SPOILERS BELOW. It hasn’t even come out yet and Batman #50 is already the most analyzed comic of the year.
SOUNDTRACK: “The Rains of Castamere.”
About 15 or 16 years ago I wrote a column for The Comics Buyer’s Guide about a controversy of the day. It seems that at the time, retailers were mad at Marvel. It’s hard to picture, but use your imagination. I’m a little hazy on the details but I think it was about the gay Rawhide Kid.
At this time, let’s call it 2003, Marvel had announced that there would be a new Rawhide Kid mini series but he would be gay. And this shocker was announced in an item in The New Yorker, months ahead of the issue coming out.
In that day and age, mainstream media coverage of comics plotlines was a novelty, and the New Yorker piece was a BIG DEAL.
And comics retailers were hopping mad! Because while the mainstream publicity got them hepped up to order the sure-to-be-controversial series, it did not help when, 3 months later, the issue actually appeared in stores. They needed promo to DRIVE CONSUMERS INTO STORES, not three months ahead of time.
My column was quite controversial because added to the stew was the fact that Marvel never went back to print. So retailers had to order everything ahead of time. “Retailers do not like the no reorder policy,” I wrote…and that got everyone at Marvel mad at me at the time.
But there you have what I’ll call the “dual channel promo paradox” in its early stages. As countless editorials, panels, creator tumblr posts and tweets have told you since then, a comic must be promoted TWICE. First to retailers, then to readers/end point purchasers.
First comes the MAINSTREAM SPLASH. Maybe it will be in the New York Times, or EW or … USA Today (less that now.) A big story that gets picked up by all the comics sites and Facebook groups and is available to “civilian” readers for big time headline stuff. More typically it’s a story in CBR or io9 or IGN or something.
But THEN, this story must be promoted to RETAILERS, who are the publisher’s customer in the direct market. This is especially acute around FINAL ORDER CUT-OFF TIME, when you will see the same interview on every comics website to remind retailers when they sit down with their 300 page catalog to order THAT PARTICULAR ISSUE.
BUT THEN you have to get reader/collectors into the stores again, and so you increasingly have the WEEKEND SHOCK TEASE, another mainstream story about death or mutilation or a wedding that reminds readers to go to their store on Wednesday.
MEANWHILE, there are the spoilers! It’s been very well documented that retailers cannot keep secrets and they love leaking stuff – to Reddit, to That One Website, to 4-Chan. Wherever. They can’t keep their mouths shut. And leakers are posting the comics as soon as they get them – Monday – to the free comics sites anyway.
Publishers – well really just Marvel and DC, the Big Two that keep the Direct Market flowing – have tried to clamp down on leaks by not showing retailers anything. But then retailers want more info to make informed orders. So more info comes out. And there are more spoilers and leaks.
So what is a reader to do in all this? If you’re like me, you switch to graphic novels and mini comics that no one cares to spoil. No one told me how MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS ended ahead of time! I read it myself! I was surprised and it felt great.
But for dedicated Periodical Readers, anticipation, discussion, speculation and Writing an Outraged Social Media Post are all part of their enjoyment of comics. Because god knows, the thrill of reading a 22 age comics is over in about 10 minutes and you need it to last longer.
And I haven’t even mentioned VARIANT COVERS.
It’s no surprise then, that in the Spoiler Economy we have now, we get a mess like the Batrimony Spoiler.
Everything was going along fine With the Batman #50 Wedding of the Decade. A year long build-up, plenty of mainstream and industry coverage, tons of copies and variants ordered.
It was all going so well until the WEEKEND SHOCK TEASE. And, well, I’ll let George Gene Gustines pick up the story, as he told Vulture in an email:
I’ve been passionate about covering comics for the paper for nearly 20 years and this story has been a roller coaster. I think Tom King, Mikel Janín and everyone involved in the comic did a stellar job on this milestone issue. But if I had a Legion time bubble, I would handle it differently.
I was aware of the marriage storyline for a while – I’ve been following King’s Batman since the beginning – but I was not sure how to approach covering it, if at all. DC reached out to me about whether the event could be featured in our wedding pages. I thought it was a fun idea and pitched my editors.
I approached it like a typical “Vows” column – write about the story of the couple and what their big day is like, which is what I tried to capture in the piece, which quotes only dialogue from the comic and not the creative team, which is more typical of my reporting.
After I pitched the story, I learned the wedding would not happen. It seemed disingenuous to write the story without revealing the ending, which is why I included the reveal. But I should’ve asked for a non-spoiler headline. We should have given more thought so that the casual reader, flipping or scrolling through the Style section, would not know the twist by reading the headline.
So yeah….bad headline, dude. But what’s even more mind boggling about this imbroglio is how eager DC was to get this spoiler out there, as revealed in John Cunningham’s statement on a retailer board. I’ve posted it here before but let’s go to the video tape:
1. DC Sales strongly advocated getting the news out ahead of the OSD, so that the Moment of Realization did not occur hours before events began. We even did our level best to try and spoil it here on this page over and over again (and failed). The NY Times article was posted here at 630 a.m. PST not out of “Pride” — please — but to get you the information as soon as we could.
2. In the abstract, we believed the news would break on Monday morning, given the arrival time of physical copies in store and the reality that a copy or a scan would end up being passed to uncontrolled comic book outlets (much like Marvel’s wedding issue last week and every other major comic book event in the lat decade).
It’s a poignant scene to imagine: DC’s sale team desperately trying to avoid tearful wedding guests showing up only to learn that Catwoman was a perfidious hellcat who doesn’t want to get locked down. And it’s true, there have been reports of people who were going to dress up for midnight sales, and celebrate the wedding like it was a joyous event.
So as bad as all of this has been, you can also see why DC wanted to avoid headlines about saddened, crestfallen fans who wanted a fun wedding with cake and dancing and got only a cold empty cot to go home to.
Still, the bait and switch on what has been a heavily ordered issue is still relatively perfidious in its own way. DC wanted to have its (sales) wedding cake and eat its unattached ongoing characters, too.
I don’t know where this could have been averted, or if it should have been, but it’s hard for any rational person to come to any conclusion except that it’s everything wrong with the direct sales market in one horribly stinky wedding gift. As in WHY YOU GOTTA HAVE ALL YOUR STORIES SPOILED??? Would you have enjoyed Avengers Infinity War knowing the ending ahead of time? Would you REALLY?
George R. R. Martin couldn’t have come up with a worse wedding.
The whole thing DID remind me of another bad nuptials, though. In the 2008 Sex and the CIty movie, Carrie and Big are finally getting married! But at the altar he bolts because Miranda and Steve were squabbling at the rehearsal dinner. It’s the kind of nightmare where Carrie runs crying in the street, devastated because SHE DID A PHOTO SHOOT IN HER WEDDING DRESS FOR VOGUE ABOUT THE WEDDING. Oh the humiliation. Ho could ayone ever recover? Ever love or trust again?
Don’t get me wrong, I HATE SEX AND THE CITY, but this was a sad time for Carrie.
Did she and Big eventually get hitched?
Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll just have to watch the movie and find out.