Hell hath no fury like a fanboy scorned. In the last week or so we’ve seen two huge examples of fanboy self-righteousness seething and bubbling up into the public’s consciousness. The first is with the new video game Mass Effect 3, which was the highly-anticipated conclusion to a hit video game franchise. Apparently, fans that reached the end of the game unlocked its three endings and found all three to be unworthy of the story, so they caused a huge ruckus until the developers agreed to change the ending.
The second example came with the announcement that in the upcoming Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, the heroes in a half-shell would in fact be extraterrestrials, rather than turtles of the Earthly variety. Although there are no plans yet to buckle to the fanboy backlash and reclaim the heroes’ terrestrial heritage, the uproar was enough to cause Bay to respond with a statement saying that fans “need to take a breath and chill.” The geek controversy even made its way into a Conan O’Brien skit a few days ago, albeit a very unfunny one (a much more sympathetic gag article was also published by fake news outlet, The Onion).
It’s this latter instance of fanboy rage that I’d like to address, because for one, I don’t really play video games anymore because I really suck at them, and for two, because for about 15 seconds, I was one of those outraged fans. I, like many of you, grew up on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Their cartoons and movies had an enormous impact on my mushy little prepubescent brain, and mostly served as my favorite fictional characters until a little later when comic book superheroes started to usurp them (there was also a Power Rangers period in there, but lets not discuss that).
Lately I have rediscovered the green machine, as seminal pop legend Vanilla Ice once so poetically referred to them as. I have begun a slow trudging through the gloriously punk rock underground comics put out by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird back before there was such a thing as “cowabunga” (incidentally, I recently spent a significant amount of time in and around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and you can not know how stoked I was later to learn that I had been unknowingly treading upon the hallowed birthplace of the turtles!). I am also keeping up with all the latest issues of IDW’s new comic book series, which I personally couldn’t be happier with. It merges bits of continuity from the comics and the cartoon series, with the initial arc being the story of how they graduated from each of the Turtles wearing red bandanas (as in the original comic) to each of them having their own individual color. Plus the art and the action are just as good, if not better, than anything the Big Two are putting out.
So, in short, I am a huge fan (by my personal criteria) of the Turtles. So when I heard that none other than Michael Bay, notorious for making bogus, candy-coated epilepsy fits that somehow make more money than “The Dark Knight,” was going to produce the newest Turtles film and change their origin, I flipped out. I immediately took to Twitter to ejaculate my white-hot fanboy indignation, as any guy who is not getting laid enough is wont to do. After that I pretty much calmed down, straightened myself up, and walked away from the issue for a couple of days. When I came back to it, I realized that it really wasn’t as big a deal as I originally took it to be.
In his initial announcement, Bay said that “kids are going to believe one day these turtles actually do exist when we are done with this movie.” That’s the thing that fanboys like me should be paying attention to. Bay is trying to make a version of the Turtles that would be more believable to a 2012 audience. With that in mind, what is more believable? A couple of pet turtles get splashed with glowy goo and in a matter of hours grow into adolescent asexual anthropomorphized ninjas? Or that these guys were already like that when they got here because they’re from a different planet? Which one makes more sense to you?
And when you ask yourself that question, consider these two points. The original Ninja Turtles comic was a loving send-up of several of the comics that Frank Miller had put out in the 1980s, not least of which was his prolific work with Marvel Comics’ character, Daredevil. The origin of the Turtles was exactly that. One day, a blind man walked into the path of a truck transporting canisters of radioactive waste. Before the truck could hit the blind man, a young boy jumped in the way and pushed the man to safety, and in the process was struck in the face with one of the canisters, which had fallen off the truck.
Rather than shatter and leak radioactive chemicals into the eyes of the boy, it bounced down the road, colliding with a bowl full of turtles, shattering the bowl before falling into the sewer along with the turtles themselves. It’s a total alternate telling of the origin of Matt Murdock, who the 1980s audience would have understood was the boy in the comic who pushed the blind man to safety. Once the turtles fell down the manhole and into the puddle of mutagen waiting below, they began their mutation into sarcastic teenage martial artists, who wore red bandanas (a la Elektra) and were drafted by a wise ninja master, Splinter, (a reference to Daredevil’s master, Stick), into his war of revenge against a ruthless ninja clan known as The Foot (not to be confused with Daredevil’s enemies, The Hand).
The entire first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one big love letter to Frank Miller. The question then becomes, will the 2012 moviegoing audience get this joke? More importantly, do they need to be in on this joke? Does this element of the mythos need to be retained for the sake of fanboy lip service, or can it be modified or jettisoned for the sake of bringing in new fans, many of whom would’ve never read Miller’s work on “Daredevil?”
The other thing to consider is that after the first issue of the series, which deals with the origin of the Turtles and their battle with Shredder and his Foot clan (basically the plot of the 1989 Turtles film), the Turtles almost immediately changed from a book about street gangs to a science fiction comic. The Turtles were fighting robots, meeting brain-shaped aliens who piloted android bodies (the basis for the TV show’s Krang), traveling to other planets and other dimensions alongside Jack Kirby, fighting a sophisticated race of alien dinosaurs, and even travelling through time with Cerebus the Aardvark. Science fiction is heavily ingrained in the Turtles’ DNA. It is therefore not that sacrilegious to suggest, for the sake of cleaning up their backstory, that they are actually a race of alien turtles rather than normal Earth turtles that got lucky one day and grew up.
When you take those things into consideration, what Bay’s doing doesn’t seem that bad, and even sounds pretty intriguing. The truth is, and we fanboys really don’t like to hear this, but the truth is sometimes these characters need to have their stories tweaked a bit to make them more believable for a new audience. I mean, where in the comics did Joker ever grow his hair out and use makeup to cover up a hideous Glasgow grin? When did the X-Men ever wear motorcycle suits into battle? Would Galactus really have looked more convincing on the big screen as a 200-foot-tall dude in a purple metal skirt? (Maybe not, but they should’ve at least tried Warren Ellis’ Gah Lak Tus idea before resorting to the storm cloud concept.) Comic book continuity gets updated from time to time. Hell, Alan Moore built his career on reinventing old characters for a new age. Nothing stays the same forever in comics, especially when translating it to film.
So if Michael Bay wants to try a new approach with the Turtles to make them more believable, more true in the minds of contemporary teenagers, I say go for it. I’m not mad about that anymore. I might be a little bit less than happy that it’s Michael Bay’s production company handling the film, as they’ve yet to produce anything I’ve enjoyed, but it’ll surely be better than that CGI film that came out a few years ago. We fanboys need to just accept that we can’t have our way all the time, and instead be open to new ideas when people who are in the position that Michael Bay is in are trying to help our characters out and keep them relevant in a new age. The same could be said of the people who were up in arms over the ending of Mass Effect 3.
Alan Moore has said on numerous occasions that the audience doesn’t know what they want, that’s why they’re the audience. They do not know better than the storyteller, and they shouldn’t be allowed to take control of the story away from the storyteller. It’s an important thing to remember in this digital age, in which everyone with a Twitter account has the power to anonymously air their complaints across the globe to people who have actually done things to earn their level of influence. We should all try not to be dicks, which only serves to reduce our community to fodder for late night talk show hosts, and instead allow people like Bay to have their chance to say what they’d like to say with these properties. I’m relatively certain that making a group of talking bipedal turtles more believable in a film context is never something to get too angry about.