Just a quick introduction to “Finding The Slayer in the Avengers” — this is a three-part series where guest blogger Leloy Claudio and I discuss the thematic similarities and differences between two of Joss Whedon’s most successful creations, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Avengers.
One of the most enigmatic characters in Whedon’s Buffyverse is Oz, the withdrawn, ironic member of the gang who turns into a werewolf in the show’s second season. What follows is a major story arc featuring Oz’s struggle to contain his animalistic impulses in order to stop himself from hurting the people around him, especially his girlfriend Willow. In his last episode as a series regular (Wild at Heart)*, he meets another werewolf named Veruca who convinces him that he can’t repress his inner beast, that he is “the wolf all the time”. Upon this realization, he breaks up with Willow and leaves Sunnydale in order to truly protect her from his monstrous self.
Wrestling with one’s inner darkness is a theme that Whedon constantly explores in his characters. Willow, Angel, Xander and other characters have at one point or another succumbed to their own dark sides. Whedon paints the Self as a constant tension between good and evil, and in order for the Scoobies to save the world, they first have to save their selves. This theme plays itself in The Avengers most prominently in the character of Dr. Bruce Banner, who battles the same inner demons as Oz. The two even have similar scenes — in the beginning of “Phases“, Oz wakes up naked in a field after a night of being a werewolf, and Bruce also finds himself naked in a warehouse he crashed on after rampaging as The Hulk.
As with all of Whedon’s “heroes”, The Hulk is a problematic one. Like the highly intelligent Oz, he can contribute to the team as Dr. Banner, a man whose research on gamma rays proved to be indispensable in locating the tesserract, but he is most useful when he taps into his beastly self and uses his superhuman physicality against the enemy. This means taking on the risk of becoming a volatile, unpredictable creature capable of hurting the other Avengers. This is similar to Oz’s ordeal — when Veruca as a werewolf tried to kill Willow, Oz had to transform into the monster he’s afraid of becoming in order to save her. In order to be a hero, they have to bring out the worst in them.
The complexities of Whedon’s moral landscapes is one of the reasons why people are drawn to his narratives. In the case of The Hulk and Oz, the bigger point that he makes isn’t about vanquishing their evil side because ultimately, the monsters inside them are untamable. When Oz returns in “New Moon Rising” claiming that he has control over his werewolf instincts, he is proven wrong when his jealousy of Tara for Willow’s affections brings out the wolf again. Despite Dr. Banner’s philanthropic efforts in India and attempt to control his transformation, anger easily triggers him to become The Hulk. Instead, what Whedon shows us is that sometimes, it is necessary to draw power from one’s inner darkness in order to do what’s right.
*This piece erroneously mentioned Oz’s last appearance was in the episode Fear, Itself. It has been corrected, thanks to reader April.