Avengers-Steve Bucky past

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.


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I think it's interesting that so many people are trying to push that typical rom-com aspect onto them. The friends-to-lovers is another popular romance trope and I'm really surprised not to see that!

I do want to wade more into the Steve/Bucky side of things, but I have my Marvel OTP, and I'm a bit wary of venturing into other waters ;)
I was going to say I didn't realize friends to lovers was that common, but then I realized that it's all over the place in certain contexts, but not in others! Obviously about 90% of canon-based (i.e. non-AU) slash is basically that. But you don't get it very often in AUs, or in romance novels. And now I'm kind of wondering why not.
turning this a wee bit on its head
it's been a long day, but I'm gonna offer something which has occurred to me previously about characters and AUs. I'm not into MCU despite having a reasonably awesome comicbook collection.

Whilst SGA generated more than its fair share of AUs, some of the AU were still SF/fantasy tweaks. However, Professionals and the Magnificent Seven generated HODS of AUs -- more so than canon AUs. Both of these are nominally in relatively unfamiliar canon universes 1970s Britain (London) and wild west. They're recognisable verses, which you can easily watch, but just a wee bit squint and difficult to describe. Bodie and Doyle's giant mobile phones are hilarious. It's easier to transpose them into a 'verse that you can describe. Magnificent Seven typifies this in that the canon wild west became fanon ATF, to the point where I actually thought when I came across the fanfic that it was a ATF tv series. Colour me surprised when I saw the actually tv series in the American Wild West (sic) .

With Bucky and Captain America you've got a dichotomy. 1930s/40 blokes in the twentieth century.YOu're actually dealing with two verses already, adding a third or fourth confusing.

Re: turning this a wee bit on its head
I've heard of the ATF 'verse in M7! Even though I've never actually seen M7 or read the fic for it. But yeah, I kinda knew that was a thing.

With Bucky and Captain America you've got a dichotomy. 1930s/40 blokes in the twentieth century.YOu're actually dealing with two verses already, adding a third or fourth confusing.

Hmmm .... most people don't add, though: they replace. That is, the fish-out-of-water thing isn't an aspect of their story that's typically kept. I don't know if I've EVER seen, say, an AU set in the 1940s in which Steve is actually from the 1890s (though now I'm fascinated to consider it -- "time traveler in the wrong decade" when neither decade is the present day!).

And that's kind of what Cesperanza's post was talking about -- mine went off in a different direction, but she pointed out that Steve and Bucky are historical people and are kind of firmly rooted in their historical context; it's hard to remove them and plunk them down wholesale into a different setting and still have them remain the same. And I guess for me, that's sort of true and not-true; I can apparently handle a large setting shift as long as the core relationship isn't messed with too much.
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.

This!

I had read and nodded along to Cesperanza's post, but I think this hits it on the head even more.

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 feel this a lot in SPN fandom which has two brothers, and when an AU tries to make them friends or worse yet friends who met late in life I just can't handle it.

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.

And this too. Again I bring up SPN because that's the most recent fandom where I've been reading AUs -- and I am not a huge fan of AUs in general, but they work for me in this case -- and the best AUs actually usually keep some important queues from the show. For example deaths of parents happen in a certain way that recalls events of the show. And if the parents are alive, that changes the characters significantly enough that the author needs to do so much additional legwork to get the characters to be recognizable that it rarely works (i.e. rarely is the author of the AU going to spend enough time on this). So what ends up happening is that the author ends up relying on a characterization that was produced as a result of some events on the show that don't happen in AU and the reader is left wondering but....why is the character like this when event A never happened to them?? (Or the character is a completely different person).
Oh yeahhhh, SPN! When I was writing the above post, I couldn't think of another big fannish pairing in which the participants had known each other since childhood, but yeah, Sam and Dean! And while I never read widely enough in the fandom to have run into AUs much ... yeah, I think you're right that it's another case where you have to port over big chunks of their canon past in order to make their present-day relationship work. Actually, Sam and Dean are SO much a product of their backstory (Dean especially) that it's hard to even imagine what an AU version who grew up in a regular, normal family would be like! Hardly the same character at all.
I read an excellent AU the other day (Kingdom Come by cheesewithmy: https://archiveofourown.org/works/1932195) where Dean has a background with the military makes sense enough to give him the same kind of personality he has on the show. But that's exactly it, I'm glad you know that show's canon because I didn't want to spoil it if you didn't: if Mary and John don't die, Dean and Sam are just not the same. You have to work really hard to get Dean into the same position of protect-Sammy-at-all-costs if they still have their parents, etc. Actually I was really impressed with the way this author wove in canon because that's another thing. How do you write AU for Castiel while still having him in character? Now that's hard! What do you do to replace the million-years of existence pre Sam&Dean, and then his basic lack of knowledge about certain things. People do succeed, giving him a very sheltered upbringing etc, but it's damn hard in my opinion without portion over a lot of stuff from the show.
Thank you for putting into words why I can't read most AUs for Steve/Bucky! I knew after reading a few of the usual tropes that they just weren't working, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why - but you are completely right, the characters don't fit the romcom trajectory and when they are shoehorned into one they feel all wrong because the history that Steve and Bucky should have between them isn't there.