How to Piss Off a Fan

Mike MacLeanX3p_003_2

I zombie-walked through Wal-Mart Friday afternoon, pushing a baby carriage and looking for a deal on formula.  No, I’m not proud of it.  I know Wal-Mart is the evil empire.  But when you have a little one and your wife is going back to school, you’ve got to save a few bucks.  That’s right, I sold my soul for low, low everyday prices. 

Little Chloe started crying, prompting my wife to give me a worried look.  "Don’t worry," I told her.  "This is Wal-Mart.  If you can’t bring a crying baby here, where can you bring one?  In fact, the other customers look at you funny if you DON’T have a crying baby."

But I digress.

Among all the cheap crap I don’t need, I spotted a movie on the DVD rack.  Not just any movie, but a movie that haunts my dreams.  A movie that answers the question, "How can I piss off a fan?"

X-Men: The Last Stand.

If you’ve read my posts you might know by now that I’m a comic book nerd.  And while I haven’t read the X-Men in almost 10 years, the mutants still hold a special place in my heart.  They are the heroes of my childhood.

If I divorce myself from the comic book, the third installment of the X-Men films wasn’t bad.  It’s a summer, popcorn movie that delivers decent action sequences, cheesy one-liners, and cool special effects.  Though bloated as sequels tend to be, the film brims with conflict, and even makes a social statement or two between super-powered beat downs. So as a casual viewer, I dug it. 

But as a fan, X-Men: The Last Stand left me feeling… pissed on.

It’s not that director Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men movies were perfect recreations of the mutant myths.  He and screenwriter David Hayter played fast and loose with a few of the characters and with the comic’s chronology.  But while they deviated, they always gave the impression that they respected the story and the story’s fans.  I didn’t get the same feeling about director Brett Ratner and the other creators of Last Stand.

The most glaring disregard for the comic nerds everywhere was the treatment of Cyclops. 4821432 

(A quick spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen it).

I could’ve forgiven the filmmakers for murdering this character if it was done in dramatic fashion.  But instead, they reduced him to little more than a minor plot-point, a Star Trek red shirt if you will. 

Wait.  Don’t roll your eyes at me. 

What you don’t understand is that Cyclops is a major character in the Marvel Comics world, one that has been around for more than 40 years.   Imagine one of your favorite mystery sidekicks being knocked-off like that with barely a word mentioned about his death.

Now, I understand and respect artists who take chances.  If you always second-guess yourself wondering what others will think, you won’t create anything worth a crap.  When dealing with long beloved characters, however, you should tread lightly.  This holds true even when the characters are of your own creation.

What if Dave Robicheaux and his best bud Clete Purcel physically expressed their love for one another in a drunken night of passion? 

What if Jack Reacher, having an epiphany, decided to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence?

What if Harry Potter got strung out on meth and ended up living in a ramshackle trailer with some muggle prostitute?

What if… You get the picture.

Which brings me to the part of the post where I ask questions.

I’ve been given the advice that you can’t write for an audience, you must first write for yourself–write what pleases you.  But does this hold true for authors who’ve created popular series characters?  Do these writers give up some of their ownership of the characters to the fans who have supported them for years?

11 thoughts on “How to Piss Off a Fan

  1. billie

    Interesting question, Mike, and I don’t know an answer. As a writer, I feel I have the right to do whatever I want to with my characters. As a reader, I feel the writer should not do something with a series character that I won’t like. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And LOL about a strung-out Harry Potter living in the trailer with a muggle prostitute! I must be in my dark humor mode today b/c that has really got me giggling!

    Reply
  2. pari

    Several things about this post got me giggling, Billie.

    Mike, I really enjoyed this one — didn’t know where it was going, or what you’d come up with next.

    Re: series charactersI happen to think we need to be consistent within the worlds we create as writers. So, yeah, in a way we do owe our audience something if they’ve been dedicated enough to stick with us.

    That was one of my major concerns with book #3. It’s not as “funny” as the others, not as many quirky characters. But, it’s still very much in Sasha’s voice — and, hey, she’s growing as a person and I think my readers will like that. Plus, I hope other potential readers will enjoy the more serious theme.

    Maybe we could revisit this after January?

    Reply
  3. billie

    I’m still imagining midnight this Friday when everyone digs into the final Harry Potter and discovers he ends up in a trailer park with a muggle hooker! And still giggling.

    Could be my response to seeing the bookstore displays with actual digital clocks mounted on them, counting down the days/hours/minutes/seconds until the book’s release. And to forking out slightly over $50 yesterday (at a 30% discount) to pre-order TWO copies so my children can peacefully stay up all night Friday to read them.

    I will read too, but will likely hear the ending before I manage to get to it.

    Reply
  4. Louise Ure

    I think writers should be able to do anything with their series characters that they want to.

    And publishers and editors have the right not to buy those books that they feel will piss off the readers of a series.

    And readers have the right not to buy that author again.

    We’ve all got choices, man.

    Reply
  5. Mike MacLean

    Billie,

    I think you avoided some major pain buying two copies of the next Harry Potter. My wife and mother-in-law are big fans. I have trouble picturing them sharing.

    Pari,

    The fact that you had โ€œconcernsโ€ suggests that you are keeping your fans in mind. I honestly wonder if the creators of X-Men III even considered the fans of the original comic.

    Louise,

    No way I could argue with you. Itโ€™s the writerโ€™s sweat going into those pages; they should do as they feel is best.

    Iโ€™m not suggesting what a writer MUST do. I am giving my humble opinion what they ought to doโ€”consider the fans. Of course Iโ€™m wrong my fair share of times. The creators of the new Battlestar Galactica seemed to have little regard for the originals, and that show has turned out to be one of the best-written programs on TV.

    Reply
  6. B.G. Ritts

    A reader’s observations:

    Back in the late 80s, I read 8-10 books by a bestselling author (not mysteries). At first I was thoroughly engrossed; then the sameness of the basic stories set in and I haven’t read one of her books since. The books weren’t a series in the normal sense of that word, but the ‘formula’ made them a kind of series in my mind.

    From my point of view, if the characters aren’t continuing to grow and do new things, there isn’t much reason to keep reading. That’s why I’ve also stopped reading a few mega-bestselling crime fiction/thriller authors.

    Reply
  7. simon

    I did like the 1st X-Men movie, although it did make me feel guilty about having a crush on Rogue, seeing as they made her a teenager after she was all woman in the comic books…

    Reply
  8. Mike MacLean

    B.G.,

    Iโ€™ve been there.

    Simon,

    What was it that drew you to Rogue? Was it her skunk-streaked hair? Her inability to be touched (we all want what we canโ€™t have)? Or her impossible, only-exists-in-a-comic female physique?

    Reply
  9. Fran

    I have in my closet nicely wrapped in plastic X-Men comics from the death of Thunderbird to the genesis of Dark Phoenix. I am, in a word, a fan.

    But as I think movies are trailers for books, I take movies about my favorite characters with a whole salt lick. So I don’t expect a whole lot.

    Not like I do with books. I expect my favorite characters in series to grow and change and become even more wonderful, even if it’s a dark wonderful. Without losing whatever quirks they have that make them unique.

    It’s a lot of pressure to put on an author, I know that. And yet, it happens more often than not. I stand in awe.

    Reply
  10. Nikki

    “What if Dave Robicheaux and his best bud Clete Purcel physically expressed their love for one another in a drunken night of passion?”

    Okay, that’s just wrong.

    “What if Harry Potter got strung out on meth and ended up living in a ramshackle trailer with some muggle prostitute?”

    and that’s just too funny. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply

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