It's tough to be a fan sometimes — there are so many famous characters, who have been going for so long, that it's hard to be an expert on all of them. And what's the fun in being a fan without being an expert?
Especially as time goes by, with so many revamps and reboots, it's hard to keep track. And meanwhile, your friends are getting into different characters and universes. Keeping up with everything is like a full-time job. So we've got you covered — here's our ultimate guide to becoming a fake expert on any mass-media character, in seven easy steps.
Top image: Catwoman by Eyemage on Flickr.
So for the purposes of this article, we'll pick on two supporting characters who are pretty heavily exposed: Batman's nemesis/love interest Catwoman. And the Master, who's the Doctor's frenemy on Doctor Who. Catwoman is a tough one, because even after reading dozens of Catwoman comics over the years, I couldn't tell you what motivates her most of the time, or what her character is really about. So here's a crash course in how to fake it before you make it.
1. Get down to the original concept
Find out who the character originally was, before all the layers of stuff were added. In the case of Catwoman, this boils down to just her being a glamorous jewel thief named the Cat. Who says things like, "Haven't you seen a pretty girl before?" and "I know when I'm licked." It doesn't take long, in the early Bill Finger comics, for Catwoman to start using big cats as her pets, and designing cat-related death traps. But basically: she's a jewel thief with a vague cat theme. Meanwhile, the Master was introduced as an evil counterpart to the Doctor, his "Moriarty" who uses hypnosis and deathtraps to get his way.
2. Delve into the latest reinvention
You don't necessarily need to know every version of the character that has come about over the years — although some familiarity with the character's past wrong turns helps. We'll come to that in a moment. But you mostly need to know where the character has ended up now — like in Catwoman's case, she's now Batman's lover, straight up. And she's in trouble with Russian gangsters. Also, the movie version of Catwoman is now an Occupy Wall Street rhetoric-spouting revolutionary. As for the Master? The new version of that character is straight-up insane, driven nuts by the drumming in his head that was put there by the Time Lords.
3. Pick one or two essential storylines from the past to read or watch
Usually, there's one or two moments for any character where they actually shone. For Catwoman, it's the early issues of her 2002 solo comic by Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. That was when Catwoman seemed most like she actually had a purpose — to safeguard the East End of Gotham. She seemed more like a real person, and she had her own supporting cast. Meanwhile, for the Master, it's probably going to be his three-episode arc at the end of season four, starting with "Utopia" and ending with "Last of the Time Lords." When you've seen a character at his/her best, you can kind of skip a lot of the other stuff.
4. Read some fanfic and look at fanart
Want to know what the fans are obsessed with about a particular character? (So you can pretend to be as big a fan as they are?) Read the fanfic. It'll all be in there, right on the surface. A lot of fanfic seems to focus on a few defining characteristics of a character, plus a bunch of barely-hinted-at details, to create a kind of gestalt. The fanfic (and fan art) is like a Cliffs Notes to help you see a character from the superfan POV — without having to go through all the material the actual superfans have consumed. It's like they're chewing your food for you. (Edited to add: and by this, I mean, "spend ten minutes skimming some fanfic.") Master fan art by Harbek.
5. Go to one panel at a convention
Just one. You don't have to stay the whole time, just hang out for 20 minutes. Long enough to hear the few talking points the creators are going to hit on, plus the topics that people seem most excited to ask about.
6. Memorize a few key phrases
You don't need to know what they mean — you just need to be able to spout them on cue, when someone brings up the character. For Catwoman, remember "The East End is mine," and "My world is shades of grey. That's why you'll never understand me." Wikiquote is your friend. For the Master, remember "Tissue compression eliminator" (that's his shrink ray), "Oh my dear Doctor, you have been naive," "the sound of drums" and "I am usually referred to as the Master — universally." Memorize two or three catch phrases per character, and everyone will assume you're an actual expert.
7. Find out the one thing that fans hate & why they hate it
This is really the most essential step — you need to know what to hate on. Even if you've never seen it. For example, nobody actually has to sit through the Catwoman movie to know how dreadful it is — the trailer is punishment enough. Also, you just have to glance at a few examples of Jim Balent's Catwoman art to loathe it properly. Meanwhile, there are ample clip reels of Anthony Ainley's Master at his worst — and you just have to see one or two photos of the Eric Roberts master in his "pimp high priest" robes to feel the proper hatred. Figuring out what to hate is easy enough — and usually, hating it is fun.
Congratulations! You are now an expert in all of pop culture. Use your powers for good, or at least socially useful evil.