SPOILER WARNING! (or, Stop the Presses!)


As most of you are aware, this week’s Tact is for the Weak has NOT been published at its regularly-scheduled time of 12:00 PM on Friday afternoon (which you SHOULD already know; mark your calendars!). This is due to an executive decision made by the author, which in turn is due to an unfortunate circumstance in which, through nefarious means, an unauthorized third party has managed to procure and distribute spoilers for this most recent installment of the article. In an effort to bring you only the freshest humor and wit, the article has been rewritten, and thus has been delayed.

…Don’t buy it? Okay, the truth is that certain newsworthy events have transpired in the previous few days that have merited a total rewrite of this week’s Tact is for the Weak. Originally, author Brian Graiser was set to unleash a stirring and scathing editorial on the political and ethical quagmire that transpires behind the closed doors of your favorite major comic publishers. However, rather than go into great detail documenting the fabled “Didio Sex Parties” and other such despicable acts of debauchery, it has been decided that there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed in a timely manner before the importance of the issue washes away. So chill out, homeslice.

Welcome back, dear readers, to a very special late edition of Tact is for the Weak, the article that leaves broken condoms and hearts in its wake.

Those of you that have been keeping a savvy eye on the internet (and those of you that read the New York Post) were stunned earlier this week when the New York newspaper spoiled a huge plot development in Marvel Comics’s Civil War #2, out this week. In the Post’s article (which was printed on the morning of the book’s release), it was revealed that long-time Marvel stalwart Spider-man was to reveal his identity as Peter Parker to the world at a press conference. Along with the unceremonious spoil, the Post also provided preview artwork:

The most surprising thing about this situation is not the fact that Marvel has chosen to unmask one of comics’ oldest heroes (what, you don’t see any laugh lines?). Rumors about Spider-man unmasking have been circulating for some time, and given the subject of secret identities at stake in the company-wide crossover, a development of this kind has almost become expected. Having the New York Post break the story, on the other hand, was not expected.

Before we look into the ramifications of this development, let’s take a small detour down memory lane. In the early 1990′s, DC Comics was still clinging to the successful coattails of Crisis on Infinite Earths like a desperate ex-girlfriend under the gun of her ticking biological clock, and attempted year after year to replicate their success with increasingly poor stories.

One such crossover, titled Armageddon 2001, promised to send the DC Universe spinning into time travel, lurking through betrayal, and maybe even breathing life into a new character or two. In the story, a man from the year 2030 undergoes a series of experiments and finds himself transformed into Waverider, an energy-based being capable of travelling through time. It seems that in 2030 (well, his 2030), the world is ruled with an Orwellian flare and an iron fist by a powerful armored despot named Monarch. Supposedly, Monarch was actually a superhero from the present day (which was 1991) that, in the year 2001, ended up betraying and destroying all other heroes before rising to power.

So, the entire premise of the event boiled down to Waverider going around and, by contacting the present-day heroes and following their personal timelines into the future, figuring out which hero was destined to become Monarch. However, a problem arose from the depths of the comic book universe, and for the first time since Jason Todd’s “death by committee,” the resulting chaos between the two issues of Armageddon 2001 was directly caused by…the FANS.

Originally, Captain Atom (a holdover of Charlton Comics) was supposed to become Monarch. However, DC’s offices at the time proved leakier than the Titanic, and when the secret got out, it spread like wildfire among the fans. Frantically, DC scrambled to cover its ass and, rather than run with a spoiled story, actually changed the conclusion so that it ended up being a third-string ex-Teen Titan by the name of Hawk that would become Monarch (good news from Atomaniacs, bad news for…well, okay, I don’t know anyone that misses Hank Hall). To further add “dramatic effect,” Hawk’s partner Dove was killed off in the process.

All in all, this debacle was a textbook example of a clusterf**k. While DC certainly shared some culpability in providing the initial leakage (similar to how Paris Hilton provides similarly-leaky venereal diseases to her rotating cast of boy toys), however, the bullk of the responsibility for this now-infamous switcheroo lies squarely on the shoulders of the fans. Simply put, if the initial fans had simply abstained from spreading around their information, the problem would not have gotten out of hand (again, this can also apply to the spread of VD. Get checked, you nasty ol’ skanks!).

Today, spoilers are plenty and willpower seems to have diminished within the faniverse. In particular, internet-savvy fans can often learn the outcomes of their favorite titles a day or more before the release date, if they know which websites and message boards to go to. Even the comics publishers have seemed to cave to what is considered now an indestructible attribute of fandom; DC Comics’s own online message boards are infamous for being home to some of the most detailed, tempting spoilers around. In an effort to stem the spoilers for the mega-event Infinite Crisis, writer Geoff Johns had his own message boards shut down 24 hours prior to the release of the book, but tenacious spoiler-hunters easily slipped by and got their fix from other message boards.

“Now hold on a second,” you may be saying, “why are spoilers bad? What if I can’t get to the shop this week, but I want to find out what happens? What if I just want to know ahead of time if I should pick up a book? Are spoilers really that unethical?” And, that’s actually a good question. For now, I’ll weasel out of this one and leave you all to duke it out on the comment boards; perhaps I’ll share my opinions on that another day. However, I will say that most creators out there infinitely prefer that readers respect the “tradition” (or, supposed tradition) of reading after buying, yet at the same time, constantly tease fans with a barrage of “preview art” and juicy little quotes and hints that are “accidentally” dropped in interviews.

Another question raised by the issue of spoilers is how they come to be. After all, it’s not like every publisher has disgruntled employees acting as moles for the good of spoiling stories! More often than not, spoilers (or at least accurate ones) come from the ignoble sharing of advance copies that retailers receive of next week’s titles. Usually, retailers are pretty honorable with their trusted charges, but it only takes one temptation and one internet connection to spoil a story to the world. Also, it isn’t terribly uncommon for some retailers to put their titles up for sale a day earlier than others; the customers of those stores are usually aware of this, and as soon as they buy the book, their first stop is to the computer to spread their spoilery gospel.

So, to bring us back to Civil War, how will the New York Post’s spoiler of the latest issue affect the rest of the world? Well, only time will really tell, but given that these events had already been swirling in rumor circles indicates that this particular spoiler may not have ruined too much for many. However, the real issue at hand is whether this marks a new trend in “tactical leaks” through other media, such as newspapers and potentially magazines, radio, TV…you name it.

If publishers such as Marvel feel that the spoiled surprise for purist fans is an acceptable sacrifice to lure in more potential buyers that may just want to see if Peter Parker actually goes through with it, that’s their call. However, it is thoroughly unfair to those readers that wish to take advantage of the story’s drama. There are plenty of stalwart fans out there that do manage to avoid spoilers and make the most out of their comic book enjoyment; when the next issue’s big event is spoiled by your morning newspaper, that’s just downright rude. Marvel should know better than that, but if their only concern is to sell more issues, well, they certainly found a way to accomplish that.

Again, I implore you all to givememoney discuss this issue among your peers with intelligence. I won’t tell you (yet) how to think, you all should be thinking about the ethical rammifications of this issue. In the meanwhile, I will provide you all with a brief guideline for spoiler-writing, in case you do feel the need to spoil away at some point in the future.

Thou shalt ALWAYS clearly and abundantly post “SPOILER WARNING” before every spoiler thou posts. When applicable, thou shalt also leave a paragraph of empty space (“spoiler space”) before commencing with the spoilery.
Thou shalt FACT CHECK so as to not provide false witness to thy insatiable spoiler victims.
Thou shalt not EDITORIALIZE unless absolutely necessary (as in,”this artist’s pencils are really bad on page 5; avoid this book at all costs!”).
Thou shalt be COMPLETE and UNAMBIGUOUS in thy spoilers. If someone has clicked onto a message board looking for spoilers, they’ve already abandoned their hope for a virgin reading; don’t beat around the bush or cocktease (er, “comictease”), just give the people their spoilers.
Thou shalt not PAD THE SPOILER. If it takes two paragraphs to convey how great Guy Gardner’s expressions are, it’s not worth spoiling.
Thou shalt CLEARLY MARK TOPICS CONTAINING SPOILERS. I cannot stress this enough; many people have been banned from online message boards for not properly labeling spoiler-heavy topics.

Hopefully that was as good for you as it was for me (because boy, was it good for me!). Before I leave you to your own devices once again, it’s time to hand it out this week’s Tactless Book of the Week Award!

This week, the award goes to… Marvel Comics’s Civil War #2.

…Surprise, surprise.

Besides the fact that the New York Post gave away the issue’s big surprise, Peter Parker’s unmasking is still a huge move that will go down in comics history (at least until the next retcon). Besides the fact that it’s Spider-man, for crying out loud, it’s also the oldest hero to unmask in the history of comics (and I’m sure within five minutes, some asshole’s going to correct me). Yes, it’s a shallow play, and yes, the Post article was nothing more than thinly veiled advertising, but it’s still historic, and as much as it pains me to do so, I feel required to recommend that you all buy this *shudder* instant classic. However, this obligatory, compulsory purchase will not escape the Tactless Wall of Shame, from which there is no escape.

Well, that wraps up this week’s article. Once more, let me encourage you all to discuss the ethics behind spoilers. It really is a very mature topic, and perhaps I’ll give you my opinion in the future. For now, keep your eyes glued to the pages, and I’ll see you in seven days. Hasta la pasta!

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