Your Favorites are Talking About You…and It May Not Be Good

Love is a complicated emotion, especially when it comes to fictional characters. Our favorite characters can make us do crazy things. We will buy sub par book after sub par book in the chase to get great stories about our favorite characters. We will stick through some lean years hoping that the magic can be recaptured. Then just as the relationship is fading, a story will drag us back in. I would wager that just about everyone has a favorite character. A character that piques their interest when they pop up in a book. One character, or maybe a couple, that have hold on you. A character that you keep forgiving no matter what the books do to you.

I like to foster a mercenary image when it comes to comics. I will drop books pretty quickly when they start to bore me. Don’t mistake that for not having my favorites. I spend an hour a week just talking about the Flash. I have my favorites. The difference is that now I have learned to play hard to get when it comes to my favorite characters. I still get tricked though. Your favorites always end up with the upper hand. We need them to.

The chemistry behind favorites has always interested me. Why do we get drawn to certain characters? How do they get their hooks in us? I am not going to bore everyone by talking about the Flash, which I do all the time. I am going to talk about another favorite of mine, Brainiac 5 from the Legion of Super-Heroes. In thinking about Brainiac 5, and why I dig him so much, I ended realizing several rather disturbing realities about my fandom.

Obviously one of the key factors in developing a favorite is the visuals. It might be the most subtle factor as well. There are times when you look at a character and the chemicals in your brain go into COOL MODE. For a superhero it might be the bright primary colors of Superman's costume that drew you in as a kid. It could be the clothes that John Constantine wears that lit up your brain, a subversion of your expectations for a comic book. With Brainiac 5 it was the green skin and the blond hair. It looked weird, but in the right kind of way. It made my eyes jump to him every time he appears on the page.

It might not even be the characters themselves that totally drag you in. It might be the world they inhabit. The interaction that they have with their environment IS the character in many ways. Character is the way they deal with their friends, their enemies, the physics of the world they inhabit.There are even characters built on the tension of removing them from their home environment and watching them interact. It is fun to watch Thor go to Asgard and deal with his fellow gods, but it is just as interesting to see him come to Earth and deal with the rules of humanity. With Brainiac 5 his interactions with his friends are moments of character beauty. His rash attitude towards everyone. A mix of impatience and heroism. His behavior is not that of a typical hero, but the results say otherwise. The best moments are to see him fall in love with Supergirl or Dream Girl or whoever…subverting what we think we know about him. Without that environment, what are these characters? Stories can’t happen in a vacuum. It is hard to fall in love with a Wikipedia entry; you need to see the characters in action.

Then there is always the element of seeing ourselves in the characters we love. It can be ridiculous on the surface to claim that an average person really has much in common with a comic book character. The sheer number of awful things that happen to your standard character would absolutely destroy an actual living person. There is an element in all of us that likes to wallow in our problems. We might not show it publicly but everyone has a little bit of martyr in them. Our responsibilities can feel overwhelming. It can feel like we truly are isolated from the world. We are our favorite characters dealing with the same problems that we think we have. Brainiac 5 doesn’t get along well with others because sometimes he acts like a royal dick. Sometimes I act like a dick. I have friends though, so I can’t be that bad…but I like to imagine that I am. It is fun in a weird way.

Maybe a better way to look at comic book fans is that they occasionally see elements of what they WISH they were in their favorite characters. Brainiac 5 is the smartest guy in the room. His impatience comes from having to deal with people who aren’t on his level. I have the impatience but I am definitely not the smartest guy in the room. Everyone is on my level. We are all on the same level. I have the bad part but not the justification for it. I imagine that there are Batman fans that love that he has plan for everything, then they forget to pay a credit card bill. There are probably Wolverine fans who love that he is the best at he does, and they don’t do anything. They aren’t even the best at doing nothing. Trust me. I know the people who are the best at doing nothing.

The last couple of paragraphs make fans seem like complete lunatics. We like to exaggerate our problems and pretend we have the solutions to them. All people have these weird issues. There are people who play it out through their favorites sports stars. We choose to use comics as our therapy.  Our favorites let us play out all our weird bullshit… in our own heads… and with punching… or aliens… or magic… or dinosaurs. That is a lot healthier than working these issues out in real life. Brainiac 5 would not have forgotten to put the filter basket in the coffee maker yesterday morning. He also wouldn’t have been happy spending an evening drinking sangria and sitting in a hot tub last weekend. I will take the hot tub over the time sphere. Though I hear there are combinations available.


Tom Katers might have told you too much about his weird personal issues with self image. 


  1. "I imagine that there are Batman fans that love that he has plan for everything, then they forget to pay a credit card bill. There are probably Wolverine fans who love that he is the best at he does, and they don’t do anything. They aren’t even the best at doing nothing."

    It’s like you’re looking into my soul, Tom.

  2. This is really funny and very perceptive.  On the Batman front, I’m reminded of a friend who was in a conversation with a guy talking about how a particular superhero was lame and a wimp, etc and how much cooler some "hardcore" superhero was and finally she blurted, "You are scared to go out on your own patio after dark because you are afraid of bugs!" 

    I know my favorite comic book characters include some who can be really obnoxious jerks, and the reason I enjoy them being jerks is because I attribute the behavior to them being bad communicators, poor at processing emotions, et cetera.   And a lot of times I’ll be in a conversation with somebody who is saying (not wrongly) "that character is a dick!" and which point I end up trying to explain the behavior in terms of some elaborate psychological cause, which *might* not really be justified by the text.  Because I’m dealing with my own personal issues about emotional processing and communication, so that’s affecting my reaction to the characters.  In a weird way, though, I think this may help me be a better person — being able to tune in to what that character is doing wrong helps me have a measuring stick if I see myself slipping into the same kind of behavior. 

  3. This must explain why I like Batroc (my constant desire to be a better leaper)

  4. I’m also a sucker for the Legion of Super Heroes, and i always felt it was because I loved the fact that they were a group of heroes who were trying to live up to the greatness of Superman. And you can’t talk about Legion fandom without talking about "lean years", aside from a few flashes in the pan, the last truly good stand-alone Legion story was Legion Lost

  5. @ohcaroline   The thruthines of your words is going to make my head explode!  🙂   

    I find myself doing this all the time, and not just with comics or even fictional characters.  Sometimes I have to step back and let my friends friends have their single word descriptors of public figures or else I see myself slipping into "dick" mode.

  6. Great article. This could be a cool feature, every ifanboywriter talking about his favorite character.

  7. Great article. Tom and ohcaroline both make excellent points. No one can avoid drawing comparisons between themselves and any character they’re following through any story. "Would I react that way in this situation?" "If I wouldn’t, can I at least understand how this character reached this decision?" The ones that stick with us often do so because you answer "yes" to these and other similar questions more often than not.

    What’s always a thrill for me is a situation in which you disagree with one of your favorites. I’m not talking about when the character is poorly written or when a writer does not understand the character. Those instances can be dismissed. I’m refering to when a character is written well, but makes a choice you simply cannot back them up on.

    For me, strongly disagreeing with a decision Batman has made almost never happens (mostly because part of Batman’s appeal is that he’s usually right). But when Wonder Woman came to the Batcave seeking comfort and validation after killing Maxwell Lord, and Bruce listened to her monologue and told her to "Get out.", I literally said "C’mon man!" out loud. I just couldn’t back him up on that one, and I loved that.

    Another example would be Rick’s recent actions in Walking Dead. Here’s a guy I’ve been following blindly for years, and he makes this decision to cross a certain line, and I find myself not being able to follow him over it. anyone who reeads the title will know that it was precisely the reaction Kirkman was going for, but I fell for it hook line and sinker.

    The point of this excessively long post is that even though we look to our favorites as old friends, they can still surprise us when handled by a good writer who understands them as well as we do. Just like the actual friemds we’ve had in the real world, none of them are entirely predictable. And if they were, they wouldn’t be my friends, real or otherwise.

  8. This excellent posts and the great responses following have got me thinking about the characters I would follow through multiple creators (Luke Cage and Hal Jordan). But that really got me to reverse that and think, who are the characters I won’t read, no matter the creative team. Now that I type it, I sound thick-headed, even to myself, but I’ve given these characters a try, time and again, and I never enjoy the reads, even when I acknowledge the writing to be good. 

    Spider-man and Daredevil, who visually and thematically should be among my favorites, never hook me. I can’t relate to characters so continuously slammed by life. And I won’t be the first to say it, but Superman, most of the time, is just too god-like for me. As ohcaroline pointed out, your connection to a character may be about what you have in common, or what you wish you had in common (but might not possess yourself). I wonder what these characters have that I either don’t, or don’t want to identify with. 

  9. There isn’t a red head kid in the world who dies not live wally west’s Flash for obvious reasons.