I recently wrote about Joss Whedon’s writing of Loki in the blockbuster The Avengers. However, Joss has had a hand in the comic book version of the Avengers as well, and he brought the same sort of brilliant long game planning to the comic universe as he has to the cinematic.
Joss has written some books for Marvel, including the initial 12 issues of Astonishing X-Men, but the proof of his evil genius is his impact on the biggest Marvel cross over of the last decade: Civil War. Civil War, if you’ve not heard of it, was a year long event where the Marvel heroes were split into two sides; one side followed Iron Man and backed government registration of heroes, and the other followed Captain America in taking a stand against registration. Honestly, Marvel did a great job of turning Iron Man into the biggest villain just before the first Iron Man movie came out, and I don’t think that Tony Stark would even necessarily still be around if the movie hadn’t radically changed the character’s course. Basically Tony went from hero to ruthless dictator and, depending on which books you believe, war criminal (he instigated a war with Atlantis) and war profiteer. After the movie they spend a year rebooting Tony’s brain just to get him out of the mess they put him in.
In any event, you had the registration heroes fighting the anti-registration heroes, and it was a good time for all. But there was a problem. Marvel didn’t really know how to end the story. For the most part, readers (and many of the authors) sided with the anti-reg side, so that should have been who won, right? But how to do so and not make it seem ridiculous? Mark Millar, one of the architects of the whole series, explained in an interview how Joss Whedon came in for a brainstorming session, and cut the bullshit immediately with his magic Joss powers.
But Joss did more than just point out the obvious. He set up a story line that then showed WHY registration was a very bad idea, something that all the months of hero on hero battles couldn’t. Not even the death of Giant Man at the hands of a Thor clone (seriously…how has Thor NOT just killed Reed Richards over that yet?) drove the point home as much as the follow up to Civil War did. Because Cap was right – give anyone that sort of power over the heroes, no matter how much they swear they won’t use it, and eventually it will fall into the wrong hands. In this case, into the hands of the old Green Goblin himself, Norman Osborn (played by Tommy Lee Jones…no, seriously…). Every nightmare scenario Cap tried to warn Tony about came true, and Cap himself was killed because of all of this. Iron Man won the war, and lost absolutely everything.
And it was Joss Whedon’s doing. He essentially, with a few quick words at a planning meeting, built a reverse Xanatos Gambit – no matter what happened, Iron Man was going to lose, and lose big. And he did. He was completely torn down…only to be rebuilt in the image of Robert Downey Jr. Who would then go on to star in the Avengers…
It’s all cyclical people. It’s all cyclical.