Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
That Joss Whedon is going to be co-creating a S.H.I.E.L.D. show for Marvel TV and ABC is an intriguing proposition, beyond the general excitement that comes from the idea of a new show from the man behind Buffy and Firefly, never mind the Avengers movie. Why so intriguing, you may ask? Well, because for once, Whedon is going to have to look at things from the point of view of the authorities.
It may sound strange to say, but Whedon has traditionally been an anti-authority storyteller. Think of the characters at the heart of his various projects through the years: In each and every case, they’ve always been underdogs of some kind, and often started off as somewhat powerless tools of the powers-that-be (Literally, in the case of Dollhouse), and the overall arc of each world that he’s created has been to empower those powerless characters and change the status quo in terms of the distribution of power, whether in societal terms (Buffy) or political (Firefly and Serenity).
Whedon’s point of view consistently seems suspicious if not downright dismissive of traditional authority figures; it’s a recurring theme throughout Buffy, where not only is the gender balance is challenged, but every authority establishment is revealed to be harboring corruption and/or inept, in either case making life difficult for our hero, whether its high school, the Watchers’ Council or even higher powers up to and including the Slayer power itself. Over in Angel, meanwhile, we have a firm of lawyers that are literally working for evil, while Firefly‘s entire purpose is to glamorize the lawbreakers who recognize that the system is corrupt as they answer to a higher moral authority.
Or look at Cabin In The Woods or Dollhouse, both stories in which regular folk are treated as less-than-people by those with power in the name of… scientific progress? A better life for those who can afford it? Either way, there’s a purposeful commentary on the abuses of power in both stories that is unavoidable. Whedon, it seems, doesn’t like The Man.
(This distrust of authority even makes it into Avengers; think about the shadowy people in charge of the movie S.H.I.E.L.D. that Nick Fury butts heads with, who were willing to sacrifice everyone in New York in order to end the threat of the alien invasion. I wonder if they’ll be a big thing in the television version?)
All of this makes the idea of Whedon pursuing S.H.I.E.L.D. as a long form concern so unexpected, and so interesting; in the Marvel Universe, S.H.I.E.L.D. is The Man that Whedon normally rails against. While it’d be possible that he’s planning on detourning the concept of the series so that it remains an ultimately untrustworthy organization with a few good eggs inside working to improve it, I’d like to see him try to work against type and show what it’s like being the people in charge and not trying to screw everyone else over. It may be counter-intuitive (I feel as if we’re programmed on some level to distrust the system, not embrace it, like that), but I’m genuinely curious to see whether Whedon and cohorts could manage to tell a long-form story in which there’s no reversal of expectation or power exchange, but instead, a more traditional set up where the good guys are in charge and trying to keep the world safe for everyone else.
After all, wasn’t that ultimately the theme of Avengers, once you get down to it…?