Comic Book Fandom Problem: Character Competition and Role/Panel Hoarding

At this point, I’m both a little experienced but still relatively new when it comes to comic book issues. I only really got into any comics consistently after I discovered Polaris from X-Men. I’ve been reading stuff with her since 2009, but it’s sporadic for her to get use.

In that time, I’ve noticed a lot of specific overall problems with “hardcore” comic book culture. This post is about the specific problem of “panel hoarding” and treating character use and presence like some kind of competition.

At its base, it goes to fanboy one-upsmanship. It’s the “my favorite superhero can beat your favorite superhero” thinking. A good example is how Frank Miller basically made Dark Knight Returns all about how great Batman supposedly is, to a point where Superman was written poorly so Batman could mop the floor with him.

Let’s really look at this. Why do these characters have to fight at all? If they fight, why does one have to be written poorly for the sake of the other? Why can’t a fight between them give both characters admirable qualities, with the loser losing the fight for perfectly good reasons?

When you get to the bottom of this stuff, this sort of behavior isn’t merely about fandom or wanting good exciting stories. This is ultimately about dominance and power. The people who insist their favorite character has to be on top and win everything are saying it cause they want their favorite character to be in a dominant position, and their fandom, and themselves, along with the character. It’s not really about the character. It’s not about good stories. It’s all about ego.

One personal example. In Secret Wars House of M, Polaris and Quicksilver fought. Lorna was depicted in that as a character that scared Pietro with her power, with Pietro only winning because of a surprise attack on Lorna not from Pietro. I didn’t like that either. Pietro was depicted very poorly to make Lorna look better.

This brand “dominance fight” was not needed. It’s a staple of comic books that some people blinded by egotistical desires think is a good thing. It’s not. Poor writing is poor writing, and everyone loses. With writing that treats both characters well, we could have seen some really interesting nuance to their genuine points of view. We could have seen some creativity for use of powers. Instead, Quicksilver was a bad caricature of himself, and that just pisses off fans of the character.

Another example. X-Men Blue recently had Polaris and Havok fight. I saw quite a few people liked that, and were excited to see Polaris beat Havok in that scenario. I wasn’t. I’m a Polaris fan. I consider her my absolute favorite character right now in anything. I wasn’t happy about Lorna interacting with Havok in any sense, including this sort of thing.

I have very detailed reasons, tied to Polaris’ character history, for why I don’t want her interacting with Havok. I won’t go into them here. It’s a very specific and special issue tied only to Havok. My point here is, this “dominance fight” wasn’t needed either. We could’ve had panels that focused on something entirely different. Lorna could have had an argument with Emma about mutants, for example.

Now, for a problem that’s not the same as above but closely connected: panel/role hoarding.

Comic books have a loooooot of characters available. Most characters are heavily underused in favor of ones that have been heavily promoted across decades. Here’s the problem: characters that can fit a niche are often ignored in favor of inserting those traits into “popular” characters where they don’t belong.

Sometimes, fans of a character think only their character can fit a role. Or, out of desperation to either get their favorite into a prime position or keep them there, fans will refuse to acknowledge other characters having any kind of meaningful stake in a storyline or event. They may even badmouth and try to diminish the character’s value to make that happen.

This is another dominance play. This is all ego and selfishness talking, and it’s a problem specific to comic books.

The “logic” of this attitude is that if you let other characters occupy the same or similar role, or have panel time too, that hurts your favorite character. That “undermines” your favorite character’s “standing” in the role and supposedly keeps them from getting much use.

This “logic” is a huge mistake. Even when taking on the same role, two characters are not going to think and behave the exact same way. They will have disagreements. They will have nuance. In some cases, the base role could split into more than one direction. If you have only one person in the role, you either lose all except one direction, or the one character allowed to have the role becomes a disgusting mess of poor characterization that ends up looking terrible to most people.

But when you acknowledge other characters’ worth and let them be involved? Your favorite character actually benefits. Maybe you lose some panel time for the character. Sure. The lost panel time is more than made up for by much better writing. The two (or more) characters can interact, develop associations, common ground. In the future, the already established connection can lead to amazing new stories that never would have been possible without the connection.

For this example, I have Scarlet Witch.

Brevoort at Marvel said a lot of negative things about Polaris several years ago. They seemed to be mainly fueled by the idea that Magneto can have only one daughter, and at the time, he wanted that sole daughter to be Scarlet Witch.

This was a mistake. There is a lot of interest in the idea of Polaris and Scarlet Witch spending time together as sisters. They’ve both dealt with mental issues. Lorna suffered from M-Day, and Wanda has yet to have a redemption arc/story that most X-Men fans accept. They would have common ground of being Magneto’s daughters, but that connection makes them closer and gives them opportunities to have interesting stories together. Brevoort had the belief that only one daughter can exist, because his focus was exclusively on the role of “Magneto’s daughter,” as if it’s a coveted title only one can have. It blinded him to what they can accomplish together because they both have the same role.

Later, after Marvel forced a retcon that made Scarlet Witch (and Quicksilver) no longer Magneto’s daughter, they tried to do a solo comic book for her. The book failed. Its main reason for failing was because Marvel had severed most of her meaningful relationships – including with Magneto and Polaris. Some thought that completely separating her from those relationships would be good for her prestige, but it wasn’t. Losing those relationships denied her the chance to interact with characters that could show her best qualities.

Same applies to any role situation. If you’re a real fan of a character, you want what’s best for the character. What’s best for the character is good writing, not oodles of appearances that all make the character look horrible just for the sake of exposure. If some panel time has to be sacrificed to get good writing, then so be it.

Comic book fandom is rife with these toxic attitudes. There are ways of doing things so ingrained that some fans mistakenly think they have to go along with the flow, or that what they know is a “tradition” that must be upheld. Some have also become so accustomed to those attitudes that it’s become a deeply ingrained part of who they are. They don’t want to break those habits and may refuse to see anything wrong with them.

But seeing the problem is the first step to better comics fandom, and eventually better comics as a whole.