Welcome to the Church of DC’s FanDome

Image of DC FanDome Logo

On August 22 and September 12 we experienced the majesty of DC FanDome, an event billed as a ‘first-of-its-kind virtual experience for DC superfans’. Sorry, no regular fans allowed! This is for the true believers. This is all about the power of the fan, or is it just a way to invoke a false sense of ownership by stoking our personal identification with comics while real ownership rests squarely and solely in the hands of giant multinational cooperation? You be the judge!

Originally planned as a 24-hour event, DC FanDome was instead spread out over two days. The “Hall of Heroes” ran as scheduled on August 22 with “Explore the Multiverse” moving to September 12. FanDome happened under the auspices of DC having laid off one-third of its editorial staff. Jim Lee’s now-infamous interview with The Hollywood Reporter shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Oh, you mean DC Comics views its future largely as a device for creating franchise opportunities and iterating on current intellectual property? This isn’t new; Lee simply said the quiet part out loud.

Comics are only valuable to WarnerMedia so long as they can be used to spin up the ol’ intellectual property machine. DC’s business model cares about three things: character, continuity, and collection. Some folks out there may still believe that the films bring in new audiences to comics but the data doesn’t back that up. The trickle-down-effect hasn’t resulted in increased sales or interest in comics or at your LCS. The purpose of transmedia merchandising isn’t about targeting new audiences so much as it is about presenting a ubiquitous cultural moment that you must be a part of. It’s Shock and Awe for brand identity and awareness made most evident in the run-up to DC FanDome.

Look no further than DC’s release of special Twitter emojis. The news of the emojis was announced via the official DC Twitter but was covered by some press outlets as if it were an actual story and not some press release pasted into a WordPress backend for the sake of capturing that clutch SEO in the run-up to an event.

Celebrities and influencers associated with DC posted personal videos announcing how excited they were to see us at FanDome. Yes, you! A humble fan.

Think of the way the above video is presented to the intended audience of DC fans. It rests somewhere between highly produced yet candid. It’s meant to both deliver a sense of authority as well as convey openness and authenticity. The celebrity is both within reach, yet untouchable. The feigned embarrassment of capturing thoughts on video is meant to further reassure the fan that what they will experience at FanDome is 100% real and explicitly for them.

Hall of Heroic Merchandising Opportunities

According to DC’s blog, Jim Lee personally designed the eight hours of programming for the August 22 Hall of Heroes event. He also discussed designing the Hall of Heroes on the first day of FanDome and took us through his process. It was a demonstration of how much Lee cares about you, the fan.

The purpose of this is to tell fans the content of DC FanDome has been curated at the highest levels, not by some marketing department lackey. That’s how important you are. This also allows fans to believe what they are viewing is prestigious and exclusive. DC needs fans to buy into the exclusivity premise in order to maintain its role of being the entity providing access.

DC employed ‘anonymous’ Twitter accounts to post obscured bits of information about FanDome. The Tweet included below originally contained redacted information. The idea was to provoke the fan into action and create new lanes by which legitimate and illegitimate fans may operate.

By providing an illusion of exclusivity the fan becomes further invested in DC. With FanDome, it feels like DC has finally found its answer to D23, an invite-only event where Disney promotes its vast collection of media properties. The fan must be converted into an evangelist not only for a single comic but for the franchise and brand itself.

“The goal of these studios’ transmedia universes, at least as they relate to their audience, is to ensure that “everyone who invests time and effort will come away with a richer entertainment experience” than those who invest less but can still enjoy the universe on a simpler level.”

By owning the how, when, and why of information distribution to fans, corporations seek to exert further control over media narratives. Events like DC FanDome remove the ability of press and fans to even have the chance of holding creators or companies accountable. What access looks like and what form it takes is now at the sole discretion of DC. That doesn’t bode well for transparency.

Events like DC FanDome end up controlling the opportunities by which press and fans must engage in order to gain and maintain access. DC may view these two groups as interchangeable, and many times enthusiast press acts as both fan and journalist. It’s an uncomfortable tension worthy of discussion another day. These corporate sanctioned channels drown out all others. If you are a true fan, this is how you must engage. DC FanDome communicated, through its visual style, presentation, and media campaign the proper ways to be a fan. This was perhaps nowhere more evident than in DC FanDome’s SnyderCut panel.

The Snyder Cut

The legend of filmmaker Zack Snyder’s 2017 film Justice League now seems larger than the film ever was. For three years fans demanded the release of the Snyder Cut. The demands frequently took the form of harassment and borrowed tactics from other established online harassment campaigns. At DC FanDome, the SnyderCut received an hour-long panel and presented us with a panoply of disturbing material.

That Zack Snyder is provided this opportunity at all feels like such a critical failure. Would this campaign have existed if a director of another gender had been at the helm? Snyder, like Joss Whedon, posit themselves as true auteurs. As real fans themselves they are able to decipher the true meaning of comics and the language these creative works employ.

Researcher Suzanne Scott focuses her work on fan and media studies. In her piece “Dawn of the Undead Author,” Scott notes how much time Snyder has spent equating his directorial vision with the creative work he adapts. He proves faithfulness to the source material by demonstrating how he directly translates a page from comic to the screen. The intention is to provide fans with further proof of his authority. Snyder, however, has also benefited from the media’s characterization of comics being too difficult to understand and translate. This positive press coverage has also helped shape Snyder’s persona. During the panel, Snyder served as both a mediator between the fan, property, and brand but also as an owner.

That DC has agreed to call it the Snyder Cut, as opposed to a director’s cut, distances Snyder from the role of mere director. He exists as something more than. During the panel, Snyder interviewed celebrities and fans about the Snyder Cut campaign, serving as both subject and interviewer. How meta. DC quite literally enabled the director’s cut to live in a space unto itself. How does this serve the broader franchise goals of DC? Simple. Snyder is merely another character in the DC line to maintain and promote. It can only advantage them to align themselves with the Snyder version of Justice League.

There are a few other reasons why DC may have wanted to align itself with the Snyder Cut. First, it feels like an attempt to absolve DC of the critical and commercial failure of Justice League. Then it seeks to erase the brand from the other director associated with the movie. Joss Whedon and his well-documented, lengthy past of toxic and abusive behaviors aren’t likely something DC wishes to ally with. Through its promotion of the Snyder version of the film, however, it provides an exalted status to one set of fannish practices over another.

Not only did the Snyder Cut panel make room for certain elements of toxic fandom to breathe, it established those elements as the legitimate and official forms of fandom. This is, as Scott points out in her work, one of the primary results of establishing fanboy auteurs as authentic translators of a text. When DC chose to give space to the fannish practices around the Snyder Cut they, either intentionally or not, activated ingroup and outgroup biases.

By co-opting the language of progressive organizing, by calling the campaign a movement reifies the entire campaign as something altruistic as opposed to what it was. Fans upset that a property they loved didn’t get the attention, respect and adulation they felt it deserved. DC stoked the fires of toxic fandom and that’s never going to sit well with me.

I can’t help but think of the people who were adversely impacted by the harassment campaign. There’s no mention of them at all. There was no acknowledgment, not even a bad joke thrown in about the ‘passion of fans’ to examine. It’s simply as if the harassment didn’t exist. But it did and it does.

It did happen and people had their lives turned upside down. A direct textual translation of a film does not make it more or less real, does not provide more or less authority, does not give fans more or less ownership. You wouldn’t know that watching the Snyder panel. Instead, it defines devotion, in however harmful a form it may take, as official and legitimate so long as it is in line with whatever the prevailing narrative works for TimeWarner and DC.

Works Cited

  1. Perren, Alisa and Laura E. Felschow. “The bigger picture” in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom ed. Melissa A. Click and Suzanne Scott. Abingdon: Routledge. (2017).
  2. Buoye, Alexander, Arne De Keyser, Zeyang Gong, and Natalie Lao. “Intellectual property extensions in entertainment services: Marvel and DC comics.” Journal of Services Marketing 34.2 (2020).
  3. Hazin, Jonathan, “The marvel media method: negotiations in transmedia franchise structure and fan participation” (2020). Senior Capstone Projects. 969. https://digitalwindow.vassar.edu/senior_capstone/969.
  4. Scott, Suzanne. Dawn of the Undead Author. (2013) 10.1002/9781118505526.ch23.
  5. ibid.
  6. Brundige, Alex, “The Rise of Marvel and DC’s Transmedia Superheroes: Comic Book Adaptations, Fanboy Auteurs, and Guiding Fan Reception” (2015). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 3104. https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/3104
  7. Obsession_inc. “Affirmational fandom vs. Transformational fandom.” (2009, June 1). Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://obsession-inc.dreamwidth.org/82589.html
  8. Scott, Suzanne.
  9. Kohnen, Melanie E. S., “Fannish affect, “quality” fandom, and transmedia storytelling campaigns”, in The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom ed. Melissa A. Click and Suzanne Scott (Abingdon: Routledge, 01 Nov 2017 ), accessed 25 Aug 2020, Routledge Handbooks Online.
Andrea Ayres

Andrea Ayres

Andrea writes about comics and popular culture. She loves research into comics as art, visual rhetoric, and fandom.

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