The following is the culmination of a work in progress of several years. As a fanman I believe I am qualified to speak authoritatively on the subject of fanboys as I most certainly used to be one. Among other things, I have participated in numerous fanboy operations like the signing of petitions, boycotts and even the angry writing of letters. One such angry letter continues to haunt me to this day, however it also holds a fond memory.
It was the summer of 2006. Everyone who was anyone had a MySpace page. Sony’s Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii were just on the horizon but to everyone’s surprise Microsoft’s X-Box 360 was selling well and gaining in popularity. Wikipedia had just recently surpassed its one-millionth entry, toward which I can proudly say I contributed. NASA had just reached Mars with a recon craft and two new moons of Pluto were discovered, to the delight of space nerds everywhere. Barry Bonds surpassed Babe Ruth’s homerun record to the delight of no one. “Superman Returns” was stunning people with its mediocrity. Finally, the official casting for the part of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to the amazing “Batman Begins” had just been announced. I was not pleased.
“Heath Ledger?!” I railed to my friends, through a blog post on MySpace. “How do they pass up Adrian Brody and Paul Bettany for Heath Ledger? How dare they! I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s Mel Gibson’s kid [Ed. A story for another time.] and ‘A Knight’s Tale’ is one of my favorite movies, but this is gonna be his first high profile role after ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ It’s not going to work! Please sign my petition?” [Ed. That’s right, I made a petition.]
“Eh?” said most of my friends in response to my epic (see: “pathetic”) rant. I got a few comments of support, a couple with the proper attitude of Wait & See, and one dissenter who’s response I never forgot. I am still friends with him today and when I put this up on Facebook I intend to tag him so hopefully he will know what kind of impact his words had on me. He said, “Heath Ledger is a great talent and your petition is silly. Boycott if you want, but I’m looking forward to Chris Nolan’s take on the dynamic between hero and villain here and excited to see the kind of performance Ledger gives us.”
I disagreed. Probably not very respectfully either. I felt so strongly about it that I went further and wrote an angry letter to “Wizard: The Comics Magazine.” This is why it still haunts me today: I chose to let them publish my personal e-mail address, so confident was I that I could defend my position. Nearly nine years later and I still get the occasional e-mail from a Wizard reader who stumbled upon my letter while going through back issues.
“I cannot support my argument,” I tell them all. “Just please try to understand the context. ‘Batman Begins’ was the exception to good DC comic, and especially Batman, films and not the rule.” I still had raw memories of the miscast, ill-conceived films that spanned from “Steel” all the way to “Catwoman”. The same time period that gave us the infamous “Batman & Robin”, a film that WB execs were so convinced of its awesomeness they had already greenlit Shumacher’s follow-up “Batman Triumphant.” On top of all of this, I was so enamored with the Animated Series and that version of the Joker, expertly voiced by Mark Hamill, that I simply would not be happy with a different interpretation of the character. I had no faith.
You’ll be happy to know that I am fully aware of what crow tastes like and do believe that Ledger’s performance defined not just the film but the trilogy. People believe that his portrayal contributed to his death. Fanboys continue to speculate how the follow-up film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” would have differed had Ledger returned or if Nolan had simply recast the part. The internet is full of fanfiction that tells the Joker’s story during the catastrophic events of the film.
Now, I can’t say with any authority that I was representative of some kind of movement but I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, at the time. However what I can recognize about myself now is that I was failing to consider any viewpoint beside my own. This was my wake-up call. It took being publicly, nationally, embarrassed to see that for all my self-professed intellectualism I was being very narrow-minded: different versions of the Joker had existed before and different versions would follow. Since “Batman: The Animated Series” has aired, there have been two radically different animated series and multiple animated films, all of which have given us several different interpretations of the character; each of them accurate and valid in their own way. [Ed. I am aware there have been three animated series since TAS but “Beware the Batman” never featured the Joker. So I ask respectfully that no one insist on correcting me about the number.] My son’s favorite Batman cartoon is “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and his favorite episodes are the ones that feature the Joker. A version that’s about as far from my preferred version that you can get, but no less true to the character.
We are living in an incredible time where the content of comic books has finally branched out into other media successfully and there’s more content available for consumption than most of us will ever have time to devote to it. Yet, we as an audience couldn’t be more angry about it or more critical of it for some reason, and I know I’m guilty of it too. I see a photograph of the cast from the upcoming “Suicide Squad” film and I leave the comment, “That looks really… not good.” It doesn’t matter if I had good reason and I can support my perspective. Despite my excitement for a feature film starring some of my favorite actors and characters, I had to say something unnecessarily critical to say. Last summer I went to see one of my favorite comedians, a world-famous performer Eddie Izzard, live. People sitting in front and behind me were clearly as enthusiastic and excited as I was, yet all I could think was that these people were posers; they couldn’t possibly understand and appreciate Eddie like I did. For the life of me, I can’t justify why I would think such a thing about perfect strangers.
I’m not going to spend any more time attempting to understand it either. I wasn’t raised that way; I’m certainly not going to raise my children to behave that way either. I was told for years if I can’t say anything nice, not to say anything at all. Someone recently insisted to me that if we weren’t critical, than we wouldn’t be the recipients of quality product. All of our comics and movies and games would suck if we weren’t always on their case. As if to say that the creative minds behind these properties and multi-million dollar projects aren’t as knowledgeable and passionate about them as we are; they aren’t fans like us but posers: casual fans who went to Hollywood to get rich and famous at the expense of the art’s integrity. We can’t possibly know what kind of effect our rage and vitriole is actually having in this day and age of the internet where we all have a voice. For all we know we’re having the opposite effect and the people who hold the purse strings are misinterpreting our fan rage and doing exactly what we don’t want them to do.
From this day forward, I’m going to do my best to refrain from getting angry and being unnecessarily critical. It won’t be easy, I’m already the kind of person who believes that its acceptable to be critical as long as the criticism is constructive. What I have to remember is that constructive criticism is acceptable but only under specific circumstances, and a single comment without context is not one of those circumstances. I will also try and be vigilant about not letting friends and acquaintances who enjoy this stuff as much as I do make the same mistake. To repeat what a friend said to me recently, “We should be more than excited at all of this great stuff they’re making.” Perish the thought, but someday this bubble may burst and our favorite things are no longer the moneymaker they are today and we’ll be back where we were in the 80’s.