Fanboys gripe. Fanboys whine. Fanboys shout to the heavens and hope everyone listens. Bottom line, fanboys are opinionated and that comes from passion. They are passionate about what they love, whether that be comics, film, novels, et cetera. I am a fanboy, yet a passive lurker of comic book and movie sites. I tend to comment opening on literature-related blogs and websites. Even I gripe…
MOVIE FANS VERSUS FANBOYS
Turn your eyes to the movie theater’s marquee. What do you notice? And no, the answer I’m looking for is NOT a list of movies. As I write, at my favorite local theater there are four films playing that are based on notable novels or comic books. In the last eight months of 2012 some of the largest grossing, most popular, most talked about films (good or bad) were based on novels or comic books. To name a few: “Hunger Games”, “Avengers”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Amazing Spiderman”, “John Carter”, and “Total Recall”. There is still “The Hobbit”, “Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Dredd”, and a number of other films slatted for the remainder of 2012.
I’m not here to decry Hollywood for its lack of originality. That complaint is tired and well shouted about among forums, blogs, and the comment sections below movie news updates. No. My gripe is with the fans, or rather the “so-called” fans.
Today is a golden age for comic books and book series. Movie studios are grabbing up the rights to literary properties even if the film(s) have a low probability of getting produced. That’s the nature of the beast. Our favorite characters are intangible assets to these companies and a movie studio wants to hold that asset more than they want a competitor to. I’ve often wanted to look a detailed breakout of Disney’s internal books because I’m curious as to the value of Mickey Mouse’s name. And don’t think Disney has not put a value on the mouse’s name… I would bet money Mickey Mouse is worth more than a few pennies. Having typed the name twice now, I probably owe Disney $100,000 (at least). But I digress.
Regardless of what Batman or Jay Gatsby means to a movie studio with only eyes for box office numbers, these figments of an author’s imagination mean something to us who have dog-eared our favorite copies of bound paper. And we fans have gotten lucky with the a lot of the quality being produced. Like I said, this is a golden age for fans.
Here in lays my gripe. The “so-called” fans of these films. Not those individuals who devoted years prior to the film to the original material–be it books or comic books–nor the people who are compelled to seek out the source material because of the film (they’ve essentially become hooked, junkies, and now they need their fix). You know who I mean… I’m talking about the people in the theaters with a vinyl bat symbol or green lantern ironed onto their shirts. No, not the fanboys. Thes,e other fans, the “so-called” fans walk around with those shirts on telling everyone how much they love the characters and the movie they just watched while shoveling popcorn in their mouths and throwing back a large Pepsi. Usually these people use the world “epic” to describe everything of any sort of grand importance. But this second “fan” is not a fanboy, yet they are hard to tell apart from the hardcore obsessed.
Let’s be honest. How many of the bat-symbol-wearing “so-called” fans have flipped through the pages of a comic book? How many of those people going to see the “Great Gatsby” next year have read the novel? Yeah, “Great Gatsby” was required reading in high school but most people used the Cliffnotes to get through the test and write the required essay. Ten years ago, how many people shouting to the heavens about the wonder and beauty of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Middle Earth actually know the details Jackson changed and the liberties he took in bringing Lord of the Rings to film? My answer to all these questions is: not many. These “so-called” fans wear the character shirts because its popular, the shirts might look vintage. It’s a fad to them, not a part of their life.
Sure, Lord of the Rings is cool today and more people are aware of the hobbits and the One Ring than in years past. Not a bad thing. The goodness of Tolkien should be shared. However, I don’t believe people are digging into the meat of the lore. Never mind reading the “Similarion “, most people are not cracking open the four main novels. After seeing “The Dark Knight Rises” I doubt people coming out the film rushed to a local comic book store to purchase the trades Nolan used as his source material. “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Knightfall”/”Knightquest” made the final Batman film in Nolan’s trilogy. Movie fans don’t know that and I’m not sure they care.
Don’t get me wrong. I would love it if the comic book stores were flooded with new fans. The dream is that these films will drive moviegoers to seek out the source materials from which the films are based, increase the fandom, and bring fresh new perspectives to old discussions.
I’ll have conversations with friends who are not comic book fans, who don’t read much fiction either, and I’ll try to discuss the films using the source material to compare and contrast and add to the characters’ histories over the decades. Most look at me with glazed eyes and expressions that say you’re a nerd. When I watched “Batman Begins” years ago I sat next to a couple of people, around my same age, who were upset that Nolan did not have the Joker in the film as man who killed Batman’s parents. They were offended that Nolan changed that part of the lore. To them the lore began with Burton’s 1989 film. As the educated, obsessed fanboy I am I was compelled to lean over and set these two people straight about the man who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents in the comics.
To most people the mythology surrounding comics and novels is the films, they have no clue as to the expansiveness of the worlds beyond the screen. How could they? Years prior to the films many people may have called comic books “children’s things” or simply “cartoons”.
In high school and those years before that, you could not be a comic book fan and be respected. Respect. Comic books. Those two things did not go hand-in-hand. Reading anything for fun was not cool back when I was in school, especially if it had a fantasy edge. A person couldn’t enjoy a good book, for fun, and not get some heckling. Believe me, I was one of those people receiving the jeers.
Picture this. It’s ten to fifteen years ago and I’m fifteen or sixteen years old. Oh, the tender innocence. On any given day in a school I might be done with my class work early. One day there is maybe fifteen minutes remaining in a random class. Alright. What did I do? I broke out a novel and started reading. Within a few minutes I received the oddest looks.
“Is that for Mrs. So-and-so’s class?”
“Why are you reading it then?”
“Because I want to. It’s a good book.”
That response only earned more strange looks, looks that nearly tempted me into putting my novel away. I shrugged those eyeballs off and continued on reading, though.
I am ashamed to admit that despite my constant attempts to fend off peer pressure I did keep my geek-ness to a minimum. Case in point: I never brought comic books into middle school or high school. Doing that would have waved my freak flag. I didn’t care if people thought I was a bookworm but I was not going to be strung up like a pariah.
Fast forward ten-plus years and I do have many fond memories from my younger years in school. I would never willing go back but that’s not the issue.
Anyway, ten-plus years later and the biggest movies at the box office are based on the very comic books or popular fantasy I shied away from admitting that I read. People that mocked me back in the day are proudly wearing Batman and Superman t-shirts. Those same people will proudly tell you, with conviction, who they think the Avengers are. Never mind that if you tell them Spiderman is also an Avenger they’ll tell you you’re wrong and curse you to hell. “He’s not in the movie and so he’s not an Avenger!” Sorry to say, almost everyone in the Marvel Universe has carried an Avengers membership card at some point; they hand those laminated badges out like candy. Oh, yeah, and Jarvis is not an artificial intelligence that helps Tony Stark organize his appointments, he’s Tony’s flesh and blood butler.
How can we avoid this clash of the fans, the uber geek versus the casual movie-verse fan? Can we all get alone? I’m not sure we can. I know I get frustrated with moviegoers not venturing outside their comfort zone and reading a little more. Ignorance is bliss. So I guess this struggle will continue. It’s easier to watch a movie or television versus reading something. Reading takes a lot of energy, emotionally and mentally. For sure, there are more people reading comics today than when I was a kid. The number of units being sold today versus the 90’s is down but that’s because in the 90’s collectors were buying variants and multiple copies in hopes that in forty years their comic collection would be worth half a million bones. That doesn’t happen unless you have an Amazing Fantasy #15 or the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics. The comic industry, like the literary industry, is dying… or at least paper-products are. More people are reading fantasy, engrossed by the vibrant worlds the authors have created. But most of these new fans seem to just like vampires and werewolves. [Insert the tired, obligatory sigh here.] The flood of vampires and werewolf fiction, the lack of originality and the masses’ acceptance of this is another issue all together. Let’s call that a can of worms among fantasy fans and move along. We won’t go there.
Maybe I’m simply angry at something I love dearly being reduced to a cultural snack treat for the masses and I’m afraid this is not a golden age but a fad ready to disappear quietly int eh night one day. Like all great ages in civilization, like the dominance of Rome or Great Britian and later their falls, the golden age of comic book movies and movies based on popular fantasy will pass. Nevertheless, I will still being reading after.
Amidst my ramblings here I have one request to people who are venturing out to see a movie based on a well-loved, existing work that pre-dates the film: at least search Wikipedia and learn about the novel or character the film is paying homage to. Do that and maybe we can have a nice conversation that isn’t interrupted by a swirlie. Maybe. We are humans, after all, and we enjoy arguing.