We often forget that geekdom (or Geekdom, if you feel like being super proper or something) is not one unified entity. This should be obvious; people who enjoy sports don't always enjoy the same sports, movielovers don't enjoy all movies, and so on. But because geeks are still a mysterious and unpredictable entity, we're all lumped in together as being fans of Doctor Who, Star Trek, and comic books in equal measures. The Internet helps maintain this image, since we all tend to flock to the same megasites to read or talk about whatever winds us up.
But those who enjoy something geeky know that it's still difficult to excite your friends about whatever excites you. If you have Doctor Who friends, they may be utterly uninterested in your latest XBOX purchase, and your gaming friends may not care about the issue of The New Avengers you just read. Even if you offer them Ultimate Hulk Versus Wolverine and say "But this is the guy who also writes LOST!" you're likely to get a shrug and a "I hate comic books and LOST. Put that crap away." We've all been there.
There's one man who seems to mysteriously bridge that gap: Joss Whedon. There's a reason there's a brisk market in "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now!" t-shirts, and it isn't because the wearers really dug Firefly. The man wields an incredible power inside of geekdom and outside it. People who wouldn't darken the doors of a Comic-Con watched Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, bought the t-shirt, action figures, and DVDs, and will perk up whenever his name is mentioned. It's a hook you can exploit like none other. I know, because I've done it.
When I know someone is a fan of Firefly or Buffy, but disdains "Those stupid superheroes," it's my chance to press an Astonishing X-Men trade into their hand and say "Try this. Joss Whedon wrote it. You know, from Buffy." Done and done. They'll read it. They like it. They may not ever stray outside of the Whedon parameters, but they tried something new. It's like feeding a dinner guest asparagus or something.
By now you're saying, "So what? I know Whedon is popular -- I own the t-shirt." Well, I don't think we've grasped just what this could mean for The Avengers. (Assuming, of course, Whedon is officially signed on, which Iron Man 2 junkets seem to suggest hasn't yet happened.) The latest round of Cap casting and Iron Man 2 marketing has caused the usual grumbles of "I'm sick of superhero movies!" across the blogosphere. People's trend fuse is shorter than ever because of the pervasiveness of marketing. If you went back to 1985 or so, I don't think you'd hear "I'm sick of action movies!" because Commando wasn't staring someone whose face is in so many forms of media. There weren't conventions dedicated to the latest round of action movies, either.
Whedon may actually quell some of that -- not all, but some. Chris Evans being cast as The First Avenger: Captain America didn't make much of a blip on Twitter beyond "our circle" of movie and comic lovers. But Whedon directing The Avengers? It was the #1 trending topic on Twitter. That's a ton of people. That means all those social networking geeks who couldn't give a damn about Ant-Man or Cap, but love their Angel and Dr. Horrible, were talking about it. They were excited. Those are ticket sales, not just for those individuals hashtagging their glee, but for their friends and family.
That's key. That's crossover marketing at its finest. Because The Avengers is going to be one hell of a hard sell. A lot of people who enjoyed Iron Man aren't going to understand or appreciate why he can work with Thor or Cap. Even saying "This happens in the comics" doesn't ensure a sell, because to many moviegoers it just looks like a major cash-in. And that's not even factoring in the trend burnout which may be a more tangible thing after Thor and Captain America hit theaters. Remember, they're not even the only ones out there. You still have the DC Universe at Warner Bros, and the scattered characters living at Fox and Sony, some of which are just jonesing for a reboot. By 2012, audiences may be a lot less enthusiastic.
Which is why Whedon may be the ultimate bridge-builder. He has fans to bring in (some of them may even be called fanatics), many of whom disdain the printed Marvel world, and who may be booing Iron Man as we speak. Now, I know these fans alone haven't been powerful enough to make Serenity a massive hit or keep Dollhouse running, but I'd argue there were a lot of extenuating marketing factors there. His stuff has generally been sold very, very poorly. The power of Paramount and Marvel Studios can change that drastically. Remember, he still isn't official, and he still had millions talking. Once this gets underway, the excitement and buzz will only increase. Chances are good that his mere involvement can convince a lot of people to give The Avengers a chance. He may be able to sell it beyond continuity, crossover, and trend burnout. It's going to be a great, geek experiment, and I can't wait to see the results.