The Spoiler Protocols

As part of my continuing effort to disguise my coffee table as a landfill, I have a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. The magazine in its attractive piles does more than just give my home a boost in overall flammability; it gives me the chance to stay abreast of happenings in pop culture that would otherwise completely pass me by. The movie coverage helps me lay the groundwork for next year’s Netflix queue. The book reviews help me to realize that, even if I spend $50 every week on comics and visit five comics sites a day, some writer in New York will still manage to fill an entire section with graphic novels I have never heard of in my life and make me feel like I don’t know anything. The music section gives me just enough information to survive small talk with someone in high school if, I don’t know, we get stuck in an elevator together or something. “Taylor Swift, right?” I’ll say. “Yeah, T.I. and T-Pain are totally different people. Facebook!” Then I imagine we will fist-bump.

The real reason I tend to accumulate piles of EW (they like to be called EW; when no one else is around, I’ll bet they refer to themselves as “tha E-dub”) is not just because I am too lazy even to amuse myself, but also because the magazine has one reporting specialty spanning everything from books to film to television, and that specialty is ruining the @%#$ out of everything you love. EW will help you stay current, but be careful how current; there’s a good chance that reading the newest issue will blow 4-6 things currently sitting on your Tivo before you even realize what you’re reading.

I started thinking about this a couple of days ago as I added the latest issue to the paper pillar and noticed that the cover story was about Lost. I dropped the magazine like it was unclean, as if it had just come fresh out of the oven, and covered it with something else. Like Dr. Jack McPillbeard on the show, I was suddenly flashing back to a few years earlier, remembering the week in 2005 when Lost had its first major death and, scarcely 40 hours after the episode aired, Entertainment Effing Weekly had the corpse in question on its cover with a headline that read, as I recall, “HEY! LOOK WHO’S DEAD!”

Oh, I was delighted.

Of course, I had not watched the episode yet, but that was only part of what irritated me. The thing that really steamed my clams, as I yelled to the magazine while my fiancee went around the apartment closing the windows before the neighbors heard me, was that Entertainment Weekly for as long as I could remember had been beating the drum for “the Tivo culture,” so much so that I was pretty sure they got a couple cents every time I hit the baboop button. All they ever seemed to talk about was how DVRs and time shifting were becoming the norm, and now here they — of all people! — were, splashing major plot twists in full color on the cover before the damned week was out. “For God’s sake,” I said to the inanimate object, “give a man some time!”

But how much time?

Every time something gets spoiled for me (and I’d estimate it happens three or four times a year) I always have the same thought: I was sure we would have this worked out by now. As more people began to time shift their TV habits and wait till DVD and wait for the trade, it seemed logical to assume that some kind of etiquette or spoiler code would shape itself around the new culture the way a plant grows towards sunlight. Instead, everybody still seems to be muddling along with a different map, constantly colliding with one another. There are people who don’t want to hear a single line of dialogue from a preview a day in advance who nevertheless spend all their time on the message board where that stuff is all anyone came to discuss. There are people who tell you spoilers don’t matter because it’s not what happens, but rather how it happens. Those same people were furious the day Captain America’s death went out over the AP news wire before a comic shop had even opened to sell the story to eager readers. It doesn’t matter, except for when it does.

And of course, half the time the people spoiling it are the companies themselves, who talk to you about spoilers out of one side of their mouths while unmasking Spider-Man with the other. (At least he’s re-masked. Who’s laughing now, Howard Stern Show?)

It was in this ethical fog that Peter David’s X-Factor #39 was released a couple of weeks ago. On the opening page of that comic, David wrote that

As soon as you finish this issue, you’re going to want to jump online and tell everyone you know about what happens… Please, out of consideration to your fellow fans: resist the urge… Do not even put “Spoiler Warnings” and think you’ve done due diligence, because you shouldn’t be providing the temptation for others to wreck it for themselves. Every reader deserves to be as stunned and shocked as you by the developments herein.

I’ve heard that a lot of people read those lines and thought, in essence, “Well, who the @%#$ are you, buddy?” My immediate reaction was more akin to “Give ’em hell, Petey!” As is probably clear, I don’t know much about writing for mass consumption, but I do know that if I sweated my heart and soul into an ongoing arc full of twists and turns only to have some putz who paraphrases press releases for a living pipe up with, “oh, Ronin is totally Daredevil” right before the presses heated up, my week would begin with a printout of IP addresses and end with a string of grisly homicides. With that in mind, I thought Peter David’s plea was a bold one and couldn’t wait to see if anyone heeded it. As far as I could tell, just about everyone did; in the days after the book came out, I didn’t see a single site blow the secret.

Except for this one.

Initially, I was really disappointed, and maybe even a little angry. I thought, “We’re better than that.”

Then I thought, “Better than what? Talking about a comic book on a comic book discussion site? A book that came out a couple weeks ago? At what point is it okay to mention that Cap isn’t making his court date?” If you’ve read your Robert Louis Stevenson, you remember that it was supposed to be a major Sixth Sense shock ending when Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde turned out to actually be the same person, and that a century of pop culture had rendered the twist– and by extension the book– flavorless. But even so… 120 years is a hell of a statute of limitations.

At the same time, I couldn’t help thinking that if I pulled that shit with The Walking Dead or Invincible I would smell like tar and feathers for the rest of my life. A bunch of guys in Klingon hockey jerseys would storm my house and throw me in the stocks in front of a con. Conventional wisdom holds that everyone waits for the Walking Dead trade, but even the people who read it in issues don’t want you flapping your gums. What’s the percentage of trade-waiters on X-Factor? Who decides which books get that courtesy extended to them? I’d like to apply for that code of silence.

But then what would we be talking about here?

Every podcast and review on this site makes it clear that Here Thar Be Spoilers, and I guess most people click the links and take their chances. After I thought about the X-Factor thing for a while, I mostly felt dumb. Had it come to this? I was so anti-spoiler that I was now getting mad when I saw spoilers for books I’d already read? Maybe I never will live in a world where everyone agrees on where the line is between discussing and ruining, and how much responsibility belongs to the listener or the talker.  Until I do, I don’t want to be a hostage to my excitement. I don’t want to be incapable of sitting in a public place without plunging my pinkies deep into my ear canals and going, “laaaa lalala umm umummmstoptalkingstoptalking” like I’m trying to get kicked out of kindergarten.

On the other hand, maybe you and I can figure the “rules” out together. I’m certainly not getting anywhere listening to myself. What’s your personal spoiler policy? Is there quietly a consensus out there after all, or are we doomed to piss each other off every couple of months forever?


Jim Mroczkowski has some bad news for you about the paternity of Luke Skywalker. Tell him who got voted off the island last night via Twitter or



  1. Good call on avoiding the EW this week. I wish I had. I saw the Lost cover story and thought, "Oh, this is safe, I bet they won’t spoil the episode from this week. It’s only 2 days old and this appears to be about the series in general." Wrong! Low and behold, as a throw away line almost, there’s the big spoiler about last week’s episode. Spoiled!

    Curse you EW!

  2. Always find these Jim Mroczkowski is a Caucasian Suburban Dad articles to be entertaining. 

  3. Great article.  I dont think everyone will ever agree on when we can discuss spoiler related material.

     I just do my personal best to avoid it.

     Including "tha E-dub" 

  4. Labor, I do it for you; in real life, I am unimaginably hip. Jonas Brothers!

  5. Facebook!

  6. Nice article Jimski.  As a teacher, you develop the tolerance for things being spoiled.  Kids don’t have that filter.  They just tell you anyway.

    I don’t mind it when spoilers happen, but if someone were to spoil something like Walking Dead, I’d murder them…like they were a zombie.  That’s really the only comic I want to be surprised by, most likely because it is a book built around the surprise.

  7. I think the reason Walking Dead gets the "no spoiler courtesy" is because 1) apparently reading it trade really is what the majority does and 2) the thing is chock full of twists and turns. Of course, since I haven’t started reading it yet, I’m only speculating.

    My spoiler policy is: If I’m not reading it in issues, I don’t care because it’s gonna take me so long to catch up to that spoiler that I’m probably gonna forget. My ONLY exception to that is Y: The Last Man, which I have successfully avoided all spoilers for (and haven’t even watched the iFanboy video) and want to continue to do so. That said, I don’t go looking for spoilers of stuff I’m actually reading and often appreciate getting them for stuff I’m not reading. I think spoiler warnings are a reasonable courtesy and there’s no reason not to give them. If I am late reading my books, I usually don’t log on to websites (like this one) until I do. If I hadn’t read the last issue of X-Factor, I probably wouldn’t have read Ron’s X-Factor article just to be safe. 

    If you are two weeks behind on books or more, I think it’s solely your responsibility to avoid spoilers. If you’re only one week behind…you probably deserve some protection from the rest of the world.




  8. @Jimski for the record, I totally didn’t read Peter David’s note in the beginning of the book, I had no idea that was even something that was going on.  That said, I don’t know if I would have abided by it has I read it – but at least in this case, I can plead ignorance

    BTW – Vader is Luke’s father.

  9. @ron: He is!? Damnit! *burns copies of Empire Strikes Back*

    To me, you probably should give spoilers for about a week notice when the book is out. So like when Secret Warriors hit last week and there was a huge reveal on Nick Fury on the last page, the discussion should be like: ‘So this week in SW #1 Nick Fury is revealed to be




    You get the idea. But once the week has passed, I would think it would be okay to mention what was the shocking thing you didnt want to spoil the week before. I mean think about it, more often then not the majority of the comic world already read the issue your talking about (unless it’s trade or very small indie book your reading) so they should all know by now on what the thing that you didnt want to spoil beforehand. That should go the same for TV and Film, give it like a week period (or 5 days) and then talk about the spoilers. So like when the Watchmen film comes out; let’s not try and spoil that to anyone yet until the five days are up. That should be enough time for the majority of this site to have seen the film.

    It is weird though how Walking Dead is the only freak thing here where you cant have spoilers no matter what. I’ve been almost killed several times because I was mentioning what happenend in the series. I got the burn marks to prove it.

  10. @ron: I just happened to read it a) because David will throw something random in there about his daughter’s bowling team every so often and b) because I’d just happened to see a Newsarama article where they tried to interview him about upcoming stories and he wouldn’t say anything. The whole interview was about his failure to be interviewed.

  11. I hate spoiler whining.  I’m the kind of person who reads Previews, E-dub and iFanboy before I read my books, because I don’t like surprises.  I mean, I don’t like surprise parties, surprise presents or chocolate surprise.  When I Was a kid, I’d sneak into my parents’ Christmas hiding places and make lists of my presents.  I read the last page of mystery novels first, and I can pretty much always call the end of a movie in the first half hour (Sixth Sense took me a solid hour.  Fight Club took me a matter of minutes).  It’s a defense mechanism, because I think that surprise endings are cheap tricks, weak writing.  And ending has to be earned.

    Knowing the ending increases my enjoyment of the craft that went into making it happen, if it has been earned.  If it hasn’t, and it comes out of nowhere, from a writer who didn’t know halfway through what the ending was going to be and just made shit up (Battlestar Gallactica, I’m looking at you), I lose respect.  I like to know ahead of time, so that I can avoid crap like that.

    I try not to spoil things for other people, because I’m actually not a jerk, but it still annoys me when people whinge about it.  If you don’t want to be "spoiled," don’t read anything.  Ever.  Problem solved.  You should at least learn to avoid popular news sources, like EW, iFanboy, your friends and the internet, because that’s where the spoilers live.  If you don’t want spoilers, it’s your responsibility to avoid them, it’s not other peoples’ responsibility to babysit your sensitive eyes.

  12. @Quinn-I can’t tell if you’re joking in your first two paragraphs.  I hope so

    Great article Jimski!  Although I am quite irked that you spoiled that Peter David Newsarama interview 

  13. A few spoilers from next week’s podcast for you:

    Ron is Conor’s dad (male pattern baldness skips a generation).

    Josh got Conor sick by using his toothbrush…to clean his dog.

    Grant Morrison is Jack Kirby reincarnated (and high on EVERYTHING).

    Robert Kirkman is what Brian Michael Bendis would have been if he was born in Kentucky (laid back, but still argumentative [ultimatehoratio knows what I’m talking about]).

    I like parentheses.

  14. @stuclach: Only one of those sentences is false and I think I know which one it is. 🙂

    @Quinn: How can you not like surprises?….Did you have an incident with a clown or something? Cause if you did then I could totally understand.

  15. All I ask is that spoiler-bombs be held off until the medium, be it book, movie, etc, is released. After that it’s fair game.

  16. I LOVE parentheses.

  17. The only thing I don’t want spoiled is food and sports scores.  Everything else is fair game.  I don’t read anything in issues but I listen to the podcast every week because I want to know what to buy when it comes out in trade.  Most of the time I just remember that something was recommended and not the details about what happened. 

  18. I think that something else that could be discussed is not only the time before spoilers, which I personally think is fine to do as long as you warn the people that the spoilers are coming, but also what exactly could be considered a spoiler. 

    Sure a plot twist is pretty obvious, but I know that in many of the videogame conversations I’ve had, people will be upset if you even mention a part of a game.  Like you might ask "so have you found Oasis yet?"  And the response is "There’s a place called Oasis?!!? Now it’s ruined for me!"  Is that actually a spoiler?  In my opinion, no, cause it’s not ruining something, they would still have no idea what it is or how to get there.  Yeah, long rant aside, are those small things spoilers? Is everything in a book, movie or game off-limits?

    And, I like parentheses, but I LOVE quotation marks.

  19. Colons FTW!

  20. @josh – You had to one up me.

    Can’t we all just agree that we enjoy punctuation?  I don’t want this to turn into a Colons vs. quotation marks vs. parentheses battle royal.  Q-Ma fans start telling the colon fans that they aren’t getting it because they aren’t smart enough.  Then TheNextChampion rereads the quotation marks and explains them to everyone and gets shouted down for trying to help.  I’ve seen it and never want to see it again.

    Sincerely (no, really),

  21. @drakedangerz  Dead serious.  I’m really not fond of surprises or spoiler-phobes.  If hearing the Bruce is dead bothers someone, I do have a solution: duct-tape the windows and doors.  It’s the only way to be truly safe.

    Agoraphobia:  It’s not just for agoraphobes, anymore.  (Seriously: wah.  You know what else spoils comics?  Reading them.  After the first time, the end is pretty obvious.  If people really wanted to stay unspoiled, they wouldn’t read the last page.  Ever.)

    Also, @TheNextChampion: clowns are both freakish and terrifying.  Talking about it more hurts me on the inside.

  22. I’m with Quinn — I enjoy spoiling myself on the entertainments before I consume them. I remember asking my friend to tell me in detail what happened in "Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country" before I went to see it because I was dying to know how it broke down. I gobbled up every plot line, character design, and rumor featured about the Star Wars prequels, and I tried to read everything I could about about the Shyamalan movies before they came out (…not that I’ve seen one of those in years, at any rate). I figure that the burning want to know is separate from the experience a wholly-contained piece of entertainment.

  23. @stuclach – awesome. I only wish some of my students were hardcore Q-ma fans… It seems they’re all rabid anti-Commanites.

  24. For me, if I’m standing in line for something I’d rather not know what happens in it, but if someone does whisper something I’ll just shrug it off.  As I stood waiting to purchase Final Crisis #6, the guy behind the counter wanted to talk about what happened with the guy behind me in line; he let the secret out but he left out all the build up to it and the images drawn to show it, so it didn’t bother me much except make me move the issue from the top of my pile into my hands.

     On forums, if they have spoiler policy, I’ll follow it which is usually to place spoilers into spoiler tags for about a week.  My problem with this is the title of the thread clearly says "SPOILERS", so the tags shouldn’t be needed inside that thread, but if I want to discuss something, I’ll discuss it as much as I can within the rules set.  However, as time has gone on, spoilers will either encourage me to read something sooner because it sounds interesting or never read anything because it sounds silly; it really varies with how interested I am in something (and even then, it may not bother me much).

  25. I’ve got a passion for ellipses…

  26. Actually, I don’t mind spoilers. I don’t seek them out but they don’t bother me when I hear them. For me, it’s about the quality of the execution, not the surprise factor. 

    As far as having ‘rules’, I figure that once something’s out, then it’s fair game. 

  27. The black guy always dies in the end. What’s there to spoil?

  28. @stuclach: I defend who in the what now?

    If anything I use more comma’s then anything else. I look back at all my papers or posts I’ve done over the years and there’s like, a million comma’s. At least I dont use semicolons often, as Kurt Vonnegut mentions, they are the hermaphrodite’s of the english world.

  29. @TNC – To clarify my post: Q-Ma = G-Mo

    Kurt Vonnegut is such a perve.

  30. @stuclach: Oh ok, sorry I didnt know what the Q ment.

    But yeah I must’ve been one of the few, or felt like the only one, defending Morrison on this site. I deserve a check from DC because of that!

    The guys at ComicBookClub (aka PulpSecret) had a good joke when it came to spoilers. The one guy hated saying spoilers so much that he just told us what happenend in the comic….then said ‘Warning: Spoilers’ at the end of the review. So that’s sorta my philosophy with spoilers, that it’s just silly to really worry about them after the comic came out days or weeks after it was released. I mean first thing of release? Yes dont spoil it for the rest of us. But if it’s like 5 days or more….talk about it as much as you want in my opinion.

  31. I showed ron a sketch of someone who died a year ago on walking dead and he cried "SPOILER ALERT". A year ago, really?

  32. @bigyanks – I believe Ron is reading Walking Dead in Hardcovers (as am I), so he may not have seen that yet.  Technically he was spoiled by seeing that sketch.

  33. The Brainy gamer posted a similar article this past week. Tiring of spoilers eems to be a zeitgiest around the sites I frequent.

  34. It’s been quite some time since I’ve read an article and thought that someone was secretly listening in on my deepest, darkest secrets (and I won’t begin to tell you what that original article was about), but you’ve done it here, Jim.  I’ve gone back and forth with this issue in my head ever since I started Netflix-ing TV shows still in production, and here’s what I’ve come to:

    I simply don’t acknowledge any spoilers.  I’m the guy who puts his fingers in his ears.  And you know what?  I don’t care.

    I frequently lament (when I should probably celebrate) the seemingly never-ending pile of pop culture that I just can’t seem to catch up on.  I know that I can’t watch anything, but the TiVo culture (as you so aptly put it) has forced me to feel like I need to watch everything from the beginning just because I can.  Is that really enjoying the technology?  I’m not really sure.  But it’s how I roll.

  35. I don’t even watch movie trailers.

  36. @JJ: Let me guess, you go to theaters to just watch films? How predictable! 🙂

  37. i was looking at some "action figures" or toys or whatever i am suppose to call them now that i am over 30 and found out some blackest night spoilers. once the info is out ya cant put it back in the it seems there is danger in the language after all. P.S who killed laura palmer?

  38. I had the big death in Final Crisis 6 spoiled for me by this very site I was reading the PotW article and someone mentioned it in the comments section. FC 6 wasn’t the pick that week so yeah…

    Be warned spoilers are everywhere !!!

  39. I think I did that… sorry… I figured everyone knew by then.

  40. I don’t mind spoilers, I feel they save me money.

  41. They manage to save the elephant in the end

  42. Did you just spoil "Operation: Dumbo Drop"?

  43. Or "Larger then Life" the mid-90’s Bill Murry classic.

  44. Who knows… Maybe I spoiled Smokey and the Bandit 2, but I never got to the end of the movie before changing the channel. Maybe Disney’s Dumbo. There are a lot of films with elephants that require assistance.

  45. What I found frustrating about PAD’s comments was the implication (flat-out statement, in fact) that fans can’t be trusted to make their own choices.   Asking people not to yell spoilers from the rooftops is reasonable; asking people not to discuss them in their own communities, with spoiler warnings included, doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Nobody’s being forced to keep reading after that information comes through. 

    As far as the larger issue, though, I think you’ve hit on a big problem — timeshifting is increasing, but forums for instant information (twitter, google alert, etc) are increasing too.  So we’ve essentially got more information out there and more people trying to hide from it.  I think, "Don’t be a dick" on one end, and "Stockpile your EW’s for a couple weeks before you read them" on the other may be as well as we’re going to do.  



  46. Hoo, boy.  A friend and i just recently had an argument about this very thing. To answer Jim’s question… I don’t think there’s an easy answer.  As far as print and major media are concerned, I beleive there needs to be BARE MINIMUM a week after something is released before discussing anything major. And with warning even then. I really really wish stories in the newspapers wouldn’t appear about Civil War and Cap America THE DAY the comics come out, but that’s considered actual news, i guess, and advertising for the comics, so good luck getting the publishers to do away with the practice.   In this digital, entertainment-on-demand age, everyone should at least have a small chance to catch up, as more and more people don’t have the opportunity, or even make the choice to watch or read something immediately.  In an ideal world, I wish everyone had the opportuinty to enjoy a story, surprises and all, as originally intended by the writer.  Of course, there are such things that permeate pop culture to the extent that they are unavoidable.  But should somone born ten years ago be punished, and not able to fully enjoy Citizen Kane for example, simply because they were born when they were?  I say no, IMO.  I managed to not be spoiled for it and enjoyed it that much more for it.  But that’s just me. 

    Which leads to the second part of the answer to Jim’s question. I think we are just going to annoy each other every now and then.  As you can see from this very discussion, everyone feels differently about spoilers.  My own rules vary depending on how much I care about a project or story.  Yeah, spoil Walking Dead and I will kill you, because it’s so awesome and I love it. Spill the villain in Avengers/Invaders and that’s kind of a big meh.  A lot of it falls on the potential spoilee to be careful and not read anything potentially sensitive, certainly.  On the flip side, it would be nice if the people who don’t give a crap about spoilers would realize that they unfortunately have the power in that position and recognize that there are others who feel differently.  But being nice, especially on the web, doesn’t seem to be very much in vogue.  

    Ultimately it’s a shared responsibility, so i agree with those that say a happy medium is probably as good as it’s gonna get.