Before I begin let me make everyone reading aware. I know that comics are a work of fiction. I understand that of course throughout the events many unbelievable acts occur which by nature is what superhero comic books are mainly about. So, if I offend or come off as not knowing what I am talking about, please feel free to exit anytime during the course of this reading. In the meantime, this is just one man’s opinion about the state of comics and his frustration as some events occur.
Incredible: too extraordinary and improbable to be believed, invalid, implausible, inconceivable, incredulous, unbelievable, uncompelling
So, I just finished Batman Inc. 8 and the first thought that popped in my mind was to ask myself when was the last time that I actually read of a comic character who had a significant death? The first answer that immediately popped in my mind was Kraven. Kraven’s Last Hunt from 1987 still sticks out to me because Kraven had accomplished so much in physically and mentally defeating Spider-man and just when you KNEW the bad guy had won and Spidey would come back to avenge it, Kraven took his own life. I think I re-read those books over and over at least 3 or 4 time because I never during that time when I was reading comics in the 80s ever saw a death quite so shocking. Even more to the point, during those times us comic readers had no certainty that Kraven was coming back. His death was permanent (well up until 2 years ago but that is where I am headed with this).
If anyone remembers this was also the time Marvel came out with the handbooks with all the character files from A to Z and even had a book of the dead which for my friends and I was one of the most sought after because it was astonishing who was in that book. I know I will probably sound like the old guy screaming to the kids “get off my lawn!” but let’s face it, death in comics 20+ years ago was a device rarely used and when it was it was a once in a while and it was of some significance. And very rarely was a top named character afforded the honor of dying creating wide eyes from readers.
Take for instance the Death of Superman. It was a ballsy move by DC. It was a great move by a stagnant comic industry at the time that even got media attention that was going to make or break the whole industry. The biggest argument at the time in fan circles at local LCSs (local comic store) all over was how could DC kill off its top character? How would they even engineer his comeback because at this time it was just that unbelievable? Eventually of course he came back and balance was restored…or maybe it threw everything off kilter. More and more characters became victims in an industry who needed a quick boost in sales needed to find some character to slaughter and make it a circus.
Somewhere in there is when my frustration kicks in. When I look at the Big 2 I see comics who refuse to progress yet have no problems eliminating and bringing back characters at a whim. I started back reading comics around 2007 it was right around the events of One More Day when even I thought that Marvel was really going to kill Aunt May and sometime around Civil War when Captain America was assassinated (which I found out because it was on CNN) and I was amazed during my jumping back in the number of characters who had died, had come back (Bucky of course being one), had been cloned, altered etc. and it was all normal. Something wasn’t right. A few months later the Secret Invasion storyline broke out along with Final Crisis and Batman RIP and heroes were dropping like flies and when going to my comic shop the conversation among fans were like betters with bookies about how long it would be before XYZ character would come back and how.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was perfectly happy with seeing Dick and Bucky taking over for their mentors and would have loved to have seen this run for 5 years minimum because for me this would have been a sign of progression. Letting some of the older alter egos go to make room for newer ones to give a new voice to old heroes but we just weren’t that blessed. It really took a lot out of me when Dick Grayson and Bucky were stepping up to make a name for themselves by building a new rapport with supporting characters and even having villains figure out that they were fighting a new man under the mask and the moment when they started gaining some credibility, the old status quo returned due to the resurrection/return of the original character. Let’s face it, we have been tied to some of the same characters for nearly 70 years with little to no change in the status quo so now the only way comic creators among the big 2 can think to shake them up is to kill them or another character for a little while and then miraculously bring them back. it’s like the Lazarus pits exists all over the place except the only ones going crazy after repeated usage are some of us long time readers.
So what does all of this have to do with my frustration? Well, when I look at ASM #700 and when I look at this latest issue of Batman Incorporated, I can bet money that talk has already begun around comic fans about how long it will be before Peter Parker is back as Spider-man and when Damien comes back as Robin and truth be told, I like these characters but I am so sick and tired of comics breaking the rule and finality of death. I am so tired of seeing the Big 2 use this to get sales especially since a Deus Ex Machina is already in place guaranteeing their return. By the way, most of you know that Charles Xavier is dead again right? Yup. And the comic world rolled its collective eyes because sooner or later we already know he will be back to quote one skeptic: “Professor Charles Francis Xavier is dead. Again. RIP Professor X. We’ll see you again in about a year or so,”. If nobody else says so, to anyone in the comics industry, please listen up. Stop it. You are embarrassing yourselves. Death is so insignificant now that some of us don’t care anymore because the moment someone dies in a comic, is the moment the clock starts ticking on their return. At the point of seeing Damien first skewered and then in Batman’s arms, many comic pundits have already gone on to predict how he will return either as some kind of clone or in a Lazarus Pit. No one has bothered to reflect what kind of effect it will have on the cast surrounding Damien because we know that death has been overcome before we have even closed the cover of the issue.
Right before Marvel went on their Marvel Now approach, the Wasp was brought back and in all actuality she wasn’t dead. A lot of people probably neither missed it nor cared about it but seeing what happened in Secret Invasion to the present is actually a good way to write someone out and bring them back. Joker went over a cliff in the batcave in Death of the Family but because no body was ever recovered, we know he didn’t die. Johnny Storm disappeared into a sea of bodies to make his last stand and somehow we knew he didn’t die. Kitty Pryde flew off into space on a cosmic bullet and yet somehow you knew she was going to return as her fate may have been one worse than death itself. These things I am cool with. It’s called suspense and that suspense is what is missing in comics now especially when big ticket characters are taken off the board and I actually think that sometimes killing a character outright with the intent on bringing them back eliminates that suspense and just downright lazy. It’s almost as if the industry is too scared to take a main character out and commit to it.
What I would really like to see is if a main character is going to die and the Big 2 goes through the length and breadth of getting CNN and any other alphabet news agency in on it; make that death permanent or a very long one. Let the books progress. Give the stories a chance to breath for a while without these characters in it and let it mature and if the time is right to bring back the character, do so. Ultimate Spider-man is the closest anyone has ever gotten so far and the book is even better because of its progression. I even enjoyed the Spider-men crossover last summer because of the partial closure it gave to certain characters without having to go through the idea of having to resurrect a character to tell the story.
So, this is where I stand. Batman Inc. #8 was a good book. Nice wrap up to the storyline but now the clock is ticking to Damien’s return. ASM #700 nice twist to the death of Otto’s body and Peter’s soul so to speak, but again, the clock is ticking because we know it won’t last, Xavier killed by Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Sentry, Darkseid, Dr. Light, Bullseye, Daken, Johnny Storm, and so many others. Please make up your mind or as some like to say, drop the deuce or get up and flush because some of us out here DO love a good read but really hate the callous use of death for characters. I know my voice may be a lone one in this discussion especially when there is money on the table but I would think if enough people agreed, there would be less of us reading if every six months to a year someone is dying or coming right back. Death doesn’t have to be the shock factor of the story especially if the return is going to be just as quick. There has to be other ways to write a character out that is just as compelling. Comics are our modern day myths just like the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Africans had theirs. But death itself was to be feared in the old tales. There was a price to pay every time one meddled with the afterlife because things weren’t the same but in our modern myths, I think the Big 2 are ignoring that fact just to make the easy buck and I for one wishes it would stop.
I would ask anyone out here, (creators especially) take this time and re-read any event story where there was a significant death and remember what it meant to you. If that character returned think about how long they were out of the conscience and remember how you felt when they did eventually come back, or are they still dead? See if it gave you the same chill that Kraven’s Last Hunt gave me and maybe just maybe you will see why some of the character deaths need to be curtailed.