The last week has seen a lot of mudslinging online involving the ill-received Captain America #22 by Rick Remender and John Romita, Jr. Fans and creators have been vocal in their opinions, many unbelievably (but not) receiving threats over their positions, and it got ugly very quickly. One voice that has been noticeably quiet throughout? Retailers. In this war of words, local comic shops are Switzerland. The comic shop is the one place where fans have the loudest voices without needing to speak, and that is with their money. We reached out to Challengers Comics + Conversation co-owner Patrick Brower to hear his unique perspective on the situation. Having been a fan longer than a store owner, Pat has seen the dynamic between fans and creators shift over the last 20 years and gives his perspective on how this has changed for better or worse.
Have any customers given you feedback personally regarding Rick Remender’s current Captain America run?
It’s been just over a week since Captain America #22 hit the racks and I can honestly say that I have heard no complaints from Challengers’ customer base on that particular issue, but as for the series as a whole, well our numbers are way down from where they started 22 issues ago, so I would certainly call that “feedback.”
You are kind of a big Cap fan (understatement). Are you reading the book currently? If so, what are your own thoughts on the current storyline?
Ha ha, yes, I AM a big Captain America fan, and yes I am reading the current series. I admit to being a bit taken aback when the series started, not really sure about the Dimension Z storyline. Not only has Cap been frozen on ice, but Mark Waid had him live decades in the 31st century and now Dimension Z. Clearly he has more than made up for his lost time. I admit I have a clear, specific idea in my head of what Captain America stories should be, and while this current run is the exact opposite of that, this series has made me flash back to 1976 when Jack Kirby was writing and drawing Captain America… and it was completely crazy and way over my 8-year old head. And I loved it. I didn’t understand it but I was crazy for it and that is probably what made me the Cap fan I am. And I can tell that Rick Remender loved that stuff too, and is trying to do his version of it.
Former Cap writer Mark Gruenwald once said the 3 ways to shake up a book are to kill someone, change a costume, or de-power the hero. All of those things have happened to all long-running comic series, multiple times. This is no different. Cap has lost his powers! Cap will get them back. Someone else will be the new Cap! Steve Rogers will be Cap again. And his costume will change, and change again. But the stories are in the telling of those changes; not just the end result. As for this mystery person from Dimension Z running around New York? It has to be Ian, Steve’s “son.”If it’s NOT Ian, there’s no emotional weight to it. And I also think he’ll be the new Captain America.
Now, as far as Sam Wilson sleeping with Jet Black (by the way, you can’t make a MORE Jack Kirby character than Jet Black, in name, design and attitude), I was NOT a fan. Not because of her age, because I read the book and know her age, but because MY Falcon wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t sleep with her because of her relationship with Steve. And he certainly wouldn’t do it because he got drunk. There are plenty of flawed comic book characters, make no mistake about that. But I don’t read Captain America for that.
A lot of fans were upset after reading this recent issue for many reasons, among them the misconception that statutory rape had occurred. In your experience as a retailer, what other storylines have inspired comparable backlash?
A few years ago in Amazing Spider-Man, the Chameleon had taken over Peter Parker’s life. Not Spider-Man’s, but Peter Parker’s. During that story in Amazing Spider-Man #603, “Peter” slept with his roommate Michele Gonzales. There was outcry. Two issues later we find out they only “made out” and did not actually have sex. Either way, people were freaking out.
And with the recent Superior Spider-Man run*, fans, myself included, were very nervous about how the Doctor-Octopus-Inhabited-Spider-Man would handle Mary Jane, but Marvel, specifically Dan Slott, did an excellent job of making us worry about the situation without anything creepy ever happening. *(For further reading, we recommend reading Jamie’s recent wonderfully detailed retrospective of Superior Spider-Man.)
Fans and creators have more opportunities to communicate than ever before; obviously this incident is an example of how this is a double edged sword. Having seen the development of this new status quo, how do you think that has changed the dynamic between fans and creators?
Fans, now more than ever, feel like a part of the process. Social media lets people “know’”other people without ever really meeting them. Perceived relationships are commonplace and many fans consider creators personal friends. As such there may even be proprietary feelings to the creator’s work. And the creators that are active on social media now find themselves talking directly to more fans than ever before, which is great for getting people into your work but not great when the fans are rude or disrespectful … or when the creator has deadlines. An active social media presence takes time and energy.
Do you think the immediacy with which fans have the ability to discuss comics has made discourse more volatile?
It shouldn’t. But it probably does. Outrage resonates more than praise. 1,000 fans saying they love a book is overshadowed by one vocal fan shouting “sexism” or “racism” or any other buzz word-ism. That’s not to say the vocal fan is crying wolf; I mean if someone feels persecuted, no matter the creator’s intent, you can’t disregard their feelings. But it’s no longer a case of a lone editor responding to a concerned fan’s mail three months later in a letter column; these things hit before most of us have even read the issue in question. And then EVERYBODY has to add their 2¢. That’s where the volatility comes in, I think, from the uninvolved, outraged masses … those that respond without first-hand knowledge of the event.
This is not the first, and sadly probably won’t be the last time fans and creators come to blows over depictions of these beloved characters. How do you think retailers can affect positive change in these discussions?
Retailers are the front lines. We hear fan reaction first and it’s our job to diffuse the situation rather than throw gasoline on it. Most fans pick their comic shop by the folks that run it more than any other reason. Many fans don’t have friends that they can talk to about their comics passion, so they share it with their shop owners. That is literally half of a retailer’s job. So hopefully a retailer can help by: A) Letting fans vent it out of their system in the shops rather than on the net, or B) Outright telling the fan it’s a bad idea to take it to the internet. Less and less of today’s comic shop owners fall into the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy stereotype, so hopefully there are more retailers out there that do not contribute to internet negativity. I know too many retailers who would rather publicly badmouth a creator because it makes them look tough or edgy, and that behavior should not be emulated.