Social Justice Warriors, part 2: Looking at ComicsGate and Feeling the H.E.A.T.

The column from a couple of weeks ago about Social Justice Warriors was one of the most widely shared things I’ve ever done here on the blog, which was certainly gratifying.

However, to my sour amusement, the same week it appeared, so did this…

The beat goes on.

Honestly, despite the overwhelmingly positive response to what I wrote, seeing the furor over The Last Jedi continue to escalate, to say nothing of various authors grieving over the death of their friend Harlan Ellison forced to contend with fans lecturing them on the inappropriateness of grieving for such a jerk– yes, people really did that; a lot– I was nevertheless getting close to having my own It’s Chinatown, Jake moment of futility and resignation. These guys are relentless. They’re never going away. Maybe fandom really is a swamp, a poison garden, and to enjoy it at all you have to ignore most of it and be careful where you step.

Then I got a note from Matt.

Matt was one of my old moderating colleagues at the Comic Book Resources forums, back when I was young and foolish enough to sign on for that job. He was a Green Lantern guy and so was I, and as it happened that was when all this was going on…

Back in the early 1990s, the transformation of heroic Green Lantern Hal Jordan into the villain Parallax was a huge, HUGE controversy.

It split fandom down the middle– at least the part of it that cared about Green Lantern — and led to the creation of H.E.A.T., a vocal fan group that wanted the Parallax story undone and Hal Jordan back as a heroic Green Lantern. (The saner members of the organization allowed as how the new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, could stay. Others advocated that the character should “die in a fire.” You know, the usual levelheaded internet discourse.) Probably the most famous thing H.E.A.T. did was take out a big ad in Wizard magazine, which wasn’t cheap.

As for me personally? A couple of months after Emerald Twilight came out, I had a chance at a local show to talk to Ron Marz, the author of record of this hugely divisive story, and we had a nice chat. I was impressed with him. He had been given the assignment after the previous writer had been fired so Marz pulled it together as best he could under incredibly tight deadlines, and– my opinion– now that he had his feet under him and was finding a groove, the new Kyle-as-Lantern stories were getting interesting (though I never did warm up to the redesigned outfit.)

I had to admit that Marz had gotten me to pick up the book for the first time since Steve Englehart was on it, which made him laugh. “That’s the thing,” he said. “Everybody loved Hal but they weren’t buying the book.”

So I was on board, provisionally. But I digress. The point is that Green Lantern fandom in the 1990s was a roiling soup of various factions all seething with entitlement and hostility, and the only thing that could unite them was the savage hatred they unleashed on anyone suggesting that it was just comics and maybe they could all calm down a little.

At CBR, Matt was tasked with somehow keeping the Green Lantern forum civil in the midst of all this. Later he also became the administrator of the Rumbles Board, a forum dedicated to logical extrapolations of who would win in various superhero matchups — you know, could Superman beat Thor, that kind of thing. (Kurt Busiek actually got to write this one for real in the Avengers/Justice League crossover.)

Superman won: creating, of course, a nasty fan controversy. Not quite up there with Hal vs. Kyle but it drew a fair amount of nerdrage. Busiek– and his children for God’s sake– actually got threats from fans over it.

When I heard about the threats I was not surprised. I’d done my time at CBR and I knew fans were easily that crazy. I’m not sure if any of us ever admitted this to Matt but I know it must have been obvious– privately, myself and the other moderators were all grateful he was willing to take those particular boards on because the rest of us frankly dreaded dealing with the deranged fans infesting them. He was the only one of us that could seem to get through to ‘those people’; he was one of their own, after all, a founding member of H.E.A.T.

I always liked Matt, I hasten to add, and certainly neither I nor the other admins ever counted him as one of the derange-os demanding everyone at DC be fired and hounded out of comics. But his fandom enthusiasms and experience were utterly alien to mine, so you could have knocked me over with a feather when the SJW piece came out and one of the first reactions I got was a nice note from Matt saying RIGHT ON! He even shared it over at CBR.

I haven’t spoken to Matt in years and was very pleasantly surprised to hear from him, especially in this context. Turned out he was working on a piece of his own condemning toxic fandom and I asked if we could put it up here as a follow-up to mine….and here it is.

This one’s nominally about “ComicsGate,” but it covers a lot of other stuff as well. I think it is well worth a read and, especially, it means something for a H.E.A.T. guy to go there… but let him tell you himself. Here’s Matt.

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Comicsgate: Why they are wrong and why it matters

I will start this with a disclaimer and a confession; when I first joined the Internet community in the mid-1990s or so, I was an ass. I acted like an ass. I made statements that were uncivil. I said unkind things about comic book professionals. I was even a card-carrying member of H.E.A.T. (Hal’s Emerald Advancement Team – and while I am proud of the considerable charity work that group did, I look back with regret at the ethical foundations behind such movements. A nice analysis can be found here if you happen to be unfamiliar). I understand where such movements and desperate desire to protect what you know come from. I understand where and how the herd mentality manifests and grows in such groups. I recognise how such echo chambers feed upon themselves to the point where any constructive discussion simply dissolves into what can only be best described as ‘circle jerking’. I have been where these people currently are.

I also confess that I am not a fan of the works of William Shakespeare. More on that later.

Arguments and lack of evidence

ComicsGate has repeatedly attempted to argue that the higher sales of comics of the 1990s proves that the quality of those comics (with their supposed lesser emphasis on themes and messages) is greater than today’s titles. This argument, of course, is absurd for a number of reasons.

First, it is fallacious reasoning in terms of appeal to popularity. Just because a given thing is popular (as indicated by higher sales) does not mean that it is inherently good or superior. As an example, slavery was once not only very popular but expected in society, now we know better and the civilised world stands steadfastly against it. Popularity rises and falls as time progresses, just consider all the innumerable embarrassing fashion choices of previous decades. Popularity does not equal quality. As the speculator boom (and inevitable bust) of the 1990s showed us, high comic sales do not equate to a quality comic title.

Remember, THIS broke sales records. I was there.

The argument also fails to take into account the changing nature of the entertainment landscape. During the 90s, most Internet users accessed the wonder of the World Wide Web through glacially slow 56k modems and online entertainment options were rather limited. Now we have more powerful and more engaging gaming systems, we are inundated with online streaming services, and VR options that are like science fiction of old. The website Comichron tells us that Diamond’s top 300 books in 1997 sold a total of 100 million units, compared to 2017’s 80 million – the modern day where comic books are encountering an increasingly crowded entertainment sector. You then have to mix in the changes to the market such as digital sales, the replacement of single issues with TPBs, and comic book piracy. It should surprise no one at all that sales are not what they once were. That is not even touching on how the direct market works and how the changing mechanics of it distort figures.

The ComicsGate position also fails to address what is often cited by retailers as a notable source of sales drop-off; namely event fatigue and the seemingly constant renumbering and relaunching of titles. Are there any readers out there who enjoy the way that a title is renumbered just because the creative team changes? People can and do get burned out by having to buy a dozen titles just to follow the one crossover event storyline (looking at you ‘Fear Itself’).

In terms of positive evidence, ComicsGate simply has not provided any to support their conjecture that lowered sales are a result of so-called “SJW messages”. They have conjured an untested hypothesis and blindly run with it, labelling the loosest of correlations as fact while ignoring everything that does not fit their version of reality. They appealed to comments made by Marvel’s David Gabriel (VP of Sales and Marketing, who quickly wound his comments back) but the analysis performed by C.P. Hoffman concludes such a position is simply not supported by evidence. No matter how you choose to look at it, ComicsGate has failed its burden of proof.


The Nostalgia for the 90s

Comicsgate have, showcased by Richard Meyer’s attempted launch of his Jawbreakers title and various comments by his followers, proclaimed that the storytelling standards of the 1990s were somehow superior to what we have today. That the quality of that decade should somehow be the benchmark of good storytelling. Quality is not so much the concern, but the change in how comic book narratives are told that should be our focus. Change is and always has been a fundamental component of the entertainment industry; we no longer have VHS tapes, silent movies or Donny and Marie-esque family variety hours. Different genres have dominated comic books at various times; publishers no longer pump out the animal funnies, cowboys or romance titles that once dominated sales. Case in point; I am a fan of the Transformers franchise (specifically the Generation 1/1980s line that I grew up with) but the Transformers have (suitably enough given the name) changed over time; the target audiences have changed and different series are aimed at different demographics. I did not care for Rescue Bots or what is commonly referred to as ‘Bayformers’ but I am definitely not who those works were created for. Meanwhile, I thoroughly enjoy the IDW Transformers titles. The fear of losing touch with something that you once loved can indeed be a powerful thing but to deny change, to keep trying to live in the past, is nothing but a fool’s errand.

The comics of the 1990s were, with some exceptions, generally bland. Titles were tailored to the tail end of the grim and gritty trend that started in the late 1980s and then directly aimed to satisfy the speculator market – the endless events (The Death of Superman, Knightfall, Emerald Twilight), the foil covers, collector’s editions and so on.

Titles of the decade such as Marvel’s Force Works and DC’s Extreme Justice serve only as examples of artistically shallow works that vastly outweigh the rare but celebrated 90s gems such as Kingdom Come, Marvels and Sandman. Of course, with the above, everyone should keep in mind that the term quality is largely subjective in nature and different folks will appreciate different works, but that technical and artistic merit can objectively be assessed.

Some of the harassment centered on Heather Antos decried “social justice” but such contributions do nothing but reveal a profound ignorance regarding the history of comics. Look at Action Comics #1, arguably the single most important comic ever published, wherein Superman fights against corruption and stands up for the little man.

The 1940s were full of titles that were blatantly political where protagonists of all kinds fought against Nazis and proclaimed a pro-war message. Skip forward to the introduction of the X-Men, whose very concept centres around themes of pro-inclusion and anti-discrimination. Green Arrow/Green Lantern tackled racism, corruption and environmental topics constantly. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen are both cynical deconstructions of not just comic books but society as a whole. Kingdom Come contains many messages on how humankind is self-destructive, and how politics and grabs for power assure nothing but mutual destruction. All stories have a message; otherwise they serve no purpose.

Related to the above is a claim that those in comicsgate do not wish their favourite characters replaced by newer heroes (in recent times Thor has been Jane Foster, Wolverine was replaced by his own clone daughter, Steve Rogers was replaced by Sam Wilson and so on). This claim, like previous claims, only evidences their ignorance of how comic book narratives work; for literally decades the roles of various heroes have been chopped and changed on a fairly regular basis, as demonstrated by the examples of: Captain America/U.S. Agent, Alan Scott/Hal Jordan/John Stewart/Guy Gardner/Kyle Rayner, Jay Garrick/Barry Allen/Wally West, Tony Stark/James Rhodes, Bruce Wayne/Jean Paul Valley/Dick Grayson, Dick Grayson/Jason Todd/Tim Drake/Damian Wayne, Barbara Gordon/Cassandra Cain/Stephanie Brown and so on.

False assumptions and a rampant sense of entitlement seem to be the stock-in-trade for much of ComicsGate’s assertions. Phrases such as “we” and “the fans” are loaded terminology that insinuate that it is only their perspective that counts, that only they are the true fans. Perhaps their position is based on a fear that their demographic in terms of the market is shrinking, that they are becoming increasingly irrelevant. It is a natural fear and one that can be understood, but it in no way excuses their behaviour or even their philosophy. No market stays the same, especially over longer periods of time. Tactics and target demographics change as per business plans and conditions dictate; to even suggest that one demographic should remain the focus of an industry is nothing but base narcissism, of the type you find in young children who throw a tantrum when they stop being the centre of attention. Industries, including comic book publishers, have no obligations to any given demographic. They have every right in the world to publish any material they see fit, to appeal to any audience they wish. Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Dark Horse could all decide tomorrow to print exclusively to tiny niche markets and that is entirely their prerogative. Self labelled fans do not control an industry, they merely choose to enjoy that industry’s products for as long as those products bring them a sense of enjoyment. Once again I present the example of Transformers; sometimes the franchise has given us the masterfully crafted War For/Fall of Cybertron games and other times the bizarre Zone series. To demand that an industry caters only to your interests and ideals is, at best, hopelessly naive. If you do not like what is being produced, simply move on as no one is forcing you to purchase anything.

The interactions between ComicsGaters and creators on social media further reveal their sense of entitlement; that they can harass and troll industry professionals but as soon as their opinions and actions are rebuked, then they cry foul. Richard Meyer openly boasted that he trolled a creator for weeks until such time as he was blocked, which he then presented as an apparent victory. This behaviour can only be accurately described as that of a classic internet troll; not the actions looking to have constructive discourse but instead one who wishes to pull down everything that he does not like, anything that he does not believe meets his ideals or suits what he wants to read. It is difficult to argue that this is not a truly selfish path. Creators have no obligation to interact with others online and if they choose to do so, the terms of that interaction are at their discretion just as they are for the rest of us. They do not have to respond to anyone else, they do not have to pander to or even acknowledge any ideas presented, and they certainly have the right to block you. Industry professionals are people, they have emotions and the freedom to act how they wish online.


Moral High Road and Lack Thereof

The elephant in the room is the abuse that the ComicsGate movement have directed towards various people involved in the Comic Book Industry. As detailed by The Daily Beast, the first notable major case of harassment targeted then-Marvel employee Heather Antos who, along with several female colleagues, decided to celebrate the career of comic book pioneer Flo Steinberg. Other female creators and commentators such as Chelsea Cain and Zainab Akhtar have experienced extremely similar abuse, leaving them little choice but to abandon social media.

That brings us again to Richard C. Meyer, who runs the YouTube channel ‘Diversity and Comics’. His videos and linked Twitter account often serve as a rallying point for the ComicsGate movement and his behaviour, in particular, have demonstrated the groups underlying lack of ethics in their approach to the industry. There is no better example of D&Cs immaturity and despicable behaviour than the ‘ dark roast’ video that was leaked to the general public. The video, as detailed by Bleeding Cool, revealed the real thoughts and opinions of D&C; labelling Mark Waid, Dan Slott and Brian Bendis as pedophiles, stating that a number of female comic creators ( such as Devin Grayson) only gained work in exchange for sexual favours, calling Heather Antos (yes, the same harassment target from earlier) as a “c** dumpster”. A considerable number of other creators were the target of similar comments but you have the gist of matters by now. This is the behaviour of one of the leaders of ComicsGate and speaks strongly of their immaturity and reprehensible lack of ethics; it does not matter one iota if the video was meant to be private or as a joke. That any person can not only find such attitudes acceptable, but then take the time and effort to create such content instantly erodes any possible claims to a moral high ground.

To rub proverbial salt into the wound, Meyer apparently became quite reactionary when he found that a number of stores would not be stocking his planned Jawbreakers title. Suddenly the names and phone numbers of the stores (along with those of many of their employees) were listed and they became targets for online harassment, from phone calls to fictional online reviews. Seeing this happen, industry veteran Mark Waid (yes, the same one that is a frequent target of ComicsGate) called the publisher at Antarctic Press to talk the matter over and evidence suggests that AP were already taking steps to cancel the deal. Nonetheless, Meyer and his followers continue to state that AP was intimidated and that Waid’s actions were somehow illegal, despite statements to the contrary from everyone involved. To further compound the ethical and intellectual mire, Waid shortly after deleted his social media presence (which he has done a number of times in the past) and Meyer furthered rumours that Marvel had forced him to do so. The source of this rumour? 4chan. Yes, Meyer regarded 4chan as reliable.

One of the roles I have in this world is being one of the two administrators of the Comic Book Resources Forums, with the primary responsibility of making sure that member interactions remain civil and of a quality befitting the Forums’ long history. The Moderator team discussed the matter of ComicsGate and associated groups, concluding that for the welfare of the community we would bar any discussion of the Diversity & Comics movement, ComicsGate, or any related projects. This follows our general rules which blocks racists, bullying and other anti-social behaviour. As you might imagine, there was blowback from the ComicsGate movement (I know I copped a fair bit of personal abuse) but all of the cries of censorship and unfairness missed the crucial, underlying point: We do not want people who act in an uncivil way or try to champion anti-social causes associated with our Forums. This philosophy is wonderfully summarised via a strip from the webcomic XKCD:

There have been attempts to suggest that conservative professionals have been discriminated against and forced out of the industry, such as ComicsGate supporter Ethan Van Sciver. There is, of course, a long history of calls for comic book brofessionals being called to be fired throughout the decades – Nazi sympathisers hassling Timely Comics (and Jack Kirby’s legendary response) being a notable example. Stan Lee was threatened for the anti-racist messages of X-Men. The response, of course, is obvious; companies have an obligation to defend the image of their brand and if one of their employees (contracted, freelance or whatever) engages in actions that may bring that brand into disrepute then they have every right to no longer engage their services. But in such cases, should the art created be treated as a separate entity than the artist? That’s a much trickier question but societal consensus seems to have concluded that the answer is no; look at the cases of Rolf Harris and Bill Cosby, whose artworks and television shows respectively will most likely never be on public display again.

But why does any of this matter? The old adage “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” springs to mind. ComicsGate (along with similar groups such as Gamergate and the Sad Puppies) represent much of what is wrong with so-called fans; self entitlement, abuse of creators and stars, an utter failure to recognise that there are other fans out there who have just as much right to enjoy products. Over the past few days Star Wars actor Marie Tran and Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown were both forced to leave Twitter due to the abhorrent actions of ‘fandom’. No civil person can possibly defend these actions and if you do, then you are certainly not good for the franchise you supposedly support – you are part of the problem.

H.E.A.T. could be called a precursor of ComicsGate and I call that a fair comparison, I certainly see a lot of the same mistakes being made. You may no longer enjoy a product but the world does not centre around you, no person or company is obligated to cater to your wishes and desires – and the sooner this is recognised, the sooner you can join the adult world.

As for the starting comment regarding Shakespeare, this entire fiasco reminds of one quote from Macbeth (scene 5, if I recall)…

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Further reading:

ComicsGate Explained

No Enemy But Peace: Richard Meyer

The Troll Campaign to Fire Aubrey Sitterson

No, Diversity Didn’t Kill Marvel’s Comic Sales

Trolls Gotta Troll

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And there you go. Thanks to Matt for letting us run this, and I’ll be back next week with something cool.

18 Comments

  1. Mark Hopper

    Been out of the loop on comics news and hadn’t heard about ComicsGate. That strikes me as kind of a good thing, that it’s fairly low-level if someone who is basically comics-world adjacent like myself never heard of it. Still, this type of hyperbolic fan response is always dismaying. Creators are sometimes well paid but usually are not – if they were only in it for the money they’d be bankers or something. I think there has to be some respect on the part of fans when a creator’s vision diverges from theirs. And if you can’t abide by those changes then you can always vote with your wallet and just not read it.

    I’ve been upset with the actions of a comic company before – when Acclaim rebooted the Valiant universe in the 90s I thought it was a travesty. Though truth be told it did produce some decent comics. But at the time it felt like a cynical betrayal by corporate suits. When the rebooted universe flatlined fairly quickly I felt a sort of perverse satisfaction in it. But being upset to the point of harassing creators and other fans? That I will never get.

    Maybe I’ve never really cared enough beyond that one incident to be so upset with creators and/or companies(never blamed the creators). But then I’ve never been a big fandom person. I dip my toe in a lot of fandoms but there’s no one fandom that’s the ne plus ultra for me, that I just get completely submerged in it. Part of that is the fans themselves. I quickly realized when I was a kid that there is no true baseline to what some comic or intellectual property should be. At their best they’re a springboard for your OWN imagination. It felt too narrow to me to be constrained to just some “official” canon.

    That’s why I’m partially mystified by the whole Star Wars fandom brouhaha of the moment. It seems largely contained to people who followed the EU, which I sampled but never found worth following. To me they weren’t canon, there is no real canon when George Lucas was quite willing to alter the original films as he saw fit. I never had a problem with him doing that either. When I played Star Wars as a kid I changed the story as I saw fit. And when I grew older I left behind the idea of living mentally in other people’s stories and I try to use my imagination for my own ideas.

    After all, if George Lucas had done as Star Wars fans do, we wouldn’t have Star Wars. He could have spent his energy rebooting Flash Gordon, and what a waste that would have been.

  2. “Phrases such as “we” and “the fans” are loaded terminology that insinuate that it is only their perspective that counts, that only they are the true fans. Perhaps their position is based on a fear that their demographic in terms of the market is shrinking, that they are becoming increasingly irrelevant. ”
    I don’t know it even needs that much explanation. “I am the only one who truly understands X/the only true fan” seems to be a common enough feeling.
    Rolf Harris? Well, shit. Grew up watching him in England, had no idea about the assault convictions.
    As noted in the post, the idea of 1990s fans grumbling about legacy characters as if they were a new idea is silly.
    I hated Marz’ writing on GL (and most other stuff I’ve seen by him). I was quite surprised when Kyle appeared in other series (JLA, for instance) and I found the character worked fine.
    Like Mark, I never heard of Comicsgate until now.
    A very good analysis of how much the medium and the competition for our time has changed since the 1990s. Heck, much as I enjoy the Silver Age, I’d hardly argue the bigger sales numbers back then proved anything about quality.

  3. M-Wolverine

    “If you’re yelled at, boycotted, have your show cancelled….”

    Isn’t this just the kind of action you’re criticizing people for doing to creators? The issue isn’t shunning extremists, but that it seems those consequences seem to be a one way street. You’ll never get rid of the extremists, but judging everybody by the extremes is a false equivalency. You’re doing yourself a disservice to compare mainstream HEAT with something like Comicgate. And if you want fans to have no say but their dollars, that’s not going to go well for creators. Because if you can’t get the pulse of the customer it’s too late by the time the customer has left. Books, tv shows, movies gear cancelled, then people get fired. That’s definitely one way to do it, but it’s not the corporation that’s going to take it, it’s the creator who will be shown the door.

    Everyone seems to have a sense of entitlement now and the need to be aggrieved, fans and creators alike. Fans who think their every feeling should be catered to, creators who think they’re doing art that people should pay for then shut up. But no one is doing it or giving it for free. Which is why that opening Twitter exchange is painful top to bottom. The end is supposed to be some aha moment, but it’s as mindless as the rest of the thread. Sure they could o better things with $200 mil. You know who could too? Disney. They’re not advancing humanity with art, they’re paying stockholders. But people can do with their money what they want.

    Social media does nothing but reveal how awful people are. It lets people you never wanted to hear from have a voice and ability to leave their own social circles, and let them have “personal” contact that was never meant to be. And it’s helped reveal creators to just be people too who aren’t some imaginary bullpen or movir star, but are usually pretty awful in their own right. Make your comic, book, tv show, movie…no one cares what you think. And if you’re actively trolling your customers to fan the flames, you’re no better than the weirdos you’re decrying.

    People need to go back to thinking what they say shouldn’t be different if you were going to say it to their face.

    1. Matt_of_Geek

      “You’re doing yourself a disservice to compare mainstream HEAT with something like Comicgate”

      I think the comparison is valid (which is one of the reasons I made it).

      HEAT was formed because the fans of Hal Jordan felt aggrieved by the direction the Green Lantern title went. Comicsgate was formed because they feel hurt by the way they (falsely) perceive comic book storylines are going.

      HEAT, I would argue, was the superior movement simply because (if nothing else) they carried out charity work. Off the top of my head, HEAT paid for John Broome’s last and only convention appearance and ended up donation in excess of 7200 comics to childrens hospital wards (I remember mailing a bunch off to the drive myself).

      Both movements share that same flawed foundation, however, which is that of fan entitlement. HEAT had every right to not like the Kyle era GL title or how Hal Jordan was suddenly written … but so what? Hal and Kyle are both fictional characters and their past stories are not going anywhere. It’s that grossly overblown sense of entitlement that is the root cause of toxic fandom.

      1. M-Wolverine

        I’m sure there were extremists (though how pervasive the Internet was then vs. a letter page writing campaign), but not letting go of some abhorrently shallow and manipulative creative choices and attacking a bunch of women just because they’re women aren’t the same thing.

        Fan entitlement is part of being a fan, and fans are what allow people to make a living writing. One fan doesn’t mean squat, but if you’ve got large numbers of them objecting you’ve got a problem. Because if you’ve got a bunch of people who can just “let go” then you’re not going to have anyone to sell to. No one says if someone complains about getting raw meat at a restaurant they’re entitled. Is Yelp entitlement? If you don’t keep your fans happy and ignore or write off their wishes you end up with Solo. And investors get jumpy.

        The key is to not entirely live up to their name and don’t cross the line from fan to fanatic. Which seems to be happening in all walks of life right now.

        1. This strikes me as yet another iteration of the “Well, of course they’re overdoing it, but they REALLY REALLY CARE!” argument, which is horseshit and it always has been. We’re talking about harassment, stalking, doxxing, all things that are WAY beyond a letter-writing campaign. This is not fan behavior. This is asshole behavior. It’s narcissist behavior. It’s bullying behavior. No one, not Matt and not me, is suggesting that these people are somehow representative of fandom. My point, and I think Matt’s with me on this, is that they are NOT part of the community of fandom. We legitimize their acting out when we suggest that they are. The difference between HEAT and the freaks who hounded Kelly Marie Tran off the internet is largely one of degree. Ask Ron Marz what he had to put up with back in the day. No, it’s not ALL of them, but it’s a LOT of them, and they need to be called out on it.

          I keep hearing Solo brought up as an example, here and elsewhere, of fans punishing a studio for not bending to their will. How does that figure into the discussion at all? Have any of THOSE actors been hounded off the internet? Are demented campaigns being launched to remake it because it taints the legacy of Harrison Ford? As far as I can tell, the only punishment leveled against it is that not as many Star Wars fans bought tickets to see it in the theater.

          Which is, y’know, the way these things are supposed to work. Wallet votes are the ones that count with publishers and studios (and not necessarily with creators.) The idea that creators are somehow failing if they aren’t catering to fans is –well, that’s an argument I’m not going to get into, there’s a whole art vs. commerce thing that’s its own subject and it has not very much to do with THIS one, which is fans being jerks. Matt already spent a great deal of time pointing out that box office and sales are not any way to judge quality… just popularity. I don’t think Solo‘s great crime of only earning millions as opposed to megamillions is enough to rank it as ‘unpopular,’ anyway.

          1. M-Wolverine

            No, but there’s a difference between the large number of people saying something like “you’ve fucked up the character of Luke Skywalker (and others) that you CAN’T actually just enjoy the original movies anymore…and oh, BTW, the script to The Last Jedi has so many holes in it you’d have to wonder if anyone ever proofread it” vs. contacting some actor who had nothing to do with any of it and saying vile things to them. You, this article,and too often the creators, like to purposefully lump them all together in order to discredit actual legitimate criticism. Like lumping HEAT that had a point with minimal personal attacks in a barely used Internet vs. attacks that have no basis in anything but hate.

            Much like the oft repeated “oh Solo only made tens of millions rather than hundreds of millions” when any real analysis has it losing money, and a lot. At near historic levels. And yeah, at that point people start losing their jobs. Because there really is no argument; the minute you put a price tag on something it’s no longer art and patrons, it’s business and consumers. We now live in a world where you don’t need big market research to get the pulse of your customers. It’s out there. Maybe listen when someone says they don’t actually want what you’re trying to sell. And certainly don’t insult large portions of your customers by dismissing them by falsely lumping them into a large basket of extremists. Because they’ll just walk away and you won’t get to do much more”art” because no one will want to pay for it.

            You see toxic fandom; I see a toxic society in all levels of discourse from everyone.

      2. Luis Dantas

        Matt of Geek:

        “Both movements share that same flawed foundation, however, which is that of fan entitlement. HEAT had every right to not like the Kyle era GL title or how Hal Jordan was suddenly written … but so what? Hal and Kyle are both fictional characters and their past stories are not going anywhere. It’s that grossly overblown sense of entitlement that is the root cause of toxic fandom.”

        I can’t very well agree, Matt.

        It is true that a certain point H.E.A.T. sort of lost its way. It is at least as true that DC egged it that way with its flippancy and disregard for its own creative property.

        H.E.A.T., at least from what I remember of that time, was originally a protest against what amounts to passive aggression and bullying from DC. From the very beginning, Kyle Rayner was built to be a disrespectful character built on the figurative bones of Hal’s character.

        In essence, DC threw Hal’s fans under the bus out of a momentary, circunstantial (and, it must be said, very awfully managed) financial convenience. It was not really possible for a Hal or Guardians fan to have respect for Kyle Rayner as written, and the failure of DC editorial to realize or respect that was a deal breaker.

        Whatever ComicsGate may be, it seems to be very different and, yes, a bit out of contact with reality.

        1. M-Wolverine

          It does seem like a chicken and the egg situation. Are fans awful, so creators show them disdain, or do creators have disdain for fans, and it shows in some works, and that eggs on fans to be awful back? It’s probably a bit of both in a social media world, but the electronic age has let people more easily be awful to each other. Fans have direct contact instantly to creators that somehow a mean letter that actually took time to put pen to paper and mail off before you thought better of it (or at least thought about it enough to word it at all) that gets there in a week couldn’t convey, even if it conveyed things better overall. And now creators actually see criticism and respond, sometimes being nastier than the stuff they’re receiving, and people learn they shouldn’t idolize those than consider you the unwashed masses that have clay feet themselves.

          1. Luis Dantas

            That may be typical of the last few decades. I won’t dispute that.

            The situation of the first few years of Kyle Rayner stories was quite atypical, though. It was deliberate and uncalled provocation from DC.

  4. Matt_of_Geek

    M-Wolv: I think you may be missing the point I’m trying to make.
    HEAT was, by and large, a civil group. Goodness knows, I was on their discussion email list and was involved with it. Also, they chose the wiser path of engaging in charity efforts to spread their message.

    Comicsgate choose to act like assholes. Doxxing people, engaging in sexist and dishonest behaviour. The hypocrisy of claiming to not want politics in comics yet affiliated websites (look at ‘bounding into comics’) appear to squarely in the Pro-Trump camp.

    The common fault with both groups is their foundation; the belief that fans should be in control of what gets published. Sure, we all get to vote with our wallets (as it should be) but by what right does any fan have to dictate what does or does not get published? There are titles out there that I hold as being utterly worthless (ever tried reading ‘Tarot’? Ugh) but I’m not going to contact the creators, start campaigns against the publisher or anything else. I simply won’t buy it, it’s a title that is not for me.

    They’re making the exact same mistake I did back in the 90s. I hated what happened to Hal Jordan and I acted like an ass. If I had a more mature and reasoned outlook then, I’d have simply moved on and read something else. If these CG folks don’t like what is being published then they should do just that – move on and find something they do like.
    But no, they’re much keener on abusing creators for drinking milkshakes, creating falsehoods about Mark Waid and many others.

    And this conversation reminds me, I’ve just seen that Ron Marz is on Twitter. I’m going to apologise to that man.

  5. Jeff Nettleton

    The irony of this topic, in light of Harlan Ellison’s passing, struck me as I read. In the 90s, a group came together, called Enemies of Ellison, with its purpose to basically troll and denigrate Ellison over some grudge. It didn’t take long to uncover that the group was basically backed by Gary Groth, who had a longstanding grief with Ellison, over the Michael Fleischer lawsuit and it also didn’t take long for high profile creators, like Peter David to give them counter-grief and for the high school mentality to basically fall on its ass. This played out over the Comic Buyer’s Guide and Comics Journal, which were mortal enemies, and a few other spots. Ellison was often the target of harassers and trolls, to their eternal regret. The man could out psycho any butt-hurt fan or troll. This is a man who mailed a dead gopher, second class post, to make a point!

    Ellison wrote a piece, which the Comic Buyer’s Guide re-ran, circa 1991/92, called Xenogenesis, which detailed trolling and obsessive behavior from sci-fi fans, from the pre-internet era. This meant trolling via the US Mail and at conventions, as well as harassment at someone’s home. The breed is the same, even if the older generation actually had to face more immediate consequences for their behavior, as they didn’t have the anonymity of screen names.

  6. Edo Bosnar

    Others have responded to the main points better, but I just can’t let this one go: “…the script to The Last Jedi has so many holes in it you’d have to wonder if anyone ever proofread it…”
    I’ve seen all but the most recent Solo movie, so I have to ask, when has there ever been a script for a Star Wars movie that isn’t riddled with holes of some type or another? The silliness of the basic stories in the first three movies has been the subject of geek discussion and debate (a la that scene in Clerks) since the mid-1980s. The prequels are in a class all their own in that regard.

    1. M-Wolverine

      Eh, it’s the difference between in world holes and general holes. Glasses disguising Clark Kent is stupid, but it’s part of the world, so we accept it. But when Superman starts showing finger lasers or sandwich wrap S shield powers, like Superman 2, we go wait, what? This isn’t the place to go into a long list of the logic and physics defying concepts that contradicted what had been established. That’s true in any fictional universe, be it Star Wars, Star Trek, comic book universe – they don’t have to have logic consistent to ours, but it has to be internally consistent.

  7. Personally, I very much liked SOLO. I rank it between A NEW HOPE and RETURN OF THE JEDI, a little below EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and ROGUE ONE in quality. I think its commercial failure had zero to do with its content, quality, storyline, or merit as a film, and everything to do with its ad campaign and the fact that it was released too soon after LAST JEDI. Had they waited another couple of months, it might have done a lot better. As it is, I feel pretty sure that SOLO will move into the black once it hits home video. People who for a variety of reasons (a crowded field, with INFINITY WAR sucking all the air out of the room, for one) didn’t bother to see it in the theater will find it a quite enjoyable “old school” Star Wars adventure.

    I think it’s a real mistake, possibly even disingenuous, to cite SOLO as evidence of any of the imaginary grievances people have with the Star Wars franchise, the actors, or Kathleen Kennedy.

    1. M-Wolverine

      I actually pretty much liked Solo too, though the lead was a bit weak. As people expected. Though it was definitely middle of the pack for me. But they certainly didn’t listen to fans who looked cross-eyed at the idea of a Han Solo movie from the very beginning when it was throw out there, and of all the movie ideas that were suggested (and done or pushed to the side) it was the one that people thought was unnecessary, and kind of their Guardians of the Galaxy in that if they can make that work the had a juggernaut on their hands like Marvel. But they didn’t stick the landing.

      I think it’s disingenuous to say releasing it so close to Last Jedi had anything to do with it when Marvel had 3 movies come out in 5 months and be big successes with two of them making over a billion dollars. If you’re making movies that are building excitement with each one, of high quality, and you’ve got some sort of plan, you can be increasing successful (rather than Lucasfilm’s no plan for all the movies, and replacing directors on over 50% of your films). Instead you make a movie that divides your fan base and follow it up with a movie that no one was really asking for (that has a lead no one was excited by and production problems that killed any chance of the movie making money) because you don’t really have a plan for your IP. And worse for Disney, tanking your toy and dvd sales, which wasn’t going to save this one anyway, because it wasn’t making $200 million in home viewing and toys sitting on shelves, which is around what it would probably have to do to break even.

      It’s amazing you can take something that was basically printing money and have it at a point where they’re re-evaluating production. Sometimes having the creators do whatever they want for art isn’t really good business.

      1. Marvel established at the outset that every film was its own thing, that an Iron Man movie was going to be practically a different genre from a Captain America; one is a techno-thriller, another a political spy movie, a grand shakespearean melodrama, a heist film, etc. There are similarities, but the differences in tone and theme are obvious. By contrast, a Star Wars movie is a Star Wars movie. You know exactly what you’re going to get, and they haven’t even attempted to vary that a whole lot, with the possible and partial exception of Rogue One. It’s a lot easier to get “Star Wars fatigue” because it’s such a distinct brand. It would be like releasing two James Bond movies a couple of months apart, where Marvel would be like releasing a James Bond and a Mission: Impossible. Same genre, lots of overlap, but enough differences to make it worthwhile.

  8. I find it comic-tragic that so many ComicsGators are 90s kids. As someone who entered comics fandom in the 90s a large chunk of my fan experience could be boiled down to dealing with older fans being like “Cassandra Cain isn’t the real Batgirl! Things were better pre-Crisis.” Or accusations that all of these new creators were somehow killing the comics industry (because I guess dunking on Rob Liefeld is easier than explaining the Diamond/Heroes World/Capitol City situation or the collapse of the Speculator Market.)

    Truly we have a generation of comics readers out there that learned nothing from the mistakes from fans behaving badly in the past.

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