It's Not Me, It's You

By | Monday, May 13, 2024 Leave a Comment
There have a been a handful of stories/franchises that I became a fan of almost from the moment I became aware of them, and I've remained a fan of since. In the order that I discovered them: Star Wars, the Fantastic Four (and, to a lesser extent, the Marvel Universe in general), Doctor Who, and Firefly. I enjoy other franchise as well, of course, but those four are the ones that have remained perennials. While I don't partake of each and every iteration of them, I do give them enough attention to be able to scrutinize whether I want to pick up the latest book or watch the latest movie or whatever. I bring this up because, of late, they largely haven't spoken to me at all. And today's post is me trying to sort out why.

I've already talked here about the past two years of Fantastic Four comics have left me cold. This weekend, I happened to read through the Clobberin' Time trade paperback that came out in January and felt much the same. Like Ryan North's stories, it was executed well enough but it ultimately fell flat for me. I didn't connect with at any level. I've had the same general disinterest in Moon Knight which was another favorite of mine back in the day. (Though, to be fair, the character has been handled very inconsistently over the decades so I've never been as big a fan.) There's been exactly one Fantastic Four story published in the past three years I've really enjoyed at all, and nothing's been done to follow up on it. (And, actually, as I think on it, the FF story I last enjoyed before that was never really followed up on either.)

Doctor Who. I watched the two new episodes Disney+ dropped last week and... meh. I think Ncuti Gatwa and Milli Gibson do a fine job and I like their characters, but the stories just lie flat for me. I wasn't a big fan of any of the specials from last December either. The show has never been even close to 'hard' sci-fi, but it's shifted into straight-up fantasy with barely a veneer of science fiction. I also hate musicals; however good the music itself is, the story always grinds to a screeching halt and we get an extended charaterization monologue that I would rather see handled in a "show, don't tell" manner. The story, for me, is what's most interesting and most important and I don't care for these literall-anything-can-happen fantasy stories.

Firefly is certainly not as robust a franchise as the others I've mentioned, but it's had a variety of comics since the show ended two decades ago. While I liked the early stories Dark Horse put out, the Boom! Studios ones since 2018 have all felt like pretty generic sci-fi with the characters' names dropped in place. I'm not opposed to adding new characters like they have, and even having the existing ones grow beyond who they were in the original, but there's a lot that misses the feel of the show. They've introduced aliens and space portals and sentient robots, and it feels less like the gritty, backwater 'verse we saw on the screen and more like any other sci-fi story with a few Western aesthetics thrown on top when the artist can remember to include them.

The one bright spot of any sort for me lately has been Star Wars. I didn't care for Young Jedi Adventures and Tales of the Empire was just okay. But I quite enjoyed Bad Batch and, while The Acolyte doesn't really interest me yet, Skeleton Crew does sound intriguing. Andor season 1 was excellent, and I'm looking forward to season two whenever that drops. So not everything, but what I have enjoyed was really enjoyable.

So the question is: have I outgrown those story franchises that I used to enjoy or have audience tastes changed sufficiently that, in order to obtain an audience for what I used to enjoy, it has to be changed sufficiently enough that I no longer engage with it?

The notion of my growing older is certainly viable. I am, indeed, older than whenever I first encountered any of these and, particularly over the past several years, have had some experiences that have impacted my overall outlook. Notably Trump's presidency, COVID and the lack of an adequate response and most personally, getting hit by an SUV and being unable to walk for months afterward. Any/all of those events could have steered the direction of my life view to the point where I'm responding to very different story elements than I used to.

But let's stop a moment and look at what those story elements even were. Take a moment to review those franchise I listed; what do they have in common? (For Star Wars, think of that primarily in terms of the original trilogy and for Doctor Who, focus on the classic episodes.) I'll save you some time since I've actually given that a lot of thought over the years. The two biggest things I respond to in those are: a spirit of finding the new and exploration, and the centeral notion of a found family. They each have that in varying degrees and they have their emphasis in different places but they're all there. The found family elements should be pretty self-evident if you're at all familiar with the stories. The exploration elements of Fantastic Four and Doctor Who are pretty straight-forward, too. It's there to a lesser degree in Firefly; the explorations there have already happened, but only recently, so all those backwater moons are still trying to get things organized and settled. The characters aren't explorers per se but early settlers, which covers some of the same territory. In the case of Star Wars, the exploration is a little more meta -- while the characters aren't doing much in the way of exploring, the audience very much is with new aliens and systems popping up in every new scene of the original movie.

So can we apply that to more recent stories? Fantastic Four -- the found family element is very much there, but there's been precious little in the way of exploration since the "Empyre" crossover in 2020. (Although that had all the baggage of a crossover event that hampered that from being very good.) Doctor Who -- the found family element here again is very much in play with the Doctor and Ruby, and there is some exploration with the space babies and "Wild Blue Yonder" and whatnot, but the fantasy angle feels like they've thrown out all the internal rules of the show that they've spent decades (even just with the new series) establishing. Firefly -- the found family is technically there, but the character dynamics of the recent books feel just like a crew and not a family. There's some measure of exploration, but they've also thrown out many of the internal rules of the original show. Star Wars Bad Batch -- heavy found family story and lots of jumping around to new planets; virtually all of season 3 and much of season 2 was expressly about trying to find Tantiss. The found family idea is still prevalent in all these, in part because it's baked into their respective premises, but the exploration idea seems to have been largely downplayed across the board.

I obviously like stories that do not have the explortation and found family elements to them; they're not necessary for me to enjoy something. But when having those elements there are a large part of what attracted me to the story in the first place, and then you have them largely removed for an extended period, I very much feel their absence. Is exploration not trendy any more? People have been rattled by too much change and having too many unknowns in their future, and prefer their fiction to show something more stable? I don't know. I'm pretty selective with my media, so I don't try a lot of new shows and movies to see what's going on with broader trends. But in the small subset of "franchises I like that use exploration as central pillar," I certainly don't see much of it. Which suggests to me that, however my personal tastes have changed in the past several years, it's actually the media that has changed more.

Marvel, BBC, Boom! -- it's not me. It's you.
Newer Post Older Post Home