It’s safe to assume that if you’re here on this site you’re a huge fan of something. Maybe it’s Brandon Sanderson’s writing, or V.E. Schwab’s. Maybe it’s DC Comics, or Marvel’s Netflix shows. Maybe it’s all things Star Wars, or maybe it’s the sci-fi genre as a whole. Fandoms can be enriching, they can be found families, they can be outlets of boundless creativity.
And one of of our very favorite things in modern pop culture is that after many years of fans being derided for being too nerdy or even creepy, many films and TV shows have started including characters that are themselves fans, to create a meta Greek chorus.
Trooper Wagner—Knives Out
Knives Out is a miraculous film for many reasons, but chief among them is Trooper Wagner, the junior officer of the team investigating mystery author Harlan Thrombey’s suicide/possible murder. Rather than writing yet another good cop/bad cop or by the books/rogue cop dynamic, Rian Johnson gives us Detective Lieutenant Elliott, laconic and deadpan in the face of the Thrombey family’s privileged cluelessness, paired with with Trooper Wagner, a starstruck fan of both Thrombey’s mystery novels and Mr. Benoit Blanc, Gentleman Detective. Trooper Wagner doesn’t even try to investigate the crime—he’s much too excited to just sit back and watch it unfold around him, like his very own murder mystery dinner party.
Henchpeople 21 & 24—The Venture Bros.
These two are the inspiration for this list. Someday there will be a giant study made of The Venture Bros and all the things it had to stay about fandom, nerdculture, and the state of the world in the beginning of the 21st century. For now, looking at these two hapless henchpeople will suffice. They collect action figures, geek out about their supervillain boss and his various friends and foes, and comment on the action the same way any of us would if we were suddenly dropped into the show. They are indestructible comic relief in a very funny series about super scientists–until they’re not, and the show isn’t really so funny or cute anymore. Later, 21 isn’t so much a henchperson as he is a partner and amateur therapist to his ostensible boss, the supervillain The Monarch. Does 21’s gradual disillusionment with the world of heroes and villains match up pretty well with the increasing toxicity and mean-spiritedness of the nerdier corners of the internet?
Edna “E” Mode—The Incredibles
Syndrome and Edna Mode are two sides of a coin: both fans who were born without superpowers, one dedicated his considerable intellect to becoming a science villain, with a master plan of eradicating superheroes entirely. Instead of just…becoming a hero like he said he wanted? The other dedicates her considerable intellect to becoming the greatest fictional character of all time. And also to designing super suits that were both fashionable and practical. Edna throws herself into the history and lore of the supers, studying their various powers, their idiosyncrasies, their needs, and then working with them to improve their natural abilities with, once again, science. And some fashion, dahling.
In the Hellblazer comics, Chas Chandler is John Constantine’s best friend from adolescence, his band’s roadie, and often acts as a partner-in-exorcism. In the 2005 adaptation, Constantine, the character is transformed into a kid in his late teens or early twenties. He is John’s driver, but he wants to be John’s apprentice. It’s never explained how they met, or why John started allowing this much-younger Chas to drive him around. For the first two-thirds of the film, his purpose seems to be embarrassing himself by trying to act cooler than he is, and, literally, sitting alone in his car practicing badass quips. He seems to be much more a fan of John’s than a student. Then in the film’s final act, he suddenly proves that he’s been studying—but it’s too little too late to elevate him fully from admirer to colleague.
Lowery Cruthers—Jurassic World
Jurassic World was something of a mixed bag. The references to the early films were fun, and the dinosaur petting zoo was incredible, but Owen and Claire weren’t quite as instantly lovable as Drs. Grant and Sattler, the pair of hapless abandoned children were nowhere near as winning as Lexi and Tim, and as if that wasn’t enough, Ian Malcolm was nowhere to be found. However, the movie’s one true home run? Jakes Johnson’s dino-loving Lowery Cruthers. First of all, his competent techie character was a nice callback to the first two Jurassic films, which were some of the most nerd-positive movies of the 90s (a heroic mathematician? A tween girl hacker? Ellie Sattler?? Sarah Harding???) and a nice way to offset the legacy of Dennis Nedry. He could have been a regular nerd and still helped save the day—instead he’s a giant, gleeful fan of Jurassic Park itself. He has little dino toys on his desk, he buys vintage JP merch on eBay, and he genuinely loves the animals in his charge. He’s a jolt of joy in a movie that often seemed market-tested unto death.
Scott Lang—Captain America: Civil War
It’s safe to assume that the Avengers run into superfans all the time. One of the best things about the sheer size of the MCU and its television siblings is that it allows for a very lived-in universe. We know from Agent Carter that Captain America was the star of a popular radio serial. We know that Peter Parker’s classmate Liz Allan drew cartoons of the Avengers when she was little, right after the Battle of New York, and that a decade later she and her friends play “F, Marry, Kill” to determine the heroes merits in a more adult way. Phil Coulson’s crush on Cap was played first for comedy before being used as a guilt tactic by Nick Fury, and in Iron Man 3 we meet Gary, who is so into Tony Stark’s whole deal that he got a tattoo of Tony, and shaped his facial hair to match his hero’s. But for me the best fan moment was Scott Lang hopping around like a retriever puppy upon meeting Cap. This isn’t Coulson inheriting his fandom from his dad and quietly collecting baseball cards, or Gary taking his admiration for Tony into slightly uncomfortable places, this is sheer, unbridled giddiness at meeting a hero—plus a loving wink to the fact that Scott seems a little out of place in the epic Avengers roster.
Zero—John Wick: Parabellum
Zero is a chef who wields the blade at a walk-up hole-in-the-wall sushi counter. When The Adjudicator hires him to take out John Wick it seems for a moment that he’s going to be a very serious character, and that we’re about to witness Jiro Dreams of Murder. (Which, could we have that anyway, please?) But then! The film veers into a quirkier direction when Zero lovingly slices some pieces of fish and slides them over to a waiting cat. In terms of the Wickverse, his respectful treatment of an animal marks him as a decent guy, even if he is Wick’s adversary. The film pushes this in an even more delightful way when it turns out that Zero is a John Wick superfan. As serious as he is during their battles, once the two of them are together in The Continental he takes the opportunity to freak out about how excited he is to meet him, and loses his shit when Dog comes in. “Is that—the dog???” he squeaks, his eyes transforming into hearts. It’s adorable, and weird, and this added element makes their final fight legitimately poignant when we realize that Zero really just wants to earn his idol’s respect.
Originally published in May 2020.