Sunday, 25 September 2016

Demolishing A Mystery, Or: Why I Never Want To Know The Joker’s True Identity

                I’ll admit, this wasn’t what I was originally going to write about this week. I’d been working on something else, but then I saw this article on a sidebar: Weare Finally Going to Learn The Joker’s True Identity! The moment I saw the title I knew I’d have to save my original topic about revisiting a childhood TV show to see how it fared now, and talk about this instead. I know this article is from a few months ago now, but the idea of it still bears discussion. 

                From my own personal standpoint, I don’t think revealing the Joker’s identity is a good idea. And contrary to how I usually approach writing on a topic, I didn’t research it to see what the reveal was, who he is, and how this particular story resolved. So I can’t spoil anything as far as this goes or even tell you whether this was legitimate or was somehow twisted at that end so that we still don’t really know who he is. All I know is that apparently the reveal was supposed to be over the summer in Justice League #50. So why am I opposed to this idea? Let me elaborate:

For some characters, who they are and their journey is integral to relating to the character. For others, their appeal lies in the mystery of their identities or motivations. Let’s take for example another comic character with a mysterious past: Wolverine. 

Wolverine had no memories past a certain point outside of brief flashbacks. And that was an integral part of his character, the fact that he didn’t know exactly who he was and how he’d come to be the way he was. Enter November 2001, and the beginning of Wolverine: The Origin, a six-issue run that told you the real story of Logan. And in a way, having that story fleshed out, makes the character lose the mystique that made people love him (no pun intended). One reason why Wolverine is as compelling a character as he is because he is a man that doesn’t really know himself, and is constantly looking for answers as to his past. That pulls you in because you go on that journey with him and you don’t know any more than he does. To suddenly have that information (even if he doesn’t), invests you less in his search because you already know the answer. 

So, I know you’re thinking, how does that relate to the Joker? Well, it’s a very similar situation, if not for the same reasons. The Joker is also a character, much like Wolverine, that does best with a certain mystery about him. The appeal of the Joker is not that you are searching for his past, but that he doesn’t need one. The mystique of him is that he’s not so much a character as a force, bound by no rules or confines of origin. Batman himself is bound by origin, by the death of his parents and his need to avenge or atone for it somehow. Spider-Man is bound by guilt, by great power and great responsibility, The Punisher by revenge and an unending war on the criminal element. The Joker has no real motive: is it to cause chaos? Just for fun? A twisted obsession with Batman, who is his opposite image? Even when the Joker is given an origin, you never know if it’s true or not. The Killing Joke gives a backstory to him (though no name), but how much of it is actually true? Were any of the Joker’s reasons in The Dark Knight for how he got his scars based on truth? I posit that it doesn’t matter if one or any of them are true or not, because that misdirection is so much more a part of Joker’s character than whatever his true origin is. He’s something that we can’t figure out, but more so, he’s something that Batman can’t figure out.  

Mystery is all well and good, but is that alone a good enough reason not to divulge the Joker’s real past? Perhaps not. After all, character reveals can have a profound impact on a franchise and provide a plot twist not only to throw audiences a curveball, but change the story immensely. One of the biggest examples of this is obviously the revelation about who Darth Vader really is. In that case, it propels the story forward and makes you look at the previous stuff in a different light. In Batman’s own universe, look no further for character reveals than Red Hood, first teased in Hush before later expanded into Under the (Red) Hood. Yes, sometimes solving a mystery can be very satisfying, but then what do you do? Once the big secret of the Joker’s name is out, what do you do with it? Does it become a sidenote, forgotten and not mentioned again? What impact does it have not only on the story, but on the greater scope of the character? I would suggest that in a way, it kills the character you know. I know that sounds a bit overdramatic, but hear me out. Let’s go back to the Wolverine example. Prior to the The Origin, we knew his name was Logan, he was Canadian, and had taken or been given the name Wolverine, possibly while being experimented on by the government. Origin takes one of those fundamental things right off the bat and discards it by letting us know that the name we’ve known the character as for the last thirty-odd years is wrong, replacing it with James Howlett. Apply that now to the seventy-plus years of history of the Joker, who is now [insert name]. You will never quite be able to disassociate the character from this identity that he didn’t really need in the first place. 

I have one final reason as to why I never want to know the Joker’s identity, and it’s probably the most important one. Strange as it is to say, especially for me, I don’t want that story because I don’t want a story that humanizes the Joker. Even worse, I don’t want a background that not only humanizes him, but makes him relatable or even sympathetic. That is the worst thing that you could do to a character like Joker. I said it earlier, Joker is a force, an embodiment of chaos. And you need those characters too. There are so many villains that you can understand the motives of, can sympathize with: Loghain Mac Tir from Dragon Age, Mr. Freeze (especially from Batman: TheAnimated Series), or the MCU favorite, Loki. Let the Joker remain who he is, and more importantly, who he isn’t. Being the Joker is exactly who he needs to be. Nothing more, nothing less. Because as he said himself:

Well said.

So what do you guys think? Do you agree that there are some mysteries better left unsolved, or are/were you interested to see who the Joker really is? Do you think it will be something that sticks, or is it a short-term gimmick? Leave a comment below, and let me know!  

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Dark Side of the Fandom

Hey everyone, I wanted to talk to you today about something a bit more serious. In terms of mainstream acceptance and sheer scale of dissemination through popular culture, it has never been a better time to carry the title of ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’. If you look at the films with the highest grossing openings, not only are the top three spots held by geek culture movies (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, and The Avengers) but in fact the top thirteen places are held by films within the genre, only interrupted by Furious 7. You can walk into any Target, Spencer’s even Wal-Mart and easily find a plethora of clothing, accessories, and collectibles to proudly proclaim your love of all things geeky. Conventions are huge and plentiful, with cons like E3, the New York Toy Fair, and San Diego Comic Con becoming entities unto themselves as places of premiere news, trailers, and announcements to both geek and mainstream media. We made it guys, widespread acceptance!  
                So why does it feel like we’re more divided as a community than ever? When we should be united in celebration of our ascension we instead argue internally, warring like petty generals after the death of a conqueror. So I want to discuss what seem to be the pertinent points that cause this divide, and perhaps in recognizing these faults we can prevent them from tearing us apart from within. 

1.       Nostalgia 

Nostalgia is a powerful tool. It’s also one that carries a double edge. It’s why franchises of any sort continue, because it provides a connection to the audience over time. Without that connection, without that fond remembrance of that show, or movie, or game, or band that you love or have loved, you wouldn’t feel the need to revisit it. You wouldn’t feel any of the same excitement about a new venture within that universe without it. And whether wielded deftly to fit organically into the new entry (The Force Awakens), or bludgeoning you with it like a wildly swinging crutch (Jurassic World), it has an effect. Unfortunately, the other edge of the blade is having such a nostalgic attachment to something that any change or new idea is seen as sacrilege and a ‘ruining’ of something beloved. This is not entirely without merit: reboots fail, new entries or forays into different media flop, and new characters fall short of the originals. That being said, doing nothing new invites stagnation, and a slow death to the thing you love and hold so dear to. You see it in all fandoms and even genres (looking at you, music), the purists, the die-hards. If you do something different then it’s the end of the world, but if you do the same thing over and over again then you’ve got nothing interesting to say or do anymore. But in reality, every franchise, every character, every band has that one entry or song or story that is a bit different compared to the rest. But that in itself isn’t a bad thing. Some of us like those weird one-off stories or albums, even if the rest of the fandom doesn’t. As amazing as nostalgia is as a force, it can also make for a no-win situation.

2.       Making It Too Personal

We all have things we are passionate about, that goes without saying at this point. What we do need to remember is that not everyone loves what you love as much as you do. In fact, many people will love other things just as much as you love your things. And that is great! Diversity! Until you get too wrapped up in your own little bubble and forget that. Then unpleasant things happen, like personal attacks and conspiracy theories. One I heard a lot over the summer was how Disney/Marvel was paying people to write bad reviews for Batman vs. Superman (as if that ship wasn’t sinking just fine on its own), because Heaven forbid you criticize something that someone else loves. Now I can’t pretend to speak for anyone else, but when I wrote my review(s) for that film, I was up front about the issues I had with it. Not because I wanted to give it a bad review, or because I hated it, or because I was being paid by the competition to do so. I wrote the review I did because I wanted to illustrate how much better the movie could have been, because I wanted to love it. A good review will provide you with both the positive and the negative aspects of a film (or game, album, etc.). A review should be something you can use to determine whether or not a piece of media is for you, but not your only deciding factor. Because ultimately a review is only another person’s opinion.  Unfortunately some people (for reasons I’ll elaborate on later) see this as a personal attack, that by criticizing something they are passionate about, you are criticizing them directly. That brings me to my next point:

3.       She Blinded Me with Fandom!

We’ve all been guilty of it. We defend a subpar product because we (want to) love it or love its associated franchise. Or conversely, we irrationally hate another because it is part of a different franchise that we don’t like. When we blind ourselves with our fandom, we lose our ability to be objective. It is absolutely possible to love something while still recognizing its flaws, and there’s nothing wrong with that. All art is subjective, after all, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying something even if it isn’t ‘perfect’. Many people vehemently love and defend the film Avatar, regardless of the fact that under the video-game flash of effects, it’s a bland story better done in Fern Gully  or The Last Samurai. But neither side is truly right or wrong, and we have to learn to agree to disagree. The other side to that is to hate something because you’ve already made up your mind to hate it. A reaction like this, when disseminated onto the Internet, can quickly become a conflagration. A prime example of this came just this summer with the new Ghostbusters film. A reboot with a gender-switched cast? Apparently that is a blow to the nostalgias and egos of fans so severe that it warranted a veritable tsunami of crap that lasted for months. So many refused to not only give the film a chance, but went out of their way to do what they could to sabotage it, from attacking the cast and director online, to downvoting the trailer and outright flagging comments that were even the tiniest bit positive. It was a truly disgusting display for a film that turned out to be (as far as reboots go) actually not too bad, dare I even say enjoyable in its own way. Does it come close to the original? No, but no film will. Even Ghostbuster’s own sequel, with all the original players, couldn’t. But neither does it tarnish the integrity of the originals. Unless it could somehow retroactively change them to make them bad (looking at you, Star Wars special editions), but can that truly destroy what you love? If I can deal with the jarring CG buildings added to Cloud City, you can deal with this. Just as an aside, who decided that Ghostbusters was a sacred property that could not be touched? I have never seen a reaction like this from a fandom. Just because the story didn’t go along with what you wanted it to be, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I’m not super happy about how Han and Leia were apart by Force Awakens and that things with Luke had gone the way they did, but it’s not my story to tell. Now I’m waiting to see what comes next. Headcanons are a whole other topic, so I’m just going to leave that with a line from a certain song: ‘you can’t always get what you want’.  ead

4.       No Casuals Allowed!

    This is a term I hear mainly in the gaming community, but it has further application than that. The idea that someone is somehow ‘less’ of a fan because they don’t eat, breathe, sleep, and have tattooed themselves with some aspect of the franchise. Forgetting of course that the ultimate goal of a franchise or property is (along with telling a story) to attract fans and thus make money. There is no hierarchy of fans, that someone started listening to Dragonforce because of Guitar Hero is less of a fan than someone who bought their first disc on release day. How you find a fandom doesn’t determine how ‘good’ or ‘true’ of a fan you are. There are no ‘fake’ fans: not for how you found it, not for how deeply you are into it, and certainly not because of your gender. It’s an argument that seems to indicate that somehow new fans will somehow sully the franchise. That there is only one true or pure way to be a fan of something. And I don’t think I need to tell anyone with common sense how ridiculous that is. If something doesn’t have the widespread exposure, it’s difficult to find new fans. But give it that exposure, and you’ll see a huge change. Jumping on a bandwagon doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for a fad, it can be a great stepping-stone to discovering something you really like. How popular was Iron Man before the MCU films? Certainly not at the level of Spider-Man or the X-Men. And his popularity has exploded, and without needing to sift through multiple decades of material first. This also leads me back to the criticism of a loved franchise. When a movie or a game doesn’t do well, and when people criticize it, the default is to say ‘they just didn’t get it’. You thought that movie plot was over complicated and nonsensical? You just didn’t get it. And that’s ridiculous and insulting. That assumes that other people are somehow stupid or oblivious because they didn’t like or have issues with your thing. Instead of attacking, we should be discussing. Is there something that was missed? Are we getting too attached to see the flaws? Will fighting over it really help? Why are we trying to alienate potential new fans of something we love and want to see continue?

So what can we conclude from this? Is it really so simple as we all need to take a step back, calm down, and just stop being jerks to one another? Maybe. Have we drawn such deep dividing lines that it’s hard to extend that olive branch? Often, yes. As I said in my opening, it’s never been a better time to be a geek. We need to not fall into the stereotypes, we need to embrace the people that are finding or finding their way back to us from all walks of life. We need to stop painting ourselves in such an ugly light and celebrate that, while we have our differences, we are united in our love for our nerdness.
What do you guys think? Is there a solution, or have we gone too far? There’s a lot thrown out here, a lot of thoughts and musings about the state of the community, so I want to hear what you think. Am I seeing things are worse than they are? As always, let me know in the comments!