Writing for fandom isn’t a new outlet. Fans have always engaged with their favorite media, the internet simply made it easier for these communities to find and support themselves online. Spec scripts used to be a way for regular writers to break into Hollywood — writers would essentially write formatted fanfiction of their favorite show and submit it to the network to be produced. A great example of this is the classic series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Fan groups were writing and sharing fan fiction. This all happened long before the Man from U.N.C.L.E movie reboot and before Fanfiction.net and Archive Of Our Own were even a thing.
One of the most steadfast tropes in fanfiction is the Alternate Universe. Alternate Universe fiction is a way to explore the “what ifs” of a fandom. AUs exist in both canon and non-canon forms. For example, Star Trek has a canonical AU via the Mirror Universe, which asks the question, what if humans didn’t value peace and exploration but instead valued war and conquest? In the Mirror Universe, the Terran Empire presents a darker, less optimistic view of humanity in comparison to the main Star Trek universe. The existence of the Mirror Universe allowed Star Trek writers to ask and answer different questions than the main storylines allowed for.
In fanfiction, AU allows for endless exploration. What if Hermione Granger was a person of color? What if Sirius Black never died? What if Harry Potter was a woman? Often times these what if questions result in interesting and unique glimpses into an otherwise familiar world. This AU interpretation of a fandom is also one of the best ways for new writers to develop characters and plotlines for their own novels.
Below, we examine the what if questions we’d like to see answered in our favorite and/or recent entertainment outings.
Marvel has a woman problem, so I guess it’s no surprise that my headcanon is a Marvel heroine. I love Jane Foster. Yup, said it. Deal with it. I know that there was tons of behind-the-scenes drama with Natalie Portman wanting a more impactful role and a female director for the series, but ignoring Jane in the last Avenger’s team-ups and giving her a one-line send off in Thor Ragnarok was shitty. As much as I loved Thor Ragnarok, could you imagine if the last credit scene was Jane coming across the hammer, leaving open her becoming the new Thor? Hell, why are Shield and Tony Stark always turning to Erik Selvig for help, when Jane surpassed him and actually built the technology that they’re using?
So, my favourite AU headcanon is one that’s already been written: Jane Foster Saves the Universe
One of my longest running headcanons has been the adulthood of Susan Pevensie, the eldest sister in the Chronicles of Narnia. More people talking about Susan deserved better (this Reddit discussion is one of my favs), but it’s something that’s stayed with me since I first read the series. I would read the shit out of an adult series of Susan Pevensie living in bombed-out London after WWII. The city and the people are scarred. The job she previously had was given back to the returning men. Perhaps her brothers and sister are in Narnia, but she’ll never know for sure. All she knows is that she wasn’t good enough to return to a land that she once ruled.
I went to the movies recently and saw a preview for a new Robin Hood movie and thought, “Oh. Another Robin Hood movie. It looks like… every other Robin Hood movie.” (Except for the Disney animated Robin Hood, which will always be the best Robin Hood.)
Halfway through that preview, I wanted to zap the screen with my magic wand and make my own AU version: (A) Swap out the ol’ medieval stuff for something different. If we’re going to keep making Robin Hood movies, we gotta mix it up. Just pick anything other than white European medieval times. (B) Maid Marion has more agency, kicks more ass. (C) Robin is a woman. Or maybe genderqueer. Or if Robin stays cis male, let’s take his relationship with Little John to the next level, and instead of the romance with Marion, Robin and John hook up because honestly that’s the best partnership of the original story anyway. (D) No. Rape. (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, anyone?)
Somebody make me this movie please.
My AU is a little more mainstream-y. One of my guilty pleasures, when I’m sick and couchbound, is watching cheesy rom-coms and coming of age movies from the 90s and 2000s. They are inoffensive and bland enough to keep me entertained, but not take too much mental power to process.
This Spring, in the middle of watching Easy A, I suddenly started thinking about what would happen to the Emma Stone if she were a WOC or lived in lower income setting. That girl would have been in serious, possibly legal, trouble. The John Hughes movies I grew up with touched on the class system issue, but there is still an implicit privilege of a white girl MC, even when she’s “poor”. (Which is why I loved 32 CANDLES, because we get an alternate view of that John Hughes fantasy ending.) We may see other options, but usually in gritty, indie films, never anything streamed constantly into my home via TBS. In our current IRL universe, topics on privilege and bias are constantly being uncovered and I’m hoping cheesy rom-coms of the 2020s reflect these conversations. Recent, and super popular, mainstream releases like Love, Simon and Girl Trip give me hope (though they still have that fantasy, rich people frame of reference.)
Maybe scrolling through Twitter while watching cheesy movies gave me that whack on the side of the head to see things from a different POV. I know it’s just brain candy, but when you start waking up to your own privilege and seeing it woven deep into entertainment, it’s hard to unsee.
*Warning for spoilers for Deadpool 2* I want an AU of Deadpool 2 in which the writers don’t treat Vanessa as an object but as a fully fleshed out character and a person. Paul Wernick, one of the Deadpool 2 writers, is quoted as saying, “So if you’re doing a movie where you are trying to get Deadpool at his lowest, to take away everything from Deadpool at the very beginning, the only thing to really take away from him is Vanessa.” Really? The only thing? And I don’t need to see Deadpool at his lowest. He’s supposed to be making fun of comics and superheroes, not angsting in his manpain about his favorite object being taken away.
With the power of an AU, we could make this more interesting and without any fridging. Let’s start with a woman Cable like Deadpool originally joked in the first movie. And instead of fridging Cable’s faceless family, let’s give them a scene or two. This would also work to establish how terrible the future is. Maybe Cable’s family is supportive of her going back in time to try and stop a murderous mutant. Maybe Kiera! Cable is married to Josh Brolin. I don’t know. She has a picture of her family and Deadpool jokes about how she’s married to Thanos.
Vanessa, a mutant in the comics, will have a scene where she reveals she was a mutant all along. Deadpool can do his usual jokes. He’s delighted but also feels one upped. He makes a joke about how he thought he had to one up Wolverine by dying, but really the one up was being in a loving and super powered relationship. And guess what? Vanessa wants to help Deadpool prevent a kid from becoming a mass murderer, so she joins Deadpool in interviewing people for X-Force. Deadpool can feel some manpain if he wants, but the entire story won’t be driven by it. Instead, it’s about, through the power of love, unicorns, and butts, how to avoid becoming the monster someone else wants you to be.