Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Curse of the "Fanboy Press"

I think I've been pretty clear over the years that I think the division between fans of some form of entertainment and the people that create said entertainment is a sacred and important line. I've long felt that when fans begin to hold too much sway over the direction and output of a franchise, of any kind, it leads directly to creative bankruptcy.

Enterprise was a interesting way to take the Star Trek franchise (yeah, I said it), until the creatives buckled under the weight of fanboy/girl wishes. When the Ferengi showed up, I knew it was all over. It was downhill from there, because they had stepped over into the realm of fan fiction, and whatever might've come from exploring that era, and the birth of the Federation, was lost to, "I wonder how Archer would handle the Borg?"

Episode II of Star Wars, Attack of the Clones, is hands-down the worst of the series. Why? Because from frame one, you can see Lucas ticking off things that the fans had been bitching about not seeing in The Phantom Menace. Right down to throwing in Boba Fett, becaue we all love Boba Fett, right? That and letting Samuel L. Jackson just pose instead of act.

There's a fine line to walk between acknowledging that the fans are inherently important to the success of any franchise, and bowing to their ultimate power, chasing down their whims. Seriously, fans never actually know what they want. They'll say they want new and original, loudly and with conviction, then when you give it to them, they'll complain, loudly and with conviction, about the elements you left behind to achieve new and original.

The internet has compounded all of this. Fan press is a vital and important part of letting the fans communicate with each other and feel connected as a group, and it goes back to the mimeographed "fanzines" that were written and edited by fans, for fans. It's a valued and noble tradition. The problem is, it was never the place to go for hard news or criticism. Hell, even the legitimate publications, like Wizard magazine, are usually nothing but a marketing mouthpiece. (Look at that site, it's more about selling stuff than anything else)

The internet allowed the fanzines to reach larger amounts of fans, and gradually they became the place for news and announcements. The comic book publishers were coming to these sites to announce things and give interviews, and whatnot. The publishers saw cheap publicity, and a venue that would be so happy to just interview Geoff Johns, for example, that they'd never dare ask the tough questions, or call him out on missteps.

Now we have a journalist quagmire. Sites like Comic Book Resources or Newsarama are now considered legitimate news sources for the comic medium, but they lack the journalistic integrity that would allow them to truly become an important voice in the medium.

The flip side is also that, by allowing these fanzines such access, the publisher/studios have bred a sense of inflated importance in the fan community. Fan now expect special treatment, and they feel cheated if they don't get it. In many ways the fans have become spoiled.

Take this Newsarama article:

Op/Ed: SDCC Aftermath - Marvel Steals the Show ... Again!

Now, this is clearly marked an Op/Ed piece, so we'll not hold Mr. Avila to the level of journalistic integrity that would come from a "news" article. That said, this piece shows us a lot of the problems with the modern, internet-based fan press.

First off, there's the bias. Now, it's an Op/Ed piece, so this comment is technically irrelevant, but I offer it as a example of the sort of thing you can see all over these types of sites. When talking about the Avengers panel, we get;

more star power than Hall H has EVER seen at one particular moment, Marvel dropped the hammer on San Diego. The moment when the entire cast of the Avengers assembled onstage, bathed in flashbulbs and video camera lights and taking in ear-piercing applause, was one of those Double Rainbow, once-in-forever moments. It's no stretch to say that no one who was inside Hall H at the time, will ever forget it.

"More star power than Hall H has EVER seen?" One newly-minted A-lister (Downey), a solid B-lister (Jackson), an indie darling (Ruffalo), some up-and-commers (Johansson, Renner, and I'm giving it to Evans) and two guys no one's ever heard of (Hemsworth and Gregg). It's not a bad cast, in fact I like it a lot, and having Joss Whedon (who I think you could make an arguement was the most exciting person on the stage, in terms of a Comic-Con crowd) on board gives me a lot of hope...

But I think Harrison Ford walking out on that stage in handcuffs a couple of hours earlier trumps your star power, right there. Not to mention Angelina Jolie the day before. Even with the "at one particular moment" caveat, I think superstars like that are "dropping a hammer" on your theory. Not to mention that the Ford appearance was an honest-to-God surprise. After the Edward Norton debacle, everyone knew what Marvel was going to do.

Avila was clearly beside himself to be in that room. I understand that, but there's a point where, if you're putting yourself out there as a journalist (even in an Op/Ed piece), you have to step back and not just get swept away by the excitement of the moment. As a fan, you can bellow "THE MOST AWESOMEST THING EVER!!" and get away with it. I expect more from writers on a website, or publication of any kind, that I'm supposed to take knowledge from.

Second, it's the immediate, fanboy belief that they're owed something special. Doesn't matter if it exists, or not. Take these comments about Christopher Nolan;

I understand Christopher Nolan was busy with "Inception" promotion, but couldn't anyone high up the food chain impart to him the importance of flying down to San Diego to at least do an evasive Q & A? An update on "Batman 3" would have earned considerable press coverage. Even a few statements on the upcoming "Superman" reboot he's Godfathering would have been a major moment for the Con. A major missed opportunity.

It's really, really clear why Nolan didn't appear, and it really had nothing to do with Inception. I love Chris Nolan, and I've been eating up interviews with him. Every, single interview asks about Batman, and every, single time he says the same thing, "there's nothing to talk about."

The next Batman film will likely get shot early next year, they have a plot, which I'd guess translates to an outline. There's no script, there's no casting, and Nolan hasn't even agreed to direct, officially, at this point. The Superman situation is even more nebulous.

He takes one film at a time, and focuses completely on that film, and Warner Brothers seems to respect that. Why can't we, as fans, do the same thing? There was no Nolan panel because, literally, there is nothing to talk about. There's no need to "Impart the importance" of going to SDCC to do nothing but stroke the fan ego. It's because it's not important, making great films is important.

Likewise Mr. Avila's reactions to the Green Lantern panel;

The WB showed only a minute of footage from "Green Lantern" at their panel. And while that brief reel had everyone who saw it recanting the Green Lantern oath as they walked through the Gas Lamp District, they didn't show any shots of Ryan Reynolds in uniform. Word has it they're retooling the GL costume after the initial image on the cover of "Entertainment Weekly" was greeted with less glowing praise. Whatever the reason, it seemed a very conservative panel, very 'play it safe.' And it's the little things, too, that matter. They only showed the footage ONCE! A 60-second clip reel, and they couldn't be bothered to show it again?! Awful decision. It's a good thing Reynolds had that nice moment with the young fan, reciting the GL oath word-for-word and then signing an autograph for the kid, because otherwise, the noise from the Marvel panel would have completely drowned out the post-Con coverage of the Warners' presentation.

There's a reality to be understood about the Green Lantern movie. The "suit" is a pure CGI creation. Why no shots of the suit? Perhaps because they weren't done? Maybe the design is being re-tooled, but so what? The movie doesn't come out for ten months!

Again, we see a "gimmie, gimmie, gimmie" reaction. You only showed the footage once? HORRORS!

This actually leads into the third thing, which makes me want to wax poetic about my childhood. When I first started getting really interested in movies, you really wouldn't hear anything about them until maybe two months beforehand. Usually it was an actual, honest-to-God coming attractions trailer, maybe a teaser trailer. I remember a glorious one for Superman: The Movie;

I jumped out of my skin when I first saw it. If you showed it to a Comic-Con crowd today, the internet would be filled with variations of "they didn't show us ANYTHING!!!" Then on to various comments about how the movie must stink.

I defy anyone to tell me Superman: The Movie "stinks."

See, the fan community has grown to believe that you're only proud of something if you're willing to show it to us. Because they've come to believe they are an integral part of the process. If you're not willing to let us see something, then something must be wrong, the makers must be ashamed in some way.

Take Avila's comments about Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers;

Something else we learned from the Marvel panel is that Chris Evans is the biggest wild card of the incredibly grand Avengers experiment. We know Robert Downey Jr. is going to bring it as Tony Stark/Iron Man, and Chris Hemsworth looks to be in lockstep with his hybrid Thor from the Ultimates universe and from Walt Simonson's classic Thor run, so it's up to Evans to carry his share of the load of the Big Three. Watching the development of this film is going to be interesting, because Cap is so important to the Marvel mythos, that without a strong effort from Evans, the whole thing could fall apart.

While I agree, wholeheartedly, that getting Cap right is absolutely essential, I also figure that Joe Johnston and the Marvel team knew what they were doing when they cast the guy. Why is it that, just because all they have is a brief costume test of they guy, his performance becomes suspect? The fact is, they've only been rolling film for a few weeks. I'd wonder if he's even put on the suit for actual shooting at this point.

Can't we just let them make their movie, and judge, y'know, after we've seen it?

The studios seem only too willing to be held hostage by the fanbase. To bow and grovel to them for approval before anything is even created. Joss told another panel that the Avengers script isn't anywhere near done. So, they have a cast and a director...that tells us pretty much nothing that a press release couldn't.

I think the studios are losing the track. The publicity is taking over the process. They've bought into the integral nature of the fanbase, and seem to be more than happy to treat them as the ultimate word, rather than the creative people they've hired to actually solve the problems.

We are fans, and we do get excited. We want to know more, everything we can, and we want the creators to know we are watching, and will judge what they do. The creators don't owe us anything but their best work, and that doesn't need to be exactly the way we think it ought to be. We need to be open to different interpretations of this material that we love, and we need to have faith in the people working on these projects. No one sets out to create something bad. Let them finish before we tear them apart.

Now, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Avila, although, as a comic book fan, why weren't you at the myriad panels about actual comics on that Saturday? (I'm joking, of course.)

I'm also fully aware that this blog can be attacked in the same manner I'm employing.

The core point is that it would be nice if Comic Book Resources, Newsarama, and other sites of that nature might step up and try to move away from the fanzine model. The comic book industry needs a legitimate press that will function not only as a publicity platform, but also as a voice for quality and better work.

1 comment:

  1. Man, I love when people start talking common sense. I agree on all points.