Small-Minded Comic Book Fans Vs Jane Foster & Continuity

It wasn’t until I was 19 years old and armed with a student loan that I started buying comics. I’d always loved super-heroes growing up, but my rare forays into comic-book shops with my Mother as a child were terrifying experiences where I felt overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of choice. However, with assistance from staff at Travelling Man York and my Wikipedia app, I evenutally dived in head first and have never looked back.

It was everything I expected it to be and more, except in one area. In my innocence I presumed I’d found “my people”, and whilst there is undoubtedly a huge amount of wonderful people in the comic-book community, there is also an equally large contingent of close-minded muppets with a chip-on-their-shoulder. These are the type of people that were probably bullied at school, but instead of realizing there needs to be more love in the world they have instead decided to use their unfortunate past to justify their loathsome personalities.

Unfortunately I meet these types all the time. Generally, these are the same people who are livid because Marvel have decided to gender-swap Thor or hand Cap’s shield to a black man. These are the same people who refused to buy any more DC books when the New 52 came in, regardless of the reviews the books were getting or the creative teams that they had. I want to out-and-out state now that a lot of people who are livid about Black Cap or Lady Thor aren’t racist or sexist, they just have insane egos that genuinely believe comics should only ever be the way they want them to be.

Let me get something else out the way too. I do understand, to a degree, being “precious” about the characters and stories that I love. If DC announced tomorrow that Damian Wayne no longer existed and Batman never had a son I’d be absolutely gutted. In fact, I’d be livid. But what I wouldn’t do is never buy a Batman comic again, or think that a Batman now sucks, or think that all the past stories featuring Damian Wayne are now defunct, pointless or lacking in emotional resonance.

What I don’t understand about these type of fans is they don’t seem to understand a huge part of the joy of comics. Comics are about being able to tell any story you like. There are no budgets, no restrictions on the imagination. Comics are known for having multiverses, alternative realities and distinctly different “eras”. Yet somehow a temporary change in gender is absolute sacrilege?

Let’s take a moment to directly address two of the most common complaints I’ve heard about Jane Foster’s Thor (and I use this example because the current run has been great, and presumably people are missing out because of their unfounded opinions):

  1. “Why don’t they just make a new character rather than change an old one?”

Christ, where do you start with this…

Okay first of all – anyone with an ounce of a brain doesn’t want to read the same stories over again and again. The writers, who are creative people, have every right to explore new ways of putting a spin on the material, finding interesting ways to take the premise of a character and do something different with it. It seems like a lot of complainers just want recycling. It’s either because they’re thick, or have such a pathetic life that predictability is the only comfort they have.

Jane Foster’s Thor isn’t just a simple gender-swap, it’s an in-depth look at what it means to be Thor. It’s a look at how the original Thor would cope without his hammer. It’s a story where we – the reader – get to explore the idea of becoming Thor ourselves; If a woman with cancer can become Thor, then any of us can. Same with Sam Wilson’s Cap. You’re absolutely deluded if you think it’s just about making a character black for political correctness.  If you actually took time to read the books you’d realise it’s a story about a man who has to take up the mantle of Captain America. That’s all it is. What does Captain America represent? Who’s he going to throw his shield at? It doesn’t HAVE to be Steve Rogers under the mask to be an interesting story. It baffles me why so many comic fans are so hung up on mundane details rather than stories.

Secondly – to address “why not just make a new character?”. Well for starters you can’t make a new character that has a bad-ass hammer, speaks using the word “verily” and flies around because everyone would correctly point out it’s a Thor-rip off. New characters are hard, and we love the powers and “tone” of established characters for a reason. It’s not easy to make a new character that carries the same weight that an established character already has, let alone convince the small-minded fans to pick up a book of a character they’ve never heard of. And finally, Jason Aaron couldn’t tell the story he currently wants to tell if he created a new character, because it wouldn’t be the same story (see point 1).

  1. “Marvel is just doing this to be PC”

Let’s just say the people claiming this are correct (they aren’t). Even if this was true, what’s wrong with Marvel doing it to be PC? Comics traditionally appeal to loners and nerds, so it makes perfect sense for comics to reach out to minorities. What is wrong with trying to reach out to a new audience? Clever businesses expand their market.

Some comic-fans seem to think that because a few books have done something “PC” the entire range is now PC, and that is just bollocks. For every Jane Foster Thor or Sam Wilson Cap, the majority of the books haven’t changed at all. Sometimes I think these type of comic-fans just like to moan. If you don’t like something there is now more variety than ever, and how can that not be anything but a good thing?

“Continuity is the devil” said Grek Pak. Or was it Geoff Johns? Or Grant Morrison? (I swear I’ve seen that quote attributed to about seven different writers). And I think this is a lot of the complaints boil down too. There’s a large group of comic fans that don’t want anything different; they want the same thing sticking to same ridged continuity. They also like to loudly project the idea that all comic fans feel the same way, and I think it’s time for the large group of us that couldn’t give a shit to start opening our mouths too.

See, one of most frustrating and irritating attitudes I come across is that people seem to delude themselves into believing that comics that religiously adhere to continuity somehow makes them, or the work, intellectually superior, and when comics ignore or re-write their continuity they are “dumbing down”. I find it a baffling attitude because the only other example of a medium of entertainment I can think of with 30+ years of continuity are British soap operas like EastEnders or Coronation Street. I don’t want to appear snobby, in fact every time I hear that the character Phil Mitchel is back on the bottle I’ll happily tune into EastEnders, but are soap-operas the beacons of light for intellectual stimulation? Of course not; just because an entertainment form has a need for Wikipedia like knowledge of who’s related to who, what happened when, why that person doesn’t like that person… it has zero reflection on the quality of the story or character.

It seems to me that a large portion of comic fans, if given an ultimatum, would rather shitty writers sticking rigidly to continuity in an ever looping soap-opera, than great writers trying new ideas and alternative versions of the characters and worlds we love. If that’s what you want then fine, but don’t get on your ridiculously high horse and delude yourself into thinking your somehow smarter or a “real fan”.

In a world of increasingly short attention spans (of which I am myself guilty) I’m going to wrap it up here. This is a reaction piece, a reaction piece to annoying, close-minded attitudes I frequently come across in the community. I’m pretty sure that by using phrases like “pathetic lives” I’m not going to win these people over, but I just hope this is a small contribution to the voice of the fan who is fed up of hearing “losers” spout the same crap over and over again like they’re the only person who’s important.

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