The Gold Standard: Spoiling The Death Of Ultimate Spider-Man

I’d be a hypocrite if I simply came down on spoilers, hell, spoilers is good business here at the Nexus. I’ll spoil anything that I think people are interested in, but I take care to do a few simple things. A spoiler warning in the title, and leave the title vague enough to not give it away from just reading it.

Obviously I’m being quite un-Dude-like and abiding none of my own rules for this particular instance, but there’s a reason for this.

When I spoil something like someone dieing in an issue I don’t splash their face in the headline, and unless it’s a huge spoiler, it’s probably not making top story. In fact, sometimes if I feel that the event in question is a non-issue, or obvious issue, I won’t even bother with it. Maybe if it happens in a cool way, but for the most part I’ve found that more often than not a painfully obvious resolution to a storyline isn’t something that people run to see in giant numbers.

The Death of Spider-Man in Ultimate Spider-Man was going to be one of the books that I skipped over. I haven’t read it in a year, I haven’t cared to read it in a year, and the friends who speak the book up to me can never actually tell me why it’s good just that they like it. I read Ultimate Spider-Man off and on for seven years, and whenever I dropped it it was always for the same basic reason. For as much as Bendis crammed into the book, and he crammed in a ton, nothing ever really happened. It bothered me immensely when Bendis claimed that Peter was still a freshman around the time of Ultimatum; that somehow this Peter had blazed through damn near the entirety of the real Spider-Man’s iconic story arcs in less than two semesters of school just down right pissed me off.

So why am I talking about this? What sense does it make for me to have any sort of comment on something I care so little about?

Because nothing bugs me more than when a major news outlet is provided with spoilers and blows them like they’re unimportant. Something only Marvel seems to do, and always right before an event that they have no intention of keeping canon.

Examples? When Peter Parker unmasking in Civil War was a front page headline the morning the issue was released. Or the death of Captain America being splashed on newspaper covers. When Marvel pushes their spoilers for publicity, despite that they always seem to push the events with the shortest of shelf lives. Peter Parker being unmasked lasted all of three story arcs, while Cap was dead around two years of real time.

How long until Johnny Storm is back? That’s one that the Associated Press spoiled, which I’d dig up a link for if they didn’t charge you a buck-fifty to read it. Never say I don’t save you money.

Know how I know Bucky is really dead? Marvel didn’t promote it.

Now, for as much as I hate the practice, I understand why they do it. There’s definitely a sales jump to be found in attracting mainstream attention, as it reminds people of the speculator market of the 90’s. How much will that issue of Captain America where he died be worth? What about that special bagged potentially variant covered issue of Fantastic Four? Those are going to be worth a fortune one day!

Or maybe just ten bucks.

Attracting the mainstream audience with shock value brings in speculators, not readers. The speculator market is what drove the industry so well in the early 90’s and made a lot of people a lot of money, but it’s also what dropped the bottom out. At some point people realized that it took decades for hard to find books to be worth money, and that a book with millions of copies was never going to be worth as much as a hard to find one. The numbers have never been the same, but it also brought the audience down to a group of core diehards. Real fans of the material, not what it could represent financially. The industry has had to adapt to the changes; Image had to adopt some substance to their flash, Marvel spent a period of time in bankruptcy, and DC was able to maintain status quo as they had been owned by a much larger corporation (Warner Bros) for decades by that point.

Everybody talks about wanting to grow the industry; that’s why we have movies, and cartoons, and toys, and video games, and all of that good stuff. To expand to other markets and possibly bring some people over to comics from the other mediums, and that’s fine. That’s all well and good, I mean, it never works, but at least you’re using other mediums to try and get a buzz around your product instead of altering your product to cater to people who obviously don’t care enough to be scoping it out without the catering. It’s a sharp and distinct difference, the contrast of doing work in other mediums and hoping that new fans come check out the source, and drastically altering the source to attract those potential new fans.

The difference is always more evident to those who follow the solicits, and it’s a pretty distinct one. Green Lantern comes out and we receive a handful of comics to tie into the movie, while the Green Lantern line of titles makes no attempt to simplify itself for a new reader. Johns, Tomasi, and Bedard don’t compromise their storytelling to cater to the potential new reader who comes on board for the movie. The Dark Knight was much the same way, where Batman wasn’t broken away from what he was doing despite the overwhelming success of the movie. And I can’t even come down too hard on Marvel as First Class was wonderfully done, and almost entirely ignored by the X writers who continued on with their stories. Hell, you can turn the clock back and find some more good examples of Marvel’s synergy, and if you put your eye on Invincible Iron Man then you need to look no further.

Invincible Iron Man was launched to coincide with the first Iron Man movie, and in the years since then it’s been one of Marvel’s premier titles, and it has been a platform that Matt Fraction has used to truly show off his abilities. Does Tony look like Robert Downey Jr? Sure. Has the book tied into a movie storyline? Not really, they just managed to time a relaunch with the movie. Not unlike what they did with Thor, which features the God of Thunder taking on Galactus while the movie is nowhere close to that. So what’s the problem?

Captain America. Did we all know that Steve would be Cap again? Yes. Did we know it would be in time for the movie? Yes. Did we expect a new number one? I wasn’t surprised.

So what’s the issue? The fact that not only are they relaunching Cap for the movie, but they killed off Bucky to do it. They couldn’t settle him in a new identity and have him forge his own path, they had to kill him. Because the movie is going to have a dead Bucky, and they don’t want to confuse people. Why do I take this stance? Because Bucky represents a wealth of wasted potential, as his Winter Soldier time, his transition to Captain America, even his run with the shield prior to Steve coming back. It was all good!

But Bucky’s rush to death, Steve’s sudden having of a solo title again, it read like Marvel was trying to get a new first issue out to coincide with the movie so that happy moviegoers can go to the comic shop and buy it. A brilliant plan save for the fact that it won’t work.

DC is relaunching their entire line in September, new number ones for everything. It’s not to coincide with some sort of other media event, though it is something they’ve managed to get other media attention for.  I don’t expect to see any of these books polybagged at the stores, nor do I expect to see spoilers for them plastered in USA Today, or over the Associated Press, or at any number of major news outlets. I don’t expect the speculator market to swoop in like vultures and buy up issues like hot cakes expecting to retire off of their copies of Action Comics #1. I expect loyal readers and followers to continue reading the characters they love, all the while with a fresh and inviting take for those new to the party. Accessibility without compromising for the sake of a hypothetical audience.

I guess that’s what it comes down to; that there will always be new readers coming in as kids will come in with wide eyes and imaginations, not unlike many of us were at that age. That’s the untapped audience that needs to be worried about, the people who are just waiting to read their first comic. Not the ones that only had their interest sparked for a nano-second by a movie, whose interest wained instantly upon the realization that the movie doesn’t leave them an expert in the title. On top of that…it’s just a different situation altogether. I like Doctor Who, but I don’t intend to read the books. My cousin will watch any superhero movie you put in front of him, but you can’t get him to sit down and read a comic. That’s how people are , sometimes liking the character isn’t enough to generate the interest.

So what does all of this have to do with selling spoilers for publicity? Your real fans, the people who make up the less than impressive sales numbers month after month, they are going to buy your books because they like them. They will be here for speculators corner, for the forgotten issues, for the good, through the bad. They will buy the Death of Ultimate Spider-Man as well as the relaunch. The speculators, the people who walked into a comic shop to get their potentially prized polybag, they probably won’t be buying the new first issue. Because there’s nothing to say that one will be worth anything, and while yes, if you read the book and like it you then you should keep buying it, but polybags and speculators…any good collector knows you can’t open that bag or it becomes worthless. That means they’d need two copies just to read it!

I’m happy Ultimate Spider-Man sold through the roof, just like I’m happy Fantastic Four did. I’m just not happy that it’s only because they were willing to allow their loyal fanbase to have issues ruined for them in exchange for drawing the done in one crowd out of their holes.

Oh, and not that it matters, but because it’s a fun little thing to toss at the end here. I did buy two copies of Fantastic Four #587, one to read and one to put away in its polybag. Total hypocrite, right? I’m giving in to the speculator market! I thought about it as I did it, and I laughed too. Had it been Ultimate Spider-Man I honestly doubt I would have bothered with two copies, but with Fantastic Four? I hadn’t missed an issue since 2003, ,so I figured why not?

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