STATUTORY WARNING: The write up is quite long, but reading it wont be injurious to anyone’s health.
A few days back, I left my copy of Kirigi Ka Qeher (one of my most favorite comic book titles for past two decades) with Saumin to scan it for Chitrakatha. Unsuspecting Saumin was curiously flipping through pages one night and this comic played exactly the same role that mythical radio-active spider had played in Peter Parker’s life some five decades ago. Before he would realize, Saumin was entangled in the rollercoaster ride of a lifetime called Kirigi Ka Qeher.
Swashbuckling action, epic scale fantasy and one of the ‘tightest’ stories narrated in the history of sequential art – Kirigi Ka Qeher inspired Saumin to do his own version of Super Commando Druve (Yes… yes… I know its Dhruv but Patel calls him Druve).
That very night, not only Saumin drew his own version of the character (as a fan art of course) the daring man also decided to share it with his friends, fans and followers on Facebook and trust me we all loved this new version (with minor inputs dropping in from everywhere). Saumin’s daring act of re-designing one of India’s most favorite Superhero was backed by the most daring and open minded publisher Mr.Sanjay Gupta, who shared it with the (hardcore) Raj Comics fans on the Raj Comics FB page and as they say – all hell broke loose.
While a little fraction of fans was cool with this ‘fan art’ others seemed really offended with this version (may be they were simply scared that Raj Comics is planning a SCD reboot and a costume change ALA DC’s infamous Wonderwoman Costume Reboot). Though this fan art saw a hearty support from the artist community but as its always expected “Fans are a super-irked unforgiving lot, so this new look was able to strike terror/a ting of hatred into their hearts”.
Someone called it a Manga Ripoff, some called it Ben-10 just because of a Cargo-trouser, someone compared the cargo pants to a Dhoti and was obnoxious enough to write a back-story based in a village to mock the look. Looking at the outrage, it made me rethink why fans got so put off with a ‘fan art’. Its more or less the same thing that we all have done as kids after reading a comic book – getting inspired and try to scribble down our own version of it. No offence meant to any creator or any design that’s already been there. Knowing Saumin personally, I know he was simply kicked and this was his way of saying that the Comic was just awesmackin’ awesome.
Also, Saumin is a fan of X-Men series of movies and he has always appreciated the way they keep playing with the costumes in all their movies or spinoff titles, it was simply his way of trying out a new look for a Superhero, that he’d just discovered.
But there is more to it, X-Men franchise itself has many offshoots and spinoff series that have come out of the original source material so it becomes easier to revamp the look/costumes (out of which many have been ridiculed in the past). But other than X-Men have we seen any mainstream superhero/a superteam getting a brand new look? Even the most popular reboot The Ultimates didn’t see much of a jump in the costumes of lead players like Ironman, though Cap. America’s costume has been evolved a bit, but it hasn’t been that big a jump. Even in DC we’ve seen this happening with characters like Green Lantern etc. Costume evolution is a calculated risk with B-Level characters, who doesn’t have that big a fan following. But the publishers themselves stay away from doing such major changes with their flagship titles and whenever they tried that, sudden uproar of fans pushed them back to their roots.
Such new takes were ridiculed and rejected outright by the fans irrespective of the big names attached to the projects. One great example would be Tim Burton’s unmade Superman Lives with its Disco Superman Costume and the casting of Nicholas Cage, which has been a joke fodder for the fans for more than a decade now. Check out Tim Burton’s vision/costume/look for Superman here:
Hardcore fans are disappointed again esp. after the ‘leaked’ Man Of Steel images started appearing online. Visionary Director Zack Snyder decided to remove Superman’s iconic red undies from his costume, and people feel that makes the man of steel appear a little ‘nude’ (I totally agree). While fans loved Snyder’s choice of campy costumes in Watchmen (not to be forgotten, Watchmen was based in the 1980s and that was the color pallete of those years, remember the early 1990s Batman films with cheesy colorful costumes?), they immensely dislike his choice of costume in The Man of Steel, lets hope he has a storyline to support his vision this time as well.
Now the Million $ question – Why it irks the fans, when they see their heroes in a new (rebooted) costume?
‘Please don’t kill my hero…’
Being a fanboy, I can totally understand this sentiment. I used to be a Bheriya fan, but as soon as a storyline was introduced in which Bheriya the Hero was divided into two entities – Kobi & Bheriya, it was the death of Bheriya as I knew him. I can’t even recall the number of hate mails I’d sent to Mr.Sanjay Gupta that summer. ‘You killed my hero’. The way I looked at his stories died with him, an entire series was suddenly meaningless, because they just changed the characters all of a sudden. I can go ranting about many such reboots or redesigning of characters that pushed me away from comics series I had been an ardent fan of. I have my sentiments attached to a hero and as soon as someone tries to change or tweak it in a way that renders the earlier stories outdated, I am going to DISLIKE it. Because no matter what the creator (artist/writer) had in mind, he just tried to push me out of my comfort zone by trying to tweak my hero/heroine. I know we have to renew the material to get fresh readers in, but that doesn’t mean we should toss away the sentiments of our existing readers. It can be achieved with new powerful stories. A DKR or a Year One can make me a Batman fan and I can always go back and read the classic Batman without even demanding a reboot in its design or stories. Today’s Raj Comics readers (many of them who were born after Mr. Anupam Sinha took over Nagraj) wont mind going back and trying to get a flavour of Late Mr.Mulick’s Nagraj. Why? Because even though Mr.Sinha changed Nagraj entirely he didn’t let the old mythology slip away and this is the blueprint that creators today have to follow and get fresh readers interested in these comic books. Though as a Publisher Raj Comics has changed the looks of Tiranga in the past and are coming out with two spinoff Nagraj series, but fans have been an unforgiving lot with these spinoffs and no matter what, you don’t wanna mess with the Fans.
I remember Quintin Tarentino’s interview in a special issue of Wizard, where he said, he doesn’t want to direct a Superhero film because he isn’t comfortable with fans’ expectations that comes with all the existing Superhero franchises, but he also added that, he would love to create his own superhero to make a movie with.
We can learn a lot from the smartass Tarentino. Fan favorite writer Mark Millar has learnt a lot from him. Rather than trying to reboot/redesign any ongoing series, Millar very smartly created his own universe with his own version of spinoffs. We are walking a thin line here, and we can learn a lot from Directors like Nolan and Jim Cameron who have tweaked the storylines a lot but never tried changing a costume.
If you’ve read Cameron’s unmade Spiderman Scriptment, you will realize that even a badass director like Jim Cameron wouldn’t like to cross that thin line and face the wrath of hardcore fans. While Mr.Cameron himself says Spidey’s costume is goofy and wasn’t very keen on having Spidey’s webshooters from the comics (Cameron gave him the biological webshooters, that was later used by Raimi in all his films) but Cameron made sure that the webshooter from Spidey’s costume is still there and totally justified its presence (How? Check out the scriptment page with storyboards here.
Lesson learnt: You don’t mess with the superhero costumes and don’t piss off the fans even if your name happens to be James Cameron, and you are the hotshot director of T:2.
Another example would be Steven Spielberg who was really interested in doing a Superman movie once, but later refused the offer politely and moved on to direct Close Encounters, E.T. and Indiana Jones (creating his own Superhero). He came back to direct a film based on a comic book character much later with The Adventures of Tintin (2011), though he was developing it since as early as 1982. Despite being a totally enjoyable adventure extravaganza many Tintin fans have disliked Spielberg’s version of Tintin (While I started seeing Tintin in a new light post - Spielbergian Tintin and have started finding it much more exciting). Though Spielberg took liberty with the story, he retained Tintin’s classic look intact. Why? Coz he wasn’t ready to face the Kolaveri of Tintin fans.
But then you might have to change the costume/look a bit to make your hero work in some other medium like Animation or Movies, may be fans might be a little more forgiving when they see these little changes in animation or a film. Personally speaking I would love to tweak/rewrite a lot of characters, but I would rather do that in my Universe with my own characters and earn some new fans.