Sanctioned Spoilers

by Matthew Derman

13 February 2014

Isn’t modern life grand? A comicbook fan can dig into the histories of specific characters, creators, titles, etc. via the numerous online archives and blogs that are out there for just that purpose.

Isn’t modern life grand? We have so much information at our fingertips now, available all the time and with constant updates and additions. As a comicbook fan, I love being able to dig into the histories of specific characters, creators, titles, etc. via the numerous online archives and blogs that are out there for just that purpose. I like checking release dates for upcoming issues, getting recaps of the big news coming out of all the conventions I can’t afford to attend, and all the other Internet avenues I use to stay connected to comicbook current events. It’s a great time to be a collector or hobbyist, not just for comic fans but for everyone, because it’s much easier to stay informed and be part of a community now than it ever has been. As with all such advances, though, there are downsides, and when it comes to comicbooks the most obvious of these is that, in the midst of all the other info-sharing, important story details are often teased, leaked, discussed, or otherwise spoiled before the stories themselves get published. So if you’re the kind of fan (like me) who isn’t interested in knowing what happens before it happens, navigating the online comicbook community can be a little tricky.

I should say at this point that I don’t inherently have a problem with all spoilers, and in fact I spoil things freely when I write about them for PopMatters or my own blog. Once a comic has been published, I think its contents are fair game, and if you don’t want to have them spoiled for you, it’s probably a good idea to read the actual comic before reading anything about it. I try to do this anyway, because if I read someone else’s opinion on any work of art before experiencing it for myself, then my own reaction to it will necessarily be influenced to some degree but that other person. I’m digressing a little here, but what I’m trying to say is that, if people want to divulge the details of a story that is already out there, accessible to the public, then they should feel free. I don’t take any issue at all with post-publication spoilers.

What bothers me are advance, officially-sponsored-by-the-publisher spoilers, like when solicitations for future issues or series ruin surprises in current books, or the overzealous advertising for a new title gives away all the content of its debut. I’ve read quite a few first issues of major event comics that did nothing but establish the premise of the series, even though it had already been firmly established by months and months of promotional material. I understand that the writers of these events have to treat the debut as if everyone reading it was coming in fresh, but for those of us who aren’t (which is probably most readers of any event), it makes the opening chapters feel redundant and wasteful. Similarly, I’m not eager to read in interviews about a writer’s intentions for a series before I read the series itself, because then I’m less surprised and/or delighted if it successfully pulls them off. Nor do I want hints in the solicitations about what a book is going to do in its next arc before the current one wraps up, since then I’m less likely to be surprised by the current arc’s conclusion. If I can see the shape of the far future, the shape of the near future becomes exposed to me, too, at least to some degree.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: in Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s recently completed Young Avengers series, one of the main characters was Kid Loki. By the end of the series, the character had used some of his magic to age himself up, becoming something more like Young Adult Loki. It was a significant moment for the character and the book when it happened, the end of Loki’s personal arc and also the culmination of a lot of what had happened in the whole series up to that point. However, something like one or two weeks before Loki grew up in-story, Marvel solicited the first issue of Loki: Agent of Asgard, a new series that would be starring the older Loki. And in those solicitations, it was unavoidably revealed that Loki would be an adult again by the time Young Avengers ended. Sure, the details of why and how he aged so quickly were still a mystery, but all the same, the actual scene in which it happens lost a lot of its impact for me because I already knew what was going on. There was no tension, no drama in the reveal, because it was a reveal the publisher had already made. Young Avengers is still just as good a book as it ever was, but that scene didn’t hit me the way it was meant to, since I saw it coming before I even started reading.

That’s just one instance of one kind of officially-released spoiler, but it happens all the time. We already know Lex Luthor is joining the Justice League when Forever Evil ends, even though that won’t be for another couple months. And Marvel’s next big event, Original Sin, centers on a shocking murder, and they’re already telling us who dies. Of course, we don’t know who the killer is, but in theory, couldn’t the victim have also remained unknown, so that the full weight of his death would’ve been felt by anyone who read the first issue? It seems like an unnecessary piece of information to give us up front, though perhaps I’m too quick to judge this event based on my experiences with previous ones. In any case, solicitations, interviews, house ads, and comicbook journalism all contribute to the steady supply of data coming in all the time about what’s going to happen next, and it often feels overwhelming and inescapable.

At the same time, I don’t want to shut off the flow of information entirely. What I said at the beginning of this column stands: I love how much data is out there and I think that, overall, it adds more to my comicbook fandom than it takes away (not least of all because I participate in it through my own writing). I wouldn’t want to give up all of the archives and analysis just to guard myself from sometimes finding something out too soon. I don’t even want to lose all the promotion, because I do like to know which creators are working on which new series, and what those books are about. So the scales are heavily weighted on the positive side, but the good stuff doesn’t stop each spoiler from stinging in the moment, it merely soothes the pain more quickly.

I also don’t have any realistic suggestions as to how things might change to prevent the need for these distasteful spoilers moving forward. Publishers have to try and target everyone, and some people want to be given clues and eight-page previews and major plot points before they commit to reading something. I don’t fault the comics-makers for trying to make their products as appealing as possible, because that’s the game they’ve always been playing. Plus at this point, if they tried to pull back, to be more actively withholding of their narrative secrets, people would get angry. Greater freedom of information is where the cultural momentum’s been headed for a while, and comics aren’t any more immune to that trend than anything else. People study the solicitations hard. They write long critical/speculative pieces about them. There are enough comics news sites now that constant new previews and interviews are necessary so that they can all have relevant content. It’s all an integral part of the industry and its community, so I’m not suggesting we do away with any of it. I can’t imagine what that would even look like.

I suppose all I’m really doing here is trying to put a certain frustration into words, to explain the relatively small but ever-present aspect of being a comicbook enthusiast that needles at me the most. Because I do try to keep myself from reading any spoilers that’ll ruin anything I care about too much, which is, I suppose, what everybody has to do. You figure out how much information is more than you want, and then find resources you know won’t reveal those things, and learn to avoid the rest. Yet it’s not always possible to avoid everything if you want to stay plugged in at all. Stuff slips through the cracks, because there are so many cracks in the Internet, and they’re so easy to find, and once in a while they’re enormous. It’s not a problem with an obvious solution, or maybe even with any viable solutions, but it’s also not so prevalent that it can’t be handled. At least, not yet. The fear remains that, as time goes on, the sanctity of story could be sacrificed more and more in the name of “teasing” a potential audience. That’s a bridge to be crossed if and when it’s reached, though. For now, spoilers are a minor and stubborn pain, easy to dull or ignore but still always there.

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