giles wouldn’t have flown back to Sunnydale for Xander and Anya’s wedding.
“He doesn’t like them that much, let’s face it,” joked Whedon. “Plus, he’s Giles. He knows Xander isn’t going to go through with it.”
Moving over to “Much Ado About Nothing,” Whedon was asked how difficult it was to adapt Shakespeare’s work.
“It wasn’t,” said Whedon, explaining that he enjoyed getting to have all the fun of directing without any of the writing responsibility. “It was very relaxing actually because not only was it not written by me, it was written by that guy.”
Next up was a question about “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog” and the meaning behind the title character’s wardrobe change from a white coat to a red one in the show’s closing moments. “It means he lost his virginity… in the marriage bed of villainy,” said Whedon. “He went dark, it’s very simple. I don’t have complex ideas.”
Finally getting a question about the upcoming “Avengers” sequel, Whedon was asked to describe the sequel in a single word. “Movie,” joked Whedon. “That’s right, we’re trying something a little different this time.”
After joking that, depending on the budget, another word to describe the movie may be “flipbook,” Whedon decided to give a more serious hint about the upcoming film. “Remember how Dr. Horrible used to have a white coat? The word I’m going to use for ‘Avengers 2’ is ‘Red.'”
Moving from the Avengers over to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Whedon was asked if S.W.O.R.D., the interstellar defense group he had created during his run on “Astonishing X-Men,” would make an appearance in the new television show. “I have no idea, but that’s a really good question,” said Whedon. “But that means when it does, I’m taking credit for the idea.”
Next up, an audience member asked if Whedon’s work on “Much Ado About Nothing” means he might elect to start doing more projects beyond the action-adventure genre. “I aspire to do anything at all that is in any genre,” said Whedon. “You know we can’t solve all our problems with punching. Sometimes we have to sing.”
Speaking of future projects, Whedon was asked what sort of project he would do if he had unlimited resources. This naturally led to several audience members shouting out suggestions, many being the revival of “Firefly,” which Whedon agreed with. “If it’s anything, then yeah, we should probably get the crew of Serenity back together again,” he agreed.
Indeed, no Joss Whedon panel would be complete without a fan asking for more material from the “Firefly” universe. While there is nothing in the works for the immediate future, Whedon hasn’t quite given up on the idea of more stories in that setting. “I’ve thought of other TV series that could have been spun-off,” said Whedon. “That whole universe still intrigues me. It’s just a matter of time.”
Directing the conversation back to Marvel, Whedon was asked about how much control he has over the next phase of Marvel Studios’ upcoming films.
“I actually do have a consulting deal with Marvel,” he said. “It’s really fun too because I get to sort of dip my toe in. I get a little Thor time and a little Cap time.”
The next audience member, worried about the safety of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, asked Whedon if his reputation for killing off beloved characters changes his process. Whedon tried to assure the audience that he had no intentions of killing anybody from the pilot episode, but the audience refused to believe him, with some calling him a liar. “Oh, it’s like that,” said Whedon. “I’m going to kill them because you said that.
“Here’s the deal. I don’t create characters so I can get rid of them,” he continued. “I create characters so I can love them. And every now and then, one of them dies. I do like to do it to somebody you care about because that’s how it happens to me. It happens in real life and the fact that you guys give me so much shit about it means that I’m probably doing it right.”
On the subject of feminism and how it has been incorporated into much of his work, Whedon was asked how he responds to criticisms that he cannot be a feminist because he is a man. “You know, I have gotten that and how do you answer it? I can’t be a woman because I’m a man. Well, I suppose you can’t,” he mused. “I just don’t think that’s a valid comment. I think there’s a perspective that I can never have and I’m fully aware of that, but I don’t think you need that in order to believe that one half of the human race should be treated like the other half of the human race.”
Regarding future projects, the next fan asked about the progress of a “Dr. Horrible” sequel. Unfortunately, Whedon said his schedule doesn’t allow him to continue work on the project. “I took too many cookies and I can’t eat them all, so Dr. Horrible keeps getting pushed and I feel terrible about that.”
Of course, Whedon’s schedule doesn’t stop him from looking at other mediums to dive into. The next question asked how he felt about doing an animated feature. “All my life I’ve wanted to do that,” said Whedon. “I love animated films.”
Whedon lamented that western animation tends to skew toward children as opposed to Japanese anime, which features more adult oriented content. “I feel a little bit that all the CGI animated films are all the same film,” he said. “I would love to see one of these movies made more a sort of PG-13. A tougher adolescence adventure story.”
The writing process continued to be examined as Whedon explained how he creates his stories based around small, individual scenes. “A lot of the overall vision comes from the minute moments,” he said. “For me, I’m really starting small.”
As for the process behind “The Avengers,” Whedon said that growing up with the characters helped him understand how to reconcile a story of a time-displaced war hero teaming up with spies, a monster, a billionaire robot man and a god. “I think the appeal of ‘The Avengers’ is that it doesn’t work,” said Whedon. “It was completely normal for worlds that didn’t go together to go together.”
He added that other directors sometimes have to talk themselves into doing a super hero movie, a problem he’s never had. “For me, that step is eliminated. It’s a second language for me. I always knew Captain America and Thor would fight side-by-side and what it would look like and what it would feel like.”
Finally, Whedon told the story of how “Much Ado About Nothing” came into existence. While the project had been on his mind for some time, it was his wife who suggested that Whedon use his vacation time after “The Avengers” to film the movie. It was one month and four days from her bringing it up to finishing the film.
“I talked about it for ten years, so maybe she just wanted me to shut up and just make it,” said Whedon.
As the panel died down, Whedon thanked the audience for their continued support over the years.
“You know what matters most. It’s me,” he joked. “As always, I’m so grateful for you guys coming out and listening to me blather and for making my worlds part of your worlds. Thank you.”