Fandom: How Hardcore Fans Are Killing Superhero Potential

Anghus Houvouras believes that hardcore fans are killing the potential of superhero movies….

Man of Steel

Warning – spoilers ahead…

Comic book adaptations are rife with challenges.  Making a $200 million epic that pleases everyone has to be a thankless task.  You’re never going to please everyone.  Especially those hardcore fanboys who believe they know best.  I’ve read a few dozen comments that basically can be reduced to the following thought:

“Superman would never do that.”

It’s the sentiment you hear from the most die hard fans who believe that they have a better grasp of the character than those adapting the story.  While I understand the motivation behing these statement, I find this obsessive level of entitlement puzzling. 

Like many of you, I’m a fan of Superman.  I’ve been reading the comics since I was a kid.  I’ve seen the movies, read almost every iteration of the character.  I’ve seen the Max Fleischer cartoons.  I winced my way through Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  I even suffered through several seasons of Smallville.  There are so many different version and interpretations of the character.  Personally, I prefer Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s exceptional All Star Superman.  I think it’s the greatest Superman story ever put to paper.  However, I can still enjoy Man of Steel even though the movie isn’t a live action adaptation of that story.  For some people, it will never be that simple.  Comic book fans seem to think they are a privileged lot that require appeasement.  This thought process produces gems like this:

“I buy comics weekly. All of this shit, the big pie, starts with me. Deal with it.”

The Dark Knight RisesAh, hubris.  There are those who truly believe this.  Removed from reality, lacking the scope to understand that a $200 million film requires broad appeal to achieve any level of success. Last year when The Dark Knight Rises was released, a particular malcontent kept damning the entire film based on one simple concept:

“Batman never quits.”

That was the foundation of his entire argument.  The fact that Nolan had made his version of The Dark Knight abandon his cape and cowl for eight years was a unforgivable flaw that tainted the entire experience.  There’s a basic critical disconnect with these narrow minded fans when it comes to comic book characters. If anyone (in this case Nolan) does anything outside the constraints of the ‘right’ version of the character, it is tainted and therefore without value.

Some obsessive fans seem to have a singular view of their comic book heroes.  Our friend who claimed “Batman never quits” can’t quite accept that Nolan’s version did.  Then again, so did Frank Miller’s version of the character when he penned the now classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns.  He had to leave the mantle of the bat behind before it could be reclaimed.

Fanboys have this morbid death grip on these fictional characters. A  bizarre sense of ownership. If you watch a movie, and your criticism for it is derived from what you think or believe a fictional character should say or do, you’re going to be disappointed. To even claim you have a better understanding of these characters than the people involved in the adaptation is an act of pure hubris.  There are examples of this all over the web.

Superman Flyby concept art

Some ten years ago, HitFix writer Drew McWeeny (then writing as ‘Moriarty’ for Aint It Cool News) posted a review of the J.J. Abrams scripted Superman movie then under the working title of Superman: Flyby.  The review was scathing.  The kind of merciless beating fueled by fanboy indignation and an epic sense of entitlement.  The project was scrapped, in no small part to the fan backlash that originated from his review.  McWeeny was playing the role of Mark David Chapman in this artistic execution.  And though McWeeny has a more impressive pedigree than your typical online troll, the general maliciousness and sense of fanboy ownership came from the same place. That kind of tight-fisted clutch that strangles new ideas in favor a streamlined, expected version of the character. Much like our friends who declare “Superman would never do that” or “Batman never quits”, McWeeny believed that he knew what would work best in a Superman movie, and that J.J. Abrams’ script wasn’t anything close. 

The problem lies in the basic critical conceit that if we go about judging movies based on what we believe is the ‘right’ version of the character, we have doomed anyone from ever trying anything new. You end up with Superman Returns where you get a director who obsessively sticks to the predetermined path another creator has forged. While that might service the fans, it inhibits the idea that someone would create an original take on the character.   I don’t know if J.J. Abrams’ Superman would have been any good with a Kryptonian Lex Luthor and other assorted deviations. But I think having those things exist is more interesting than watching fans clutch their beloved heroes so tightly that they strangle the potential for something new and different.

Superman Flyby concept art

In this new franchise friendly Hollywood where we get superhero comic adaptations every few months, I would prefer some risks being taken and some new roads charted. If not, these movies are going to get very boring, very quickly.

Sadly, fans don’t often embrace changes made to their favorite characters when adapated to television and film.  Maybe because for many people, that is the most popularized version of the character.   The kind that makes the largest impression.  Not everyone may have read All Star Superman, or John Byrne’s excellent Man of Steel relaunch, or Mark Waid’s Birthright.  But they’ll know the film version.  Or the one from the TV show.  It’s those adaptations that make the largest media impact and are therefore considered cultural cannon.  I expect the reason die-hard fans are so angered by these changes because somehow they feel left out.  What they like about the character has been abandoned.  Rather than embrace the idea of a different version of Superman, one that deviates from the traditional scripting, they retreat into their narrow minded cocoon and make claims of just how wrong this version of Superman is.

The truth is there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ with a character like Superman.  There are 75 years of stories that range from the serious to the silly.  The character has been launched and re-launched endlessly.  Continuity was abandoned ages ago.  There’s no reasonable way to expect any filmmaker, no matter how gifted, to take all of those stories, all those versions of the character, and make something that will be universally pleasing. 

Superman Lives concept art

There will always be a vocal group of fans who believe themselves better stewards of their favorite fictional characters.  Who think Hollywood will never get it ‘right’.  Like the guys who claim “Batman never quits.” or film website personalities like McWeeny who at one point thought felt better suited to steer the Superman franchise than those at Warner Brothers.  For me, I’d rather have movies like Tim Burton’s Superman Lives or the unbridled ludicrousness of something like J.J. Abrams and McG’s Superman: Flyby than a lifeless on-the-rails adaptation like Superman Returns

In a perfect world, we would have a scenario like Warner Brothers created with Batman.  You have the dark and wonderfully weird Burton version of Batman.  Then we have the ridiculous and often tragic Joel Schumacher take on the character.  Then we had three great films from Christoper Nolan.  I can’t wait to see where they go next with the character.   What creative team will be next to tackle the character?  Who’s going to play Batman?  What directions will they take that corner of the DC Universe?  I like Tim Burton’s Batman, AND I like Christopher Nolan’s Batman.  They are very different takes on the character.  I expect the next person to take on Gotham City will add their own twists and turns.  I hope the next creator who helms Batman takes it somewhere it hasn’t already been. 

Everybody seems to be so resistant to the idea of re-booting a franchise or a character, but isn’t that a better alternative to stagnant choices and rehashing the same tired plot points and characters?  Give me another Superman film from David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder.  When they’ve done with their version of the character, pass it along to someone else.  Why should the films be any different than the comics where rotating creative teams take the characters in wildly different directions? 

New ideas.  New takes on our favorite characters.  Isn’t that more interesting that the same tired, endless retreads covering the exact same cinematic territory? 

If every movie adheres to pre-existing archetypes, why even bother making them?  The screaming fanboys demand adherence to a specific form.   I’m more interested in seeing movies by filmmakers who are interested in exploring something outside the traditional framework.

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.

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