Comic Fodder

Blogging "Countdown": 5

Ryan, you know it's totally OK to like Countdown: no one's judging you, really. I'm warming to it, I guess. I like that blue lady from Earth-34, which is I guess where X-Men villains from 1995 live in this new multiverse.

Well, this has been a big week, and a surprisingly good one to talk about fanboys, something of an idee fixe of your musings last week. Wally West and family got pulled back home from Speed Heaven; the Legion of Super-Heroes is all up in modern-day DC business again; it's a good time to have been reading this stuff for an unhealthy length of time, or to have a love of Wikipedia.

"Fanboys" are kind of a constructed constituency, though, aren't they? I don't know if I've ever met anyone who self-identifies as one; "fanboy" is the Other, the emblem of habits and behaviors within comics fandom that we may find undesirable.

Specifically, you quite nicely situated "fanboy" as a figure of insularity, echo-chambering, preferring signal over noise:

What I would throw out there is that there's always a huge risk when editors and writers are the comic fans themselves who've crossed a line and are fanboys writing fan fiction rather that acting as custodians of the DCU's mega narrative.

In this argument, "fanboy writing" is understood as the practice of writing superheroes for self-pleasure rather than for the pleasure of a larger audience. I, comic book writer, tend to Green Lantern in certain ways out of a strong feeling of cathexis for him, and that is my prime mover, rather the pleasures of any imagined neutral audience, or the long-term health of Green Lantern as a character that speaks to the culture at large. "Fanboy" in this case is a motive, or a practice, rather than identity: the practice of privileging an internal dialogue -- superhero fans talking to themselves about superheroes, fictions referencing themselves rather than worlds or ideas outside.

If this is the case, I would argue that, in the case of the DC Universe, we haven't just crossed the line: we've left it far, far behind. That isn't always a bad thing. From the reverent nostalgia that has become the modus operandi of Justice Society and Justice League (take a drink every time you read the word "tradition" in those babies), to the systemic self-analysis we're seeing in Countdown, most of the best-selling stuff in the DC Universe is very embedded in the universe's own mechanisms and history. Navel-gazing is currently a selling point, and as you've noted, the complexity it generates is pretty tractable.

I personally don't think the fan-driven culture of superhero comics needs to beat itself up too much about its own fannishness. If "fanboy" is a signifier for myopia and echo-chambering, which it seems to be, then it's all over the place, from Ocean's 13 to the PlayStation 3. The fact that comic book fans are so self-reflective about their self-reflection actually seems quite responsible.

I'm going to turn on a dime here, though, and admit that the current fanboyish pleasures of the DC Universe are, for me, guilty ones. This complex self-reflection is fascinating to me as material for research, but if the superhero as a figure is more than a really awesome vehicle for complex self-referentiality -- if it is, as most people agree, a vehicle for understanding conflict, ethics, and social ideals in popular culture -- then DC is currently being lapped big time by a Marvel Universe generating very culturally provocative stuff in Civil War and beyond. It's because of this that I find Black Adam really fascinating...

... but that's a topic for next time. I'm headed to the beach, as you know, so I'll cut this particular missive short and save up my hot air for the beach house.