Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rant: The Age of Fan Fiction

In the past, the very recent past, fan fiction has been considered a 'lower' form of writing than legitimately published fiction, be it comics, television, manga - whatever. Even today, it is widely considered to be beneath those other writings. But, as I read more and more comics, it seems as though we've moved from the Modern Age of Comics to the Fan Fiction Age of Comics. This is the first big generation of creators who grew up enormous fans in the industry.

However, instead of being enormous fans of the medium of comics, of the storytelling potential of these massive shared universes, they became enamored of certain characters. They didn't grow up saying, "I want to write comics," but, instead, "I want to write Hal Jordan." For a little while, this wasn't really a problem, but as time progressed, I began to see a trend, People refusing to read comics because it wasn't the 'right' Green Lantern, it wasn't the 'right' Flash, it wasn't the 'right' Batgirl.

Worse yet, I saw creators begin to follow the same trend. This was recently epitomized in a series titled Green Lantern: Rebirth, by Geoff Johns. In it, he found a way to resurrect Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern of his youth. By itself, this is nothing sinister, but it was the manner in which he did so, the content of the series, that I found worrying as I saw it becoming a trend in comicdom.

Within Rebirth, we see Hal Jordan brought back to life after his demise more than a decade ago, in which Hal turned evil, called himself Parallax, and nearly destroyed the universe. This occurred after a few years of excellent stories, most notably 'Hard Traveling Heroes', in which Hal Jordan and Ollie Queen travelled across America. In it, we saw a more human version of Hal. He was confident, but willing to admit when he was wrong. He was introspective.

This, however, was not the Hal Jordan Johns wanted. He wanted to cocky, confidant Golden Child. He didn't want the aging Hal, with a little grey at his temples. He didn't want to deal with the fall-out of Hal killing people. He didn't want any other Green Lantern to be respected above Hal. And so, when Hal comes back, we learn that he didn't actually kill those people - he was forced to by a yellow fear bug. He was fighting it. He grayed a little, not because he was getting older, no - instead, it's because he got possessed by said yellow fear bug, and what happens when you get scared? And that shit about Hal traveling the country, learning that he wasn't always right, that race-relations are important, drugs are a problem, all that - that was the fear bug, too. And in the Sinestro Corps War, Kyle Rayner, Hal's replacement, is possessed by the aforementioned bug and he kills someone. The Guardians strip Kyle of his honors, all the while, everyone learns an important lesson that Hal didn't actually hurt anyone. Oh, and did I mention that a super-villain who was slapping Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman around all at once was taken out in mere seconds by Hal? And Hal's hair turned back to pure brown. Magically. Because he was unscared.

Think about all that. Johns undid two decades of story-telling, removed every single flaw of the character, made him more powerful than any of the other established, popular DC heroes, and blanket forgave him of every sin he ever committed, all while removing his replacement (Kyle) from Earth, and removing all trust the other heroes had for Kyle. Oh, and Kyle's mom died.

Now, credit where credit's due. The 'yellow fear bug' idea was well-executed here, becoming an integral part of the Green Lantern mythology and opening up a number of really interesting paths for comics to take. Johns is creating a massive mythology for the Green Lanterns, and he's doing it in such a way that he's greatly expanding the story-telling potential of the once-faded franchise.

Still, was it worth it? Johns not only felt the need to bring a long-dead hero back to life, but he felt the need to discredit anyone who doesn't like him, flat-out taunt fans who don't like him by turning Batman into a ridiculous straw-man for anti-Hal arguments - and then have Hal one-punch him to the jaw. He reversed every wrong Hal ever did, put him in charge of thousands of Green Lanterns, and gave him back his city.

This is a common trend in comics, now. When Hal was brought back, respected artist Alex Ross famously declared 'We won!', leaving me to ask, "What did you win? Who did you beat, and do you care that that you had to 'beat' someone?" Of course not. That would require too much emotional maturity. Recently, Barry Allen, dead for over two decades, famed for dying one of the most heroic deaths in comicdom, was brought back. Of course, his replacement for over twenty years, Wally West, will be force to change his name and his costume. I would also be worried for Wally's family, were I you. Now, there's a movement to un-paralyze Barbara Gordon, the heroine now known as Oracle, so that she can return to action as Batgirl - and Jason Todd, the second Robin, has come back to life. In an upcoming mini-series titled Legion of 3 Worlds, we will see the original Legion of Superheroes, the second Legion of Superheroes, and the current Legion of Superheroes. Also being written by Geoff Johns, who has stated repeatedly his dislike of the 'new Legion', he has promised that there will only be one Legion when the book is over. Who wants to take money that it'll be the one he grew up with?

And we can't forget Marvel, can we? Marvel, with one of the worst offenses of FanBoyishness in history? Marvel decided that Spider-Man wasn't relatable enough. He was too old. His job as a high school teacher was too mundane - who likes a high school teacher, anyway? He had a hot wife. Maybe even kids, one day? Nope! Instead, Peter Parker made a deal with the devil (literally) to save his aunt - who is, by the way, over 100 years old - that resulted in him magically being divorced. No explanations given. Just...he forgot that he was ever married. Everyone did. No one on Earth recalled this. All evidence was wiped. It was a bad plot device that was so obviously an editorial mandate that the editor actually came out and said 'We don't have to explain it - it's magic." Oh, and somehow, one of Spider-Man's dead friends/enemies Norman Osborn came back to life. Because everyone forgot he was dead?

Meanwhile, what has come of the new characters or ideas? Manhunter is barely chugging along. Blue Beetle is surviving pretty much only on mercy. Checkmate is cancelled. Shadowpact is cancelled. Cassandra Cain, the new Batgirl, turned evil. Kon El, Superboy, died. Bart Allen, the newest Flash, died. The Sentry occasionally shows up and cries, having become one of fandom's biggest jokes.

As trends go, there've been worse. It's just sad, is all. People are more attached to characters than they are to stories. An average story featuring Batman will outsell a spectacular story featuring a character created in the last decade. Comic fans have become terrified to step out of their comfort zones. Comic creators just want things to go back to the way they were when they were kids. People sometimes forget that if you're too busy making the character you love look cool, you'll forget to make them look human. And what is this insatiable urge to make your favorite character the coolest person ever if not a part of the Dark Side of Fan Fiction?

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