Your Fandom Opinions Are “Correct”

Few discussions can drive a wedge between nerd friends than one person admitting they liked the Star Wars prequels.

Why is it that fandom is so terrible to those minority members who like unpopular things? Why do we feel the need to be gatekeepers of the things we love or love to hate; dissenters be damned?

Isn’t it possible that the minority could be right?

My Introduction to Fandom and Pop-Culture

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My childhood was steeped in a particular concept of Superman. I was introduced to comic books in 1992 with the X-Men cartoon series on Fox. That started a (very expensive) fascination with superheroes.

I owned quite a few Superman books, but never really got into the character until Doomsday killed him. A lot of people didn’t like the four Supermen that replaced him, but I felt they were fresh and, in the case of Steel, really damn cool! Superman, for me at the time, was old and boring, but Steel was a complicated character who could be challenged by writers in ways that Superman could not. I dug the character when a lot of people back then just called to have their old boring Supes back. But when he did finally come back…I liked him. The stories they told in that post-death era were fantastic. And the early 2000’s storylines were amazing!

There was also the (un)healthy consumption of Justice League cartoons, Superman animated movies, and, of course, Smallville, that took far too many hours of my days and colored my perceptions of who Superman and his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, are.

Enter Man of Steel

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When I walked into the theater to see the Superman reboot, Man of Steel, I carried all of my preconceptions of who the character was with me. My introduction to the character colored my perceptions, and I hated the movie. I felt betrayed by the producers, writers, and the director. I felt they assassinated the character of Superman and Jonathan Kent…because they were different from what my preconceptions said they should be, and I loved those preconceptions so much (especially Jonathan Kent, Smallville version, in whom I saw a lot of my grandfather) that I could not reconcile with the new movie.

My friends who had a wider range of Superman preconceptions, and who were more willing to suspend their prejudices to see a new take on the character, loved it. Who was right? I thought I was. But was I?

Marvel Did it “Right”

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I have as many Marvel comics as I do DC, and far more Image and Wildstorm comics than either one of the Big 2, but I like the Marvel movies much better. They do their movies “right.”

How can I say that? How can I be an authority on what is right or wrong regarding subjective material? I shouldn’t be able to…but I can. I can because my “rightness” is subjective too.

The Marvel movies are not objectively better than the DC movies, but they hold up to my preconceptions of the characters much better than the DC movies do. When I see The Avengers on screen, I don’t see someone’s interpretation of them; I see what I would have done with those characters were I in charge of the production; I see my childhood, my preconceptions given form on the silver screen.

On the other hand, some friends of mine detest Thor because he isn’t “magical” enough. That’s their preconception of the character from years of reading comic books. Who am I to say they’re “wrong” for having that opinion about a character they love?

Star Wars: The Elephant in the Room

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Many complain that the Star Wars prequels were terrible and failed to live up to the Original Trilogy. I believe they’re probably right, based on what their preconceptions about the movie and the galaxy far, far away were.

When I went to the theater to watch The Phantom Menace, I carried no preconceptions with me. I had never seen a Star Wars movie and had no idea who Luke, Han, or Leia even were. For me, I wasn’t watching a prequel to an old trilogy; I was watching Star Wars.

After I had watched Ep1, I enjoyed the concept of Star Wars, but it wasn’t until Ep2 (still having not seen the Original Trilogy) that I truly fell in love with it. Then I watched the Original Trilogy, expecting something out of this world, but it fell flat. It felt nothing like the Star Was that I knew. It was dark and tragic and terrible (up until then, the tragedy in the prequels was limited to Anakin’s mother and Qui-Gon).

Since that time, I’ve delved into just about every piece of Star Was fiction that’s out there – I’ve even written several game hacks of the setting, like this one for the Fate Core Roleplaying System. But even today, I still favor stories centered around, or just before, The Clone Wars.

Because of how I was introduced to the franchise, the prequels were not the backstory of Darth Vader, and the Original Trilogy was not the core story. For me, Star Wars is a story about a shining republic, flawed but great; a tragedy about how one corrupt politician can drive a great nation into a post-apocalyptic cautionary tale, which is how I interpreted the Original Trilogy when I finally saw it.

That’s not everyone’s experience with it, but the internet seems to assume that everyone’s experience is the same. I’m happy to agree to disagree because I’m not every Star Wars fan. I’m one person who took the long way through hyperspace to the galaxy far, far away.

It’s All Subjective

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There’s no right way to enjoy art. Whether you love it or hate it has as much to do with your preconceptions as it does with the execution of the artists, as flawed as that execution may be.

For me, I’m done hating on works of art, because I know that someone came to the experience with different preconceptions than I did (and there’s a real person behind that artistic expression with feelings and aspirations and a love of the thing – poor George Lucas). For me to run down a piece that someone else likes is almost as bad as me running them down for having a “wrong” subjective opinion. Nothing could be more asinine.

So I’m going to let people like what they like. As my good friend, Antwan Hawkins, has said many times, “it’s incredible that we even get the chance to have these conversations about things we love being made as movies.” I’d have to agree.

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Why Reactive Superhero Stories Make Good Movies

Why is it that many superhero movies and comics that focus on the awesome character fail to make it past issue 9 (or a very ill-made, and ill-funded, sequel)? The reason is because superheroes are reactive characters. They aren’t meant to be the action takers.

Since their first appearance in the dark ages of the early 1900’s, superhero stories have followed a formula: a threat puts people in danger, the hero learns about the threat and then shows up and neutralizes it. The hero didn’t take any story action other than deciding to go help.

The superhero genre, at its core, is full of plot-driven stories. And that’s a good thing.

I feel there needs to be an exception stated at this point: origin stories. Origins usually have a reactive element in the same way that every other story has, but they’re also full of character driven action as the hero makes decisions to act in ways that ordinary people wouldn’t – this is the moment we get to see them become heroes.

Why are origin stories different?

Think about the differences in the Batman and Iron Man movie franchises.

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So many people love Batman Begins and Iron Man 1. Their favorite heroes are on screen in amazing ways. “There has never been a superhero movie (better/more accurate) than this,” fans say. But what changed with the second and third movies? Many comic book fans say they didn’t like Iron Man 2 or 3 (I loved them, for the record), but those same fans say that The Dark Knight is possibly the best superhero movie of all time.

Why did Batman work with the fans while Iron Man had mixed reviews with diehard fans? Because we already knew Batman’s story. It was told in the first movie. In fact, it was the only Batman movie that was about Batman. In the second movie we get to see a story about Batman’s villains. This may also be the reason that Batman’s villains are often given such high regard – they have whole movies made about them.

Iron Man was rightfully about Iron Man. We needed to learn his story, who he is, why he does what he does. But we knew all that going into the second movie. What’s different in the second and third movies? The new tech and the new threat. Let’s see that! Instead we get to see more into the head of Tony Stark (which is awesome, but then Iron Man movies are a different type of movie than Batman, they’re more about Tony’s arc of character growth, which the Batman movies tried to include but everyone was more interested in the villains).

Unless the subsequent movies are solely about the character’s growth, like Iron Man 3, a hero almost always needs to be reactive to make future stories compelling.

So, after the first story arc of a comic book/movie, do we need to see a reactive character forever?

No. While it is a successful formula that has carried franchises such as Batman and Spider-man on for decades, it isn’t necessary, provided there are other elements at play.

What are the exceptions?

  • Origin stories (as already pointed out, this is when we learn why the hero is a hero. I has to be about them).
  • Stories about how difficult it is, or what it means, to be a hero (this is the premise of Arrow, the TV show about Green Arrow that is fantastic for many, many reasons).
  • Investigative stories (many Batman comics use this method to keep the focus on Batman and not on the villains).
  • Value testing (when the hero’s values are to be tested, and that is the climax of the story, the villain can remain a side-element).
  • Team-ups (the focus is on the interaction between the heroes. Villains become the glue that sticks them together).

There may be others, but the crux of it is this: if it’s about the hero, it better show something new (BIG and new). If it’s just about the hero with a new love interest/complication and maybe getting some new technology, those are called sub-plots. Shift the focus on what is complicating that love interest (or threatening the new one) and what the hero will need that new technology for. This is why The Dark Knight and Spider-Man 2 worked so well. Now that we know about the hero, tell us a story about a villain who would test their resolve. Who would put them through hell and show us their absolute limits. Show us what it takes, and means, to be a hero.

In the end, the subject of a superhero story is not the hero, nor the villain. It’s the human condition. It’s about the choices we make and why we make them. It’s about us.

Fate Core Pregens: The Avengers

After discussing elements of Iron Man’s armor people began asking me to stat up other characters (even though I never actually wrote Iron Man’s stat block…). I think it’s time I rectified that, so I give you:

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(Disclaimer: I borrowed from MHR for some of the aspects.)

The Invincible Iron Man
Aspects
High Concept: Armored Avenger
Trouble: Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist
Cutting Edge Tech
Hardheaded Futurist
Cybernetic Heart

Skills
Great (+4) Crafts
Good (+3) Resources, Lore
Fair (+2) Athletics, Fight, Shoot
Average (+1) Contacts, Physique, Provoke, Rapport

Stunts
Highly Advanced Prosthetic. While in the Iron Man armor, gain +2 overcome rolls for feats of strength using Physique.
Secondary Systems. You don’t ever have to spend a fate point to declare that you have the proper tools for a particular job using Crafts, even in extreme situations. This source of opposition is just off the table.
Gold-Titanium Alloy. Gain Armor: 2 while wearing the Iron Man armor.

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Flashy
Fair (+2) Clever, Forceful
Average (+1) Quick, Careful
Mediocre (+0) Sneaky

Stunts
“Because I have Cutting Edge Tech, I get a +2 when I Flashily Attack with my Iron Man armor.”

Captain America
Aspects
High Concept: Genetically Enhanced Super Soldier
Trouble: Man Out of Time
Lead By Example
Star Spangled Shield
The First Avenger

Skills
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Athletics, Physique
Fair (+2) Rapport, Shoot, Will
Average (+1) Contacts, Drive, Empathy, Investigate

Stunts
Master Tactician. Use Fight in place of Lore to create advantages or overcome obstacles related to battlefield tactics.
Ricochet Shot. Reduce passive opposition on your Shooting attacks made with your Star Spangled Shield by 2.
Vibranium-Alloy Shield. Gain +2 to Athletics rolls to defend against Shooting attacks if you haven’t used your shield in a Shooting attack this exchange.

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace skills and stunts with:

Approaches
Good (+3) Clever
Fair (+2) Forceful, Quick
Average (+1) Careful, Sneaky
Mediocre (+0) Flashy

Stunts
“Because I have a Star Spangled Shield, I get a +2 whenever I Forcefully Defend when I use my shield in close combat.”

The Mighty Thor
Aspects
High Concept: Asgardian God of Thunder
Trouble: Legendary Ego
Son of Odin
Mjiolnir
Righteous Warrior

Skills
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Physique, Shoot
Fair (+2) Athletics, Provoke, Will
Average (+1) Lore, Notice, Rapport, Resources

Stunts
Asgardian Durability. Once per scene, you can spend a fate point to erase a mild consequence or reduce the severity of a moderate consequence to a mild consequence (if your mild consequence slot is free).
Powerful. Gain Weapon: 2 on attacks made with Mjiolnir.
Uru Metal. You can use Fight to defend against energy-based Shoot attacks.

Fate Accelerated Edition 
Replace skills and stunts with:

Approaches
Good (+3) Forceful
Fair (+2) Quick, Flashy
Average (+1) Clever, Sneaky
Mediocre (+0) Careful

Stunts
“Because I wield the power of Mjiolnir, I get +2 when I Forcefully Attack when I throw my hammer.

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The Incredible Hulk
Aspects
High Concept: Green Goliath
Touble: Don’t Make Me Angry
Sarcastic Genius
Strongest One There Is
Man or Monster?

Skills
Great (+4) Physique
Good (+3) Athletics, Fighting
Fair (+2) Notice, Provoke, Shoot
Average (+1) Crafts, Empathy, Investigate, Lore

Stunts
Hulk Smash! Gain Weapon: 2 when you attack with your fists.
Puny Banner. When Bruce Banner is not the Hulk, he loses access to all of his Good and Great skills and gets +2 to Lore, Crafts and Investigate rolls.
Rage-Fueled Might. When you create an Angry-type of advantage, you gain an additional invocation of it.

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace skills and stunts with:

Approaches
Good (+3) Forceful
Fair (+2) Flashy, Quick
Average (+1) Clever, Sneaky
Mediocre (+0) Careful

Stunts
“Because I’m the Strongest One There Is, I get +2 when I Forcefully Attack when I have an advantage indicating that I’m angry.”

Let’s be real. Those are the only ones we really care about, right?