Round Table Discussion: A Comic Fan Paradox

Silverwolf: Hello everyone and welcome to another exciting roundtable! I’m Silverwolf, the awesome editor!

Elessar: And I’m Elessar the awesome…I just realized I don’t know my offiical title? God Emperor?

Silverwolf: Sure, you can take that one, but stay away from my Psykers! Anyway, 40K jokes aside, we’re here to talk about comic book fans requests vs. actual purchases.

In short, Internet forums (and local shops) tend to explode with vitriol whenever either Marvel or DC publishes a “derivative” title (i.e. another Avengers or Bat-family title). They demand “something different” more often than not. Yet, at the same time, whenever those companies do try something off the beaten path (such as All-Star Western) the fan following is merely a trickle, whereas the umpteenth X-Men title sells well enough to survive despite a lack of “innovation.” Your thoughts, Elessar?

Elessar: Oh that’s not just comics fans. That’s everything. It’s a commonly known phenomena. When asked what kind of coffee they want, they’ll say they want a rich dark roast, because they think it sounds good but that’s not what they buy. That’s why American Hustle (a good, but totally generic movie) made 250 million while Cloud Atlas struggled to even match it’s budget.

No, I'm not bitter about it, what made you think that?

No, I’m not bitter about it, what made you think that?

Silverwolf: A fair point, it’s just interesting to me that comics seems a particularly ripe medium for this sort of discussion. A recent example: DC announced several new titles and creative teams for the Fall. One of the new titles, Gotham Academy, is a young adult focused story that just happens to be set in Gotham; Batman is not slated to make major appearances. Yet fans seem to feel betrayed, despite the fact a major complaint was the DCU was A. too grim and B. does not feature enough stories starring teenage characters. The recent female Thor announcement also raised dissent as people are decrying it before even reading one issue featuring the character.

Elessar: Hm. That’s also interesting. In my experience fans, especially Marvel and DC fans, are resistant to change, even when the change is positive for both them and the media itself. A good example is the original ending to Evangelion, which (without spoiling) dropped the fighting robots in favor of introspection, and as a result Gainax got death threats. This tends to get exasperated in Marvel and DC comics where there’s basically no permanent change, so fans get especially nasty about any perceived shifts in the status quo.

Silverwolf: Very true. It just always brings me back to the example of Miles Morales. When first announced, the change was decried as idiotic, short-sighted, what have you. But now, Miles has a strong fan following; not as big as Peter’s, mind you, but it says something when the Ultimate Universe titles for the most part sell terrible except for Ultimate Spider-Man, which outsells titles like Iron Man.

Oh yeah, I'm sure no one took this badly.

Oh yeah, I’m sure no one took this badly.

Elessar: That’s actually a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The Miles Morales thing was an opportunity to do something special, expanding the criminally small number of non-white superheroes, hopefully expanding comics’ audience without upsetting their main status quo. And people got pissy without even seeing how it turned out. Although there could be a racial aspect there, but we’re not going into that.

Silverwolf: Yeah, the status quo is an interesting thing in comics. I recently read a wonderful article that pointed out, among other things, one big hypocrisy of the Spider-Man fandom. As a group, they in general hate change more than anyone else. A great example is, when Peter Parker married Mary Jane, many of them loudly complained that now Peter would be tied down, and they couldn’t have the same old free-swinging, bad with women Peter that they liked. Then, years later, the even more hated One More Day occurred, which destroyed Peter’s marriage…and those same fans now were angry that the marriage was over, despite the fact that single, lone adventurer Peter was back. Now, obviously, people can change over time and those two events are years apart, but it still stands to reason that any change to the character, no matter how small, is always seen as destroying the “core” of character, even two events that are polar opposites.

Though, to be fair, I think this comic had other issues.

Though, to be fair, I think this comic had other issues.

Elessar: That, I think, goes back to audience surrogate but the core remains the same. In fact, I think that the fact that it’s couched in romantic terms like the ‘core of the character’ is rather important. People want what they know they want, and what they know they want is stuff they’ve already got. I mean, I didn’t know I wanted a movie that consisted of 2 hours of Robert Pattinson in a limo, having existential conversations, but once I got it, I wanted the s**t out of it.

That’s where the disconnect comes from. People only KNOW that they want what they’ve already got, but they don’t want to SAY that’s what they want, so they try to explain it away in other ways, which eventually translates into them saying they want things that they don’t KNOW that they want, so they won’t try them when they get them, so the new things fail.

Silverwolf: True, it’s just a shame, really. It’s why we have issues getting progression for characters. Another great example is something as minor as a costume change: hero shifts from outfit A to outfit B, and there’s a storm of controversy. Patrick Zircher, an artist I follow on Twitter, made a great point about this awhile back, posting pictures of Iron Man’s first costume; trust me, you do NOT want a return to the giant, gray tin can suit. But it’s like you said, people fear change but don’t want to admit it. It’s why we also have the problem of the Big Two calling every comic event “one that will change things FOREVER” but then they can’t really deliver on the promise, because it will upset long-time readers.

Elessar: The nature of comics, at least the way they’re published, sort of prevents permanent change, but I can’t help but think that the fans are at least partially responsible for that. Remember, originally big changes DID happen and were permanent. In between his origin and the death of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man graduated from high school and college and moved out on his own. If fans weren’t so resistant to change then maybe we’d have an entirely new Spider-Man by now. Or maybe we’d be following May Parker (wow that’s an obtuse reference).

Silverwolf: Oh no, I know the feeling. I think it’s why, if you look at overall graphic novel sales, things that tend to sell the best are either A. Indy titles (which usually have a defined end or defined end in mind) or B. Stand-alone graphic novels from the Big Two, like Killing Joke or Superman: Red Son where creators have free reign since the story isn’t “canon.”

Seriously though, this comic is great. Little f**ked up though.

Seriously, this comic is great. Little f**ked up though.

Elessar: Well that does go back to my biggest issue with Marvel and DC, and pretty much the reason I stopped reading them: Because they never end. I understand that the universe has to keep going, but I never saw why they couldn’t keep it moving forward. Even if Batman gets over his lunacy, settles down with Catwoman and has 4 kids, I know it’s not going to last because fans will be clamoring for Bruce back by the end of the week.

Silverwolf:  That’s why I think one genius thing Geoff Johns, who wrote Green Lantern for close to a decade, did was to actually have a finite end on the mythos. The final issue he wrote is an epilogue to his series. He actually says, at the end, what happens to every character in the future. Sure, the following writers won’t acknowledge it, but for people who didn’t care about the GL universe once Johns left, they could live with that ending. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have read the next issue if not for the fact one of my favorite writers took over afterward.

Elessar: Hm. I’ve not read Green Lantern much, but that certainly sounds interesting. Still, back on the subject of fans and what they do and don’t want (which I seem to recall was the subject of this discussion) I think it all boils down to entitlement and ownership. All hyper fans have this annoying habit of acting like they own the work in question, and they don’t want it to change. You see this in everything from Dr. Who to Sherlock, to Game of Thrones to Marvel and DC to even Harry Potter.

Silverwolf:  It really is a troubling aspect of fandom, and I think gets to the core of, as you called it, ownership of a character. Even sometimes when the character’s creator changes something, fans will act betrayed as if they know the character better. It’s why I called shenanigans when I heard about people disliking Superman’s socialist attitude in Grant Morrison’s Action Comics; for anyone who’s read the original run, Superman is most certainly beholden to those ideals. It’s funny, too, because fans always seem to link however a character is to their perceived “Golden Age.”

Another great example is Pokemon: how many times have we heard people our age call any game after Red and Blue “not real?” For an entire new generation of fans, the most legitimate version is X and Y; I may not play them, but my love for Squirtle and Abra doesn’t make their enjoyment any less relevant, nor the game any less attached to the core idea of the series: catch monsters, raise ’em, send them to fight each other.

But that said, any final thoughts on this issue?

Elessar: In a way, I wish more series creators were willing to do what happened in the End of Evangelion: give the fans what they think they want, but rip it apart and rebuild it into something twisted, angry and out to hurt them. I think a lot of fans could stand to be reminded that they don’t own this or that media, and that your love of it is no more or less valid than anyone else’s.

And I really do wish more fans would TRY something new, rather than the same damn thing 100,000 times.

Silverwolf: I definitely agree. It’s why I always encourage people to buy good comics that don’t make big sales: X-Men will never be cancelled, but that solo title starring your favorite non-core mutant just might.

Anyway folks, that’s it for today! Feel free to sign off with your own thoughts in the comics! And join us next time for another exciting round of discussion!

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