2016 was like reading new age Frank Miller. It was a weird, blistering, often horrifying, pageant of some of awful truths that run rampant in our society (See? Frank Miller). The comic book industry was not immune to the year’s darkness as it too was tainted by controversy, needless anger, and pure ugliness. It brought out the worst in our fandom. A wise philosopher, 50 Cent, once said “Sunny days wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for rain.” I hope that rings true for 2017. Before that rain clears though, I think it is important to reflect on all the controversy generated between the panels this year to learn from our mistakes and better ourselves as a fandom. So, join me as I breakdown some of the most noteworthy stories of this past year and give a gentleman’s recommendation on some resolutions that we as a community should make in 2017.
1. Hail Hydra + New Story Directions
In late May, Nick Spencer casually decided to make Captain America a sleeper-agent for Hydra. The now infamous image of America’s favorite icicle muttering “hail hydra” is forever burned in the psyche of comic books fans everywhere. And with those two simple words, Spencer set the table for this new series, set the moral compass for the Marvel Universe askew, and enraged everyone with access to Twitter or Facebook (Oh ho-ho, we’re gonna get to that).
Spencer was a breakout star of 2016. Coming off the heels of the criminally underrated “Superior Foes of Spider-Man”, he gave 2016 the fantastic mini-event, “Avengers: Standoff on Pleasant Hill, a great on-going, “Captain America: Sam Wilson”, and, of course, “Steve Rogers: Captain America.” He’s certainly proven his mettle enough to be given open-minds and eyes from fans. However, Cap’s heel turn was met with immediate dismissal. Fans were unwilling to accept this stunning revelation and went as far as threating to boycott the series and even burned copies of the issue. That’s high passion. but sadly, misguided passion.
Passion is the brick and mortar of our fandom. It’s a passion that’s so fierce and ferocious that it’s able to bring us together as a tribe. Comic cons, forums, hell even social media movements is a testament to how our collective love of comics brings tethers us together. But, sadly, our greatest strength can also be our greatest weakness as it leads to several maladaptive traits (as I will touch on in other resolutions).
One of those most maladaptive traits is a blinding stubbornness. Cap’s detractors always cite how too predictable and unidimensional the character can be. Here, we see Spencer taking a brave, new direction and instead of following it to fruition – we literally burn the roadmaps that chart that new direction. The comic book medium was founded off the principle of unlimited narrative potential. Any premise, any direction, or idea is never off-limits due to the benefits of the medium’s long-form structure. In that respect, we as fans have to remain open-minded to new ideas and directions.
Oh yea, I almost forgot. Shut up, everybody. You know better than anyone that the status-quo never lasts. Stop it.
2. Read Superior Foes of Spider-Man!!!
I’m not going to talk about Nick Spencer without talking about Superior Foes of Spider-Man. This is a wonderful, 17-issue series, about Spider-Man’s C-Listers failing miserably to become A- Listers. It is a charming, hilarious journey into the neurotic psyche of a Marvel Universe villain, complete with cameos from The Punisher, Doctor Doom, Madame Masque, Spider-Man (duh), among many, many others. I never knew how much I’d love reading a whole series about Boomerang, Speed Demon, The Shocker, The Beetle, and Overdrive. It’s collected in a Mini-bus format or across three volumes. Read, Read, Read!!!!
3. Be Sweet with your Tweets (No really, stop)
Don’t let my catchy, quippy, rhymey word structure fool you. This is, bar-none, the worst thing that our fandom’s does. In the words of the author Chelsea Cain, “…I’m amazed at the cruelty comics brings out in people.” Chelsea’s story is talked about in full later on down in the list so let’s talk about our good friend Nick Spencer and Hydra-Cap again.
Fans, again, were/are furious at Hydra-Cap. And how did fans express that anger? Death threats! That’s right. Cap’s fandom at large were so angry at this writer of fiction (n. – fake story, make-pretend, not f’n real) figured that this guy had to go. No, not fired, not demoted, not moved to a different title; they wanted his life to end. Don’t believe me? Nick Spencer still has some screenshots of the threats on his Twitter. There’s no fun way to spin this. This behavior is despicable, deplorable, detestable, and a lot of other words fancy words that mean f***ed-up.
Opinions are welcomed and encouraged. They are a sign of critical thinking and true passion however, these opinions all too often go past critique of the product and become directed at creators. This is completely inappropriate and should be condemned. And sadly, this is just a symptom. It is a symptom of something far more insidious disease in our fandom and that disease is overinvestment. The fandom is plunged so far down into the mythos of our characters that, simply, we take this too seriously. We forget these stories are meant to be fantastical entertainment and we attach an importance and gravity to them that is simply unfounded. We need to calm down in 2017, better represent our opinions and never, ever go as far as to stoop down to personal attacks.
4. Vote with your Dollar, not your Twitter.
Ok, really quickly I’m going to sum-up every comic book forum. Ready?
“I hate Bendis!”
“Why are there so many event books!?!?”
“When is Young Justice coming back?”
“This Tom King guy, woof!”
“Where dem X-Men at!?!?”
That probably sounds a little too familiar for comfort because the comic book community is a hive mind. Not that there’s anything wrong with a hive mind but it’s a hive mind. Remember, the comic book community is a niche market. And like any niche market, there is a standard profile of a consumer that comprises said market. So, hive mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a card carrying member of the hive. I can’t stand Bendis anymore, I hated Batman v. Superman, and I love me some Vision. But, hold on. If we all hate the same things, why are there so many Inhumans books? Why does Cartoon Network air Teen Titans Go! everyday, in every timeslot ad-nauseum? The comic book industry is an industry and an industry will always produce what the market dictates. So if no one bought Civil War II, it would have not have *spoilers* teased like 25 more events coming down the pipe-line *spoilers*. Right? My friends who work in Finance and others with common sense all agree.
There’s some sort of disconnect between our customer dissatisfaction and actual returns on the product. Either we’re a vocal minority (possible) or we buy in rote. In other words, we’re buying
things that Bendis writes, why would they take him off books? So again, please voice your opinion but, then do something about it. Back when the flames of corporate conspiracy against the X-Men were fanned between 2013-2014, Marvel responded by putting a huge selection of X-Books. But none of them sold. That gave them all the justification they need for the, alleged, de-prioritization of The Children of the Atom.
It’s great to go on forums and share your passion. It’s even better that we are all united by, relatively, similar opinions, but we then have to follow through with our actions. If you want more X-Men, you have to buy X-Men. If you hate event books, stay away from them. It’s simple, elementary school level economics. Do you want more Inhumans books? You want Medusa showing up everywhere? That’s where we’re going. Buy what you love, shun what you hate.
5. Read More TalkingComics!!!
You’re on this site right now and you have excellent taste my friend. We here at TC are delighted that you are here and we’d like to just talk to you about some of our features. First and foremost, PODCASTS! Podcasts for days. Our flagship podcast, “TalkingComics” is how I first found the site. It features insightful, long-form discussions about the week’s new releases, current news, and upcoming events in the comic book world. It keeps my tether to our community strong when life gets in the way of my comic book time. That, plus we have a TalkingMovies podcast, one dedicated to Dungeons&Dragons, and a YouTube channel that features wonderful Let’s Plays, “Coffee and Comics” live-streams, and an excellent lecture on the history of women in comics given by our very own, Bob Reyer.
“Hey…uh…Barrett? Aren’t you kinda the bad guy here on the site? Why are you hyping things up??” Glad you asked. Money. More viewers lead to more Patreon subscriptions and advertising opportunities. A big dream in my life is to get money for talking about Batman. Don’t get all teary-eyed, this isn’t a big face-turn for me. No, heel for life. Shut up and subscribe to the Patreon. Me, believing in the site has nothing to do with it. I just want money.
[Editor’s Note: No one gets money here. Not even me. It’s like comics servitude. No amount of Batman is worth this. #endofyearexistentialcrisis]
6. Encourage Feminist Agendas
Why were we mad at the Mockingbird series, again? A…feminist agenda? What? You mean those panels where writer, Chelsea Cain, mentions how unfair it is that women are not paid as much as men? Where she calls out comics for all the fridge, coffee table, and guys named “Marcus” based storylines they’ve put out? You know, very clear, obvious, negative, things about how women are treated in comic books? You’re mad at that? Wait, WHAT! The series got cancelled? Bullied her off Twitter?!?!
I don’t know exactly how warped the definition of “Feminism” has become in colloquial vernacular. But, in its purest form, “Feminism” is a movement focused on advocating for equal rights for women by highlighting all of the inequalities rampant within our society. That’s my definition of it, and that’s all I saw in Chelsea Cain’s short-lived ongoing. Simple, funny, albeit snarky, commentary on BS that women suffer through. I thought it was inspired work and I was excited to read more before I was saddened to hear the series got cancelled and that Ms. Cain decided to leave Twitter to distance herself from the unnecessary negativity.
This highlights two trends that reared their ugly heads in 2016. First, again with the Twitter crap. Stop it. And secondly, WHY?? Why are we hating on this series for having a feminist agenda? We have an entire zeitgeist of male dominated literature that preaches all of the beloved gender troupes that inspired a meat-head like me to go the gym. And we can’t have comic books that inspire girls to not take crap life throws at them because…..? This is a big reason why people hate us.
7. Spread the Gospel!!
Go your town’s main street. What do you see? Probably a Starbucks, a CVS, McDonald’s, probably a middle school-school/psych-ward, creepy Katherine the cat lady, and another Starbucks. Any chance there’s an A&S Comics like the one on Cedar Lane in Teaneck, NJ?? Probably not. Most people will never know the joys of reading a comic book. They dismiss it as childish adventures of men and women in tights, capes or, heaven forbid, they saw a Rob Liefeld cover from the 90’s.
I love comic books because I love stories. I love how they’re crafted. I love how a simple idea, a simple message, can be transformed into an emotional experience through the use of the written word and penciled images. I love how comics are the bastard, love-child of television and prose and limitless possibilities for stories told in a long-form format. I love how timeless, modern myths and ideals of superheroes can be used as parables and allegories to represent real-life issues. But how many people see comics this way?
We our comic book industries best advocates. Us, and no one else. While the recent blockbuster craze is surely peaking curiosity, we as a fandom have to be more inclusive. We have to present our
community as a community that people want to be a part of. No more Twitter bullying. No more raging at storylines. No more getting mad at Mockingbird for I still don’t know why. Passions are meant to shared, but you have to do it correctly and courteously.
So, your goal this year is to hook one person on comic books. Just one person. They’re gonna ask you about them. They’re gonna say, “hey was Civil War like that in the comics?” or “Does Batman hate Superman as much as Zack Snyder made him?” That’s your in. That’s when you can hook them. Spread the gospel. Show them why you love comic books and, more so, be someone the type of fan that comic books can be proud of. Comic books need us, don’t let them down.