Bruce Banner Syndrome

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Synonyms: Bruce Banner tag syndrome, Bruce Banner fic syndrome, Bruce Banner overtagging syndrome, the Bruce Banner Phenomenon, the Bruce Banner tag situation, the Bruce Banner Effect, the Bruce Banner problem
See also: Overtagging, Token minority
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Bruce Banner Syndrome describes the situation where the character tag for a secondary canon character (usually on Archive of Our Own) is overrun by fics in which they're a minor character — sometimes so minor that they don't even have a speaking part or appear in a scene. It therefore becomes difficult or even impossible to find works where they play a major role, much to the frustration of fans who love the character.

This is a typical result of overtagging. It is one of the reasons that many fans have advocated for a secondary characters field on AO3. Overtagging was rarely an issue on FanFiction.Net and other fanfiction archives that only allow limited tags, but Bruce Banner Syndrome may also occur on Wattpad.

This term is mostly used on the anon meme fail_fandomanon, where it was coined following one anonymous user's struggle to navigate the "Bruce Banner" tag:

So named exclusively because around 2015 a nonnie spent ages going through his tag, trying to find works actually focused on him or even in some cases containing him at all. Said nonnie has freely and openly acknowledged many other characters experience this.[1]

Nonnies in 2017 discussing the same kind of problem with a different Marvel Cinematic Universe pairing also noted that Bruce Banner was far from the only character to have this problem.

It's never actually the unique state of the Bruce Banner tag that caused the meme as much as the many updates we got before BBA[note 1] cracked in the wake of CW and couldn't desperately go through the tag anymore. Before that it was like every day or two for over a year.[2]

+1 The Bruce Banner tag is the symbol of a greater problem. BBA just made that particular fraction of it into frequent (fairly funny) news.[3]

An update to the Archive of Our Own's search and filtering system in 2018[4] made it easier for fans to filter out juggernaut ships and popular characters in the quest for fics focusing on Bruce Banner (or other characters and ships who might suffer from his syndrome). However, this does not solve the fundamental issue of overtagging that leads to Bruce Banner Syndrome, as users are still free to add whichever tags they please to a work regardless of how "necessary" they are. It also does not mean there will be more works focusing on that specific character or ship, only that it might be easier to locate them.


The nonnie referred to above who went through Bruce Banner's tag was probably the one who started the November 2015 thread "Today in World of AO3". The OP comment read:

Your Challenge, Should You Choose to Accept It:

Go to AO3. Pick a tag--a character, a relationship, a freeform, whatever. Then let it sort by Date Updated and bring us back the highlights, good and bad, of page one of that tag. For maximum impact, turn off AO3 Savior for a minute if you've got it--remind yourself what the wilds are like.[5]

The same nonnie then made a subthread about the "Bruce Banner" tag, saying that the contents of the first page of works for the tag that day were "low even by the standards of MCU"[6] and then giving a rundown of the contents of the page. At the end of the comment, the nonnie finishes with:

Incidentally, you know what there isn't on this page? Fic where Bruce Banner is the main character. And I think he's a significant secondary character in exactly two of these. Pepper/Tony shippers, I'm thinking of having a sullenness party; can you bring the wine? 'Cause y'all got it even worse than me and this is bad enough. I'll handle the catering.)[6]"

Anonymous comments from the Bruce Banner tag nonnie[note 1] continued on into 2016, mostly posted to the recurring thread "Summary Executions, Tag Madness, and Other WTFeries"[note 2][7] The nonnie noted, "If you haunt a character tag for someone in a juggernaut fandom who isn't, like, Steve or Tony level popular, you pretty rapidly begin to understand why people are outright desperate for a Secondary Characters field."[8]

In February 2016, another nonnie asked:

....are there ever any actual Bruce-centered fics in the Bruce Banner tag?[9]

Bruce Banner tag anon replied:

Slightly more than one per two pages, but less than one per page, I'd guess.[10]

Late in February, other nonnies began to occasionally delve into the Bruce Banner tag themselves. One nonnie noted, "I'm not even that into Bruce Banner but if I could think of some kind of plot I would write a story for Bruce Banner tag anon just so there was something in the tag that DIDN'T COMPLETELY SUCK. And was about Bruce."[11]

Bruce Banner tag anon described the worse example of needlessly tagged Bruce Banner they'd seen after months of browsing the tag:

You know, the very worst one I bothered reading was a Tony/Loki Pacific Rim fusion. The pairing's not my usual jam but I sometimes like PR fusions and this one had an interesting hook involving squirrels, so I wound up reading all of it. And Bruce never even speaks. He's seen crossing the cafeteria at one point, and there's a few paragraphs of the others discussing how he's doing bio-weapons research (uh...) because the Hulk is only good for distracting kaiju (uh...). And then he never comes up again.

I mean I've gotten resigned to the idea people will apparently tag for Bruce Banner if they're planning on having him speak, but that was a new low.[12]

In May 2016, one anon referred to this as "the Bruce Banner Phenomenon".[13] In August 2016, two nonnies discussed "the Bruce Banner tag situation"[14] and in March 2017 a nonnie used the phrase "the Bruce Banner Effect"[15]

The first usage of "Bruce Banner syndrome" was in post #615's thread "Re: Ten most recent fics for your OTP/fave" in March of 2017, almost two years after Bruce Banner nonnie's first post, in reference to fics tagged Georgi Popovich.[16] Another nonnie replied, "There's a Bruce Banner analog in every fandom!"[17] Subsequent uses occurred in November 2017;[18] January,[19] March,[20] May,[21] June[22] and November[23] 2018.

Bruce Banner Anon's long struggle with the Bruce Banner tag was also frequently referenced at this time. For example:

Bruce Banner Anon totally changed how I tag for characters, very much for the better. And also made me start writing Bruce Banner fic.[24]

Even if there’s more than a few gen relationships, I just put the most important ones or I choose a couple. Like, if a character has a very significant one-on-one scene with another character, but it’s only maybe 700 words long in a 40k fic, I wouldn’t tag it. If someone’s gen relationship with another character is lovingly developed throughout the fic, I would put that down.

In a fic that is X Character-Centric and involves lots of interaction with several different major characters that have a group named in the canon, some people, including me, put Character & [Insert X Team or Community Named In Canon] and I'm sure that that annoys people, but as someone who’s really into friendship, I like that because it also doesn’t clutter the tags like having [Character] & [Six Other Tags for Six Other Characters].

If a fic is ensemble, I’ll just put Ensemble in the tags, but if there’s important relationships within it, I’ll tag those too. I usually don’t tag more than three gen relationships.

I think you should use the Bruce Banner Rule—only tag the gen relationship if you figure that someone into that gen relationship would not be bitterly disappointed when reading your fic.

I write a lot of friendship.[25]

Other Frequent Sufferers

While Bruce Banner is the originator of the syndrome, many characters in various other fandoms have also been noted as suffering from the same affliction. Some examples cited by fans include:

Elrond (Tolkien):

As an Elrond fan who has done this and read most of the results, I feel that Elrond does have a nasty case of Bruce Banner syndrome. He turns up in the background to heal people or provide refreshments or occasionally he frowns sternly and tells people off.

He rarely gets to make jokes, have character development or do anything interesting of his own, and I think he should not be tagged unless that happens.

'Elrond provides refreshments' is not really a fair reflection of Elrond in the Hobbit, let alone in the Silm.

Elrond is always the bridesmaid, never the bride.[26]

Aradia Megido (Homestuck):

Sometimes I think of it as Aradia Megido Syndrome, based on the times I tried looking for gen of her, but Bruce Banner is a good standard bearer.[27]
It was tough looking for fic centred on Aradia Megido when I wasn't into her major pairings. Even when I was, damn but there was a lot of background Aradia/Sollux when I went looking for moirail fic.[28]

Gavroche (Les Miserables):

I'm a thousand years late to Les Mis fandom, but I love this little urchin and he seems to suffer badly from Bruce Banner Overtagging Syndrome. Any recs for fics where he's either the main character or the star of a decently prominent subplot in a larger fic? I'll take any version.[29]

In 2019, a nonnie started a thread called "Bruce Banner Syndrome" in post #1012, asking:

Which character in your fandom is the one most doomed to be a background character? Who do you search the tags most fruitlessly for?[30]

Characters nominated in the replies included:

Dream SMP's TommyInnit Problem

While the term is usually not used in the Dream SMP fandom, many characters fall victim to this same concept, due to the exteme prevalence of works focusing on TommyInnit, often from young authors who will tag every DSMP character, even if they do not show up in the fic. This is frequently complained about by fans of less popular characters, such as Purpled[31], CaptainPuffy, Jack Manifold[32], and ConnorEatsPants[33].

aaaand they're all still tommy-centric. like come on i had hoped for a slightly different brand of mistagging or mischaracterization this time. seriously.

xpoolboy on Tumblr

i love love love c!tommy man but he's a headache to navigate if you want another character centric fic. And I know the common consensus is "just exclude him out of the tags" but I don't want get RID of him I just don't want him to be the main POV of the story. Like, what happens if I miss a once in a lifetime, most wonderfully beautiful fic that makes me cry tears of joy, just cause they tagged "Tommyinnit is a little shit" for a specific scene? VERY Unlikely scenario but the 'what if' part is haunting me.

An anon on mcytblrconfessions

ngl tommy-centric fics are a Plague that dominates way too many ao3 tags. it almost feels like people go out of their way to make him the main character of everything

An anon on Tumblr

it's not just sbi fics. a month ago or so i wanted to read purpled fics and basically Everything i saw was a tommy centric fic with him as a side character. i gave up looking before i even found One fic that interested me

An anon on Tumblr

Other fans, particularly fans of Tommy, object to the association of this problem with Tommy specifically rather than just bad tagging.

but secondly, this only further confirms my initial thought. like, there’s nothing wrong with expressing annoyance about this trend in a general sense, but saying that it’s a problem with tommy specifically is absurd. this is just a problem for all fandoms everywhere, this is a problem that I run into all the time when I’m digging through the tommy tags or the sbi tags.

tobi-smp on Tumblr

every day ppl come on here and complain about inniters i frankly think you all need to follow different people. your problems would literally all be solved if you just like. didn’t follow inniters and didn’t read tommy centric fics. like idk how to tell you that if you’re seeing too much tommy content it is completely utterly 100% your fault. stop being so fucking bitter that people are having fun without you 😭 seriously you only ever have yourself to blame

sinoptics on Tumblr

Tumblr user apollos-boyfriend created a spreadsheet known as the Tommy Panama Papers, which documents the number of fics in a MCYT character tag after excluding Tommy, what percentage is left, and if the character has more without Tommy than they do with him.

AO3 Tag Limits

When tag limits were introduced to AO3 in 2021, fan discussions about the merits of the new policy revealed that a number of authors seemed to be unaware that their preference for tagging every character mentioned in the fic was bothering the majority of readers.

Notes & References


  1. ^ a b "Bruce Banner anon" and variations thereof started to be used several months after the nonnie in question started posting reports on the "Bruce Banner" AO3 tag. Users on fail_fandomanon don't have usernames, of course, and all post anonymously. However, memorable or reoccuring nonnies sometimes become "named anons" for ease of discussion and identification.
  2. ^ Like all recurring FFA threads, this one is subject to title drift. Sometimes it's just called "summary executions", and recently it's been called "WTF Tags, Summary Executions, Author Notes".


  1. ^ Anonymous in the AO3 on post 877. 2018-05-08.
  2. ^ Anonymous in Re: Most disgruntled shippers. 2017-09-28.
  3. ^ Anonymous in Re: Most disgruntled shippers. 2017-09-28.
  4. ^ Upcoming changes to the search & filter functionality, Archive of Our Own, June 6, 2018 (Accessed February 24, 2019).
  5. ^ Anonymous in the Today in World of AO3 on post 320. 2015-11-11.
  6. ^ a b Anonymous in the Today in World of AO3 on post 320. 2015-11-11.
  7. ^ Sample comments: 2016-01-26, 2016-02-11, 2016-03-22
  8. ^ Anonymous in Summary Executions, Tag Madness, and Other WTFeries thread. 2016-01-27
  9. ^ Anonymous in the WTF Tags, Summary Executions, Author Notes thread on post. 2016-02-11.
  10. ^ Anonymous in the WTF Tags, Summary Executions, Author Notes thread. 2016-02-11.
  11. ^ Anonymous, Re: Summary Executions, Tag Madness, and Other WTFeries. 2016-02-25.
  12. ^ Anonymous, Re: Summary Executions, Tag Madness, and Other WTFeries. 2016-02-25.
  13. ^ Anonymous in Re: Fandom Venting. 2016-05-07.
  14. ^ Anonymous in Re: Unpopular Opinions About Marvel. 2016-08-08.
  15. ^ Re: Steve/Bucky Thread - Fic Discussion 2017-03-21.
  16. ^ Re: Ten most recent fics for your OTP/fave. 2017-03-07.
  17. ^ Re: Ten most recent fics for your OTP/fave. 2017-03-08.
  18. ^ here on 2017-11-27.
  19. ^ Re: Fic Recs - Gavroche. 2018-01-31.
  20. ^ Re: 10 most recent fanworks in your fave's tag. 2018-03-27.
  21. ^ Re: AO3. 2018-05-08
  22. ^ Re: Fandom Venting. 2018-06-15
  23. ^ Re: The Online Free Speech Debate is Raging in Fan Fiction, Too on 2018-11-10 and Re: Fandom Venting on 2018-11-14.
  24. ^ Re: AO3. 2018-05-08.
  25. ^ Re: Fandom Brattiness. 2018-07-15.
  26. ^ Re: Fandom Venting. 2018-11-14.
  27. ^ Re: AO3. 2018-05-08.
  28. ^ Re: Bruce Banner Syndrome. 2019-01-13.
  29. ^ Re: Fic Recs - Gavroche. 2018-01-31.
  30. ^ Anonmyous, Bruce Banner Syndrome. 2019-01-13.
  31. ^ "do you have any c!purpled fic recs I struggle with finding good fic about him :(". 2022-03-23.
  32. ^ "the problem with trying to find jack manifold centric fics". 2023-09-17.
  33. ^ "what do y'all exclude when searching for your dsmp blorbo on ao3". 2023-05-13.