(From Fans! Click on the thumbnail for full sized Action Hero Move!)
When T "T" Campbell and Jason Waltrip returned to the world of Fans after several years away, I was excited but -- I'll admit -- cautious. The end of the original run of Fans was such a complete... well, ending that it seemed perhaps ill-advised to try and recapture the magic. As much as I loved the original run, I had to wonder three things:
- Where could a story like this go?
- Could the Fans-based magic of flaws and consequences making our heroes endure Hell they couldn't entirely blame on outside forces persist?
- Did Campbell and Waltrip continue to understand not just how science fiction and fantasy have changed but how fandom has changed, and push their comic into a similar evolution as a result?
I think it's safe to say I'm not wondering any more.
The first two questions are somewhat nebulous to answer, and they're really not the point of the essay you're reading right now. Suffice it to say, they hit upon the magic formula: having had the Science Fiction Club break up and key components join the government instead of fighting it, the conditions of the new series are different enough to allow for something new instead of just rehashes of the old -- and both the old and new heroes of our story continue to have flaws and issues that lead to mistakes and consequences, both from the old days and wholly new ones. And that is awesome.
But it's the third point I want to discuss in depth, especially since the current installment (as of this writing) touches on it conveniently.
In our world -- the mundane world outside our window -- the popular view of geeks, nerds, fans and fandom have changed. Geekdom has gone mainstream in a big way -- to the point where a television show like Chuck lets the main character have geek qualities, Star Trek, Iron Man and Transformers make unimaginable amounts of money at the box office, the biggest movie not only of the year but the third biggest grossing movie of all time is a 3-d computer animated film featuring hot blue alien chicks and allegory (seriously -- Avatar has grossed over a billion dollars worldwide in under three weeks), and lead characters can reasonably be expected to talk up comic book minutia and still come across as 'everyman' figures. Thanks to the iPhone and Android, our cell phones have pushed beyond flip-open Star Trek communicators headlong into Star Trek tricorders. We live in the world of Mythbusters as cultural figures and Olivia Munn as Playboy Cover Model, and when a big SF, comic book or fantasy adaptation hits the big screen, the Hollywood A-Listers behind it automatically say "hey, I've been a huge fan of [Geek Cultural Touchstone] my whole life. When this opportunity came along, I grabbed it."
How much more would all this be true in a world where magic and aliens weren't only real but were widely and publicly known? Where the Fans-verse version of the High-School-Popularity dramady Peggy and Aggie involves a hot chick concealing herself in zero prescription glasses and a fake Librarian look to be cool?
(Yeah, let's reduce an alternate Penny Levac to 'hot chick.' This is a good plan.)
Fans has nailed this new zeitgeist, while still reflecting our own world's evolution, with the 'new breed' of Fan they've introduced, and Action Reggie Mantle from today's strip (okay, his name is Marc, but still. He's totally Action Reggie Mantle) is the best of breed.
Action Reggie Mantle is a gamer. In fact, he's one of the top gamers on the pro circuit -- a G4ish breed of attitude and skill, camera friendly and yet the kind of guy you want to wipe the smug expression off of. Which makes his inevitable victory all the sweeter for him -- he knows you want to take him down. You just can't.
And now here he is, trying to be a hero outside of virtuality and XBox Live. Yearning for that sense of accomplishment. Yearning to prove to all the people who dismiss him as an overgrown kid playing games that he's real. He's for real. And along the way he wants to indulge himself. Indulge himself with hero worship, with women, with whatever he wants.
Action Reggie Mantle isn't a classic geek -- he's too close to the kind of hero geeks traditionally fantasized about being. He's Chris Hardwick with a blaster and skills, funny and quick and sarcastic but always a crowd pleaser. He has every reason in the world for his brash overconfidence, because he really is that good. And if that overconfidence was born of self esteem issues or a yearning for legitimacy... well, that fits geekiness as well.
It's nice that several of the other Fans -- including team leader (and old school leader) Rikk -- are cowed by this new breed of Fan. Sure, Rikk may have saved the world a bunch of times and may be the charismatic and inspirational leader the others all follow, but this new guy sure is confident, and did you see what he did to that statue? Man... I wish I could do that....
There will be consequences. There are always consequences in Fans, but I am comfortable that Campbell and Waltrip understand how to present a Fans for this new decade.
As a side note, I have to wonder if one of the threats Team Alpha's forced to confront will be old guard Fandom -- that breed of fan who loses interest in fantasy or science fiction but loves the Fandom Subculture, conventions and the like. Between those guys and the sort of geek who resents when something they love is embraced by the mainstream, it seems to me there would be a solid Team Omega out there, just ready to inform the world that these stuff isn't for them....
But, as always, I digress.