Either I really shouldn’t have passed up that nap this weekend and have now gone fully Beautiful Mind, or I have finally cracked the code and unraveled the mystery of Why Comic Book Fandom Is Like This.
Like most epiphanies, this one came from the last place I would have expected. Like absolutely no epiphany ever, this one came from reading Facebook. You see, due to an accident of birth, most of my Facebook friends either come from or remain in St. Louis, Missouri. Now, I don’t know if you’re aware of this– I wasn’t, until roughly Tuesday– but St. Louis’ baseball team is apparently about to go to the World Series. I’m pretty sure. I think they won their division, and now all they have to do is beat their brigade and their platoon and they’re off to face the American Legion for the whole enchilada.
Don’t let all that jargon mislead you; I’m actually not a sports fan. The collective St. Louis sure as hell is, though. Being an athletic agnostic from St. Louis is a lot like what I imagine it’s like to be a vegan in Dallas. As a result, I came home Friday night just in time to see everyone I ever met simultaneously liveblog a baseball game and descend into high-pitched, incoherent madness. Apparently, the Cardinals had been getting creamed for the better part of the night and were about to have their championship dreams dashed when, with one out left, a god dropped onto the field and gave them all of the runs.
As I browsed my news feed, which looked exactly like my street sounds at midnight on New Year’s Eve, I thought, “Sports aren’t my thing, but I get it. Nights like this is why people are sports fans. This is one of the only forms of entertainment we have where we have absolutely no idea what the outcome is going to be. Spider-Man is never going to trip and get murdered by Doctor Octopus on page nine. When someone does die, even if we don’t know who, it’s been teased for a month and there’s a back door built into the demise. The winner is never really in doubt. A baseball game is never spoiled in advance. The star rolls his ankle at the beginning and disappears for the rest of the story. Then the good guys lose, and baseball is just over, and you actually have to sit there and watch while your hated foes do a joyous victory dance on your field while children cry. Then somewhere, they throw your hated foes a parade.”
The best drama is no match for a story where that’s on the table. In fact, if someone scripted that Cardinals victory as it actually happened, everyone in the audience would roll their eyes and groan, “Christ, give me a break.”
Then it hit me: maybe that’s why fandom is the way it is.
When loyal comic book readers complain, those complaints tend to be familiar. Mainstream books are just the same stories over and over again; nothing ever really changes; deaths, defeats, and team shakeups never last and always get undone, and so on. What else do fans in a position to make those complaints talk about? Well, they track the rankings and the sales stats. They read the latest news for changes to the lineups. They gossip about palace intrigues and machinations going on in the front office. They bitterly second-guess the management decisions of the big companies and lecture us all about what the bums should be doing. Comics are an AM talk radio station away from being the Red Sox.
The only thing we’re missing is that raw, uncut human unpredictability.
I think that’s why we get so excited when some new vitriol spills out of Alan Moore’s face and starts burning through the carpet. It’s why sites like this turn into the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes when Robert Kirkman debates Brian Bendis. It’s why we follow DC editorial’s shenanigans more than we follow some of their books, and why we mutter about Joe Quesada’s evil master plan like truthers.
You’ll occasionally hear a comic book creator lament that “fans treat the characters like they’re real people and treat the people who make them like they’re fictional and have no feelings.” Well, that’s partly because fans know the characters better than the creators and often grew up with them; that’s their team, and that’s what they’re rooting for. If they think the real people in the dugout aren’t doing their best for the team or are blowing the team’s record, they will boo you right on your home field before you know it. The players come and go and switch teams, but the team itself is always there from generation to generation.
That’s my theory, anyway. My Eureka moment between status updates, the Grand Unified Theory of Fandom and Geeks and Sports. This year’s Nobels have sadly just been handed out, but it’s never too early to nominate for next year. Thank you for your consideration.
Jim Mroczkowski skipped NYCC and is this tired. What it would be like if he had gone is unfathomabZZZzzzZZZzzz