It’s Tuesday, which means that there’s controversy in the comics community.
Earlier today, news/rumor site Bleeding Cool posted spoilers regarding DC Comics’ forthcoming Free Comic Book Day release, Divergence.
In the article, writer Rich Johnston reveals the identity of the person behind the mask in the widely cirulated images of Batman in a new suit of mechanized armor. The site’s staff had been aware of the new Batman’s identity for several weeks, having been provided with spoiler- filled pages by DC Comics in advance of the book’s release.
As is common practice among comic book news sites, Bleeding Cool at first sat on the story out of courtesy, but then confirmed the details once they’d been made public on Twitter by a comic book retailer who had already received their order of Free Comic Book Day titles.
Predictably, the blogosphere and social media were immediately inundated with criticisms of the site and Johnston, including some strong words from Batman artist Greg Capullo.
Bleeding Shite will always be seen as an enemy in my eyes
— Greg Capullo (@GregCapullo) April 14, 2015
While the comics internet finding a reason to be outraged is nothing groundbreaking, the ire directed towards Bleeding Cool raises interesting questions regarding the role of online media in the comics industry.
Whether or not we choose to admit it, a great many sites are little more than extensions of the PR apparatus for the major publishers. They exist primarily as an outlet for sales annoucements, previews, and interviews which, more often than not, serve little more purpose than to allow creators to promote their work. I will readily confess to having been guilty of this in my work on this site, though myself and our staff here at Capeless endeavor to temper the fluff with hard-hitting reviews and the occasional hard question in interviews.
The criticism of Bleeding Cool is largely a byproduct of their refusal to play by the rules of this game. Whether or not the creators want details of an upcoming story released to the public in advance, or even after the shelf date of a book, the early outing of a major change in the Bat-universe is still news. News outlets should exist in service of their readership and truth first, and the industry or field on which they report a distant second. Some sites, such as CBR and Newsarama, invert this equation in order to ingratiate themselves to the comic book industry’s powers-that-be in return for exclusive previews, interviews, and access. They are de facto publicity flacks for the industry who, rather than report the unvarnished truth and speak that truth to power, bow to the pressure the big publishers can bring to bear on any editorial staff who defies their directives.
Understanding that a large portion of our readership hails from the opposite side of the Atlantic from our North-American-headquartered operation, it’s worth mentioning that a free and independent press is a large part of what has made this part of the world tick for the better part of two centuries. The importance of a fourth estate who answers to the people rather than the power cannot be understated.
There will be those who will continue to shout down the site and bemoan their willingness to run a story which reveals details of a story which has not yet hit stands. What those people should be far more concerned with is that the vast majority of their media sources would never dare to do such a thing because they would never risk biting the hand which feeds them. If anything, Bleeding Cool deserves to be lauded for understanding that their first responsibility is to provide their readership with truthful news relevant to their interests. They did not break the story, as the information was already in the wild when their article was posted. Certainly they drew attention to it, but failing to report it would have been to ignore one of the largest stories in mainstream comics for the day. While other sites waffled, fearful of losing their access privileges, Rich Johnston charged forward.
There are, without a doubt, plenty of issues to be raised with stories which have been posted on Bleeding Cool. The same can be said of nearly every online news outlet. In this case, however, they were firmly in the right and deserve a measure of respect.