• Longform 

    Op/Ed: Why Do We Insist On Spoiling The Things We Love?

    By | January 26th, 2011
    Posted in Longform | % Comments

    Today/yesterday is the day that Fantastic Four #587 hits, offering up fans the answer to the question every fan of Marvel has been asking themselves for several months now: Which one of Marvel’s First Family is going to die? Or rather – it would have if the answer hadn’t been spectacularly branded across news sites all over the internet, both comic based and non-comic based (with that Examiner one being particularly awful). It seems that Marvel, in their effort to buzz up a reaction to the comicbook outside of it’s readers, decided that the smartest move was to tell the press who dies, thus allowing that information to spread across the internet like wildfire and essentially eliminate any mystery that may have been having. Even Jonathan Hickman said in an interview, “in today’s society there’s no such thing as compartmentalized information. It was never not going to get spoiled.”

    Unless, like me, you turned your cellphone off, stopped checking your e-mail, and decided that for this time you are simply going to ignore the deafening roar of the internet as it tries to scream the answer to you. Why? Because pure and simple, some of us like reading our stories.

    For some thoughts on the art of storytelling as well as the behavior of a business, check behind the cut.

    I’m not mad at Marvel for what they dad. Not even slightly. In fact, I and just about everyone else working for this site knew that this would happen. It’s absolutely impossible, in this day and age where information is simply a click or two away, to not find out things in advance, even accidentally. That’s the world we now live in. The fact that I was able to go as long as I did without hearing the answer (despite frequent attempts from various entities) is quite staggering to me, and generally just a statement to my pure will that I could go without Tweeting for five minutes (although, truthfully, that’s not actually an issue). So when I point any form of anger or angst towards the inability to keep secrets, my anger is actually not geared towards Marvel because they’ve done exactly what they’ve done in the past: operated towards the greatest profit. Instead, this passive aggressive rant is directed to a world in which people refuse to sit patiently and allow stories to be told in their own time.

    You see, while Fantastic Four might not be the highest selling comic book Marvel has (or maybe it is – I didn’t double check the numbers), by Marvel revealing to the Associated Press the end of the title they’ve created a way to get new readers into the stores to check the comic out. We’re talking a comic with such a great secret that it is BOUND (pun intended) to become a collector’s item, worth something to somebody someday. A poly-bagged “no overprint” comic book that contains the answer to a question comic nerds are begging for? Oh, sir, you have yourself a goldmine. On top of that, Marvel has even conveniently reprinted every issue of this story, allowing new readers the ability to simply hop on and get the entire five issue story in one purchase (at least, until a trade comes out). But if you happen to not be a nerd at all, what does this book hold to you? Not a whole lot, except perhaps a talking point. “Did you hear (so and so) died?” “Oh, no way! I used to love that character as a kid.” The ideas for conversation starters go on and on, and when it comes down to it, Fantastic Four has been taken to absolutely new heights thanks to the wonderful storytelling of Jonathan Hickman. With a new series on the way (FF) and lots of intriguing mysteries to behold, this death is set to rock the Marvel U (for the moment).

    Not only that, but people just WANT to know. Polls have gone up on sites, and everyone’s been offering up speculation as to who is the unlucky winner. Two members of this very site actively sought out the information, with the reasoning being that they knew it would get spoiled anyway so why bother fighting it? One even went so far as to say, “If they won’t respect my engagement with the story, I am perfectly okay absorbing the reveal through the AP and not the book itself.” People don’t neccesarily WANT to be surprised at all anymore – they just want to know, because it’s an inevitability of the digital age. While the digital age has brought many benefits to the comic industry, it also offers up tremendous roadblocks – especially in the sales department. Marvel has to combat this by testing out methods to drive up sales, and if flat out saying a character is going to die in a title is a proven way of getting it done (see: the death of Superman and Captain America), then why not try it with a title featuring high profile characters like this? Marvel doesn’t have to wait for print anymore – you have a walking newstand in your pocket if your phone has any kind of connection to the internet.

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    Of course, that attitude is incredibly disheartening. Stories succeed in their ability to string you along, allowing you to connect to characters and make investments into plots. By taking that away, we’re essentially only a few years away from every book – comic or not – simply being a Cliff’s Notes version or, even worse, ____ For Dummies. The reason the art of storytelling has survived as long as it has is due to a storytellers ability to tell a tale on their own terms. While I don’t seek to make assumptions on behalf of Jonathan Hickman, I can’t imagine putting this information out there publicly was part of his initial pitch (although in the previously referenced interview, Hickman can be quoted as saying “There are pluses and minuses to both sides… And I’m perfectly OK with what we’ve done.”) As my fellow writer noted, this has to do with respecting our engagement to the story. I am all for more people reading Fantastic Four as I fully believe it’s one of the best titles on the market, but I’m not entirely sure why this has to be done at the expense of my enjoyment. Not to sound excessively greedy here, but I’ve been paying for almost two years worth of stories by Hickman now, and I’ve been following the title longer than that. Why can’t I enjoy this latest chapter at my own pace?

    There is a very popular phrase in our culture that has arrived since the epic boom the internet created when it became popular and we all got off AOL Online, and that phrase is “Spoiler alert!” In case you didn’t watch last night’s episode of LOST while people are chatting about it around the water cooler, you can shout “SPOILER ALERT!” and people know: hey, let’s not talk about this for two seconds while Mike walks away. The idea of spoilers have become an entity of power, because information and knowledge has always been power. Always. But is it information we need forced down our throats? No. Some of us have been reading Fantastic Four for several years now, and part of the enjoyment of reading any serial story of this nature is the idea that you possibly don’t know what’s going to happen next. You want to be surprised, you want twists and turns – or at least, I do. I haven’t become so jaded by the idea that the internet can ruin everything that I don’t dive face first into the stories that I follow. Furthermore, I follow specific writers who I know are going to tell a proper story, ones who will satiate my thirst for entertainment in this medium. I don’t want to know what happens before I read it, because where is the honest fun in that? Some people are of the opinion that knowing is half the battle here, or that knowing the ending enhances the reading experience, but who doesn’t love a good last page reveal? We’ve all been kids, and we all remember life before the internet. Before you could Google search and read an abridged version of the end of Twin Peaks, is that something you’d actively want to know before watching it? And do you think the success of a modern television show like LOST resided on the fact that in the first episode they said, “BTW, guys, the island is Hurley’s dream. You should just know that going in.” Why do we want to know the answers to mysteries before they themselves are ready to be explained?

    I’m reminded of JJ Abrams’ movie a few years ago entitled Cloverfield. When the first trailer arrived, not only was there no name to the film but there was absolutely no indication what the film was going to be about other than “a giant monster attacks.” But who is the giant monster? Is it someone we know? Is it someone new? Where did it come from and what is it doing? Is there some greater mystery to this? You see, we didn’t know anything about the monster, but the mere association of monsters attacking cities had a resonance with us that caused for an almost ferverous need for an onslaught of information. The same is happening now with Super-8, a new trailer released by Abrams that gives very little clues as to what is going to happen in the full film.

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    Allow me to move the comparison further: how many people reading this article now are familiar with a character named Harry Potter? The young wizard has had seven novels, all critically acclaimed and bought by ravenous hungry masses eager to devour the latest adventure of the growing character. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out in 1997, with the final novel coming out ten years later. That’s ten years of stories, ten years of people growing to love the character, his friends, and their plight. Did anyone anywhere in the news reveal that, at the end of the book, Character X, Y, and Z all die? No. Nobody did. Harry Potter carried enough clout in it’s name alone to create buzz just in the fact that this was the final story. JK Rowling, her PR team, and the various companies that press the book all over the world simply noted that this was the end, and anyone who was a fan of the book eagerly bought up the story, spread the word, and enjoyed the finale at their own given pace.

    Why can’t it be the same with this? People might not be reading Fantastic Four right now, but just about everyone knows who they are, and perhaps even knows their names. The Fantastic Four are 50 year old cultural icons due to the importance they hold in the comic book medium, and you’d be hard pressed to find at least one person in the world (especially those that have access to a computer) who doesn’t know who they are. Is it not longer an option for Marvel to simply use the buzz that “someone” will die in the issue, rather than specifically stating who it was? Apparently not. The people at Marvel have assumedly known for quite some time who it is that died, so the news isn’t essentially special. People want to know who dies, and again – with information a click or two away, who wants to wait? Marvel sees an opportunity to maximize profit and revel in the glory of capitalism. Why not give the people what they want? To this I posit: why do you think Wizard died?

    Comic books survive on the sole fact that, on a month to month basis (or sometimes faster), they give us bits and pieces of a story in order to once a week give us a different form of entertainment. Sure, we can watch TV or movies, or we can go read a book. To me, I haven’t touched a fiction book in at least a year, but I’ll be at the comic store once a week to see what’s there. Comics are a great form of storytelling that don’t require excessive internalization, but still give the joy of reading to me or anyone else in it’s own fashion. A large part of that is simply not knowing what is going to happen next. I can respect other peoples need to not have to work for an investment in something, but as someone who has paid for every issue of this run, I feel like I’m entitled to respect as a reader. That’s a strong word to use – entitled – but if nothing else, it exemplifies my point. I will continue to buy Marvel comics, yes, but you can still be friends with someone even after they insult you. It’s not like Marvel offered up a poll as to if we need the information or not. They saw that there was a demand and an opportunity to maximize profits, and they took it. I can respect a business for making what is arguably the right decision, but I damn well don’t have to like it as someone who has supported this creator and every artist he’s worked with since the run’s inception.

    Not all deaths even become this news worthy. Second Coming was a huge storyline in comics, and Nightcrawler’s death in it became a very important moment. But did Marvel publicize it? No. It ended up on comic news sites assuredly, but it didn’t end up on USA Today. Yet the title sold well. So why didn’t Marvel leak this information to the Associated Press? Nightcrawler is certainly as large a character as any of the Fantastic Four, is he not? But Second Coming isn’t as easily accessible a story as this one is, so his death didn’t make it out there. One might even remember a comic title called “The Fallen,” which up until the day it was released was wrapped in mystery in order to not spoil the end of the comic event Siege. Yet just as the comic was about to come out, the title and cover for the comic came out as The Sentry: Fallen Son, and although everyone and their mother guessed that the title would be about the death of the Sentry, the point is that we still didn’t know. And what would have ultimately possibly made that death more noteworthy would have been going into that comic blind (and as a note, a local comic shop near me actually put all the issues into black bags for their readers).

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    I throw the blame at Marvel a lot here, but they’re not alone in doing this. DC has also been rather guilty of this before, having most recently allowed some websites to run the final page of Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin #16 as a news article after doing so themselves, using the logic that since they had already announced Batman Inc. that the news wasn’t a big surprise. One could assume Marvel is using the same logic here: we knew there’d be a death anyway, and Fantastic Four is ending as FF launches – why not just let the cat out of the bag?

    See, that’s what ends up eating at me so much about this: I can remember buying the first issue of Fantastic Four that Hickman wrote. I remember Dark Reign happening, and I was an avid fan of the Fantastic Four at that point so I bought the Dark Reign tie-in. This wasn’t Mark Millar’s roller coaster ride of a run, but rather a creator that I didn’t generally know by name yet who I knew would take the reigns when Millar left. I said to myself, “Gee, what a daunting task to follow the team of Millar and Hitch, but let’s see what he has to offer.” And while there were plenty of Dark Reign tie-ins here, there, and everywhere, the Fantastic Four story stood out among all of them. This ended up being important to me as I moved that year into a new apartment, and Fantastic Four was one of the books that was on the chopping block due to Millar and Hitch’s departure. While their run certainly wasn’t the greatest of all time, they were a team I could trust, and while I’m embarassed to say it now, Hickman and Eaglesham weren’t. While those two are names that verily solidify if I buy a comic now, at the time I saw the Fantastic Four as an expendable team given the amount of comics that I was buying. On top of that, I was buying Secret Warriors, and had decided that I would follow Hickman’s progress at Marvel there, as the story was one that I couldn’t put down. But as that first week or so in my new apartment passed and the first issue of Hickman’s proper F4 run stood on shelves, I found myself sitting and reading the latest issue of Secret Warriors, absolutely enthralled. It ended up with me being unable to not get Fantastic Four, and in giving this creator a chance I not only found a writer who is (without a doubt) one of my top 5 Marvel writers, but have followed a wonderful run that has outshined the previous beyond outshining.

    Furthermore, the mere act of me trying to enjoy this issue my way – without it being spoiled – essentially became a tremendous effort. The morning started with one of the writers of this site who had looked at the spoiler almost letting the answer loose in our weekly group e-mail, resulting in me refusing to look at e-mails from anyone. My phone started buzzing with texts from the same person, so I turned the phone off. I then had to avoid people who read comics at my job as well as anyone who might have just looked at a news site, leaving me to just keep my head down behind my desk all day. I phoned a comic shop around lunch time to reserve an issue, and the second I arrived at the store the first things out of my mouth were, “Hey, thanks for holding this for me but I haven’t read it yet so please don’t say anything“, to which the owner simply laughed and noted that it was for the best that I said that. I eventually managed to get home, go into my room and shut the cats out in order to help myself try and enjoy the story in private.

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again for effect: I have put the time, the money, and the heart into this story. I have literally gone out of my way to just read a comic book and enjoy it on my own terms. Why can’t I enjoy the end in peace? Why did it have to get to a point where me reading this comic didn’t simply boil down to “Matt wakes up, Matt goes to the store to buy his book, Matt goes home and reads the book and enjoys it?” And while I’m here ranting, is anyone planning to ruin the New York Five or Guardians of the Globe tomorrow? Because if so, I’d love to know that now so I can plan my trip to the store similarly to how I did today.

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    I often times bring all of my comic book comparisons, especially with Marvel, to the Marvel Cosmic U. If there is EVER an absolutely wonderful beacon of shining hope in comics, it is Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s massively plotted out cosmic epic. From Annhiliation all the way through to the Thanos Imperative, they have only ever managed to slip up once (when Thanos was on the cover of the last issue of Guardians of the Galaxy). Up until that point, anything could happen, and everything did. I’m not talking about an independent comic book, which obviously plays by it’s own rules here. I’m talking about two major Marvel titles and a slew of inter-connected minis that had critical acclaim and fan buzz that, at the end of the day, did not have it’s ending ruined, even when I read the final issue a week or so late. For those that didn’t follow the story as closely as others, what is important to note is that both War of Kings and The Thanos Imperative (the most recent Marvel Cosmic Events) had tremendous ramifications to their stories, as well as mindblowing death sequences. Some of the biggest characters of the entire story ended up being dead by the end, and each time it was absolutely shocking (especially the one at the end of War of Kings, which you would almost guarantee would return – and yet, they haven’t). DnA understood the importance of these stories to the readers and the investments we’ve put in since 2006, and for the four years they told stories we had a blast of a ride. When I turned to the final page of The Thanos Imperative, I was shocked and satisfied – and as I read the Devastation one-shot that followed, I was just about ready to do a dance and/or do a jig due to the final page. Why? Because they were surprises. I might have been able to guess that they COULD happen, but I didn’t know. I was left unassuming the whole time, and it paid off. And did Marvel put out the end of the story before it happened? No. Sure, they let the lid off of Thanos returning, but other than that they let DnA do their thing, and what a great thing that was – and I can almost guarantee you that Fantastic Four probably outsells the Marvel Cosmic books (I say with absolutely no disrespect).

    Did Marvel come in at the last second and decide that Hickman’s story needed to be a marketable endeavor? Probably. Did they see what his endgame was and say, “hey, let’s make this a big deal!” Definitely. Again – those of us who have spent our days learning how the industry works are never really that surprised when a company like Marvel does this, because they’re trying to make money. That’s not a bad thing. While we do like to believe in the fairy tale land of kittens and unicorns, there is a reality to how much it costs to run a company like Marvel, and in today’s economy (as much as I hate to use that phrase), Marvel will do what it needs to to survive. Let them. They want people to read Fantastic Four, and so do I. That’s inherently not the point, though. In the end, I’m not concerned about the future of the story. If whoever died comes back (and let’s be realistic here), I won’t be unsurprised by it (especially since, as a note, every Fantastic Four member has died once before). We go through the motions in comics as much as anyone else who has followed any comic book since they first came into existence 79 years ago. The important aspect of comics are the rides that we let ourselves take, though. I can’t tell you on what page the death happens, but the build up to that moment is the only thing that makes it matter. The amount of issues we had to read to make that character important is what matters. For the thousands of people reading who died on USA Today, I can guarantee you this – while some of those people might go out and check out the comic book, to them it doesn’t matter. Not to create a delusion of grandeur to us, but we – the people who weekly go out to comic shops, buy and support these books? We are the ones who matter.

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    With one final comparison, try and think of it this way: The Oscar nominations were announced yesterday. As Oscar night comes, the celebrities will put their best suit or dress on and attend the awards, and we’ll watch from home. However, imagine that you are one of the celebrities that was nominated for an award. Imagine that you are attending the award show, and have to sit in this giant room full of people – some of them you know, some of them you don’t. As you sit in that room, you anxiously wait to see if your name is called. It could be a moment of epic jubilation, or crushing disappointment and defeat – but it’s a moment worth remembering. Only a few people know who won, and they keep their lips tight the whole time. You end up sitting, toes tapping, fingers shaking, as you wait as patiently as you can for what’s to come. But when it ends, you will remember that moment.

    Marvel made a marketing ploy, and in doing so they did – intentionally or not – attempt to take that moment away from us. Some of us like myself were able to swing through the day and keep our moment to ourselves, and that is what part of the story comes down to – the moment. That is what the comic book world needs. We don’t need everything handed to us. We work for our investment into these stories, and we should be allowed to enjoy this. When I tell the story of where I was when (so and so) died, I don’t want that story to be, “Yeah, I was sitting at home/at work surfing the web.” I want to say, “Oh man, I can remember turning to that page and just feeling my heart break.” That’s what makes the story worthwhile and memorable, and no amount of new fans brought to comic books from this will ever make this type of behavior on a comic companies behalf OK with those of us who stay with comics simply because we love the way stories are told.

    Matthew Meylikhov

    Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."