Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Year With Marvel: Comics and Fanfic

Fanfic used to scare me. A lot.

I know, I know. My fear was strange and irrational and rooted in hearsay more than experience. Fanfic is a good thing; a way for fans to interact with source material in new and creative ways, and to explore the glorious world of What If. It’s deeply postmodern, involving as it does an awareness of multiple possibilities and an understanding that one interpretation of a text does not cancel out any of the others.

In theory, it’s totally my thing and I’m 100% in favour of it. In practice…

Well, see above.

My fears were threefold. First, I felt awkward about switching between media. Most of the things I love enough to latch onto in the want-more-must-read-fanfic sense are audio-visual, and I wasn’t sure about reading something I was used to watching. I was fine with, say, comics continuations of beloved shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL, but I never so much as considered seeking out the licensed novels. The shift was too jarring a prospect.

I was also concerned about bad writing, something the logical side of me knew wasn’t a huge issue because of ratings systems and beta readers. It’s probably really easy to read only well-written fic, provided one pays attention to things like recs lists from folks who’re super-duper knowledgeable within the fanfic field.

Most of all, I was irrationally terrified of stumbling across OOC (out of character) fic, or fic that changed so many details I couldn’t keep up. If I love a character enough to engage with them off the screen, I am deeply invested in who they are as a person. I didn’t want to see them undergo character assassination, or start ignoring (what I saw as) deeply important on-screen developments, or hang around in a sphere too far removed from what I knew and loved. The very thought left me cold.

So I steered clear of fanfic, despite many friends’ enthusiastic take on it all--until a couple weeks ago, when Renay, Queen of Fanfic and Possessor of Great Taste In Fiction, finally persuaded me to read one of her favourite Bucky-Barnes-with-a-baby fics.

And hey! I loved it!

In fact, I went so far as to download a bunch more fic for future consumption. I haven’t gotten to any of it yet because I’ve been so busy reading stuff from la TBR and the Hugo Packet, but I will read it. Because I’m no longer afraid.

I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself why my fear evaporated. Renay’s rec certainly played a large role with its good writing, evocative characterization, and true emotional depth, but I think I was already primed and ready before I dove in.

Seems to me like comics deserve the credit.

I’ve always read comics, but the sheer number I’ve devoured since I began My Year With Marvel has normalized certain fictional expectations one needs if one is to enjoy fanfic.

I’m accustomed to malleable storylines

Marvel superheroes are forever in flux. They constantly reinvent themselves, whether it’s via a costume change, a new team affiliation, a different codename, or a shift in their personal values. Their universe, too, is never set in stone. Things can change in the blink of an eye (or over the course of a single issue) as alternate universes collide, time travel shenanigans corrupt the space-time continuum, or a world-shaking crossover event descends upon character and reader alike.

Since the Marvel Universe is so very interconnected, there’s a good chance a solitary reader won’t see each and every one of these changes occur because they happened in a title the reader doesn’t follow. In this case, the changes can seem random until you’ve had a chance to go back and experience them. I’ve gotten used to accepting I won’t be privy to everything that’s going on with every corner of the universe. I know I may have to roll with some changes that don’t jive with the story in front of me right this moment, and I’m fine with that. It’s far from impossible to catch on and catch up.

So far as fanfic goes, I needn’t worry about understanding the ins and outs of the alternate universe in which a fanfic writer has situated their story. It’s similar enough to what I’m used to that I can easily adjust and move on.

The movies have given me additional AU practice

My reluctance to switch between media extends to film adaptations of beloved books; and yet, I've seen all the Marvel movies and TV shows except the latest Avengers offering (yeah, yeah, I'm behind) and the second season of AGENTS OF SHIELD. In most cases, though, I saw these films before I was well steeped in the Marvel Universe, so I didn't feel as much of a disconnect between the comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as I might have done. In fact, I was already so used to thinking of the MCU as a separate entity that I had no trouble at all in reconciling, say, the Captain America I saw on screen with the Captain America I encountered in various Avengers titles. They're the same basic character, even if they differ in certain respects.

And hey, if I can handle on-screen-Cap and comics-Cap at the same time, surely the leap to fanfic-Cap is a small one.

I’m used to multiple writers and artists handling my favourite characters

Part of comics’ malleability comes from the very real possibility that one writer and/or artist won’t remain with a title for ever and ever. Marvel owns these characters and can assign them as they see fit, so anyone who reads a large number of Marvel comics is bound to see different creative teams’ takes on their favourite characters.

This scared me at first on account of the OOC concerns cited above, but my fears proved largely unfounded. Different writers may choose to focus on different aspects of a character, but the character needn’t change dramatically as a result. Likewise, different artists may play up different features, or effect costume and hairstyle changes, but it’s far from impossible to shift between one artistic interpretation and the next.

Comics have primed me to handle seeing a character from a multitude of perspectives, such as those I might encounter in fanfic.

These thought processes served me well throughout "On the Other Side of a Downward Spiral". Comics have given me all the skills I need to enjoy fanfic as its own thing, its own realm of What If, and I intend to take full advantage of that privilege.

Just as soon as I’ve got the time in my reading schedule, that is.


  1. Ha ha ha ha I AM TRIUMPHANT! \o/

  2. Oo, yeah, I forgot Renay was the queen of fanfic. I'm going to need to apply to her for recommendations soon.

    1. She's ordered me to read some other stories that I really, really must make time for.