I’m a fan of many things in pop-culture: video game franchises, TV series, and movie trilogies, but most of all, I’m a fan of comic books…kinda.
Every part of my fandom in different media stems from my childhood involvement with comic books. Why do I like small-unit military movies? Because they’re similar to Team 7, Wetworks, and the Weapon X days of Wolverine. Why do I like space science fiction? Because the X-Men went into space several times in the comics when they interacted with the Shi’ar.
With the recent release of movies like Man of Steel, The Avengers, and even the not so recent franchises like X-Men and the Batman Begins trilogy, I’ve come across the idea of different levels of fandom. I’ve had to come to terms with the idea that I’m not the true fan I once thought I was. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. My argument here is that everyone is a selective fan. Everyone chooses the part, the version, of a long-lived story that they like and stick to that.
The keyword(s) there is “long-lived”. A single movie or story can be looked at in its entirety fairly easily and judgements made based on that alone, but when you have a franchise that has 50-70 years behind it, like comic book characters, it becomes a tad more difficult. Not only do they have so many stories, but those stories cross the real life narrative of different cultural eras, some extremely alien to modern thought. They told stories relevant to those times, which are not always relevant to today.
Some of the reason, I believe, that we choose to latch onto the versions we like is because of our introduction to them. I was introduced to the X-Men (my first comic book introduction) during its first year as a cartoon series back in the early ’90s. Immediately after, I bought the Jim Lee run and the few back issues that led to the beginning of that series, which began with one of my favorite comic book story lines, even today: Mutant Genesis. I love (LOVE) the storyline found in those early issues of X-Men. It’s what made the characters for me. It set the tone, established the themes.
Today, I like the X-Men much less. They’ve gotten away from those roots. But then, those weren’t really the roots, were they? The roots came several decades earlier. And you know what? I like those early stories about as much as I like the recent stories, which is to say not very much. For me, the “roots” of the X-Men were planted in 1991. Deviating from that, in either direction, dilutes the whole franchise in my eyes.
Another example is a character I love to hate: Green Lantern. I learned about GL in a few Superman comics, and thought he was exceptionally dumb. Fortunately, he only made guest appearances, so no big deal. Later, the Justice League animated series came out and I learned who John Stewart is. I love John Stewart…the animated version. I read a few comics with him and decided that I don’t like him in the comics. I like the animated version. (The same is true for Hal Jordan. I still dislike him in most instances, but Green Lantern: First Flight and the recent Green Lantern The Animated Series painted a decent picture of him that I enjoy.)
The list goes on-and-on: I liked Wildstorm pre-DC (sellout) buyout. I prefer Spider-man in the years surrounding Maximum Carnage, and a little of the early Ultimate line, but little else. I latched onto some of these characters as I first met them (John Stewart and the X-Men) and didn’t like the other versions very much. While others (Spider-man, for instance) I was introduced in one version (90’s animated with Spidey) but preferred a specific version of the comic book.
I still say, “I’m a Grifter fan,” or “I love me some Batman,” but the truth is, I only like one version of them. I liked Grifter in the WildCATs days around their first appearance, and hate him after that series went into vol. 2. I like Batman as the detective ninja, as we see him in Hush and in the the old animated series, as well as in Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, but I don’t like him as the Bat-god we see him as in the Justice League, though some prefer him that way.
But then you’ll get fans who need to be considered “true fans”. They’ll study the history of the character and say, “I’m a true fan because I enjoy the original media the character was in.” Well, hey, that’s great. And it’s true that other versions of the character (different decades or media) took heavy inspiration from that, but they ultimately came upon a new vision of the character. I may like that alternate take more than the original (or I may like the original better than the alternate take). Is that wrong? If you enjoy The Ultimates, but hate The Avengers, are you a wrong/bad fan for doing so?
I don’t think so.
Some people will say, “I like the Superman comics, but a lot of the TV shows portray him badly.” Are they not latching onto that comic book version and eschewing the TV show version? Have they not made the decision to prefer one version over another? True, theirs may be built on a longer history, but all that means is they have more reading material to have fun with. But for those who like the TV show version, they might think that the comics portray the character badly. Are they wrong? No. They are not. And here’s why: whether or not something is done in bad taste is a personal opinion. Fans enjoy a specific version, so their baseline for taste is that.
Now, you can claim that I’m not a true fan of Spider-man because the stories that I like the most were in the mid-90s, and I like very little else, to the point where I just won’t continue reading them. But I’ll tell you that I’m a HUGE fan of Spidey, the fight-venom-but-sometimes-be-his-ally-and-being-late-for-dinner-with-Mary-Jane-(his-wife)-while-struggling-to-be-a-hero-in-a-world-of-bigger-heroes-and-Green-Goblin-is-virtually-nowhere-in-sight version of him.
I have my preferences. You do, too. Maybe it’s time that fandom started getting behind the idea that there are as many different versions of our modern day myths as there are versions of ancient myths. I mean, how many ways has Hercules been done over the centuries? Some people just like different versions.