The last forty-eight hours or so have been an exercise on how the PR machines of the Big Two work these days. First, DC released a pretty nifty video narrated by Geoff Johns summarizing what you need to know about Trinity War, which ran down all the players and the build-up to the event. Considering how critical we’ve been of DC in the past, I was planning on running a piece about the video saying “Hey, this is some good promo stuff!” until I got to the very end of the video, which spoiled the ending of the crossover to promote Forever Evil, the next big DC event.
Now, if you read DC’s solicits and/or have basic reasoning skills, the ending of Trinity War shouldn’t come as a surprise. But there’s no way in hell I’m going to direct anyone, especially new readers interested in DC, to a video that says “At the end of the event, ______ happens and the ______ win.” I don’t care what 3D cover laden event it leads into, I just don’t see why giving away the ending is a smart way to sell comics.
That leads us to this morning, when Marvel announced their next big event thingy, Inhumanity. Marvel upped their game and spoiled not one, but two events (Infinity and Battle of the Atom) to explain the premise of Inhumanity. While the X-crossover was only indirectly spoiled (by showing a dead character alive and well in a promo image), the former event, which has been hyped for months was explicitly spoiled.
Companies spoiling the end of their comics isn’t exactly a new development. Marvel in particular has done an exemplary job of spoiling high profile deaths for years, which have occasionally resulted in a short-term boost in sales for specific issues (like Captain America #25, for instance). But it used to be that these events were spoiled the day of release, not months in advance. It seems this week has marked the next era of spoilers, when major publishers openly spoil the endings to event comics before the first issue of those events hit shelves. I guess that’s the slippery slope we’re on. No longer are publisher spoiling a comic to help current sales. They’re spoiling to boost future sales.
Of course, there’s the argument that all this spoiling is necessary because of ne’er do wells on the Internet. Tom Brevoort admitted not too long ago that Marvel would rather spoil the events for fans than have it leak via Bleeding Cool or a comic book forum. They claimed it was a necessary evil, and that if Rich Johnston and the rest of the Internet would fall off a cliff, there’d be no need to announce to news outlets what would happen at the end of their comics. I think the latest round of spoilage shows what a load of BS that is. Marvel and DC want to sell comics, and I guess they feel the best way of building hype is explicitly saying what’s going to happen in them.
It seems weird to me that both companies are so wanton to do this. Event comics are typically plot driven affairs, devoid of characterization, strong dialogue or anything else. While the art’s usually top-notch, event comics aren’t known for inventive layouts or bold new designs or groundbreaking storytelling techniques. And there’s nothing wrong with that either. Not every comic needs to compete for an Eisner or appeal to the high-fallutin’ hipster comic reader. After all, no one watches Wrestlemania for nuanced dialogue and lighting. No one watches Pacific Rim for the deep characterization or the redemptive tale of the main characters. And no one reads event comics for their groundbreaking art or revolutionary character studies.
People read event comics because of the endings. They want to see who lives, who dies and what happens to the universe in its wake. They want to see who wins and who loses. And when that all gets spoiled, I think it significantly cheapens the entertainment value. Who wants to watch a three hour basketball game when you already know the final score? Are you really going to slog through timeouts, commercials and missed shots, or are you just going to watch the highlights on ESPN?
At the root of all this is the way event comics build off each other. In many ways, it’s a good selling technique. If Wolversanity focuses on Wolverine going insane in the aftermath of Avengers Asylum, people will eventually want to buy both to get the full story. Event comics following up on each other draw readers into shared universes and keep them invested and wanting more. But I think that effect is blunted when you have to spoil the current event to promote the next one. And while I’m sure DC and Marvel could be more vague when it comes to their events, I think sales have shown that there’s little blowback from retailers or fans when they leak the book’s ending.
The cynic in me wants to say all this spoiling is a good thing. If DC and Marvel keep spoiling the end of their big events before they come out, I don’t have to spend money to know what happens. I know there’s a few who feel that way and there’s even more readers who are a little less excited to read Infinity and Trinity Wars now that they know how they end. But until a comic’s sales are hurt by being spoiled in advance, we’re not going to see the publisher stop using spoilers to sell comics.
The funny thing is, while I don’t care for the publishers spoiling a comic in advance, I can’t decide if I’m in the minority or not. About half the comments I’ve seen on one of Inhumanity reveals are along the lines of “Cool, __________ is coming back.” Hell, beyond some mild annoyance, I can’t even pretend I’m upset about having an event I’ve invested zero time in spoiled for me already. I don’t know, maybe I’ve just written 1000 words over a nonstarter issue. It wouldn’t be the first time.