Spoilers for Batman No. 50 below.
It was supposed to be the wedding of the century. In the pages of this Wednesday’s Batman Vol. 3, No. 50, Batman and Catwoman were going to tie the knot after nearly 80 years of will-they-or-won’t-they romance. The Dark Knight had proposed to his foe last year and the series’ writer, Tom King, had been building to the nuptials ever since. Publisher DC Entertainment had billed issue 50 as a major event for the comics industry, encouraging retailers to remain open Tuesday night so it could go on sale at midnight. Some comic shops were planning wedding-themed parties, complete with cakes and fancy invitations. No one knew what, exactly, would occur in the comic, but it was sure to be momentous.
Then came the Gray Lady.
In the Vows column of yesterday’s New York Times Style section, alongside nonfictional wedding announcements, there was a story by longtime New York Times comics correspondent George Gene Gustines bearing a stunner of a headline: “It Just Wasn’t Meant to Be, Batman.” Gasp! Could it be that the church bells wouldn’t ring? If you dared read the piece — written with DC’s participation and featuring original art from Batman artist Mikel Janín of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle hanging around in their civvies like any other happy couple on their way to the altar — you learned that, at issue’s end, Catwoman leaves her would-be groom hanging. “Theirs is a story that is forever to be continued,” goes Gustines’s melancholy kicker.
As soon as the story went online, the Comics Internet melted down. People were baffled and furious that the Times had spoiled the ending of this much-anticipated comic. Not only that, they’d spoiled it in the damn headline! Even if you didn’t click the link, you already knew that no Bat-vows would be exchanged. You can see a great compendium of angry and/or disappointed tweets from readers and pundits about the article at comics tabloid site Bleeding Cool, but here are a few highlights:
But the most tragic tweet to read was the one posted by King himself, who seemed truly miffed about how his big reveal had been, well, revealed.
So what happened? We reached out to DC for comment, but they hadn’t provided one as of press time (we’ll add it if they get back to us), but Vulture also asked Gustines for his version of the story, and he sent back an eloquent response, pasted in full here:
I’ve been passionate about covering comics for the paper for nearly 20 years and this story has been a roller coaster. I think Tom King, Mikel Janín and everyone involved in the comic did a stellar job on this milestone issue. But if I had a Legion time bubble, I would handle it differently.
I was aware of the marriage storyline for a while – I’ve been following King’s Batman since the beginning – but I was not sure how to approach covering it, if at all. DC reached out to me about whether the event could be featured in our wedding pages. I thought it was a fun idea and pitched my editors.
I approached it like a typical “Vows” column – write about the story of the couple and what their big day is like, which is what I tried to capture in the piece, which quotes only dialogue from the comic and not the creative team, which is more typical of my reporting.
After I pitched the story, I learned the wedding would not happen. It seemed disingenuous to write the story without revealing the ending, which is why I included the reveal. But I should’ve asked for a non-spoiler headline. We should have given more thought so that the casual reader, flipping or scrolling through the Style section, would not know the twist by reading the headline.
When Vulture asked Gustines whether DC knew he would be spoiling the twist beforehand, he replied, “They did not know how I would approach it, but they knew I would reveal the twist.”
DC didn’t disavow (sorry, sorry) the story — they tweeted it out and Vulture has learned that they posted a link to it on a private Facebook group for comic-shop retailers. Speaking of retailers, Vulture spoke to a few of them from around the country and found a mixed response to the spoilers.
“It’s horrific,” said Mitch Cutler of New York City’s St. Mark’s Comics. “There’s no positive for it. I’m worried it’s going to keep the casual observer from picking up the issue.” Cutler went out of his way to praise King, but worried that people who’d previously been interested in buying the issue might avoid it — whatever its artistic merits — because they feel like DC pulled a fast one in calling off the wedding. “If you’re a casual guy who’s like, ‘Let me see what that’s about,’ you read the [Times] piece and you dismiss it like, ‘This was just a trick,’ without appreciating that it’s not a trick, it’s actually character- and story-driven. You won’t understand why someone would do this.”
“You don’t always get events like this that are well-written and that people start to care about, so to see it spoiled was a huge bummer,” said Nick Yribar, co-owner of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Vault of Midnight. He hadn’t been planning a midnight release, but he was — and still is — going to throw a wedding party at the store on Wednesday. He, himself, has not actually read the New York Times story for fear of being even more spoiled than he was just from reading the headline. “I’m a fan of this stuff, too,” he said. He’s slightly concerned that sales might be impacted, but only slightly: “We haven’t heard from any of our customers yet. It’s all happening so recently. I hope it won’t [hurt sales], but I really don’t know yet.”
However, other retailers seemed surprisingly optimistic about the impact of the Times story, feeling that, even if it contained spoilers, it at least raised awareness about the comic. “I think it’ll make the fans who read the book right now upset that it got spoiled, but new readers might be pulled in because they heard about it,” said Roy Carter, co-owner of Austin, Texas’s Tribe Comics and Games. Gib Bickel, manager of Columbus, Ohio’s Laughing Ogre, was even more optimistic: “I don’t think it’s gonna affect short-term sales because Tom King’s still writing a really good Batman book,” he said. “I’m really not that concerned at all.” After all, the Caped Crusader has come back from having his back broken and being killed by the god of evil. He can probably survive a runaway bride.