Selina Kyle, an infamous burglar, socialite and occasional antihero of questionable morals, first met Bruce Wayne, a playboy billionaire with an affinity for bats and a strong sense of justice, at a yacht party being held far from their homes in Gotham city.
Though the pair got off to a rocky start, in time, a burning passion grew between them leading to an on-again, off-again romance that lasted for decades. After years of breakups and makeups, the pair recently decided (at the suggestion of their good friend, writer Tom King) that it was high time for them to tie the knot.
News of Batman and Catwoman’s marriage in Tom King’s current run of DC Comics’ Batman has been a hot topic of discussion in the months leading up to this week’s issue in which the couple were slated to be wed. For some reason though, DC made the curious decision to reveal the issue’s biggest surprise in an interview The New York Times published on the Sunday before the comic’s Wednesday release. Understandably, many fans (and King himself) were upset at the newspaper’s revelations because it failed to mention that it included rather significant spoilers for something that the general public had not yet had a chance to consume.
In response to the backlash, The Times’ followed up with a call to the public asking whether journalists have a responsibility not to spoil things in the headlines and bodies of their work. Given that the writer of the interview actually writes about comic books regularly, The Times’ response was eyeroll-worthy to say the least, but for the sake of discussion, we here at io9 felt that it was worth offering an earnest answer if only to help avoid something like this happening in the future.
If you are still reading this, then it means that you’ve seen the carefully placed image io9 uses to convey to readers that spoilers are imminent. While it’s always best practice to explicitly state that an article contains spoilers, graphics like ours are helpful because many people have the habit of indiscriminately scanning text on the internet in an effort to “read” things more quickly. If you scan something and see a big warning while scrolling, it stands to reason that you’d stop reading because you don’t want to be spoiled, or you keep going because you’re fine with it. Either way, you’ve been told what to expect.
Snark aside, it’s not as if the concept of omitting plot details in the coverage of pop culture is some sort of new concept that’s unique to comic book publishing. Be it a comic, a TV show, or a film, all stories are designed to pull you into a narrative that contains twists and turns that are meant to make the experience of consuming the story an exciting journey from point A to point B. This is the reason most people don’t jump to the end of a book as soon as they’ve begun reading it.
The key to not spoiling something about it as you cover it is actually quite simple: don’t. If there’s something big about a comic that’s meant to entice readers to pick it up, then it’s just as easy to talk around that thing, especially when a writer is given direct access to the book’s creators, a rarity in many cases. If there’s absolutely no way to talk about the Big Thing™ without spoiling it... that’s fine too, but again, the onus is on the publication to communicate to readers that they’re about to be spoiled.
To be perfectly honest, though, the bigger issue at the heart of the Times’ BatCat fiasco is that comics publishers have been increasingly turning to more traditional media outlets to announce big news that they might not have covered in the past. In 2008, DC announced Jonathan Kent’s resurrection in the NY Daily News, in 2014, Marvel announced that the new Thor was a woman on The View, and Captain America’s turn to Hydra was spoiled in TIME magazine.
It’s not hard to understand why publishers would want to make announcements via legacy publications with larger audiences than the predominantly-digital comics press. But the fact of the matter is that the people who follow this news closely have become accustomed to consuming it in a way that’s meant not to ruin the actual reading experience. Genre pop culture is mainstream now more than ever, yes, but just because comics aren’t always regarded as an art form on the same level as other mediums doesn’t mean that we should write about them with any less respect for the work, the people who make it, and those of us who consume it.
So. Hey, New York Times. We heard you’re into comic books these days. That’s great! So are we! But if you’re going to keep covering them, even in the Vows column of the Style section, please do try to not fumble the ball like this.