Fandom as an addiction
Chasing the Marvel dragon
My friend Alan Cerny posted something on Twitter this week that gave me pause. After watching ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA, Alan wrote that he was ready to tap out of Marvel’s seemingly neverending series of superhero movies - his ability to relate to them had just about dissipated completely.
I don’t fault Alan for losing interest in the movies - it doesn’t really surprise me. A lot of my friends could care less about the three to four movies Marvel Studios releases in a given year. Even some of my friends that do watch the movies are behind - having several films or television series in the saga they have not yet watched.
Me, on the other hand? I’m addicted to the stuff.
I can’t fathom the idea of not watching a Marvel movie or television show the day it premieres. I’ve seen episodes of their Disney+ shows on my iPad at 6 AM as I waited to board an early morning flight. When AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR came out, I was out of town for the early Thursday shows so - worried about spoilers - I turned my cell phone off and didn’t open my laptop until I could see the movie at a 9 AM screening on Friday morning.
I don’t even get particularly excited about new Marvel movies - not as individual films, at least. I still feel this compulsion to go and see them, though. But when I do watch them I find they have zero real estate in my brain after the screening. It’s like being really hungry and then eating a hamburger at Whataburger. You're thankful for not being hungry anymore but you’re not going to spend the rest of your week thinking about how good that hamburger was.
I have very little desire to rewatch the Marvel movies nor do I particularly remember much about each film after a year has passed. What even was ETERNALS? I don’t get excited about Marvel movies but I also can’t help watching them and reading casting announcements and obsessing over rumors on Reddit and - when I’m not thinking about anything specific in particular at any given time - there’s a 40 percent chance I’m thinking about what the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks like.
How is it possible to be so simultaneously addicted and apathetic about a series of films?
I was talking about my addiction to a friend recently and she asked, “What about the next appearance of Werewolf By Night? I’m sure you’ll be excited to see that.”
“Yeah,” I said. “About as excited as a crack addict is when he gets his next fix.”
Here’s the thing - the Marvel movies have officially stopped feeling like individual movies. Many of them work just fine on their own, as a single two+ hour diversion from reality. Spme of the movies are actually quite good - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, I’m looking at you. That said, it makes perfect sense to me that - thirty movies and eight television shows in - the Marvel film and television engine has gone full circle and achieved what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and company perfected sixty years ago with their monthly comic books.
Marvel Studios is putting out disposable episodic soap operas where the whole is more important than the pieces.
I have read comics to varying degrees of intensity since I was six years old. There were periods of my life when I was strictly reading collected editions checked out of the library every few months. There were other years when I was going to the comic book shop every week - plopping down $40 on a tiny stack of 20-page floppies. Currently, I straddle the line. I do a lot of “trade waiting” in which I wait for a collected edition before I dive deep into a new series but I also buy a lot of stuff as new issues are released every month. When it comes to superhero stuff, the majority of what I read is Marvel-related but I don’t read everything - not by a long shot.
Here’s the thing - almost nobody reads everything. To do so would bankrupt most fans.
Superhero comic books are all about the bigger picture - the larger tapestry that is woven together by single issues and disparate series. For most comic book fans, there are a few single issues they might remember - especially if those issues had great covers or memorable first or last appearances - but I’d wager most comic book fans remember arcs or storylines more than they do individual issues. It’s the same with television - I don’t think back on something like LOST and fondly remember Episode S03E07 as much as I remember the thrill of watching the show’s mysteries roll out over the course of the show’s run.
There are so many characters and films and television shows and plot threads now existing concurrently in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that it is near impossible to think about the films at a micro-level. They are all just chapters in a larger story. You can complain that the movies spend too much time setting up future films - but that’s what television episodes and comic book issues do too. The MCU is about the larger picture now and episodes - whether they be two hours long and released in theaters or 30 minutes long and released on Disney+ - are all about building that bigger story. The story may or may not even have an end. Marvel Comics has been telling the same story since 1939 and shows no sign of ending anytime soon. Why should film and television be constrained to separate rules from literature?
There’s a great book I read last year by Douglas Wolk called ALL THE MARVELS in which the author reads every single comic book Marvel has ever put out. In doing so, Wolk realizes that absolutely nobody should ever read every single comic book Marvel has ever put out. Luckily for my addiction, it takes a lot more money and resources to make a movie or television series than it does a comic book and there are fewer releases to keep track of in the live-action and animated world than there are in the world of monthly comics. There’s nothing stopping me from feeding my addiction and, really, no reason why I should try. I grew up in a period of time when it was uncool to read comics and the only superhero movies I had to enjoy were low-budget shlock that only made the fandom a more embarrassing badge to wear. The fact that we live in a world where not only is an ANT-MAN AND THE WASP movie being released in theaters but it’s selling a shit-ton of tickets is magical to me. I don’t want to forsake that magic.
I get why folks like Alan are ready to tap out - it’s actually probably a good thing for the health of Marvel Studios that folks don’t feel inclined to watch every new release. The idea that the film and television story can have gotten so large that it develops pockets of interest that appeal to different people is a sign of the long-term health of the franchise. Maybe. Or maybe it’s a sign of its impending decline - they eventually stopped making so many westerns after a while too.
Either way, I am going to keep watching Marvel movies on the opening day until one of two things happens: Marvel stops making movies (unlikely) or I die. All I hope is that I live long enough to see SECRET WARS.
Or that I die in a movie theater so my ghost can haunt that shit.