If you're a fan of Joss Whedon, creator of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, it's a great time to live in Portland.
Whedon's work has been all over the city this year. The Mission Theater showed Buffy every week for almost a year, finally finishing in May; the Tonic Lounge wants to do the same thing; and a touring sing-along presentation of Buffy's musical episode came through town on the last weekend of June. The whole of Firefly is next at the Mission, starting July 10, and Firefly's big-screen continuation, Serenity, showed as part of the Laurelhurst Theater's cult movie month this spring and again at the Hollywood Theatre as part of a worldwide charity event born here. And local publishers Dark Horse Comics are continuing the official adventures of both series with the Season Eight series of Buffy comics and a "lost episode" of Firefly this fall, both written by Joss Whedon.
Of the two shows, Buffy—featuring a hapless blond victim of the horror genre, given supernatural powers and charged with saving the world—has more mainstream recognition. But the space-Western Firefly has turned into a gateway drug for Whedon's work.
Unlike most spaceship shows, the cast of Firefly aren't emissaries of a benevolent technotopia; they're the crew and passengers of a cargo ship whose captain was on the wrong side of a war for independence, taking whatever jobs they can find—legal or "the other thing." In this future, humanity used up Earth and migrated to a new solar system, where they turned the planets and moons into little earths. But the government of the future hasn't gotten any less bureaucratic, corrupt or heartless, and the final frontier has become a true frontier, with pioneers living at the edges of the solar system in conditions barely more advanced than those of the wild west.
It's a concept that appeals to people across political divides, according to Christopher Frankonis. "People all along that spectrum think that the show is somehow about their politics," says Frankonis, a 37-year-old Great Northwest Bookstore employee in Buddy Holly glasses. Frankonis (a.k.a. b!X to local bloggers) is a "Browncoat," one of the hardcore Firefly fans who named themselves after the losing side of the civil war in the series, and last year he coordinated the first charity screenings of Serenity in cities all over the world despite having no experience organizing such large-scale events.
Frankonis can't put his finger on why Firefly is so popular, but Scott Allie, Whedon's editor at Dark Horse, can: Because Whedon's TV shows are about people more than plots. "You could remove the threat" in most of Whedon's writing, Allie told the audience at the June 22 Serenity screening, "and you'd still have a really compelling story, because everything that happens in the story comes straight out of the ensemble cast."
Whedon's heroes may be superhuman monster fighters, reformed demons or space cowboys, but beneath that they're people with the same strengths and problems as you and your friends. Watch them enough and they become your friends, too. .