This post contains no comic book spoilers beyond a very vague hint, which may not even be correct! Fellow spoiler-phobes can safely read on.
Earlier this week there was quite the kerfuffle on Twitter, with Dan Slott, best known as the writer of Superior Spider-Man, criticising the spoiler filled articles that pop up on Bleeding Cool. The main complaint that was being raised is that the articles appeared online before a majority of readers could read the issue in question.
Thankfully the whole thing died down by morning and the two parties came to a (sort of) compromise. But the whole argument in general is an interesting topic that I think is worth pondering by all fans.
Now, I need to preface this by saying I hate spoilers. They ruin people’s enjoyment of stories and nobody deserves to have that surprise moment taken away. It can suck having a fan site post a spoiler, but when it comes to comic books I can understand where they’re coming from. Marvel and DC are both guilty of ruining their own stories before they even come out. Sure, Marvel ruining a story is different than a fan site, I understand that view point. But to us, the fans, is the effect any different? Potentially it can be even worse.
When Marvel spoil something upcoming then it legitimises the spoiler, it becomes news. What could have otherwise been a leaked detail crawling through message boards is now news that’s reported everywhere and talked about openly. It becomes much more difficult to avoid and ends up as an open topic on social media. As fans we simply assume everyone knows this information now because hey, spoilers are the way the game is played. Since the fan sites are actually expected to report on these ‘official’ spoilers, I can see why they’d sometimes want to discuss ‘unofficial’ spoilers too. Besides there isn’t a whole lot of difference between them in terms of content, just look at the time DC spoilt an unexpected character death in mainstream media. Nothing is deemed too big to be spoilt.
So who’s in the wrong here? The company for announcing spoilers, the fansites for reporting on them, or the fans for spreading them further?
A big problem is that comics don’t work like movies or video games. On the surface sure, they’re consumer products that need sales. But comic books live and die on pre-order numbers. As of right now they still rely on print, even if a book is critically acclaimed if there’s no copies of it out there then fans aren’t going to find it. Hyping up a series in advance gets people to try it out. This keeps the book alive. Spoilers actually drive up sales.
We also have an environment where we know precisely what’s coming out for the next three months, complete with readily available cover pictures and teasing solicitation text. Again, it’s a side effect of the distribution model but it means as fans we’re getting more official information on things that haven’t even happened yet.
I don’t like that this is the way it is, but it’s the way things are with the very bizarre setup we have with comics right now. So I can at least see where Marvel and DC are coming from, when they try to hype up a new series by focusing on the most shocking element. It’s become natural to tease and spoil to ensure we put in our pre-orders. Spoilers are already everywhere and with solicitations they’re arguably part of the marketing as it is.
However I think because of that an atmosphere has built up around spoilers where all of us, fans, websites and even the original company, don’t think twice about spoilers anymore. We all accept it’s how the things work. Speculating about upcoming events is fun, hell I’ve done it myself, when there’s so much teasing information there for the taking I can see why people want to make use of it and get used to the idea of spoilers.
But it’s reached a point where huge developments are ruined before literally anybody can find out naturally. Marvel and DC are both guilty of announcing big news before that comic has even hit the stands. Was it worth ruining it for a large percentage of fans? Surely they could have at least waited until it was on sale for 24 hours?
The necessity of spoilers is put into question somewhat when we look to other comic book publishers. Saga, for example, is a huge hit in sales but there are no spoilers of it released by Image Comics. The comic sells purely on how good it is. Even the solicitation text is rarely more than a few brief words. I would argue name recognition drew some attention to it originally, but right now it’s maintaining high sales in issues and trades through the strength of the writing and art. Invincible is another hit for Image, it makes use of teasers sometimes, most deliberately misleading, but it doesn’t outright spoil what’s going to happen. It’s not a perfect comparison, I’m not arguing it is, but it is something to think about. A middle ground for Marvel and DC could be to duplicate Invincible’s model, release cryptic teasers about upcoming events but leave all the details in the comic itself.
There’s also a side effect happening from our hearty consumption of spoilers, we’re spoiling comic book tie-ins too. Arrow is a big hit on TV, but practically all the comic book news websites will spoil upcoming guest appearances months before the episodes air. Any news or speculation on the latest comic book movie is broadcast far and wide, even if it spoils elements of the plot. Is the audience really that desperate for information? Or are we all just so numb to spoilers we expect them everywhere now?
I’m sure Marvel and DC would argue otherwise, but I don’t think we need spoilers. Maybe even some of you disagree too (which is fine, this is only my opinion after all!), but I think this atmosphere of spoilers we’re catering is just moving us towards a place where we know more and more about stories before we’ve even consumed them.
Think about your favourite shock moment in comics. Something you couldn’t have seen coming that really blew you away. If you knew it was coming all along would it have hit you as hard? I’m sure you’d have still enjoyed the story, but it’d have definitely been missing something. Being surprised is enjoyable, it’s memorable, and we’re losing it.
So what can be done? If the general audience really want spoilers then I suppose we’re basically doomed to a spoiler-filled future. But by voicing concerns over the current state and joining the discussion, then perhaps we can at least steer spoilers away from being so very visible. If we all calmly explain that spoiling a comic before it’s even out is not okay, then perhaps Marvel and DC will delay the ‘news’ to give some of us a chance to experience it on our own first. The easiest thing we can do is just not spoil things ourselves, be careful what we discuss on social media, and spare a thought for the fan that’s blissfully unaware of what awaits them.