In the comics industry, it's very hard to create a genuine surprise moment in this day and age. Due to how the the direct market is set up, big reveals and plot twists are difficult to prevent being spoiled, leading to publishers often getting out in front and taking care of that themselves, as seen with the Batman-Catwoman wedding. Publishers simply want to build buzz over their comics and convert this hype into sales. And it makes sestet -- at the end of the day, they are businesses, after all.
However, this week Robert Kirkman, Chris Burnham and Image Comics managed to pull off the impossible in a world where releases are announced at least three months in advance.
They "sneak-published" a comic of all things, titled Die!Die!Die!, with no advance press at all. It's not even a digital comic, but a conventional, ink-printed-on-paper release. It's quite a bold move, and one that makes you wonder if big publishers like Marvel and DC will ever be willing to foot a similar risk.
“We want to make going to a comic shop exciting again — a place for discovery! The internet has drained all surprise and anticipation from comics," Kirkman stated regarding Die!Die!Die!'s stealth release. "Everyone hears about exciting new projects and then has to wait months or years for it to be in their hands… and half the time at the end of that buildup, the stories get spoiled in some lame attempt at getting wider media attention. So, surprise! Here’s a new monthly series. How cool is that?! This is literally the only way I can be like Beyoncé.”
This feels like a shot at comic publishers' mainstream marketing approach, which ranges from months of public relations through news outlets to boost sales, but it's presented in good fun... and it just makes sense. This strategy could well be a natural development for publishers moving forward at a time when movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane are being revealed as complete before anyone knew it existed. Even more recently and impressive was The Cloverfield Paradox, which was announced mere hours before its release on Netflix.
Kirkman's not a small name in the business. He's known for The Walking Dead franchise, from comics to the television series, and his stature allows such a risk. But that's no reason why "surprise" comic releases couldn't become more prevalent. There's a fearless and confident "swagger" to this move, and there's nothing stopping Marvel or DC from following suit. In fact, it only makes sense that they would.
The bottom line is, DC and Marvel having even bigger reach across the industry than Kirkman and Image, not to mention deeper pockets. This means they can explore this approach of surprising their fan base with little to no lead time. It would be an intriguing way of releasing standalone one-shots or specials. And though it may be more difficult, if the surprise release is linked to a current arc or event, then better yet.
Even more intriguing would be if one of the Big Two would use this approach to kick off a massive, line-wide storyline, essentially announcing the next Crisis or Civil War-level event not with a press release or interview, but a full-on comic. Can you imagine how big it would have been for the DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot to simply arrive in stores one week rather than being teased months in advance?
The bottom line is, Robert Kirkman and company have once again changed what fans can and should expect from comics. Will he or another creator all off a similar movie in the future? That's difficult to say, as there are a lot of ways something like Die!Die!Die!'s sneak release could go wrong, especially now that people know it's a thing that can happen. But Marvel and DC both have the clout to take a similar approach to comic book publishing... if they feel it's worth their time.