For years, comic book professionals have been flummoxed by this eternally regenerating parade of halfwits who, when given the opportunity to ask them any question on a message board or at a convention Q & A panel—any question at all about how or why they’re doing the work they do, like a live on-demand DVD commentary—choose to ask them, “So, what’s going to happen next in that book I like?”
If you’ve seen or read accounts of these conversations over the years, you’ve seen the pros’ answers go from good-natured and jokey (“everyone gets killed, ha ha”) to curtly evasive (“no comment; just wait and see”) to sincerely bewildered (“Do you really expect me to spoil the book we just spent two months working on because you asked? Why would you even want me to do that? Don’t you even want to read the story we’ve been painstakingly drawing every day for weeks on end? What drives you people in your relentless quest to destroy all that I have worked for?! I cry myself to sleep every night, did you know that, you vultures?”)
“What’s going to happen next?” I wish I were oversimplifying. People actually ask. All the time.
It’s clearly begun to wear on the talent, but none of their answers from sarcastic to sincere have ever stopped the halfwits. They keep asking to be spoiled. They keep reading the gossip and sneaking the peeks and brainlessly breaking the goddamn embargoes and severely bungling everything up for the rest of us. With the internet as leaky as it is, and Previews as Previewy as they are, it started to seem impossible for anyone with more than a passing interest in Captain Whatzisname to pick up a book without knowing about its last page three months in advance.
Then, somehow, Marvel cracked the formula. I don’t know what they’re paying Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker down there in their dungeon Marketing Lab, but somehow whatever Spoiler Genome Project they’re working on has come up with the way to immunize us all.
You see, ever since February, Marvel’s mad scientists have been giving us near-daily inoculations in the form of teaser ads. An exciting little glimpse at an Avenger… the titillating silhouette of a Secret Avenger… the same Secret Avenger laid bare… some kid in a leotard we’ve never heard of in our lives. With each new image, they introduced a tiny amount of foreknowledge into the public bloodstream until, over (what seemed to be an interminable amount of) time, we started building up an immunity. Then, just to push us over the edge, we got a series of booster shots in the form of a rip-off “parody” campaign from Image Comics so ham-handed and wrong-headed that a friend of mine is still literally “almost positive” that Kaboomerang is a new Avenger.
And then came the X-Men.
It only helped that all the teams and characters seemed to have been put in the same vial and given a spin in the centrifuge. Beast is an Avenger! Blade is an X-Man! Spider-Man may be both! Wolverine is a Pet Avenger! Thing was traded to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants for Magneto and a player to be named later!
The end result?: You could, at this point, tell me absolutely anything about any one of these teams and I would not only believe it, I would swear an affidavit that I saw the ad in March. “Franklin Richards is the Red Hulk? No, yeah, that sounds about right. I think I saw that promo in the last issue of Nova.”
(Ha ha!, of course that’s outlandish. No one knows who Red Hulk is. Two years into his book. You know it’s a compelling piece of storytelling when two years have gone by and the identity of the character you’re reading about still doesn’t even matter. It’s like if Michael Bay was still directing a beer commercial that he started when I was in college. The mystery just keeps getting more gripping, and not at all tiresome. But perhaps I digress.)
It’s not just me, either. If you opened up this site tomorrow and saw a spread of the Punisher, Boom Boom and Galactus that said, “I Am A New Defender,” honestly, would you even bat an eyelash anymore?
The masterstroke is that I don’t think these ads are even telling me anything. Even as I see these teasers, released officially by Marvel to formally announce what is actually going to be in their new books… I don’t really believe any of it is going to be in the books. The simple fact that they’re straightforwardly telling me all this is like prima facie evidence that it’s a trick. I don’t for a minute believe that Spider-Man is going to break the X-Glass Ceiling and be admitted by that old racist Professor Xavier into his mutants-only social club, and I double-dog don’t believe he’s bringing Future Hulk Lady Whatever-The-Hell in with him. Oh, I’m sure they’ll be in whichever book that is long enough to “count,” but I doubt the housekeepers on Utopia are making up any of the rooms for these people. The whole thing will go more like this: “Elektra is among you!… to see if you have a phone I could use. My car won’t start, and this outfit does not really accommodate a cell pocket. I really should invest in some kind of form-fitting cargo pant. Anyway, just let me call AAA and I’ll be out of your hair.”
Unless that doesn’t happen, and they’ve faked me out by not faking me out. You see? The teasers have been so unrelenting and bewildering that they have made me begin to question the nature of Truth. It’s ingenious.
Most importantly, I do not want to think about another preview, teaser, ad or spoiler again as long as I live. I have never before been so not-quite-literally beaten into submission. Every time a piece of news hits my iFanboy inbox now, I reflexively begin crying and confessing to an unseen torturer. The other day, I checked my mail while I was at lunch and ended up telling the waitress my social security number. I will certainly never ask anyone, “What happens next in that book I like?”
And convention season just started. We haven’t even hit the news-heavy part of the year. Pray for me.
Then again, maybe it’s just because I work here, and it’s my responsibility to stare at it all until it numbs me. (I give for you, and I give and I give.) Maybe the rest of you are paying just enough attention to be psyched, so help me gauge the zeitgeist. Am I alone in this? Are you only getting more and more tantalized with each nugget that reaches your brains, or are we all in this together? At this point, the only thing I can keep straight about any comic is that it probably launches in July.
Jim Mroczkowski almost inserted a few of his own joke ads into the teaser image before remembering, “Oh, yeah: everyone who ever had so much as AOL access did that already, back in February. Then, a month later, so did Robert Kirkman. Ten times.” Similarly effed-out jokes can be found via Twitter.