It seems pretty basic. If you spoil the ending of a story, then you'll potentially spoil the story itself.
But that simple fact of storytelling is being turned on its head this year in multiple comics. From Scott Snyder's Batman #28 revealing story beats from the then-upcoming Batman Eternal weekly, to DC's Futures End event showing what might happen five years from now, to the eight-month jump ahead in Marvel books during its "Time Runs Out" event, comic book fans in 2014 often learn what's about to happen in their favorite series long before it actually happens.
Year of Sneak Peeks
"The idea is that it gives us a snapshot into the future," said DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio, speaking about his company's Futures End event, which shows readers the "possible" changes coming to the DCU five years from now. "Ultimately, what you're going to see is the potential of where the futures can be going. And also, I'd like to say, what direct impact it has on stories set in the current timeline in the DCU."
While the "potential" spoilers of Futures End might not play out exactly as portrayed, another comic at DC — its most consistent top-seller — totally revealed several important events ahead of scheduled with the sneak-peeking one-shot, Batman #28. In fact, some of the spoilers that readers were shown in February's Batman #28 still haven't even happened — although the story of how they happened is playing out now in the weekly Batman Eternal.
Of course, Eternal itself opened with a spoiler in its first issue, as readers of the weekly were shown the weekly's ending on the series' first page — Batman tied to the Bat-Signal with Gotham City burning behind him.
Batman fans get a flash forward again next month, when the Batman titles will all jump to a time period after the ending of the story in Batman Eternal, basically again revealing some of the upcoming events of the weekly.
Now Marvel's doing the same sort of thing with its "Time Runs Out" event, as two Avengers titles are jumping eight months into the future — while the other Marvel books don't — meaning these two comics will reveal the ending of some stories that aren't going to conclude until next year.
"Reading Avengers and New Avengers… is literally like getting a comic sent to you from the future eight months ahead of time," said Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort in a CBR interview.
So… what gives? An industry that's notoriously protective of future story plans (even known to make creators sign non-disclosure agreements) is suddenly spoiling the ending of their comics?
Obviously, the goal is to show readers enough changes and surprises that they become excited enough to see how those changes came about.
Brevoort said the point "is for people to wonder and speculate and to be interested in what's going to happen to all of these characters. To wonder what could have put them in this situation? How these changes could have occurred? And what in fact do these changes entail?"
"The point is to always keep things exciting for Bat-fans, you know?" Batman writer Snyder told Newsarama about all the time-jumping that his book has been doing.
The question is, once the blanks are filled in, will the changes themselves have less impact because they were already known, months before?
Case in point: In Batman #28, which was published in February, readers were told that, in about a year, Catwoman would be the kingpin (er… queenpin?) of crime in Gotham City. And over the last few months, the weekly Batman Eternal has been revealing the steps it's taking to get the feline villain to that eventual point.
Earlier this month in Batman Eternal, Catwoman's father was revealed to be a former leader of crime, and he asked his daughter to be… you guessed, it… the new leader of his crime family.
The idea of Catwoman as a kingpin of crime didn't exactly pack a surprising punch, because readers had already been picturing it for the last seven months.
As one blogger put it ("FHIZ" of Gotham Spoilers): "I can't help but think the reveals in this issue would have been better had Batman #28 not happened, but the other side of that coin is that the reveals in Batman #28 gave us just a small slice of the Eternal pie, but it was enough to make many readers, including myself, want the whole damn thing."
So are these types of sneak peeks — and the excitement they generate for the upcoming comics — worth the potentially tempered reaction when the event actually happened?
Scott Snyder Chimes In
Interestingly, readers are being given much less information about the next big Batman storyline, Batman Endgame, which starts in October. Batman creators Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo have, so far, been mum about the story's premise and even its villain.
According to Snyder, that's because the story itself is different. While Eternal opened with the "Gotham burning" ending, Endgame's story will unfold in a much more traditional sense.
"With a book like Eternal, we really wanted to show the scope of the thing right from the start," Snyder told us, when we asked him about the two approaches. "We wanted you to open it and immediately understand that, being a 52-issue series, we were going to maximize those 52 issues, and it was going to be over-the-top, muscular, bombastic... a story that'd feel almost too big for that many chapters.
"With Endgame, it's built so that you realize how big the story is going to be when Batman does. You feel it with him, so that you're as terrified as he is of what's coming," Snyder said. "Each serves a particular purpose for a particular kind of story. The point in using either technique is to show the reader the nature of the story from go."
Snyder said he's used both approaches in his non-Batman books as well, such as The Wake, which showed its earth-flooded results at the beginning, and Wytches, which waited for the surprises to arise in real time.
"Does it have huge scope? Is it going to be a story filled with creeping dread? Is it fast paced?" Snyder said. "Again, with The Wake, it was important to show readers it wasn't just a claustrophobic story at the bottom of the ocean. We needed you to know it was a century spanning epic so you understood what you were in for. Wytches, you feel everything as it unfolds. No jumps forward at the start."
So what do you think, readers? Do you like knowing what's coming, so you can anticipate and be excited for months about what's coming up? Or would you rather not know the future, so you can jump off your couch months later?
Or do you agree with Snyder that it depends on the story — that there's a time for scope-defining sneak peeks and flashes forward, and a time for unfolding mysteries and out-of-the-blue surprises?