The Fifth Color | The speed of fandom
A few weeks ago, Gail Simone posted something on Tumblr that shamed me:
I love Barbara Gordon so much.
I love her as Oracle, I love her as Batgirl, I love her in Year One, I love her in the cartoons, I love Babs cosplayers…
…I just freaking love her, all right?”
There is no doubt in my mind that this is true. Last year, when the New 52 was announced and changes were rolling in, Simone was one of the few creators who listened to fans’ complaints against changes and maybe mourned a little with them as Oracle went back on the shelf and Batgirl returned. She has been steadfast in the development of Barbara Gordon for a long time now (man, since around 2003), and there is simply no doubt in my mind that she really loves that character.
And how wonderful is that? That a creator can love all incarnations of her favorite character, even the ones she has nothing to do with? Yeah, Simone has a lot of control on how we see Barbara Gordon, but there are so many mediums where that character is there but she is not. But with every incarnation comes another chance to see that Barbara Gordon in a new light and with fresh eyes.
How come I couldn’t say the same?
If you’re reading this, then you most certainly have Opinions About Comics. Opinions About Comics make the world go around and can be a force for good as much as a force for evil. Having strong opinions about comics, from creators to costumes, fuels sales and builds franchises; people who don’t even read comics can have extremely strong opinions on what should and should not be in comic books. But can being a fan actually hamper you in enjoying the object of your own affection? Reading Simone’s post hit me hard because I had just read Incredible Hulk #7.1 that very day; the Hulk is quite possibly my favorite comic book character of all time, and I have had the worst time learning to love new ideas and changes to the basic character concept. Jason Aaron’s latest twist that Bruce Banner is the monster and the Hulk is the hero is hard for me to swallow and harder to support. Change is a constant for the Hulk as one clever commenter has said but there’s only so much change a character or idea can take before we find ourselves with an entirely new element. As readers, we make our own continuity between the panels and when we’re right, the book is more enjoyable. When we’re wrong, it can destroy any momentum we had on a series (please see the response to “One More Day”).
Then there’s Carol Danvers. This summer, she returns to having her own series with a brand-new title, Captain Marvel. This is something like her fourth change, as she started as Ms. Marvel and went to Binary to Warbird and then back to Ms. Marvel, each time having a new set of circumstance and another layer to the character. At heart, I know more odd factoids about the character than I know any core idea or concept she represents, so when Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy start this new chapter, Carol Danvers will be reworked into a new chapter of her life. Carol Danvers is so conceptual to me that I have absolutely no momentum on the character, but here I am waiting for the first issue so I can enjoy this new idea.
“Personal velocity” is a term I just made up to describe the momentum of fan’s expectations in all sorts of different media. How fast does your love go? If you have no momentum with something, be it music style, book series or shawarma, it might take you longer to head toward those new ideas and find interest. You can even take something you do like for a little bit of a speed boost to get you in. (The Avengers like shawarma? Maybe I should check this out …) If you have a lot of momentum with an idea or art style or character, you follow it from place to place and can fall into an orbit, where how much you like the Hulk dictates how much you buy the comic, watch the TV show, own the Hulk Hands, etc. Fan momentum leads to a lot of late-night message board posts. This momentum can even develop into an industry, as teen idols make a million girls swoon and (more importantly) pull out their pocketbooks. And sometimes, that momentum can get away from you, and there can be some just spectacular crashes (please see the aforementioned late-night message board posts).
My personal velocity on the Hulk is starting to shake apart. The character’s new direction doesn’t jibe with me, the supporting characters pulled into my jetstream have spun off into A-Bomb and Red She-Hulk, thus spinning out of my wake. I’m going so fast in my own direction that it’s hard for me to slow down, take in this new twist and turn and enjoy it. It’s not that the writers or artists or editors are “bad,” it’s just that we’re moving apart, into separate orbits.
In the end, I would much rather be Gail Simone, and not just because she writes some awesome comics. I think the healthier attitude to take is something more akin to joy than obsession. It’s great to be able to recite the Summers family tree at parties, but if we hold on too tightly, we lose a little something when we watch X-Men: First Class or have a new retcon. Change isn’t always bad, and there is no one at any company looking to ruin any of their properties. I’d like to break free of the gravitational pull of my expectations, to be able to take in all facets of what I enjoy so much and finally achieve escape velocity so I can fly.