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.

Marvel Support/Sales Bias: Mockingbird vs Scarlet Witch vs All-New X-Factor

Most people are aware by now of the Mockingbird situation. The below cover was used for the comic book, and a bunch of assholes decided to harass the comic book’s writer for it until she had to get off Twitter.

Since yesterday, the comic book shot up Amazon’s lists, putting it at #1 for print copies of comic books and #5 for Kindle. The huge sales jump comes after Marvel canceled the solo comic book due to what it cites as low sales. Out of this, science fiction writer Annalee made an important point on Twitter: comic books worked on by women or that feature women not receiving marketing and reviews means people don’t know about comic books they might want to read.

This feed right into something I’ve been saying about how Marvel treated All-New X-Factor and continues to treat Polaris, so now I’m writing a Tumblr post about it. Read on for more.


I’ll be going into numbers now. Numbers are important for my message.

Here’s Mockingbird’s sales. The numbers include a link to verify.

Mockingbird #1 (March 2016): 42,335

Mockingbird #2 (April 2016): 32,965
Mockingbird #3 (May 2016): 21,912
Mockingbird #7 (September 2016): 14,751

Got it? Good (or not good, if you don’t get it).

Here’s sales for the Scarlet Witch solo comic book. Same deal.

Scarlet Witch #1 (December 2015): 57,835

Scarlet Witch #2 (January 2016): 25,728

Scarlet Witch #3 (February 2016): 23,900
Scarlet Witch #6 (May 2016): 16,842
Scarlet Witch #10 (September 2016): 15,388

Finally, here’s sales for All-New X-Factor.

All-New X-Factor #1 (January 2014): 45,727
All-New X-Factor #2 (January 2014): 32,228

All-New X-Factor #3 (February 2014): 29,915

All-New X-Factor #10 (July 2014): 22,563

All-New X-Factor #20 (January 2015): 21,132

Mockingbird #7 and ANXF #20 were their series’ last issues. Scarlet Witch is still running, so #10 is its most recent issue.

As far as I’m aware, Mockingbird had almost no marketing from Marvel. I can confirm for a fact that All-New X-Factor got none from Marvel. Scarlet Witch, on the other hand, is getting a lot of promotion from Marvel.

This paints a pretty interesting (and for me, enraging) picture about the way Marvel thinks and operates.


As you can see, the sales for both Mockingbird and Scarlet Witch dropped at about the same rate and to the same levels, with the exception that Scarlet Witch’s drop from issue #1 to #2 was much faster. About 10,000 for Mockingbird, compared to about 22,000 for Scarlet Witch.

Notice: Scarlet Witch is still running. Its sales have been about as low as Mockingbird’s, and that’s with the benefit of heavy marketing and a major film role for Scarlet Witch that Mockingbird didn’t have. Yet, Mockingbird is the comic that got canceled.

And then, as soon as something really shitty happened to its writer for the final issue, and that caused people to discover the book exists, surprise: it sells like hotcakes on Amazon. Whether the quality of the comic itself is good or bad is immaterial; once people found out about the comic, they were willing to give it a chance.

Now I get into the real impetus behind this post of mine: All-New X-Factor, and Marvel’s unwillingness to support Polaris.

Don’t let All-New X-Factor reaching issue #20 fool you; it only got that high because Peter David churned out scripts at such a rapid pace that the comic often shipped two new issues per month.

All-New X-Factor got almost no marketing support from Marvel (literally only one tweet to advertise it that I’m aware of, that didn’t even refer to the book by its name). With no marketing support, ANXF’s #10 still managed to sell about 8,000 more copies than Scarlet Witch #10… and ANXF got canceled around this same time months-wise anyway.

I’ve always said that if a well-written, respectful comic book with Polaris as a main star were put out by Marvel and got real marketing support, it would not only sell, it would sell beyond anything Marvel could ever comprehend out of the character.

What happened to the Mockingbird solo proves me right.

The Mockingbird solo’s situation vindicates me for everything I’ve ever said about both Polaris and Marvel. With absolutely no help from Marvel, the Mockingbird solo managed to jump from “sales so low it needs to be canceled” to the top of the charts. Meanwhile, with all the resources and the kitchen sink Marvel throws at the current Scarlet Witch solo, it continues to languish at the same numbers or lower that got both Mockingbird and All-New X-Factor canceled.

Two biases held by Marvel have now come to light. First, they’re biased toward doing everything they can to sell Scarlet Witch because she’s already a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Second, they’re biased against Polaris because they can’t use her in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Thanks to this situation, Marvel can no longer claim “There isn’t enough fan interest to justify giving Polaris a bigger role.” They can’t claim “Sales of All-New X-Factor were too low to justify being more inclusive toward Polaris and her history.”

Mockingbird just proved that Polaris is one solo comic and real marketing push away from becoming a breakout star of the X-Men franchise just like Emma Frost before her.

Final words

I am truly sorry for the entirely undue and inappropriate harassment Chelsea Cain received from assholes. I wish she had not received any such attacks, and that her final issue sold this well without them. But, because it happened and can’t unhappen, I can at least make something out of it.

I am also not saying the Scarlet Witch solo should be canceled. Rather, I’m saying that Marvel should give Polaris and should have given Mockingbird the same second and third and fourth and eighth chances they keep giving Scarlet Witch.

*drops mic and steps off soapbox*

I just realized: a lot of people on Tumblr will reblog or like what someone posts JUST from a glance, without looking at the whole post, much less thinking through everything it says. I even realize I’ve done it before in retrospect.

That can be pretty dangerous. I’m not going to explain how it works, what I’ve observed, because really shitty people would exploit it as a way to ruin lives. I’m just going to say that if you see a post, try to look at all of it before you like or reblog it.

“True Fans,” Fandom, and Gatekeeping

If you’ve been active on social media at all, or even taken part in something that would get a lot of spread on social media, you know how volatile people have become.

A lot of people are getting their names and reputations dragged through the mud, receiving harassment and death threats online, and some have even been SWATted (where a fake threat is called to police to get a SWAT team to raid someone’s house – which can result in actual physical harm and threats) and essentially chased out of their homes.

All of this activity can ultimately be traced back to one thing: the concept of a “true fan”, and attempts to dominate fandom and control who is or isn’t considered a fan.

As much as I’ve been active on Twitter, I haven’t been nearly active enough about this on Tumblr, and it’s time for me to say something here.

There is a lot of loaded language wrapped up in this concept, so there’s no perfect place to begin. We have to just jump right in and elaborate from there.

We’ve seen a lot of volatility as of late in fandom everywhere. There’s GamerGate, full of people who insist they’re fighting for ethics in games journalism – when really, the language of most GGers is stilted in things like “fighting the SJW menace” and “exposing <insert female critic, developer, research, etc>’s lies.” Many GGers insist the people they target are “not real gamers.”

When the Batgirl cover referencing the Killing Joke came out, and many people complained and criticized it (I believe rightfully so), many people insisted demands to pull the cover amounted to censorship… and some of the people who demanded the cover be pulled received harassment and death threats, and calls that they weren’t “true comic book fans” or “true Batman fans.”

I’ve experienced this first-hand, of course. Nowhere near to the same degree as so many others have received it. But practically any time where I’ve criticized a company or product or shown concern that something bad might happen to something I love, there will be someone who comes along with this insistence they’re a “true fan,” and that I’m not because I said something they didn’t like.

So here’s the critical question in all of this: what makes someone a “true fan”?

If I buy absolutely anything and everything a company makes, even if they openly insult me as a consumer and all the things I care about – am I a true fan?

If I buy absolutely nothing, never have and never will, and say something needs to radically change into something else before I’ll buy it – am I a true fan?

We know the dictionary definition of a fan, but there are so many individual, personal semantic definitions. One person thinks you’re not a fan unless you defend a company and what it does to the death, no matter how bad it is. Another person thinks you’re not a fan unless you mercilessly criticize everything and show no appreciation. Still another person thinks neither route is correct, that you need a mix.

Or is it something else? Are you a true fan if you play X number of games or read X number of comics featuring something? Are you a true fan if you paid to commission fanart, or write fanfiction?

Depending on your definition, who counts as a “true fan” changes.

Suddenly, a person who’s read comic books about their favorite character for years and bought countless comics and art commissions isn’t a “true fan” because they’re willing to complain about the company that owns that character’s rights.

Suddenly, a woman who makes experimental video games or cares about better representation for women in video games isn’t a “true gamer”, while a man who’s never played a game before and has regularly insulted gaming as a whole is an “honorary gamer” for supporting certain people and playing a little bit of one video game.

Suddenly, people who deeply love and respect something “don’t count” as “true fans.” And here’s the reason: power.

Fiction has cultural power, and whoever has the loudest voice gets the most say in its shape. Whether explicitly or implicitly, most people are starting to realize this.

Want a character to get raped? Silence all dissenting voices, and it might happen.

Want a certain person to quit the video game industry? Send him or her enough death threats, make up things like “she has sex with dogs” or “she’s a rapist”, hack his or her bank account, all sorts of nastiness, and it might happen.

That is the shape “fandom” is increasingly taking right now: smear jobs, character assassination, real life harassment even to friends and family just for being associated with the intended target.

It’s all gatekeeping. It’s all an attempt to take possession of the keys, and then dictate who’s allowed to have them. “You’re not a true gamer unless you accept games as they are.” “You’re not a true Batgirl fan unless you accept her being presented first and foremost as Joker’s victim.” “You’re not a true Polaris fan unless you never complain about Marvel and never worry they might do something bad to her.”

And while it looks recent, this has actually been going on for years. Probably far longer than I’m even consciously aware.

When Anita Sarkeesian launched her Tropes vs Video Games Kickstarter in 2012, she received a wave of harassment and threats simply for the IDEA of criticizing video games through a feminist perspective, suggesting that as great as they are, they can be better.

When a woman working for Bioware said video games should permit a “skip gameplay” option to be able to enjoy only the story, also back in 2012, she received a swarm of harassment for daring to suggest games don’t need gameplay.

This behavior looks new, but it’s not. It’s been a very gradual escalation across several years. It only looks new because most people weren’t watching the horizon and what was slowly spilling over it.

The more people who think this is the right approach to fandom, the more extreme people will become when they get desperate. Right now, GamerGate laughs off the idea that any of the people they target will ever get killed. But is it really so laughable? In the span of 3 years, we’ve gone from internet harassment and some online death threats to women like Anita Sarkeesian, to people getting SWATted, and smeared as supposedly being rapists or fucking dogs or selling their kids for drug money.

All in an attempt to become the gatekeepers of fandom, and terrorize and chase out anyone who disagrees with them. If 3 years is enough for people to turn out like that and think it’s perfectly acceptable, what will 3 more years bring us?

Any time you see the words “true fan”, always, ALWAYS ask: who’s using them, how, and why. We can’t afford to not ask those questions when lives are on the line – right now, professional lives, the ability to actually get a job. But perhaps some day, the ability to continue living at all.