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Bridging the gap between "real geeks" and new fans

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Exploring the tension between new fans of superheroes, and those who know the comics inside out...

Sheldon from 'The Big Bang Theory' (2007) was not entirely happy with how 'Smallville' (2001) was adapted from his beloved Superman comics

I have a good friend who is a nerd. I know, this is shocking to nobody, but here's where it gets interesting. He's always been into geek culture. His dad is one of the biggest Star Wars fans I know, and his son gained his love for that universe, and has grown up with animated superhero programs. Now we sit and text each other after episodes of The Flash, Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow. He even went out and started buying Flash comics to learn more about the character, and he gets excited when he talks about the books.

The reason I bring my friend up is because five years ago, I went on a rant about "real geeks". Like many of our community, I was frustrated at having our beloved fandoms being diluted for public consumption by a populace that was having nothing to do with it only a couple of decades ago. There is an anger among the geek community, one that I have felt and feel still at times. This, is in a roundabout way, an apology from myself, if not from the nerd community; but we're not fully sorry, because there are plenty of transgressions the general public have to answer for as well.

"Now, to my brethren. Let's quit being so hard on new fans. Yes, we spent years in a minority, dealing with ridicule, lack of support, and Batman & Robin..."

First off, comic book movies and television programs wouldn't exist if it weren't for one thing: Comic books. Comic books that have been around for decades because of fans who spent their money to buy new issues, who sat in shops digging through long boxes of back issues to finish storylines or complete collections (before the glorious trade paperbacks), who know the heroes and villains, the loves and losses, every nuance of these books. And yes, we tend to get rather protective of them, possibly to the point of fanaticism. Which is why we get pretty riled up when we happen upon web discussion boards about the shows or movies and get people who don't read comics complaining about "fan servicing". Recently I was involved in several discussions about various comic book based television programs where people were bemoaning so many Easter eggs being used and various situations from the books being utilized in the shows, only to discover that the posters in question had never read a comic book in their lives (one even went so far as to say they never would).

And that, dear readers, is the biggest issue. People who have never read comics are telling comic book fans how their heroes should or should not be portrayed. Worse still, when you try to explain why they're wrong, they get defensive and say we're "whiney" and "butt hurt" (honestly, I would love to have a TARDIS just to find the moron that made up that phrase and throw them into a black hole). Personally, I have grown enough to accept that the movies and shows aren't going to be exact reproductions of the books, and for the most part enjoy what the producers are doing with the characters. Yes, many geeks still grasp on too tightly to what has come before, and we need to stop that. However, the other side of Two-Face's coin is the non-comic reading public shutting up once in a while and accepting that there were fans of these characters long before they appeared on their favorite show, and we have as much right to praise and complain as they do, if not more.

"We should be there like sage wizards, offering advice, showing them the way, explaining the multiverse and discussing what writers and artists we enjoy most and for what reasons."

Now, to my brethren. Let's quit being so hard on new fans. Yes, we spent years in a minority, dealing with ridicule, lack of support, and Batman & Robin. That being said, there is a whole new crop of fans waiting in the wings to join the ranks, and we need to be there with open arms. Too often am I seeing scorn towards new fans, as though we're all sitting on our porches screaming at the younglings to get off of our lawns. This is why we have our own holiday, Free Comic Book Day, which is to encourage new fans to come into the shops and check out what we've loved for so long. We should be there like sage wizards, offering advice, showing them the way, explaining the multiverse and discussing what writers and artists we enjoy most and for what reasons. The more readers we have, the longer the stories will be there for us.

The cast of 'DC's Legends of Tomorrow' (2016)

In that same vein, we need to stop singling out "bandwagon fans". I'm just as guilty of it, so don't think I'm getting on anyone in particular. Because recently, I fell into that same category. I had never really read much of Jessica Jones' story, but after watching the series on Netflix, found myself in that bandwagon boat. I went online to research the character and books, and ended up becoming a fan because of the show. When I was in high school, another good friend get me reading X-Men titles again, and watching the animated show, and then got me reading Cable and Deadpool. Around that same time, my Taekwondo instructor introduced me to Daredevil, a character I really hadn't read. So years later I found myself going on about the folks jumping on the bandwagons for these guys, which was completely unfair. My friend I talked about at the beginning? Technically a bandwagon fan, but one who has become a really big fan of the comic books.

Like before, there's a flip side to this one as well. There was an argument I made in my older article, where I talked about the "geeks in name only". I am reminded of a former bandmate of mine who, on Facebook, stated that he hated people who wear Misfits shirts but don't actually know anything about the band. Same kind of goes for geeks. If you're going to wear superhero apparel, know that someone, somewhere, is going to ask you about what your favorite comic title is, what your favorite storyline was, your favorite villain, love interest, etc. Is it fair or just? Meh, this is a grey area. Years ago a guy could get teased, roughed up or downright beaten by a bully having a bad day for wearing a Superman shirt. So are we going to feel bad about calling someone out because of they picked up a Captain America shirt? No, probably not. And if your answer for liking a particular hero comes down to which actor portraying them was the best looking? Prepare for scorn. True, the wrath of a geek may not be much, but at least we're verbal enough to take you down a peg or two. Not saying you can't be a fan or wear the uniform, but be prepared to know why you're wearing it.

"We come back to those fans who simply don't seem to get that their shows wouldn't be here if not for the books."

Another thing that has me flustered is shipping. No, not the thing you pay when you order something online, the practice of "worshiping" couples in fandoms. I was Sheldon gets irked by stubborn shippers having 'illogical' opinions on his favourite showsmade aware of this back when Smallville was still airing, and it's only gotten worse. For those of you who don't know what this is, it's where people who watch a show like Smallville or Arrow sit and make couples out of characters on the show. Fans would debate who would be better with each other, and the debates can get cutthroat. These fans also set up Tumblr pages, write fan fiction, create artwork, and allow the shipping to take over their lives. Sometimes, the ships get downright adult, with erotic fan fiction and even slash fiction (gay relationships) being written. These have gotten so far out of hand that shows like Supernatural have actually taken moments to address the phenomenon and point out how stupid it is. Years ago, I found myself in an argument on an online forum because I pointed out that Clark and Lois would end up together on Smallville. Several fans told me I was an idiot, and that Clark and Lana should be together, and that this was a show, not the comic books. We come back to those fans who simply don't seem to get that their shows wouldn't be here if not for the books.

Worse yet, these shippers have numbers, and mistakenly believe that their opinions matter more than common sense. There were online movements by some of these people to force showrunners to change the directions of their shows simply because it didn't meet with their approval, nor did it fit their fan fictions. While I have no real ill will against those who write fan fiction, I take incredible issue with those who allow their fan fics to overtake their common sense, and being arrogant enough to demand that a series producer change the show simply because you disagree is rather presumptuous. Especially when you think Clark and Lex should be a couple (I beg of you, dear readers, never Google any of these - Rule 34 is a terrible thing).

So let me bring the first olive branch to the meeting table, and welcome anyone who wishes to join us with open arms. There's plenty of room at the comic book store for anyone who wants to become part of the community. Yes, we can be a little set in our ways, and most of the time, we're justified in that. Especially when noobs come in and try to run the show. In a year when there are comic book movies coming out about every other month, and shows like The Flash, Arrow, DC's Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl are doing very well, we need to be accepting of everyone. So we'll show some respect if everyone else is willing to do the same. Because geek culture is everywhere, and it's about time.


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