Happy Birthday Joss Whedon: The 47 Best Characters from the "Joss-verse"

One of two items I own signed by Joss
Joss Whedon, our master, turns 47 years old today. In honor of that occasion, I wanted to do something special to celebrate the impact he's had on our lives, something that spanned all of his creations, and something that tied into the number 47 (because I'm secretly J.J. Abrams and obsessed with the number 47).

So, after much debate between myself and... myself, I guess... I decided to rank the top 47 characters from Joss Whedon's creations, based entirely on my opinion. No fancy formulas based on appearances, screentime, quotability, etc. Just throw some names on a list and put them in an order I like. I figured it'd be fun and kinda easy.

I was wrong.

First of all, there are a LOT of characters, between "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", "Firefly", "Serenity", "Dollhouse" and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog". Some of them made dozens of appearances. Some made just one, but a memorable one. Some characters crossed over into multiple series (mostly between "Buffy" and "Angel") and some actors played multiple distinct characters. Every time I put a name of the list, I agonized over it. "That seems too low for that character... he/she was AWESOME" or "How can I rank X above Y? They're both amazing".

By the end of the entire exercise, I hated both myself and the list. I keep making changes to it, hoping I'll like it, but I realize that's impossible, because in a way it's like ranking a very large group of my children. Each of Joss's characters has meant so much to the fan base as a whole that it's impossible to say that any one is MORE important than any other one.

But, I can't let all this work go to waste, so here's the list anyway, with my best explanation for why I put the character in that spot.

HONORABLE MENTION: Kitty Pryde from "Astonishing X-Men". Technically not a "Joss" character, since she's existed in the comics since 1982, but Joss put his own spin on her, and really made her his own. Also, apologies to the MANY characters who missed the cut, including Warren Mears, Andrew Wells, The Master, Allen Doyle, Daniel Holtz, Marcus Hamilton, Mellie/November, Bennett Halverson and Penny. God, I really hate this list. But I'd hate it even more if I replaced any of the 47 characters with any of the ones I just mentioned.

47. Dawn Summers (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
OK, maybe I could take ANY of those names in the honorable mention and put them here in place of Dawn, and it wouldn't have affected my feelings about the list. I've written about my feelings on Dawn before and how they differ from the overall fanbase's, and while most "Buffy" fans would have her WAY lower on this list, I personally think she should be higher. So this is a compromise.

46. Alpha (from "Dollhouse")
I can't decide if Alpha is this low because he wasn't in many episodes, or if that's the reason he's on the list at all. He almost seems like a character that was better in concept than in execution, though Alan Tudyk was brilliant playing the role.

45. Jenny Calendar (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
I don't think Jenny made the cut for like my first three drafts of this list. But the role her death played in Season 2 of "Buffy" (then again, in a way, in Season 8) was too big to ignore.

44. Joyce Summers (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Considering she was the only parent of a major character on "Buffy" with anything more than a token role, you'd think she'd be higher. She probably should be, but again... SO MANY GOOD CHARACTERS.

43. Oz (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"
He never really had much to say, but he had a way of saying everything without saying a word.

42. Dr. Saunders (from "Dollhouse")
The reveal that Dr. Saunders was actually a doll, with a personality created by Topher, was played so well by Amy Acker that it elevates the character above many of the others who were also revealed to be dolls (like Mellie or Senator Perrin).

41. Amy Madison (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Weirdly, Amy wasn't in nearly as many episodes as you'd think. But she managed to be effective enough that they kept bringing her back, before making her a major player in Season 8.

40. The Operative (from "Serenity")
We never even learn this guy's real name, but damn if he doesn't make the movie. In many ways, he's a mirror image of Mal, except that his beliefs aren't really his own. They're just the beliefs he's employed to have, which is, in the end, what makes Mal stronger.

39. Boyd Langton (from "Dollhouse")
How you feel about Boyd really comes down to how you feel about the drastic character twist in the last arc of the series. Personally, I think without it he's a character that makes a little more sense, but isn't quite as memorable.

38. Saffron (from "Firefly")
Or Bridget. Or Yolanda. Whatever your pleasure. MMM... pleasure.

37. Captain Hammer (from "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog")
If only for the line "The Hammer is my penis."

36. Jonathan Levinson (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Did any character of Joss's go through quite as wide of a character arc as Jonathan? I mean, the guy started out as nameless Demon of the Week fodder, then ended up playing a huge role and becoming something of a martyr. That warrants this spot, right?

35. Victor (from "Dollhouse")
The "Dollhouse" dolls are so hard to rank as characters, because how do you separate the imprints from the characters themselves? Enver Gjokaj did an amazing job with the various imprints, but I'm not sure Victor was ever quite as fleshed out a character as he could have been.

34. Darla (from "Buffy" and "Angel")
There were times when I felt like Darla was a top 20 character, and times when I felt like she wasn't in the top 50 at all. She ended up settling here, though I'm still not too sure about that.

33. Jayne Cobb (from "Firefly")
Jayne is the lowest ranked of the main "Firefly" characters on this list, and I feel like he's a really good character who suffers in comparison to the great characters that surround him on the show.

32. Lilah Morgan (from "Angel")
God, I loved everything about Lilah. The bitchier the better. I wish they hadn't killed her off. I would have loved to have seen her working with Team Angel in Season 5.

31. Echo (from "Dollhouse")
Here's another "Dollhouse" dilemma. Are Echo and Caroline separate characters. Maybe if the show had gone on longer, it could have explored this more -- it was clearly starting to in Season 2 -- but as it is, I have to judge the whole, and so here we are, at #31.

30. Zoe Washburne (from "Firefly")
As much as I liked Zoe on "Firefly" itself, I really thought her best moments came in the movie "Serenity".

29. Harmony Kendall (from "Buffy" and "Angel")
I definitely have Harmony too high in this list, but I love Mercedes McNab too much to do her any worse.

28. Lindsey McDonald (from "Angel")
If we're just talking Seasons 1 & 2 Lindsey, I'm not sure he makes the list. But his role in Season 5 pushes him way up.

27. Sierra (from "Dollhouse")
Remember how stupid good "Belonging" was? Yeah, it defined Sierra as a character, really making her the most human of the dolls.

26. Inara Serra (from "Firefly")
Right about here is where I really start to get frustrated with how to separate these characters. You could move Inara up or down five spots and I'm not sure I'd have a good argument against it either way.

25. Simon Tam (from "Firefly")
As a character, Simon had a lot more depth than it first seemed, and he's probably the character that would have benefited most from another season or two of the show.

24. Charles Gunn (from "Angel")
Here's a good example of a character "growing" and becoming worse for it. Through four seasons of "Angel", Gunn was probably my favorite character. But I never got on board with lawyer Gunn, and vampire Gunn from the (canonical) comics was a disaster.

23. Glory (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
I mean, she's a GOD who looks like a cheerleader. How can you not love that?

22. Adelle DeWitt (from "Dollhouse")
Adelle is here entirely on the strength of her character in Season 2. Olivia Williams deserved a lot more critical acclaim for her role on this show.

21. Hoban Washburne (from "Firefly")
Ya know, I'm STILL pissed they killed Wash. I was convinced after Book died that we were done with heartbreaking character loss in "Serenity".

20. Tara Maclay (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Speaking of characters I'm pissed they killed...

19. Lorne (from "Angel")
... and another one. Though most fans won't "accept" Lorne's psuedo-death, since it "only" happened in the comics. But Lorne was a huge bright spot in what was becoming a really dark show. Can you imagine how depressing Season 2 of "Angel" would be without him?

18. Cordelia Chase (from "Buffy" and "Angel")
Ignoring, of course, evil Cordy from Season 4, who wasn't really Cordy anyway.

17. Anya (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
I just realized just now that the last five characters I've named were all tragically killed off, which makes me wonder how much a tragic death redefines how we view a character.

16. Drusilla (from "Buffy" and "Angel")
Dru was so, so crazy and so, so evil, and I loved her for it so, so much.

15. Xander Harris (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
When I first put this list together, I had Xander way lower, because I felt like his character growth stalled out way too early, but in many ways, he's the avatar for the fans on "Buffy".

14. Kaylee Frye (from "Firefly")
Look, you can't help but love Kaylee. She's just that awesome.

13. Dr. Horrible (from "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog")
He's probably the hardest to define character on the list. Is he a villain? An anti-villian. A tragi-comic anti-villain protagonist? A guy who doesn't really like laundry and has a Ph.D. in Horribleness?

12. Topher Brink (from "Dollhouse")
Topher is probably responsible for something like 8 of my 10 favorite moments from "Dollhouse", with the leading one being his reaction to Adelle's explanation for why he was picked for the project in "Belonging".

11. Fred Burkle/Illyria (from "Angel")
On various drafts of this list, I had Fred and Illyria listed as separate characters, but when it came down to it, Illyria wasn't in enough episodes by herself to justify that. Plus, by the end (and in the continuing story in the comics), Illyria has so much of Fred in her that it's even harder to separate the two.

10. Shepherd Book (from "Firefly")
He's this high on the list with or without the background story graphic novel.

9. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (from "Buffy" and "Angel")
Remember earlier on this list when I asked if Jonathan had the widest character arc? Well, the answer is obviously no. That distinction belongs to Wesley. Remember his early appearances on "Buffy". Going off those, you would have never imagined where he'd end up.

8. Rupert Giles (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
It speaks to the depth of Joss's character base that such an amazing character like Giles would only be 8th. Honestly, if you wanted to bump him up, I don't think I'd complain.

7. Angel (from "Buffy" and "Angel")
Man, I know I'm gonna get shit for ranking Angel ABOVE Giles, particularly after what happened in the comics. But when judging the characters, you have to take into consideration the fact that Angel carried his own series for five years. While I'm sure Giles COULD HAVE done the same, he didn't. So there. (seriously, don't kill me for this)

6. River Tam (from "Firefly")
I'm not sure exactly what to write about River, so let's all just watch this video instead.

5. Faith (from "Buffy" and "Angel")
I feel like this is my most controversial choice, but Faith is critically important to both "Buffy" and "Angel". On the former, she serves as the anti-Buffy, both as a hero and a villain. And on the latter, she's both an example of redemption and a means to it. There's a reason they're pairing her with Angel as a headliner in an upcoming comic series, and it isn't just because Eliza Dushku is hot.

4. Willow Rosenberg (from "Buffy")
Part of me wants to put Willow even higher on this list, but really this ends up being just about right.

3. Spike (from "Buffy" and "Angel")
Truthfully, if not for "Destiny", I'm not sure Spike would be ahead of Willow, but that lone Season 5 episode gives his character arc another push forward. Willow would pretty much get that same extra push in the comics, but I give more weight to the TV series.

2. Buffy Summers (from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"... duh)
OMG! If Buffy is #2, then who is #1?!

1. Merrick (from the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" movie)
Just kidding.

1. Malcolm Reynolds (from "Firefly")
Look, I love Buffy, I really do. She's incredibly important to me and countless other fans as a character, and if we're just playing favorites here, then Buffy is first (well, technically if we're playing favorites, Glory is first, because I heart her so much). But when taking the whole picture into account, Malcolm Reynolds is a BETTER character. He's a much more three-dimensional character than Buffy, and, quite frankly, he kicks more ass than Buffy. So there.

Oh, and Happy 47th Birthday Joss Whedon! Maybe next year I'll honor your birthday in a much simpler, more effective way.


  1. I'm contacting you because of your shiny list above. Its a well-composed list for Whedonites!

    I was wondering if you would be up for reviewing our film Browncoats: Redemption, which is a feature length independent film set in the Firefly universe that has received Joss Whedon blessing, studio approval, and 100% of the net proceeds are donated to charity. We just released a remastered DVD and a bluray edition, both with a bonus disc of the complete score, and we're doing something that has never been done before.

    Our film takes place three months after the events at the end of the film Serenity and features a new ship and a new crew. The film includes an original track for the score donated by Firefly composer, Greg Edmondson, as well as cameos from Adam Baldwin, Michael Fairman (Niska), and Yan and Raphael Feldman (Fanti and Mingo).

    What makes this additionally impressive is that this is the first ever fan film to be allowed to be used as a charity business model. We're raising money for five charities created or supported by the cast and crew of Firefly. To date, we've raised over $60,000 combined for the charities we support and have been able to publicly present checks for our donations to date to Adam Baldwin (photo at: http://bit.ly/kHHM1A), Jewel Staite (http://bit.ly/l78Gti), and we recently presented a check to Joss Whedon and Equality Now in person at the California Can’t Stop the Serenity event on June 25th (view the presentation at: http://bit.ly/iozNJ2).

    In 58 short days, the project is over and the film will no longer be available. Right now, we could use all the help you can offer to assist us in getting the word out about the film. We would appreciate any and all assistance in our last major push to raise as much money as we can for the charities involved before the project ends on September 1st.

    You can see our latest trailer at our website: http://browncoatsmovie.com and we'd love to arrange a way for you to see the film for your review.

    Thanks for considering us and stay shiny,

    The Big Damn Editor

  2. Yeah, I'd definitely be interested in something like that. Just shoot me an e-mail at adam@adamreisinger.com, and we can work out the details.


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