Editor's Note: We originally ran this article back in November, but it was so good and so thought-provoking that we thought we'd rerun it for Moviepilot Comic Week.
It's a great time to be a superhero fan! Marvel and DC have both announced their movie line-ups almost up to 2020, and we are fast approaching an incredible anniversary for comic book fans: 75 years of comic book movies! (Coming up in 2016, if you can believe it.) Seventy. Five. Years. In fact, the movies have been around almost as long as the books, although obviously there are far, far fewer films, and the scope of the live-actions movies doesn't even compare to the publications.
However, there are an impressive number of comic book adaptations out there, (including not just movies, but live-action TV, animation, and video games), and as we approach the 75th anniversary of that first film, it creates an interesting question.
Is it possible to be a "fan" of the characters or teams, without ever having read a comic book?
Now, obviously I'm not suggesting that anyone could claim to be a "comic book fan" without reading a comic book, or call themselves a "superfan" or "diehard fan" without digesting everything possible involving their fandom. I'm also not going to get into that nasty little phrase "true fan" - mostly because I don't think it's useful for anything except making certain people feel superior (see also "real fan" and "fake geek"). But what about just a pure and simple "fan"?
Let's take one of the most iconic superheroes: Batman. As well as his comic book appearances, this is a character who has had a myriad live action movies, TV and animated series appearances, as well as multiple video games based on the mythology. So, at what point does someone get to strap on their "fan" name tag and announce it to the world? Many would argue that you need to read the comic books to call yourself a Batman fan, but what's the cut off point for that?
According to the magic of internet research, Batman appears in around eleven and a half thousand issues. How many of those do you have to read to be considered a fan? I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that while there may be one or two incredible individuals who have actually read every single page, that's not the majority. I'm also sure that there are some people who have watched every animated and live-action TV episode, seen every movie, and played every game, but again, I'm guessing this isn't the majority.
So, if it's not necessary to read/watch/see/play every single appearance of a character to be a fan, where are the lines drawn? What's the magic algorithm to determine at what point someone becomes a "fan"? If someone has watched every minute of Batman movies, TV shows, and cartoons, but never picked up a comic in their life, can they call themselves a fan? And if not, well, how many comic books would they have to read to rectify that? Just one? One series? One hundred?
Of course, it never works the other way around. If we happened to find that mythical creature who has read eleven-thousand-and-something Batman comics (and JLA, and everything else he appears in...you know what I mean), but they have never watched a single show, movie, or played a game (possibly as a result of the time taken to read eleven thousand comics), we would have no issues calling them a fan. Why doesn't it work the other way around?
For some people, the argument is about precedence. The comic books came first, so to be a fan, one has to have an awareness of the thing that fathered it all. It makes some sense in the abstract, but in practical terms, not so much. It may be lovely to have an appreciation of where something came from, but I don't think it's necessary to fandom. I think that you can be a rabid Star Wars fan without being a fan of the old cowboy and samurai movies that inspired George Lucas. I think that you can be a fan of hip-hop dance performance without loving ballet. In the same way, I think that you can be a fan of a comic-book character without needing to be a fan of the comic books.
Maybe it's the time that it takes, the investment in a character. There is something to be said about waiting for the next issue of a story arc, of spending days poring over the pages of your favorite comic book. Watching a movie only takes a couple hours. Except again, where is the line drawn? I don't think that watching a single movie makes someone a "fan" any more than reading a single comic book does, but I also have yet to meet the person who declares fandom after one movie. What about the person who grows up rushing home from school to watch the next episode of the cartoon series, rather than to read the next episode of the comic? That person who watches that series repeatedly, who plays the games as they grow older, and who watches multiple movies again and again. They are investing just as much time and energy as a comic book reader, for the same character, just in a different medium.
For me, the important thing isn't in any of these, though. It's not about a complicated matrix, where a "fan" is only a fan if they have read x-number of comic books, combined with y-number of shows and movies, and z-hours of game time, with years of history with the character, and this and that and the next thing. (Even thinking about that makes my head hurt.)
It's also not about "paying dues" or "proving oneself" - both of which strike me as a little ridiculous and exclusive. At what point did enjoying a series or a character become an achievement to be won? Why do some people feel the need to make fandoms exclusive clubs where entry is based on proof that you like something "enough" to get in?
To me, a fandom is (or should be) a place where anyone who likes something, for whatever reason and with whatever history, should be able to come together and essentially say to other people "you like this too? Awesome! Lets talk about our mutual like for this thing!" If a person likes it based on hours and hours of movie-watching over their entire lifetime, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that that's ok. If they like it based on hours and hours of movie-watching over the past year, during which they binge-watched everything ever made about a Marvel property, I'm happy with them saying that they are a fan of Marvel.
While comic books definitely have some kind of magic about them, they don't have the magic ability to transform someone into a fan simply by reading a few. I even know a few people who read comics as children, grew up, stopped, and they don't call themselves fans! It's not the act of reading, or watching, or playing that does it, for me. It's the act of enjoying. It's the part where people come together on sites like this and get excited about their fandom, no matter what tier of fan they consider themselves to be.
It's been nearly 75 years since the first superhero took to the big screen; there have been over 100 different comic book and superhero film adaptations, and isn't that enough? I hope that by the time we reach that milestone of a century of comic book movies, this question will be redundant, but in the meantime, I have one last thing to say to all those people who are hung up on having to read "the books" to be a fan, on "true fans" and "fake geeks":
There will always be a bigger fan than you. So play nice.