Joss Whedon is standing in the Forbidden Planet comics store in London, surveying a row of plastic action figures. There are Gandalfs and Frodos, Batmen and Ironmen. Whedon points out the few female characters – pert young warrior princesses – all standing in the same pose: shoulders back, cleavage thrust forward. This, he explains, is the reason he resisted a Buffy doll.
Until last year, Whedon was a writer and director best known for his TV creations. Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel, were cult classics, the just-home-from-school fantasy shows that made vampires sexy long before R-Patz and Kristen mooned at each other in Twilight. Then Marvel handed him the biggest toy set they had: Avengers Assemble, a film that trapped their greatest superheroes in one megalithic, extortionately expensive movie. Thor!… Hulk!… Captain America!… Robert Downey Jr! It came with a price tag of no less than $220m; Whedon turned it into the third highest-grossing movie of all time. “I kept telling my mom that reading comic books would pay off,” he deadpans.