The Spoils of War(ning readers about Comic Book Spoilers)

My brother Matt has an uncanny ability to turn me into a murderous marauder hell-bent on nothing but his ultimate destruction. Most of the time I like little 16-year-old Matt, but nobody – and I mean nobody – can convince me that cold-blooded manslaughter is perfectly acceptable the way he can.Spoilers in Comics

He has a whole variety of tricks that can lead me to Hulk out, but one particular exchange happens about once a month. It will start with Matt recommending some video game to me. He’ll tell me that, let’s say Mass Effect, is incredible and that I need to play it immediately. I’ll eventually take his word for it and begin playing. As anyone who’s played Mass Effect can attest, I will agree that the game is incredible and find myself immersed in its story. This will inevitably lead to the following conversation:

Matt: Isn’t Mass Effect beast?

Me: Oh my gosh, yeah. It’s so beast.

Matt: Did you get to the part where you have to choose between Ash…

Me: Matt! I told you not to tell me anything about what’s going to happen in the game!

Matt: So you didn’t kill Ashl…

Me: Matt! I’m going to kill you first!

Matt {now laughing viciously}: Wait, what about the Krogan? Did you…

And before he can finish his sentence, I am forced to Homer Simpson his neck. (Not really. No necks were Homer Simpsoned in the making of this blog post. Unless you’re into that, in which case A) call me and B) I totally Homer Simpsoned his neck.) It is an infuriating experience for me, one that never ceases to drive me nuts.

Spoilers in Story-Based Art

Of course, this infuriating experience caused by spoilers isn’t limited to childish interactions between my brother and I. Really any form of entertainment reliant on story is susceptible to spoiler. With the exception of maybe porn (not that I even know what that is or what it would look like), the possible enjoyment of story-based entertainment is greatly diminished when the ending, or a key plotline, is unveiled in advance.

Whether we’re talking video games, movies, comic books, tv… it really doesn’t make a difference. Spoilers kill suspense and, perhaps more importantly, spoilers destroy your ability to fully exist in a fictional world of your choosing. You can’t live the events of Mad Men vicariously if you already know how each episode is going to turn out. At least not to the fullest extent.

Now, there may be some of you out there who would argue that, really, spoilers don’t kill the enjoyment of art as much as I’m suggesting. After all, did Matt’s spoilerific antics cause me to stop playing Mass Effect? Did I begin to dislike the game from that point forward because of unwanted knowledge?

Well, no. I still played Mass Effect, and I still enjoyed the game despite Matt’s spoilers. And you could make a case that you can enjoy any movie or comic despite your knowledge of the outcome. If the art is truly enjoyable, shouldn’t it sustain itself regardless of your omniscience?

To a certain extent, it probably should. I have stumbled across all sorts of comic book spoilers over the past year. For example, I recently ran across an interesting looking comic book blog and the lead post immediately gave away the identity of a new Marvel character masquerading as Daredevil. When I finally catch up to this timeline in the Marvel universe, will I not want to read anything related to this spoiler? No, I will still absolutely read the related content, and my enjoyment will not be entirely tied to this revelation. The writing and the art and the overall quality of the comic still play a superior role.

Still, I would much rather not have knowledge of a spoiler related to comic book storylines. Like I’ve said on this blog, the purpose of Odin’s Thunderbolts is to document my experience catching up on Marvel comics from 2000 onwards. I want to make it easy for people to catch up to current Marvel continuity as I attempt to do the same. Since this is my situation, it is very easy to stumble across spoilers. The rest of the comic book obsessed world is not trapped in a vacuum. All sorts of things have happened in the Marvel universe over the course of this decade, and I completely understand why information about major events happening in the now is available. People talk about past events like they’re history, which only seems strange to those who haven’t yet experienced that history.

I suppose there are different levels of spoilers –  I would imagine spoilers related to murder mysteries or the ending of The Sixth Sense are slightly more damaging than other mediums less reliant on the suspense of their conclusion. That said, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to treat all spoilers with equal weight. A spoiler is a spoiler no matter how small. And just where are spoilers appropriate and what’s a good solution for avoiding them? I don’t know that I have all the answers, but I do have some idea as to where spoilers are commonly found:

A) Comic Book Forums – Online message threads can often be full of trapdoors for unsuspecting newcomers to the world of comics. I’m not even necessarily talking about the jagbag who would intentionally title a post with information for the explicit purpose of spoiling a storyline. These comic book forums are full of fanboys who have kept up with Marvel since before you were born. If a major character, for example Spider-Man, died in a particular storyline, it is not going to be strange for them to write things like, “Since Spider-Man’s death…”

Of course, for those of us who haven’t read up to that point in the Marvel timeline yet, this thread topic just revealed major, unwanted information. I’ve had more than one “Wait, BLANK died?” experience on these forums, and anyone entering them should be aware of that possibility. If you spend enough time on a comic book forum, there’s a good chance you’ll read about something you didn’t want to know yet. It’s just going to happen.

Since this is the purpose of these communities, though, for fans to gather and discuss their favorite comics, I don’t have a problem with these sorts of spoilers. I’d like to make you aware of the risk of spoilers, but they’re a necessary evil for forums like this to work. My advice would simply be to skim threads, should you decide to enter. If you find one like, “Where should a newcomer to Fantastic Four start reading,” great. But do not jump into a lengthy discussion of current events and expect to walk away without spoilers running through your nubile mind.

B) Back of the Book Synopsis/Amazon.com product info  – Amazingly, in their attempts to convince you their comic is worthwhile, many publishers and retailers drop all sorts of essential information. Again, I understand the purpose here – if I pick up a Hulk comic, and he battles the Leader in space, Marvel is going to want to hype up this plotline as a selling point. If I’m interested in the Hulk fighting the Leader in space (and I am), I’m more likely to buy this comic. This makes plenty of sense.

The problem with this is that, like comic book forums, Trade Paperbacks do not exist in a vacuum. If the aforementioned Hulk TPB is volume 2 in a series, Marvel or Amazon is probably going to lead into their synopsis with the following: “After the devastation of BLANK EVENT…” This is the same problem as earlier for those of us stumbling around the web trying to find the right comic books in the right order.

Again, this is probably a necessary evil. The problem of these spoilers is corrected by helping readers know when it is too early to even read a description of the example Hulk trade. Perhaps even on a site like Odin’s Thunderbolts. Funny how that works.

C) Comic Book Blog Reviews – I have a major problem with the way a lot of popular comic book blogs review their comics. These things are not only loaded with spoilers, but they’re often banal story recaps.

I understand the temptation to share a cool storyline with the world. I’ve even done it already on OTB. But what I’m realizing very quickly is that this is a horrible way to share your interest in comics.

Think about it. If a friend of yours walked up to you and told you Inception was a sweet movie, would you then want them to give you a five minute plot synopsis? Probably not. I’d rather hear some interesting analysis, i.e. it’s about the twisted, deceptive reality of dreams and how slippery man’s grasp on reality might actually be (no, none of my friends actually talk like that. Or exist.)

The point here is that far too many comic book blogs post reviews of new comics that are literally unreadable for anyone who has not already read the comic. This is a complete inversion of the way things should be. The review should help convince new readers whether the comic is worth their time, without spoiling their potential for enjoyment. Like I said with Comic Book Forums, there is a place for discussion of events that have already occurred. If you want to label your “review” as such a discussion, than by all means please do. But as is the reviews I have found are in a seriously sorry state.

Again, I understand the temptation to share really cool storylines. But the thrill of comics is reading these storylines for yourself and feeling excited, surprised, and altogether satisfied. Let the comic tell the story – then analyze what it made you feel and think without recapping.

SPOILER: Conclusion ahead!

In short, I realize spoilers on the internet are about as inevitable as boobs on the internet. These things will pop up. I think the easiest way to handle spoilers is to arm yourself with the knowledge of their location. And, of course, read only Odin’s Thunderbolts for all your comic book reading guide information. I will keep you safe and warm and unspoiled by… well you know.

Got any thoughts on all this? Any idea on where spoilers are appropriate or whether they’re even a problem? Let me know in the comments. And if you’re the jagbag who tosses a spoiler in the comments for irony’s sake, so help me… let’s just say you’ve got a Matt special coming your way.

 

My brother Matt has an uncanny ability to turn me into a murderous marauder hell-bent on nothing but his ultimate destruction. Most of the time I like little 16-year-old Matt, but nobody – and I mean nobody – can convince me that cold-blooded manslaughter is perfectly acceptable the way he can.

 

He has a whole variety of tricks that can lead me to Hulk out, but one particular exchange happens about once a month. It will start with Matt recommending some video game to me. He’ll tell me that, let’s say Mass Effect, is incredible and that I need to play it immediately. I’ll eventually take his word for it and begin playing. As anyone who’s played Mass Effect can attest, I will agree that the game is incredible and find myself immersed in its story. This will inevitably lead to the following conversation:

 

Matt: Isn’t Mass Effect beast?

 

Me: Oh my gosh, yeah. It’s so beast.

 

Matt: Did you get to the part where you have to choose between Ash…

 

Me: Matt! I told you not to tell me anything about what’s going to happen in the game!

 

Matt: So you didn’t kill Ashl…

 

Me: Matt! I’m going to kill you first!

 

Matt {now laughing viciously}: Wait, what about the Krogan? Did you…

 

And before he can finish his sentence, I am forced to Homer Simpson his neck. (Not really. No necks were Homer Simpsoned in the making of this blog post. Unless you’re into that, in which case A) call me and B) I totally Homer Simpsoned his neck.) It is an infuriating experience for me, one that never ceases to drive me nuts.

 

Spoilers in Story-Based Art

 

Of course, this infuriating experience caused by spoilers isn’t limited to childish interactions between my brother and I. Really any form of entertainment reliant on story is susceptible to spoiler. With the exception of maybe porn (not that I even know what that is or what it would look like), the possible enjoyment of story-based entertainment is greatly diminished when the ending, or a key plotline, is unveiled in advance. Whether we’re talking video games, movies, comic books, tv… it really doesn’t make a difference. Spoilers kill suspense and, perhaps more importantly, spoilers destroy your ability to fully exist in a fictional world of your choosing. You can’t live the events of Mad Men vicariously if you already know how each episode is going to turn out. At least not to the fullest extent.

 

Now, there may be some of you out there who would argue that, really, spoilers don’t kill the enjoyment of art as much as I’m suggesting. After all, did Matt’s spoilerific antics cause me to stop playing Mass Effect? Did I begin to dislike the game from that point forward because of unwanted knowledge?

 

Well, no. I still played Mass Effect, and I still enjoyed the game despite Matt’s spoilers. And you could make a case that you can enjoy any movie or comic despite your knowledge of the outcome. If the art is truly enjoyable, shouldn’t it sustain itself regardless of your omniscience?

 

To a certain extent, it probably should. I have stumbled across all sorts of comic book spoilers over the past year. For example, I recently ran across an interesting looking comic book blog and the lead post immediately gave away the identity of a new Marvel character masquerading as Daredevil. When I finally catch up to this timeline in the Marvel universe, will I not want to read anything related to this spoiler? No, I will still absolutely read the related content, and my enjoyment will not be entirely tied to this revelation. The writing and the art and the overall quality of the comic still play a superior role.

 

Still, I would much rather not have knowledge of a spoiler related to comic book storylines. Like I’ve said on this blog, the purpose of Odin’s Thunderbolts is to document my experience catching up on Marvel comics from 2000 onwards. I want to make it easy for people to catch up to current Marvel continuity as I attempt to do the same. Since this is my situation, it is very easy to stumble across spoilers. The rest of the comic book obsessed world is not trapped in a vacuum. All sorts of things have happened in the Marvel universe over the course of this decade, and I completely understand why information about major events happening in the now is available. People talk about past events like they’re history, which only seems strange to those who haven’t yet experienced that history.

 

I suppose there are different levels of spoilers –  I would imagine spoilers related to murder mysteries or the ending of The Sixth Sense are slightly more damaging than other mediums less reliant on the suspense of their conclusion. That said, for the purposes of this post, I’m going to treat all spoilers with equal weight. A spoiler is a spoiler no matter how small. And just where are spoilers appropriate and what’s a good solution for avoiding them? I don’t know that I have all the answers, but I do have some idea as to where spoilers are commonly found:

 

A) Comic Book Forums – Online message threads can often be full of trapdoors for unsuspecting newcomers to the world of comics. I’m not even necessarily talking about the jagbag who would intentionally title a post with information for the explicit purpose of spoiling a storyline. These comic book forums are full of fanboys who have kept up with Marvel since before you were born. If a major character, for example Spider-Man, died in a particular storyline, it is not going to be strange for them to write things like, “Since Spider-Man’s death…”

Of course, for those of us who haven’t read up to that point in the Marvel timeline yet, this thread topic just revealed major, unwanted information. I’ve had more than one “Wait, BLANK died?” experience on these forums, and anyone entering them should be aware of that possibility. If you spend enough time on a comic book forum, there’s a good chance you’ll read about something you didn’t want to know yet. It’s just going to happen.

 

Since this is the purpose of these communities, though, for fans to gather and discuss their favorite comics, I don’t have a problem with these sorts of spoilers. I’d like to make you aware of the risk of spoilers, but they’re a necessary evil for forums like this to work. My advice would simply be to skim threads, should you decide to enter. If you find one like, “Where should a newcomer to Fantastic Four start reading,” great. But do not jump into a lengthy discussion of current events and expect to walk away without spoilers running through your nubile mind.

 

B) Back of the Book Synopsis/Amazon.com product info  – Amazingly, in their attempts to convince you their comic is worthwhile, many publishers and retailers drop all sorts of essential information. Again, I understand the purpose here – if I pick up a Hulk comic, and he battles the Leader in space, Marvel is going to want to hype up this plotline as a selling point. If I’m interested in the Hulk fighting the Leader in space (and I am), I’m more likely to buy this comic. This makes plenty of sense.

The problem with this is that, like comic book forums, Trade Paperbacks do not exist in a vacuum. If the aforementioned Hulk TPB is volume 2 in a series, Marvel or Amazon is probably going to lead into their synopsis with the following: “After the devastation of BLANK EVENT…” This is the same problem as earlier for those of us stumbling around the web trying to find the right comic books in the right order.

 

Again, this is probably a necessary evil. The problem of these spoilers is corrected by helping readers know when it is too early to even read a description of the example Hulk trade. Perhaps even on a site like Odin’s Thunderbolts. Funny how that works.

 

C) Comic Book Blog Reviews – I have a major problem with the way a lot of popular comic book blogs review their comics. These things are not only loaded with spoilers, but they’re often banal story recaps.

I understand the temptation to share a cool storyline with the world. I’ve even done it already on OTB. But what I’m realizing very quickly is that this is a horrible way to share your interest in comics.

 

Think about it. If a friend of yours walked up to you and told you Inception was a sweet movie, would you then want them to give you a five minute plot synopsis? Probably not. I’d rather hear some interesting analysis, i.e. it’s about the twisted, deceptive reality of dreams and how slippery man’s grasp on reality might actually be (no, none of my friends actually talk like that. Or exist.)

The point here is that far too many comic book blogs post reviews of new comics that are literally unreadable for anyone who has not already read the comic. This is a complete inversion of the way things should be. The review should help convince new readers whether the comic is worth their time, without spoiling their potential for enjoyment. Like I said with Comic Book Forums, there is a place for discussion of events that have already occurred. If you want to label your “review” as such a discussion, than by all means please do. But as is the reviews I have found are in a seriously sorry state.

 

Again, I understand the temptation to share really cool storylines. But the thrill of comics is reading these storylines for yourself and feeling excited, surprised, and altogether satisfied. Let the comic tell the story – then analyze what it made you feel and think without recapping.

 

SPOILER: Conclusion ahead!

In short, I realize spoilers on the internet are about as inevitable as boobs on the internet. These things will pop up. I think the easiest way to handle spoilers is to arm yourself with the knowledge of their location. And, of course, read only Odin’s Thunderbolts for all your comic book reading guide information. I will keep you safe and warm and unspoiled by… well you know.

 

Got any thoughts on all this? Any idea on where spoilers are appropriate or whether they’re even a problem? Let me know in the comments. And if you’re the jagbag who tosses a spoiler in the comments for irony’s sake, so help me… let’s just say you’ve got a Matt special coming your way.

 

 

 

 

 

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