A few months into his hugely popular and critically acclaimed run on "Astonishing X-Men," Joss Whedon has copped to why he's shoving aside the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for the four-color world of comic books.
"Clearly it's for the money," says a deadpan Whedon.
And if you believe that, I've got a comic-book store to sell you.
Actually, Whedon - best known outside comicdom as the creator of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" film and TV franchise - has never been shy about why he took Marvel Comics Editor in Chief Joe Quesada's offer to write the newest ongoing X-book. He's a lifelong comics fan and a particular devotee of the world's best-selling band of mutant heroes.
"I learned a lot of what I know about storytelling and moviemaking from comic books," the 40-year-old Whedon told CBR News. "They never really left me. Well, they did leave me for a while in the '90s. Not that I didn't like comics. I just didn't like the ones they were making."
"Astonishing X-Men," the third issue of which hit stores in July, isn't Whedon's debut at writing for comics, but it is his first costumed superhero book. Before "Astonishing" came "Fray," a Dark Horse Comics mini-series about a futuristic vampire slayer, and several other "Buffy" tie-ins. Although he struck gold and gained a reputation as a smart writer years ago with the "Buffy" show, it wasn't until recently that Whedon seriously considered comics as a creative outlet.
"I didn't think anybody would let me write a comic book," he says. "I really thought, naively, 'Why would they be interested in a guy like me?' I wrote 'Fray' because I thought they certainly weren't going to let me write something unless it was related to 'Buffy.' In fact, I could have written anything."
Whedon is teamed with artist John Cassaday on "Astonishing X-Men," and the pairing seems to be a perfect match. Whedon had only met Cassaday twice before they got the X-assignment, but they quickly knew they wanted to work together.
"Cassaday and I have a shorthand that neither of us even know where it comes from," Whedon says. "Working with artists is like working with a director or a cast. Some artists overact. You'll write something very cool and very small and level, and they'll draw the person shouting. Finding a good artist is really important and really hard. Sometimes it's scary to put yourself into their hands. But you have to collaborate on that level. You have to give up some of that control because the artist is in it as much as you are. I've been very lucky."
Whedon, the guest of honor at this weekend's Wizard World Chicago convention, is planning a 12-issue run on "Astonishing X-Men." The first arc - or what we've seen of it so far - has focused on a supposed cure to mutanism. As is the case with his TV work, Whedon's writing puts more emphasis on the characters and their interactions than just stereotypical "Wham! Bam! Socko!" fight sequences.
"Obviously, these people have super powers. But it's always about people," Whedon explains. "The only thing I ever write about is people. It's the only thing I'm interested in. And to take those characters and that kind of team and give it a new start means doing the things that I do best: the drama, the human interaction, the cool cinematic moments. It's a story that should be as gripping as any show or movie I've ever worked on."
Starting the series slowly and focusing on the characters also is a way to suck new readers into the X-Men mythos, Whedon says.
"There's talking, and there's gearing up toward things getting worse and worse and more exciting," he explains. "And that was deliberate, because I wanted to say anybody is welcome."