No kidding. Here at San Diego Comic Con, the creator of Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible and Dollhouse, and the director of two Avengers movies, just told us the nature and purpose of existence. He also revealed one of his next projects: a “Victorian female Batman” called Twist.

So during Joss Whedon’s big one-man show panel here at Comic Con, a fan dressed in a Jayne hat and a Sunnydale T-shirt asked what was the meaning of life, what was the nature of reality, and how we could be sane and happy in the world. And Whedon responded:

“You think I’m not going to, but I’m going to answer that. The world is a random and meaningless terrifying place and then we all—spoiler alert—die. Most critters are designed not to know that. We are designed, uniquely, to transcend that, and to understand that—I can quote myself—a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”

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Whedon added that “the main function of the human brain, the primary instinct, is storytelling. Memory is storytelling. If we all remembered everything, we would be Rain Man, and would not be socially active at all. We learn to forget and to distort, but we [also] learn to tell a story about ourselves.”

And Whedon said, “I keep hoping to be the hero of my story, [but] I’m the annoying sidekick. I’m kind of like Rosie O’Donnell in that Tarzan movie.” He keeps hoping to be Tarzan, but finding that he’s that weird monkey that nobody can tell if it’s a girl or a boy.

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“My idea is that stories that we then hear and see and internalize—and wear hats from and come to conventions about... We all come here to celebrate only exactly that: storytelling, and the shared experience of what that gives us.” The shared experience of storytelling gives us strength and peace, Whedon added. You understand your story and everyone else’s story, and that “it can be controlled by us.” This is something we can survive, “because unlike me, you all are the hero of your story.”

Meanwhile, Whedon unveiled the first promo art for his next comics project, which he’s writing himself: Joss Whedon’s Twist, a six-issue series that he’s putting out next year from Dark Horse Comics. It “basically deals with the most important moral question facing us, which is, why isn’t there a Victorian Female Batman?” And in response to a fan question about Dark Willow, Whedon said Twist will have a certain amount in common with Dark Willow.

Besides that, Dark Horse is releasing a sequel series to the Firefly comic A Leaf on the Wind, and the current runs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and Faith are wrapping up next year. Beyond that, Whedon is working on “stuff I can’t talk about.”

Whedon praised Dark Horse for staying true to the characters he helped create but also pushing things forward. “I feel like five years ago, a tornado ripped up my house and dropped it in the land of Marvel, and it’s been a very weird time.” And meanwhile, Dark Horse has been taking care of “the things I care most about.”

Whedon said he was recently talking to a friend and came up with a motto: “Continue to earn what you already have.” This is a matter of “not just gratitude, but active gratitude.” He understands that it’s “extraordinary” that a writer like him gets to stand in front of a huge 6,500 person crowd who are waiting to see the X-Men, and it’s important for him to “continue to give you guys what you are giving me right now.”

And Whedon says he wants to give back in new ways instead of just resting on his laurels and saying “here’s my next idea: ‘Muffy the Zombie Fighter.’”

Whedon joked about the fact that “everybody is so perfectly pleased with how I handled Natasha” in Avengers: Age of Ultron, adding: “You’re welcome.”

A very emotional fan audience came to the microphone and asked Whedon about his work—and in fact, the most moving question was the first. A young African American woman came up and said: “I never got a chance to thank Gene Roddenberry for Uhura. I have to thank you for Zoe [Washburne, from Firefly]. She made me believe again that we were going to be out there—but not only that we were going to be out there, but we were going to be strong and beautiful. Thank you for that.” And she asked him how he managed to create characters like Zoe, who are tough but vulnerable.

Whedon responded that the secret is paying attention to the actors and their voices. “You hire Gina Torres, and then your life is much easier. Except that you’re a little intimidated, because she’s taller than you. [Torres] has a life force that is bonkers. [The character has] gotta be her, it’s gotta come from her—if [the actors] don’t feel that creative space, then the characters will just start to become my polemic, my agenda, of what a strong person should be.”

Someone asked Whedon for his favorite character he’s created, and he said the answer changes daily, but mostly it’s Buffy. She’s the nexus of everything he wants to be and the opposite of who he actually is, and “the beating heart” of everything he has done or will do.

People asked about Firefly coming back, and also when we’ll get Doctor Horrible 2. And Whedon said that he’ll never stop being obsessed by that group of people on board Serenity, “and what they go through either together or apart.” And he could be happy telling just stories about the nine of them on board the ship together.

As for Dr. Horrible, Whedon said everybody wants to do it, but they’re all insanely busy.

Does he censor his characters? Yes, partly because of the network and the studio and so on. Right now, he’s writing without any of those things, “and it’s delightful—but you know what you can get away with [when writing for a studio]. You have to try not to censor yourself, in the sense of letting an idea go to waste, but every now and then you have to say ‘mewling quim’ and see if it slides.”

A Latino fan asked Whedon if he’ll feature more Latino characters, and he responded thoughtfully. “I’ve been knocked a couple times on my handling of race. My answer is: Good call. My focus has always been gender, that’s half the people on the planet—so there’s a lot of work there. But I do think yes, the landscape of this country and this world, and the stories that we need to tell, [are] more diverse than what I have focused on [in my previous work]. So again, my answer is: soon.”

Someone dressed like Lorne from Angel asked Joss if he had any memories of Andy Hallett, and Joss said he was an extraordinary person—Joss did karaoke with Hallett in real life, and saw him go “full Patti Labelle,” kicking his shoes off and just going over the top, and this was one of the few times Whedon ever said, “I need to have that character.” Whedon was “so blown away,” and thought “L.A. is so much stranger than my show about L.A.” And even though Hallett then had to go through the audition process, he was a “force of nature” who demanded to be cast.


Contact the author at charliejane@io9.com.