Out in the depths of the internet, where all manner of trolls dwell, there is a meme that I sometimes half-heartedly like to join in on just because it makes me laugh so damn much.
The idea that “Reed Richards is the greatest supervillain in the Marvel Universe” as always been comical, given the kinds of … questionable … things Reed has done in his comic past. While I have no emotional attachment to either adoring Reed or hating him into the ground, I know many people who do. Some readers really, really hate Reed Richards and they can point to the exact issue, or story, or writer that made this their reality.
One reader in particular I am familiar with swore off ever enjoying the character after Reed’s involvement in Civil War. Let’s just call him Victor. Victor has a strong personal connection to the Reed of the 60s to the 80s. I know Victor would love the ’87 Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men comic I talked about in Part 1 of this article series, but not just because of the plot.
Victor cares a tremendous amount for the canon history of Reed and it informs and is informed by his own personal connection to comics he read as a teen. For him, the best comics, the ones with which he has the strongest personal connection, are going to be reprints of Fantastic Four he got from his family as presents. These comics helped him comprehend the canon history of Reed’s character up to a certain point and they have a strong personal connection for Victor since they have ties to his youth.
Victor subsequently always understood Reed to be a certain kind of heroic. Victor never actually got to read many more comics after that, but he did pick them back up when Civil War started. Victor saw what writers did with Reed in that event and, since this version of Reed did not line up with his own personal connection to the character, he decided that the only canon history that mattered were the early Fantastic Four comics up to the late 80s.
A personal connection to comics can drastically shape what canon history matters for some readers, yet when asked they might not state this so clearly. They might not even know they’re unable to pick part their personal feelings from their awareness of publication history, possibly because it isn’t a common thing to ask of a person.
Victor and I are going to circumstantially enjoy Claremont’s Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men comic for many reasons, but he and I are going to run into disagreements should he start saying how only the Reed of the 60s thru the 80s was “the best one” or something similar. Some people really love sharing their opinions about comics with us just to see what we think. Yet sometimes this can come out in a way that makes it seem like a a challenge of our knowledge or just plain defensiveness about something in a comic they disagree with.
Victor is my friend, I know him, I know his feelings and his reasons (both personal connection and canon history) for why he thinks the way he does. That means I’m going to be able to put out a lot of fires before they get too hot.
But how to we, as a comic community, engage with strangers? How do we engage with people in our own local comic shop? If we talk with somebody we only loosely know about a comic event and they start talking about how “_________ trend from _________ writer is proof that comics are failing” or that “__________ character being of ___________ background is bad,” or even just “I hate _____________ about this comic,” what do we do or say?
CAN we do or say anything?
Before I go on, remember that you always have a choice, and the right, to keep your opinions to yourself. This means you don’t need to let someone pry answers from you that you don’t want to share. And you are never, ever obligated to answer a person’s comic claims about you if you don’t wish to. You should also never justify your own silence, should that be the option you desire to pursue.
In my own opinion, we don’t talk with other people about comics. We tell them about comics. We tell people why we love X, we tell them why X is the best part of X comic, and we (loudly!) tell them why we hate A, B, and C.
I have learned so much about comics by stopping and asking others about their personal connections with characters, writers, and “famous” stories/events. I think there is something to comic fans connecting more with the “fans” than the comics, in a very honest sense.
David made an important connection with me through a comic because he wanted to share with me a story that illuminated very important elements about faith and compassion to him. His having shared that book with me, as well as why his own personal bonds with the Claremont story were such a big deal, made a genuine moment between us.
I am not asking you to just buy comics you loved for random strangers (although, hey, not the worst idea.), but I am asking that you just consider these questions when approaching comic readers who talk about things you dislike, don’t understand, or are hearing a lot of talk about.
- (if related to a character issue, like the Steve Rogers drama) “I understand ________ about the character, but what makes the character important to you? When did you first figure this out and can you point me to any comics that show this important element best?”
- (if related to a real-world artist or writer or publication issue) “So what first got you concerned/aware about ___________? Have you been following ____________ for a while? Do you know anything about __________ that isn’t being addressed in a lot of social spaces?”
- (if related to a story issue) “What story/stories do you think represent the best about/of _____________? What was important about when you first experienced them? What writers are your favorite?”
Now, I am not advocating you try and talk people up just to change their minds about issues. I believe, mostly, people only change their opinions where comics are concerned when the comic shows them the right material or story (hence why I think giving people/showing people comics is a better way to get points across.).
I am also in no way advocating that you are required to believe what you are told is “the truth.” If a person believes that Marvel is out to ruin Iron Man by making her a young, black girl, well, they’re obviously wrong.
I am just asking that instead of launching into defensive modes we dislike in those who spread false information, we just try and get to the heart of WHY a person thinks this way. Engage them, find out what comics (or, lack of comics) their mind is working with, and see if there is a way to show them something different.
This won’t work for everyone. It isn’t meant to change minds, exactly. It is more of a thought process to attempt to get into when we all, as a comic community, talk with one another.
Try and find out if they are personal or canon-focused (or both). Try and find out where you are more about a comic’s history and where you really care about certain stories.
Look at what moves you about comics.
Ask others what moves them.
Don’t get defensive or worried when people have opinions that are not yours.