Friday, August 13, 2010

Dispassionate Comics Lover

I am glad that I'm not a comics fanboy. I enjoy reading comics and having an actual trade paperback library on my shelf, but my enthusiasm for comics is nowhere near what would be considered a passion. They're good entertainment, period. Anything beyond that would put me at risk for undue frustration, anger, and disappointment.

When a new superhero movie comes out, I treat it like any other movie. I've no preconceived notions about continuity or characterization. I don't scream when Spider-Man has organic web shooters. Or doesn't have organic web shooters. I like all the comic book movies everybody hates because (a) stuff blows up, (b) I like the characters, and (a) stuff blows up. I enjoy more movies that are untrue to the source material because I'm not that informed about/attached to the source material in the first place.

It's been almost two years since I started getting into comics, and I have yet to finish an entire series, read through a universe-spanning crossover event, or sample anything that isn't a Marvel or DC mainstay (Star Trek, etc. notwithstanding).

There are still throngs of characters I've never heard of, and I don't know what's going on in modern comics unless Alex writes about it. Aside from a slew of origin stories, the first quarter of the Ultimate Marvel Universe's history, and a modest number of Batman, Green Lantern, and (Jaime Reyes) Blue Beetle tales, I've had no real exposure to mainstream comics.

What I've read indicates more than a casual interest in comics, but the truth is that I've never read a Marvel comic outside the Ultimate continuity, save for one Captain America that made absolutely no sense. Up until two nights ago, I couldn't tell you the difference between the JLA and JSA. I still think Ambush Bug is a concoction of Alex's imagination. I'm widely uninformed about comics, and I'm not ravenous about catching up. I'm not a real fanboy.

Especially when you consider my lack of interest in owning any comics-related merchandise.

Aside from a fleeting fancy to own a Rorschach action figure when the Watchmen film came out, a brief consideration of buying a Green Lantern t-shirt, and this temporary notion that it might be fun to have a fist-sized replica of Skeets from the Booster Gold comics displayed on my computer desk, I haven't really considered picking up any comics swag since Michael Keaton was Batman. Not a bust, not a poster, not a Galactus-shaped pot-holder.

I've liked most of the comics I've read, but they haven't resonated with me enough to trip that fanboy trigger. The Goon came very close, but the ridiculous stories toward the beginning are more up my alley than the (still excellent) darker tales later on.

The Fantastic Four make a great team, but I can't relate with them all that well. Green Lantern's power ring is incredible, but I wouldn't want the responsibility of having one. The Batboat is cool, but hey, it's no seaQuest. I enjoy and appreciate comics, but I'm not invested enough to get sucked into one of the worst aspects of the fandom: the arguments.

All fandoms have their fair share of arguments, from whether video games cause violent behavior to whether Han shot first. (If Han plays video games, then you know he shot first.) This is strictly a matter of subjective opinion, but I'd wager that comics fans have bigger, harsher, and flat-out more arguments than almost any other kinds of fans.

Marvel vs. DC. The true "golden age" of comics. Major crossover events. Movie adaptations. Absolutely anything having to do with continuity. The skill and competence of the people behind the comics. The direction of entire franchises. The integrity of the industry. Outside perceptions of the fandom, if Alex's post yesterday was any indication.

Comics carry a stigma that almost demands a higher level of dedication to endure. If you admit to owning a Star Trek uniform, some people might think you're a big dork. If you admit to owning a comic book, there are people who will scorn you and think less of you as a human being.

While you can present a logical argument to defend yourself in such a situation, it's the scorn factor that tends to ignite a passionate response. Likewise, you'd have to be passionate about comics to keep your hobby a secret when you know so much of the world is effectively against you.

Passion and strong opinions go hand-in-hand, and being constantly on the defensive (both consciously and subconsciously) against those who misunderstand and malign you and your fandom surely keeps an emphasis on what you love about comics, and, by extension, what you hate.

Why do you think there's such rivalry between fans of different sports teams? The teams they follow are in constant competition with one another. Comics has all sorts of competition, both internal and external. Those arguments can be bad.

If you look past the dawn of Superman and go back as far as Krazy Kat and the Yellow Kid, there's more than a century of comics to argue about. We're talking about a multifaceted fandom with a great deal of history and no end in sight--the potential for arguments is limitless.

The debates I have about Star Trek and Mega Man are mostly related to personal preferences about specific installments, and the big arguments--"Is Star Wars better than Star Trek?" "Was everything downhill after Mega Man 2?" etc.--are relatively few in number. The debates play out about the same way every time.

Comics, though...the sheer volume of material and the diversity of that material almost guarantees more varied debates, especially when any given comics fan is likely to have a radically different exposure to comics than the person he or she is arguing with.

I'm talking more about the Marvel and DC universes here, as it's unfair to compare a whole medium to a specific franchise within a medium, but I feel the sentiment still applies to the broader medium. And that's why I'm glad I'm not a comics fanboy.

I enjoy reading comics, but I have neither the desire nor the ability to argue over them or complain when the Next Big Thing turns out to be a total flop. In my limited experience, the only comics to ever affect me in such a strong way (positive or negative) were based on series that started in a different medium--they were continuations of fandoms I already enjoyed.

Maybe I have yet to discover the comic that'll truly click with me; I have yet to discover Ambush Bug, after all.

I understand how big an impact a fandom can have on a person, and how powerful any form of expression can be to the right kind of person. Comics are an awesome form of expression. It's just that from both my own experience and what I've read and extrapolated from the posts and comments on this blog, I perceive the comics fandom to be an unsafe place for people who just want to read comics.

If you want to argue with me, you're just supporting my point. If you don't disagree, you're also supporting my point. Either way, I'm right...and for once, I don't like being right.


Scott said...

I don't think you have to join the fandom if you want to read comics any more than you have to join the Trekkie fandom if you want to watch Star Trek reruns on TNN.

I watch anime occasionally, but I haven't been "in" the anime fandom for years.

Flashman85 said...