Give ‘Em Elle: The Fear of Spoilers
Welcome to Give ‘Em Elle, a weekly column that hopes to bridge the gap between old school comics fandom and the progressive edge of comics culture. This week, like a lot of us, I’m thinking about spoilers and how they related to comics. I don’t have any big answers, or any axes to grind, but as usual I do have some thoughts.
I try to be polite and understanding of people who experience stories differently than I do, but I’m honestly baffled by the way a lot of people talk about spoilers. Since internet culture became everything, concern about spoilers has grown and grown, and I admit I have a hard time relating to it. This column may be the closest I ever come to one of those “what’s wrong with Millennials” essays (with the caveat that I was born write on the cutoff between generations, and by some definitions I am a Millennial myself).
But just to make myself sound extra old, here’s a memory from my early childhood: I was on the floor playing with Star Wars toys. I was really into Star Wars. I’d seen the first film on television, but I hadn’t seen Empire Strikes Back because I was too young for the theatrical release and there weren’t any other option yet. Return of the Jedi was about to come out, and I was excited to see it with my parents. So I’m sitting there playing with my Star Wars toys and my Dad is at the table reading the entertainment section of the newspaper. He looks up from it, turns to me, and says, “It says here Princess Leia is Luke Skywalker’s sister, and Darth Vader is their dad.” And that’s how I learned about that.
A few years later, I was watching a rerun of Happy Days. There was as scene where the parents were getting ready to go to the movies, and their son’s annoying friend Ralph kept revealing the end of every movie that mentioned. I think there were several movies of the era discussed, but the one that stuck with me was Psycho, the mention of which led Ralph to blurt, “The guy’s his own mother!” And that’s how I learned (vaguely, at least) about that.
I don’t even remember when I learned that Planet of the Apes takes place on Earth, but I know I had seen that image of the half-buried Statue of Liberty before I saw the movie. It may well have been the image on a VHS cover — I know it was on some of them. And of course I sat down to watch Alien knowing that at some point a monster was going to burst out of John Hurt’s chest. I’d already seen Hurt say, “Not again!” in Spaceballs, after all.
So when I see people in more recent years who seem terrified of spoilers, I’m a little baffled by it. Some people won’t even watch trailers of movies they’re excited about, which is certainly not something I could ever resist doing. Watch the trailers and get excited! It’s literally why the trailers exist!
But on the other hand, I’ll contradict myself and admit that there was a moment in Star Wars: The Force Awakens when Kylo Ren was offering up his light saber like he was going to surrender and turn back to the light side of the force. And at that moment I thought, “Wow, is he going to become a good guy? How surprising… wait, there was a scene in the trailer of him fighting Finn in the snow, and that hasn’t happened yet, so he can’t be done being evil. Oh no, I know what’s about to happen!” And then it happened.
So okay, if you don’t want to watch the trailer, don’t watch the trailer.
And then there’s comics. Back in 1991, even a kid like me new that Captain Atom was going to turn into a villain at the end of Armageddon 2001. DC was so upset at that spoiler leaking that they changed the ending, making Hawk go bad instead. And you know what? It was terrible. It made a mess of the canceled Hawk & Dove comic, and it completely screwed up the ending of that crossover, which had had some pretty good stuff in, like the story where Superman becomes President. But DC was more invested in surprising the readers than in telling a coherent story, and it showed.
The leaking of spoilers is still a big thing in comics, but the circumstances have changed considerably. Sometimes a website may get their hands on some inside info and publish it, and other times a comic company tells the media what happens in a comic in the hopes that people will buy it. Just today you may have heard about what happens in the new issue of Civil War II, even if you didn’t read it. And maybe that affected your interest in the book, or maybe it hurt your enjoyment of it. It’s hard for me to imagine a new reader hearing that spoiler and deciding that’s a comic they’ve just got to buy, but of course I’ve been reading comics for so long that it’s hard for me to imagine being a new reader at all. And look, we all want comics to sell. Do whatever you think helps.
People get so up in arms about spoilers in one direction or another, but at the end of the day, they’re just plot details about stories that really ought to have more to offer than the dry facts of what happens. Spoilers may lessen tension, but they shouldn’t be able to ruin the drama of a well-told story.
I think, like a lot of things, what it really comes down to is not being a jerk. If you want to put spoilers behind links or cuts or whatever, go right ahead and let people learn as much as they want to learn. But don’t get in people’s faces and tell them things they don’t want to hear. Don’t be Ralph Malph from Happy Days, basically. I mean I literally wrote this column about how spoilers are no big deal, and I left out details about The Force Awakens and Civil War II that it would have been easy to include, and you probably already know those things anyway.
So I’m certainly not advocating spoiling things left and right just because you can. But at the end of the day, comics have a lot of bigger problems than stories getting spoiled, no matter who’s doing it.