sholio: Steve and Bucky in soft lighting (Avengers-Steve Bucky past)
Sholio ([personal profile] sholio) wrote2014-09-04 08:16 pm

Musing on MCU (well, Steve/Bucky specifically) and AUs

Important Adult Stuff squared away for now. Hello, LJ/DW; let me goof off on you.

(Also, now that apparently I am in this fandom and sticking around for awhile, I guess I need to figure out which tag(s) to use for it. MCU? Avengers? Captain America? Why so confusing?)

I ran across a post recently at [personal profile] cesperanza's DW on the MCU not being a very easy-to-AU fandom for her, which is my experience with it also. And I've kind of noticed in the past that some fandoms (White Collar, SGA) are very easy for me to read/write AUs, while others (Avatar: The Last Airbender is my ur-example of this) are pretty much impossible, or at least very difficult. I've generally attributed it to some characters being more firmly rooted in their particular storyline/milieu than others. And while that is a big part of it, I also realized that I actually have read and enjoyed some AUs in MCU fandom, it's just that most of them don't really do it for me, so ... well, rambling thoughts under the cut.

[personal profile] cesperanza writes, of Steve and Bucky, they seem to me so specifically of a time and place (hence making them hard to AU), and while I think that's definitely a big part of it for me, there's also another big thing, which is that they don't fit the typical romcom plot trajectory at all and that's what most people seem to try to do to them in AUs.

A few years back when SGA was big (and SGA was a VERY heavy-on-the-AUs fandom), I remember there was a piece of meta floating around that pointed out AUs are a sort of test to define the most critical, key aspects of a character -- well, at least according to the person writing the AU and/or the general fannish consensus. Is fighting aliens in outer space a key aspect of John Sheppard's character? How about being military? Laid back and goofy? Dangerous? Emotionally repressed? Growing up on Earth? Being human?

For me, I think, the problem I have enjoying AUs in this fandom is not just that Steve and Bucky are very specifically children of 1920s/30s Brooklyn displaced into the modern world (though that is certainly part of it, and when I'm writing them, that's a big part of their characterization). It's that they grew up together, and essentially defined themselves in part by way of each other, as siblings do. And most people don't AU them that way. I think it might be an accidental side effect of Steve and Bucky not really being a typical fannish pairing in that they've known each other a lot longer than big fannish pairings usually do.

In most fandoms, the trajectory of the major fannish pairing(s) -- whether you "ship" them in a romantic or a gen kind of way -- follows a pretty romcom-typical "meet and get to know each other" trajectory on the show itself. Even when they already knew each other before the start of the show/movie/whatever (like, say, Starsky & Hutch) they definitely met as adults, when they were already defined as people. And the majority of AUs follow that trajectory also -- there's some kind of meet-cute followed by getting to know each other.

But Steve & Bucky didn't. And yet, the vast majority of AUs that I've seen for them shoehorn them into typical meet-cute, get-to-know-each-other romcom-type plots: Bucky is a rock star and Steve gets hired as his bodyguard, Bucky is a firefighter and Steve is the hapless guy whose building is on fire, etc.

The only AUs I've seen so far that really clicked for me on a Steve/Bucky level almost invariably pair them with other people but also keep their personal history as close to canon as possible given the different AU circumstances, like this Pacific Rim AU (the infodumping is a little clunky, but I liked the character dynamics with Steve, Bucky, and Peggy) or this coffee shop AU of all things. (Thor doesn't really work for me in the latter fic, at least not as anything other than an OC, but Steve and Bucky do).

I think it also comes back to another thing [personal profile] cesperanza said in her post, which is that the MCU characters feel a lot more defined than characters in a fandom like SGA. And I think that means you have to haul along a lot more of their baggage and backstory when you import them into another reality. At least ... well, obviously I don't want it to sound like you can't write an AU, or enjoy an AU -- I mean, this is clearly a personal-taste thing on my part. And I imagine it varies from AU to AU, and from character to character. (In the above example where I said Thor didn't work for me, I think that what I would've needed is a lot more of the fish-out-of-water-foreigner aspect of Thor's character to have been ported over to the AU. In a modern no-powers AU I could see Thor as, say, a prince of some minor European royalty who came over to the U.S. because his family kicked him out. But I can't really see him as just an American kid whose family is rich.)

.... so basically I think that's how MCU AUs work for me, or don't work -- you need to keep a lot more of canon somehow, and in particular, Steve and Bucky don't really feel like Steve and Bucky to me if they don't have that shared history. The fish-out-of-water quality isn't strictly necessary, but the shared background is (and preferably some kind of trauma/disability on Bucky's part). I find it interesting that very few people seem to be writing AUs that keep their history intact, though, unless they're paired off with other people. (Which personally I'm fine with; I'm usually more interested in gen than in pairing fic anyway, and as long as the friendship/sense of connection is still there, I'm happy ...) But yeah, I wonder if it is at least partly a function of most writers being used to a particular kind of romance narrative, where two people meet and fall in love, as opposed to falling in love when they've already known each other for a long time. So it tends to seep into AUs even when it's not part of the canon narrative for those characters.
ratcreature: RatCreature smokes Crack (crack)

[personal profile] ratcreature 2014-09-05 07:45 am (UTC)(link)
I also noticed fewer AUs. I can enjoy them meeting as adults, but I agree that it changes the dynamic. Most AUs I've seen that keep that are the kind that keep the origin story plot more or less but twist the universe or the character with a trope, like genderswap AUs, making one or both a werewolf, BSDM an A/B/O universes, or adding daemons.

I'd like to see more canon divergence AUs. There are some though, like I've read AUs that have Bucky escaping Hydra before Steve is found, or ones were the serum worked differently or such.
schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)

[personal profile] schneefink 2014-09-05 09:25 am (UTC)(link)
I don't remember reading "Steve is the Winter Soldier" - any stories you can recommend?
My favorite canon-divergent AU I've read so far is "Steve survived the plane crash."
ratcreature: RatCreature smokes Crack (crack)

[personal profile] ratcreature 2014-09-05 10:25 am (UTC)(link)
There is a tag for this trope on AO3 with about forty works but I haven't read any, because it is a trope that I'd only like if handled really well (unlike tropes I enjoy even when not written awesomely), and I haven't seen any of these widely recced.
ratcreature: Your devoted minion. (minion)

[personal profile] ratcreature 2014-09-14 12:16 am (UTC)(link)
I've just read a Steve as Winter Soldier AU I liked: Full of Grace by Odsbodkins
ratcreature: reading RatCreature (reading)

[personal profile] ratcreature 2014-09-05 10:17 am (UTC)(link)
Have you read any good Steve as Wintersoldier ones? I admit I'm somewhat wary of that particular change, but I can see potential if handled well.
metanewsmods: Abed wearing goggles (Default)

[personal profile] metanewsmods 2014-09-05 08:32 am (UTC)(link)
Hi, may we link this at [community profile] metanews?
musesfool: Steve and Bucky in the Alps (i'm your gun)

[personal profile] musesfool 2014-09-05 02:12 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I find the fact that people TAKE AWAY the BFF from childhood thing really baffing. That is my favorite kind of pairing! It's why movieverse Steve/Bucky is my favorite thing! (I also like comicsverse Steve/Bucky, but it's different in a variety of ways, and that's a major one.) Even in the one or two AUs I've written, I've still included it.

I sometimes read those AUs, but they never really work for me emotionally without that factor.
cesperanza: (Default)

[personal profile] cesperanza 2014-09-05 03:19 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a great meta! yes, this clarifies a lot for me--I hadn't even got this far but you're right, so right that I've actually backbuttoned out of any story where Steve and Bucky don't know each other already! They come IN knowing each other. Its much more soulbondy/ other half of me-ish, for me!
scrollgirl: b&w steve rogers overlaid with captain america shield; text: a good man (marvel steve)

[personal profile] scrollgirl 2014-09-05 03:50 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't ship Steve/Bucky, but this is how I feel a little about Tony/Rhodey since in the MCU they *did* meet at a young age at MIT when Tony was probably 14 years old. I love that they were hormonal teenagers at college, living away from home for the first time, struggling with school and finding their purpose in life... That's a very specific origin story! Heck, it's basically every college AU in every fandom *ever* -- and it's actually canon for Tony and Rhodey.

Tony/Rhodey gets far too little attention for me to turn up my nose at AUs, but I will admit that there's always a little voice in the back of my head saying, "Not quite right!" Like, I have a huge Tony/Rhodey mutual follow on Tumblr who is writing short meet-cute ficlets. I love her writing, but they're missing a key ingredient of this lifetime of shared history. Moving away from that feels a bit untrue to the MCU characters. Unfortunately, so much of MCU fic totally ignores Rhodey anyway and forgets that this is the guy who has known Tony the longest and best, save for Obadiah Stane (which is a whole other story), so it's hard for me to get too picky.

(Actually, one thing I find... inaccurate? about comics Steve/Bucky is when shippers insist that Bucky has known Steve the longest. Shouldn't that really be Jan, Hank, Tony, and Thor? In terms of actual lived experience, Steve's spent more years thinking Bucky was dead than he's spent actually being friends with Bucky. I mean, unless I'm seriously misunderstanding how the Marvel timeline works.)
Edited (i realized that "oldest friend" can mean more than one thing) 2014-09-05 15:51 (UTC)
spatz: (Steve & Bucky)

[personal profile] spatz 2014-09-05 06:56 pm (UTC)(link)
(Also, now that apparently I am in this fandom and sticking around for awhile, I guess I need to figure out which tag(s) to use for it. MCU? Avengers? Captain America? Why so confusing?)

Hah, yeah, my own organizational urges hit this wall on AO3 when I went to post my first CATWS story. I wound up retagging everything MCU, then subtagging with the dominant movie it was associated with/most references the events of. If there's any sort of team involvement, I tag with Avengers. I'm less diligent about my DW/Tumblr tagging, but this post for example would probably be tagged MCU and Captain America under those rules.

AUs are a sort of test to define the most critical, key aspects of a character

Ahhh, I'd never heard that theory before, but *yes*. Which is interesting, because unlike you, [personal profile] musesfool and [personal profile] cesperanza, I don't feel the absolute need for Steve and Bucky to be childhood friends in the AUs I've enjoyed -- but I *do* need for Steve and Bucky to both have trauma they're dealing with. If Bucky's a traumatized war vet and Steve's a dorky art student with no emotional scars, I might finish reading the story but I won't save it. (note: this only applies to world/setting-divergent AUs; canon-divergent AUs are a whole other kettle of fish)

That makes total sense to me, because I actually didn't get into Steve/Bucky until after CATWS. BFFs-falling-in-love has never been a pairing dynamic that snags my attention, though it's a favorite of many friends, so I liked their revised friendship in CA:TFA but wasn't captured by it. And I had read Brubaker's Winter Soldier arc, but the teenage sidekick backstory and Cosmic Cube deus ex machina sidestepped around some of the things I love the most - namely, equality in my ships and exploration of identity when dealing with amnesia. So the specific portrayal in CATWS was the one that grabbed me by the guts and dragged me into being fannish about them: the combination of their past friendship and camaraderie, Steve's loneliness/depression, and Bucky's mindwiping/captivity/amnesia. And the latter two are clearly the most important to me because I can get by without the first in AUs, although I love the canon dynamic with all three most of all.
gwyn: (steve and bucky)

[personal profile] gwyn 2014-09-05 07:29 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a really interesting discussion and has so many points I agree with, especially sholio's comments about their friendship, but I really loved what you said here:

And I had read Brubaker's Winter Soldier arc, but the teenage sidekick backstory and Cosmic Cube deus ex machina sidestepped around some of the things I love the most - namely, equality in my ships and exploration of identity when dealing with amnesia.

I ADORED the Winter Soldier books, but not in quite the same fannish way that I get with other things, and what you mentioned were huge aspects for me -- when they revised Bucky's character and the relationship with Steve for the MCU, it so totally, totally worked for me precisely because of what you mention here. (It probably didn't hurt that I've loved SebStan for yonks, but who knows, maybe I'd have loved it even without him.) I also had a hard time with the fact that Bucky does so much of his healing away from Steve, because I wanted them to be together, healing each other.

I've read a few AUs (which is amazing to me, because I usually never read them) where I feel like the writer's doing a good enough job of developing a friendship that feels like the movies, but those seem far and few between. Anyways, yay for saying this, it helps me clarify my own thoughts.
attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)

[personal profile] attackfish 2014-09-17 08:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Your essay made me think about what exactly we call an AU, and I made a post about it. It's only tangentially related to your essay, but I thought I'd send you a link: