Let’s talk about who we are as fans for a moment, shall we?
There was a time in my life when events that would “change everything” would upset me. When Superman transformed into a being of electricity in a containment suit, I was furious. It seemed ridiculous for him to be transformed as he was, but a little time passed and he returned to the Superman we all know and love. I look back at that time and wonder why I was ever really upset in the first place. In fact, I look back and think about how interesting that time was. Of course, I don’t want Superman to be that kind of a character all the time, but for a brief period, I thought it was kind of cool.
So, where is all of this coming from? First, it started with comments like this:
Much has been made about the return of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl and while some of the criticism is certainly valid, much of it is melodramatic, reactionary fandom at its worst. Ever since the DC relaunch was announced, fans of gotten worked up into a frenzy because of two things: the unknown and change.
Comic book fans hate not knowing what is coming down the line which is strange given that to know what would happen will spoil the conclusion of a story. Maybe we’re too wrapped up in these characters. Maybe we care too much. Whatever the reason, we want to be comforted that our favorites will always be around and when something happens to them, then fans somehow take personal offense. There is a sense of ownership that fans take with a character because we’ve spent so much time reading about them month after month for years.
I was first getting into Green Lantern during the change from Hal Jordan to Kyle Rayner and I can still remember not liking Kyle Rayner at first because he was different. He wasn’t the Green Lantern I first knew, but you know what? I was nine years old. A few months later, I warmed up to Rayner and I still hold him as my favorite Green Lantern today to the point that when Green Lantern: Rebirth first started, I recall being upset because Hal Jordan was going to return and replace Kyle Rayner — the same exact feelings but the characters were reversed. Again, a few months later, I realized that the change wasn’t that big of a deal so long as a good story was being told.
Change happens in comic books and thank God for it, because without change, then nothing interesting would happen. I don’t agree with every single change that has been made in the DC Relaunch (Scott Lobdell’s Superboy is treading the same ground that Geoff Johns had already traveled for years now which is disappointing given the new and exciting direction that Jeff Lemire had taken the character), but I’m willing to give the changes a chance because ultimately, I love comic books no matter what.
Perhaps the most infuriating comment I have heard in regards to change is best summed up by Our Valued Customers:
The problem with the argument is that it presumes that there are people who produce something and don’t want to make money at it. Of course companies want to make money — money is how they stay in business. Money allows companies to pay creators so they can pay bills and make more comics for people to complain about (because judging from most of the internet, people don’t enjoy comics so much as they read them in order to get upset by them). So in order for companies to make money, they have to do interesting things to get people interested and the complaint that companies should not be “in it for the money” is simply an ignorant and foolish idea.
What else would they be in it for?
The key problem with fandom though is that fans always take the role of “victim” when company decisions don’t go their way. On a post on Dan Didio’s Facebook wall, a “fan” stated that there had been no announcements about Ray Palmer being in DC after the relaunch and that he would no longer be reading DC Comics because Ray Palmer was his favorite character.
In response, I asked the fan if he only read comics that featured Ray Palmer in them to which the fan responded that my assertion was correct. When I pointed out that Ray Palmer hadn’t regularly appeared in a DC series in quite a long time, the fan turned irate and proceeded to threaten me (as ignorant people who have been lost an argument are wont to do). This sense of entitlement and this sense that DC Comics somehow owes this irate fan in some way is just astonishing and while it can be easy to write this off as an isolated incident, a casual viewing of Mr. Didio’s Facebook wall shows that he is assaulted with this kind of fan nearly every day. There is always someone who feels like because their favorite character isn’t included, that somehow DC comics hates the fans which is simply ridiculous.
Fans spend money and we’ve already established that companies want to make money, so why would they intentionally try and tick people off?
Maybe I’m blowing up the problems with fandom to unreasonable proportions, but seriously check in on DC Women Kicking Ass every day for a week and keep track of the ratio of positive comments about comics to negative comments about them and I’m sure that the negative greatly outweighs the positive. Her two most recent complaints that have gotten under my skin is her comments over Renee Montoya allegedly not being the Question any longer and the appearance of a thinner Amanda Waller.
In the case of Amanda Waller, one can somewhat see the point she is trying to make in regards to “a diversity of body types” and while DCWKA’s comment of “There are people in wheelchairs and people of size. I’d like to see some in my comics, too” is beautifully (and comically) melodramatic, it’s the comments from her peanut gallery that really get my blood boiling.
The hysterically named Collababortion writes, “this feels like a personal attack.” — On who? You, the fan? How?
K-S-F is perhaps my favorite with “Seriously DC? Seriously? Is NOTHING sacred?” — as if Amanda Waller was somehow this commentator’s favorite character in all of the DCU. As if there were a legion of Amanda Waller fans out there who have complete collections of her every appearance.
Back on Dan Didio’s wall, someone named Michael Dark writes, “What did you guys do to Amanda Waller?! She doesn’t even have the strong physical presence that Maria Hill has at Marvel. She looks like Halle Berry instead. No! Waller is supposed to be scary! She’s supposed to be a very intimidating woman. That’s why here size worked. She was built like Ezekiel Jackson with a beer gut! She looked like she would mess you up in a heartbeat! How can you be intimidated by The Rail?! BRING BACK THE WALL! *Amanda Waller fans UNITE*”
Most of the time, Didio’s responses are politely dismissive. This time, he replied, “hmmmm not sure who Maria Hill is but I guess its sort of like taking a short clawed hero and making him tall to match what was happening in the movies” which is an acknowledgment that she was changed in order to better resemble Angela Bassett from Green Lantern. And really, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s branding. It’s helping new readers associate more with the product, and ultimately, it’s sort of a small and insignificant change.
But, perhaps because comics themselves are about sensationalism, fandom’s criticism must also be sensationalist. Perhaps this is the real reason why people can’t seem to let things go.
I’m reminded at this time of when I first started working at a comic book store. A co-worker of mine told me about a subscriber who used to come in, read his comics in the store, and then rant for a couple of hours about how “Superman wouldn’t do that!” And it got to the point that the only proper response was to respond with, “you know Superman’s not real, right? He’s a fictional character.”
I’ve found that this sort of meta-criticism doesn’t seem to be going away. In fact, it seems to be infecting fans more and more every day. Michael Dark responds to Didio’s comment with, “Sure, it’s possible for a smaller character to be just as devious and dangerous, be that level of a strategist, but when she was on panel you just knew something was going to happen. Someone was either going to be told off or physically hurt, because her presence overwhelmed the scene. She was in every way larger than life.”
And so, fed up with this discussion and the way it had turned into “She wouldn’t do that” type of conversation, I replied, “Michael – Amanda Waller isn’t real. She is fictional. Don’t get so worked up.” And I’ve heard nothing since. Maybe that’s all it takes.
Remember, the problem isn’t really criticism per se, the problem is hyper-criticism and meta-criticism. When fans believe that every decision a company makes is to either politically motivated or to “screw over the fans,” all it does is get people worked up and angry over nothing. I suppose when this fervor turns into sales, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s infuriating when criticism turns into threats of boycotting. Furthermore, discussing fictional characters as if they were real is damaging to real literary criticism because it cuts out the author’s intent and replaces it with these bizarre assumptions that the reader somehow knows a character better than others.
My only real solution in addition to the argument of characters being fictional is to come up with an equally bizarre explanation for the changes. In regards to Amanda Waller, I said, “I like to think it’s an origin story. I’ve heard she totally pigs out in issue 2″ and I’ve also said, “My problem with DC is that we’ve never seen how Amanda Waller bulked up. I think this is the perfect opportunity to see how she got so fat. I do so love a good origin story.”
The problem is that hyper-criticism has gotten so far out of hand that people take these comments seriously and that is simply a frightening thought.