Why Fans React Poorly to Repackaged Characters and Settings
Consider it’s the 1960’s. The national conversation at the time is about Civil Rights and an end to segregation, and you’re Stan Lee in the midst of designing a team of mutant superheroes. Or better yet, consider it’s the 1970’s. You’re in the wake of the Vietnam War under president Richard M. Nixon, and you’re George Lucas trying to plot out a setting for what would become one of the most beloved science fiction epics of all time.
Now consider that it’s forty-or-fifty years later, and the characters that you’ve created have persisted and stood the test of time.
In the case of the X-Men and the wider Marvel Universe, as a continuing story that spans thousands of characters and multiple universes. Almost every child by the age of five can recognize Wolverine or Spiderman.
In terms of Star Wars, beyond a sizable, but largely non-canon Expanded Universe, the original trilogy has stood tall in the face of hard years. It’d be hard to find someone who doesn’t recognize the iconic heavy breathing of Darth Vader, or the telltale glow of a lightsabre.
But with time comes a change personality, ideals and passion for these stories, and the voices telling the stories often change as well, often bringing with it a repackaging of characters and settings.
In August, 2011, a new Spiderman appeared. His name was Miles Morales, an African-Latino teenager who gained his spider-powers in a continuity separate from the main Marvel Universe in which Peter Parker had died. His introduction was powerful, and the character was a hit.
A few years later, Amadeus Cho, a character that had appeared in Hulk comics going back almost a decade, adopted the mantle of the Hulk in 2015. By 2016, Thor had become a woman, Iron Man was replaced by a fifteen year old African-American girl.
By itself, each of these things aren’t overtly shocking developments. But with each successive replacement, it carried a stronger and stronger perception of having been done with very little care and respect for the original characters. After Cho, it didn’t seem to be about creating amazing new characters, but rather about supplanting the old guard. And so fans critiqued Marvel mercilessly for their decisions. Characters who had decades of passion poured into them were almost unceremoniously replaced by these young new upstarts, and this angered fans, which some fans have argued are leading to the drop in sales for Marvel Comics.
A similar fan reaction can be seen within the realm of Star Wars. Many lifelong fans have boycotted future Star Wars films altogether, citing poor writing, the unceremonious ends of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, and again, a perceived lack of respect for the original films.
To answer the question of why fans react so poorly to these things, I’ll need to share a personal story.
I used to live down the street from this pizza shop. It had won a number of awards and I used to order from it all the time. One day, the owner decided he wanted to get into the medical marijuana business, so he sold the pizza shop to a guy that wasn’t really known for being an ethical businessman. His first decision was to order cheaper quality dough and toppings. Then he would use only 70% of the toppings the previous owner had, and bumped up all the prices by a dollar, all the while proudly displaying the awards the previous owner had won using his old recipe.
The new owner didn’t have respect for what the original owner had created. If you were a fan of the original recipe, would you consider to shop there? Likewise, can you truly respect a repackaged character or setting that you perceive lacks respect for its source material?
These new characters arguably haven’t shown enough respect for the characters that gave them the world in which they play. And to many fans, neither have the very storytellers tasks with picking up their stories.