Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wednesday Comics (on Thursday): Death in Comics


Loyal reader Rick O. pointed out that I have been lax in my attention to comic book news.  This point was made after he was made aware of the death of the current Robin in the pages of Batman Inc.  And while this story actually made national non-comic book news headlines, I found it all very uninteresting for one very important reason:

Death in comic books doesn't matter anymore.

In the early '90's DC shocked the world when they announced that they were going to kill Superman.  There were people who were in actual dismay over this prospect.  But those of us who have been reading for years know that death is not what it used to be.  Within a year, the Last Son of Krypton was back (and sporting a very stylish mullet to boot).  But that didn't stop DC from milking every last penny from the general public for this once in a lifetime "event."

I don't mean to be cynical about it.  But honestly, in the eyes of the publishers death = sales.  I never had a chance to review the story where Damien Wayne dies because it was sold out at my comic book store (and the fact that I don't pick up Batman Inc).  The same them happened recently with the death of Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man.  The story was actually pretty awful.  But people snatched it up because it was "important."

For years, the one "permanent" death in comics was that of Bucky Barnes: Captain America's sidekick from WWII who was killed when Cap was frozen in ice.  He was the standard bearer for comic book death and the last, best hope that death would have some kind of permanence.  But then a few years ago he was brought back as the Winter Soldier.  And then the original Captain America died and Bucky became the new Cap.  That is until the original Cap stopped being dead.

The same thing has happened several times in the Batman universe.  When the 2nd Robin, Jason Todd, was murdered by the Joker it was big news.  I remember reading in the gradeschool periodical The Scholastic Times, about how DC had killed him off.  But now Jason Todd is back as the Red Hood.  Batman was killed by Darkseid in Final Crisis and Dick Grayson had to become Batman.  Until Bruce Wayne stopped being dead and took back the role of Dark Knight.

And I'm sure the same thing will turn out to be true for the current Robin.  The question is will he be back, but when he'll be back.  This past year alone we saw the death of popular characters like Spider-Man, Robin, Professor X, as well as bit players like Boodika, Green Man, and Rhino.  But should the need arise, a writer will find some way to bring them back.

Off the top of my head, here are characters who have been killed an come back:
Green Lantern
The Flash
Captain America
Aunt May
The Anit-Monitor
Kitty Pryde
Donna Troy
Green Arrow
Nick Fury
The Thing

I am not opposed to the Resurrection of super heroes.  This is a fantasy genre after all.  But I care that it is done in a way that makes sense.  Geoff Johns' Green Lantern Rebirth is the standard by which character resurrections should occur.  He told a story that made sense from the previous continuity so that it felt like the natural result of what had come before.  Grant Morrison's The Return of Bruce Wayne is a great example of how not to do it.  Batman was batted (no pun intended) throughout history until he was thrust into the present FOR NO REASON THAT MADE SENSE.

Does this mean that death has no dramatic weight?  No.

In 2005's Infinite Crisis, I was literally breathless as I read the 6th issue.  They had been hinting heavily for months that my favorite superhero, Dick Grayson, was going to be killed.  The tension built throughout the entire book and I was completely invested, despite what I know about comic book resurrections.

And of course there was the shocking deaths in 2003's Identity Crisis.  I have never cried while reading a comic book until Identity Crisis #1.  To see the death of that character I had loved and how it affected those around them was heartbreaking.

So death can still carry with it strong emotional gravity, but in the comic book world where so many defy gravity, its impact is less and less.

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