July 20, 2013 8:00am PT by Graeme McMillan
Nerd Culture and Comic-Con: More New Stuff, Please (Opinion)
If you have a thing for birthday candles and anniversary parties, this year's Comic-Con is likely to make you very happy indeed. In addition to 2013 being the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Superman -- let's just put that whole killing people thing down to a mid-life crisis, shall we? -- this year is also (deep breath) the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Marvel Entertainment's X-Men, Avengers and Iron Man, the 30th anniversary of Star Wars: Return of The Jedi, and the 20th of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, amongst many others.
Suffice to say, it's an important year for a lot of fan favorite franchises. Amidst all of those celebrations, there is a fairly obvious realization to be had: Nerd culture is old.
Of course, some of that realization is easily explained away. Nerd culture is, in many ways, an off-shoot of nostalgia for childhood things and the way we reacted to spectacle back then. Looking for the familiar and the comforting is tied into nerd culture in some strange, confusing way that's almost impossible to unpick, after all (Amongst a discovery that might be made during that process: The complicated fictional history and convoluted continuity that grows around a character after they've been in existence for decades may be something that turns off newcomers, but having some level of mastery over it is a point of pride for many a nerd. What's that all about, if not some subconscious gatekeeper scenario to keep others from playing with your toys?). With that element being central to the appeal of this stuff on some level, how could nerd culture not be old?
This desire to recapture the past has been present in nerd culture for a very long time, even before there really was a nerd culture. Go back to, say, the comic that launched the comic book medium's silver age -- DC Comics' Showcase #4, starring the Flash, from 1956 -- and nostalgia was right there at the heart of it, as editor Julius Schwarz headed up a revival of a concept already more than a decade old! It's in our DNA, to some degree.
What has changed, though, is the amount of nostalgia compared with the amount of new. If you take a look at all of Marvel Comics' forecasted output for October 2013, out of the upwards of 50 series being published, only a handful feature characters or concepts less than 20 years old. Same with DC, with the exception of the latter's Vertigo imprint. Similarly, franchises based on decades-old concepts rule the summer box office, a nerd-centric revue in recent years.
It's not that there isn't anything new out there - Pacific Rim may be the most high-profile "new" nerd culture movie of the year so far (if not the most successful), but this has actually been a relatively strong year for that kind of content, with Upstream Color, Oblivion, After Earth and the upcoming Elysium standing up for non-franchise genre material with some degree of marketing push behind it. But it doesn't seem to be sticking for whatever reason.
There's enough blame to be spread around as to why this is. It's hard to argue that Cowboys & Aliens has the same immediate appeal or level of quality than, for example, Back to the Future, admittedly, and the highly successful legacy franchises can afford to pay the big bucks to creators who would otherwise be coming up with new stuff (Hello, Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon, to name but two). It'd be wrong to just point fingers away from the audience, however, as the reaction to Pacific Rim demonstrates.
So, what's the solution? You got me, beyond shouting Hey, everyone: Try harder a lot. Hopefully, this is a temporary situation, and we're headed towards a marvelous -- no pun intended -- new age where new ideas not only appear and are supported by publishers, studios, networks and everyone involved across the content creation and delivery system, but then get accepted, embraced by the audience, as well. Just imagine how wonderful that world could be…! But perhaps not while waiting in line for the next Fantastic Four movie, just in case.