Let me be clear, if you are reading “Batman Incorporated” or any other Batman related titles, spoilers are posted below. If you have somehow avoided the spoilers about tomorrow’s issue and do not want a major plot point revealed, then stop reading now. If you somehow don’t know the story of “Watchmen”, there are spoilers for that as well (and why the hell haven’t you read “Watchmen”?).You have been warned.
That would have been a nice thing for a lot of news sources, websites and DC Comics to say. They didn’t. Instead we ended up with a New York Post headline, “DC Killing Off Batman’s ‘Boy Wonder’ Damian Wayne”, blogs announcing “DC Comics to Kill Damian Wayne” and DC Comics posting an advertisement showing the letters “R.I.P.” floating over Damian’s body (later removing it upon realizing how asinine it was). All of this released before the comic itself.
This is not the first time that spoilers have leaked about a major death in a Marvel or DC story. Captain America #25, Batman #681, Fantastic Four #587, Spider-Man #700… unless you locked yourself in a basement with no cell phone, computer or land line at the beginning of the week, it was almost impossible to avoid spoilers on these issues. So why is it that comics are so much worse than almost every other medium when it comes to keeping major reveals under wraps and how does this affect the audience?
The first thing to consider is the business side, since both Marvel and DC are part of publically owned companies and have released information to media early before. I’ve found some sales figures for comics featuring the death of Captain America, the Human Torch and Spider-Man along with the sales of the previous issue. Batman was excluded as his death occurred in multiple issues (Batman #681 and Final Crisis #6), one of them being a mini-series causing even more difficulties in measuring a sales impact.
Captain America #24 – 79,880
Captain America #25 – 290,497 (264% increase)
Fantastic Four #586 – 38,108
Fantastic Four #587 – 115,488 (203% increase)
Spider-Man #699 – 74,904
Spider-Man #700 – 200,966 (168% increase)
* Numbers reflect first printing in North America only
Considering that Spider-Man #700 doubled the cover price, each of these deaths more than tripled the revenue from each series for a single issue. All six of these issues received a second printing, meaning it’s reasonable to believe that the orders sold out at the vendor level. However, this does not explain the distribution and publication of spoilers. These sales reflect the amount ordered from stores for a first printing of an issue and these orders are made two months in advance. The spoilers for each of the issues listed were not released until a week beforehand at the earliest (Spider-Man #700). Without a doubt, killing characters is good for business, but spoilers should have next to no effect.
Publishers actually go through a great deal of effort to avoid spoilers leaking. Within the industry a wide variety of tactics are used, ranging from non-disclosure agreements to mauve pages for scripts (making them impossible to Xerox). These controls only work to a certain point, that point being publication. Comics have to go from a publisher to a distributor to a store before they can reach a reader.
The death of Damian Wayne appears to have largely been leaked by comic stores passed along to media outlets. The same was true of the death of Peter Parker, when the comic was shipped one week early due to Christmas. It’s unfortunate that the leak is coming from a few stores rather than a single publisher. If fans didn’t want to have stories spoiled, then it would be possible for Marvel and DC to stop releasing spoilers with ease (Marvel appeared to learn this lesson after it revealed Captain America’s death to the media one day early). It’s much harder to plug leaks coming from a few stores (henceforth known as “dicks”) out of the thousands receiving issues. Spoilers can only be delayed so long, as long as proprietors are willing to break street dates and talk to the media.
Since it seems that we’re stuck with having these sorts of spoilers for major serialized comics, it’s worth considering how they impact us as readers. Spoilers, like taxes, are universally despised and nigh impossible to avoid. They have a visceral impact upon readers. Imagine having picked up “Watchmen” for the first time and seeing a note saying, “Ozymandias killed The Comedian.” Having a momentous twist revealed before reading it is not fun. It’s upsetting.
Does this lessen the value of the story or the potential enjoyment of a favorite comic though? Not really. Take the same Watchmen example and its notorious spoiler. Would it make you like the book less? Would you not want to read the story? Is its value based upon the revelation of the killer? Those are rhetorical questions, if you’re nodding your head right now, then go watch an M. Night Shyamalan film. If you’ve ever re-read a book, you’ve read a story which was 100% spoiled. You still re-read to appreciate the story and savor the craft. Good stories carry an inherent value that allow them to be repeated again and again. The University of California-San Diego even studied whether spoilers ruin enjoyment and found they did not, they sometimes even enhance it.
This doesn’t excuse the dicks spoiling the issue though. In the information age, it’s very difficult to avoid stories once they hit media sources. If you look at the homepage of Newsarama, it takes all of five seconds to figure out what has happened, even if they don’t specifically spell out “Damian dies.” Then there are the perils of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media as well. Going one step further, when ABC News announces “The Death of Captain America” one day early or DC Comics places a R.I.P. Robin image at the top of its website, it becomes almost impossible to not know what’s coming. If you read “Watchmen” without knowing its premise, then you can probably recall the excitement and shock at discovering the machinations of Ozymandias. It’s not a core element of enjoying or understanding the story, but it was a thrill and a memorable one. Why would you want to spoil that for anyone? There’s no good reason.
So do spoilers matter? A little. They don’t ruin anything, but they do remove some small moment of excitement from a reader’s experience. That’s unfortunate. There is only so much a publisher can do to prevent spoilers from spreading across the web. DC Comics does not have the money necessary to seek out and punish outlets which leak their comics. They would also be better off spending that money on employing talented creative staff. They shouldn’t embrace spoiling the story though. Posting the death of a major character on their website the day before it is revealed makes them just as bad as the dicks who post spoilers early or leak them to the media.
So if the new issue of “Batman Incorporated” was spoiled for you, don’t worry, it’ll still be a great Grant Morrison story, but please don’t be a dick.
And the pop up spoiler has been reposted on the DC Comics website on the same day as the comics release.
Don’t be a dick, Dan DiDio.