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Friday, March 17, 2006

Musings on Heroic Deaths...

As evidenced, I've been rereading old issues of Justice League and Green Lantern. Which is fun, but I've come to a conclusion about certain heroic deaths.

They suck.


Now, I'm not against killing characters. I'm not against killing heroes. I'm not even against killing some of my favorites as I firmly believe death is (and should be) a revolving door based on the writers and editors' whims.

But the deaths of heroes, even minor heroes, *especially* minor heroes, should mean something.

Now I know people have a lot of problems with Ted Kord or Sue Dibny dying the way they did. I do too. But at least their deaths meant something. They had an impact on the DCU. Identity Crisis had some incredible ramifications, whether you like or dislike the story itself, it did set things astir very nicely. And Countdown to Infinite Crisis managed a dual blow of "something big's started" while making one realize how great the character was before killing him.

But then there are deaths that don't even have that.

I'm thinking of Katma Tui. And Tora Olafsdotter.

Now, I don't mind Katma and Tora actually dying. I don't *like* it, because I really liked both female characters, but I understand that minor characters have the element of cannon-fodder sometimes. And their deaths would have a big emotional impact, if done correctly.

But they *weren't* done correctly. Not even remotely.

The first problem is that minor heroes shouldn't be slaughtered indiscriminately just to bolster up a bad guy. That's what love interests and random family members are for. (;-)) Heroes deserve a little more respect than that. The deaths in IC against Superboy worked because it was something *huge* happening, world-wide crossover and all that. The deaths in Our Worlds At War were similar in that respect. Ted's death by Max Lord might have been an attempt to make Max into a legitimate villain, but it was also very focused on Ted himself the whole time, so it made it work.

Katma Tui was killed by the freakin' *Star Sapphire* in a tiny story in Action that didn't even keep her in character! She was a hero! She was the center of quite a few interesting stories in Green Lantern. She found and recruited the alien from the part of the universe with no light! She interacted with Hal and John as an equal, even if she wasn't the star of the comic. And she was John Stewart's wife!

You wouldn't kill Lois Lane just to show how evil Lex Luthor is. Even what-ever-the-fuck-her-name-was that Bruce dated's death ushered in the long and complex Murderer/Fugitive story arc. Especially considering Hal's own lack of a real love interest, Carol aside, she and John were a vital contrast. A wife of a hero deserves better than to be Star Sapphire's "LOOK HOW EVIL SHE IS" example. An established *hero* deserves even better than that.

Katma's death was pointless. It didn't really change anything for John (excepting possibly making him more depressing, which he didn't need, IMO) and it didn't change anything for the Star Sapphire. Katma was an important character, predating even John or Guy in the Corps, she had important interactions with Hal, a connection to Sinestro, and was just plain cool.

And she didn't really even get a nice death scene!

Tora Olafsdotter's death was also gratuitously mishandled. She did at least get to have something of a heroic self-sacrifice against the Overmaster. But still! It was the *Overmaster*! Not Sinestro, not Lex Luthor, not anyone of any real long term importance! Just a one-shot villain!

She wasn't even used in the "LOOK HOW EVIL HE IS" sense. As I don't recall the Overmaster being even remotely important since. She was just cannon-fodder. On a mission that Guy Gardner wasn't even on!

See, Tora was a quieter character than Katma. Something of a wall-flower. Even though she's got her own storylines in JLI, she was still better defined through her relationships with more outgoing and dynamic characters. (This is okay, I think, because female characters like Bea or Diana were of the more dynamic type. If Ice were the *only* female it would have been annoying, but as just one of many, it worked). Thus Ice was more defined as Bea's more sensible, quieter, naive best friend. And the woman Guy Gardner loved.

Tora and Guy's relationship was important for the effects it had on both of them. Tora was more dynamic in his company, actually getting angry and forceful on occasion. She even hit him when he deserved it. (Probably not as often as he deserved...but he likes it anyway.) Whereas she made him more human. He was still a crazy jackass, but she made him think about someone else and actually try to regulate his behavior. A little at least.

Hmm, there's a thought. After getting the yellow ring, it seemed like Guy was a lot saner/easier to work with. He wasn't *fixed* by any means, but he was a lot less cartoonish and more human already. (Which has interesting implications that I might blog about someday). I wonder if that might not have something to do with Ice's death in a behind the scenes sense...her purpose as the means to show the scraps of Gardner's humanity having lessened...I don't really like that notion...

Anyway, though, unlike Katma, Ice, for all of her Global Guardian past, was still more defined through her relationships than through her own deeds. So in killing her, one would expect the story to focus on those she loved. They should be there and their reactions are important to give her closure.

Bea is there at least, and the Justice League focuses on her reactions. But Guy? The man she loved, in spite of himself? Found out through a television announcement in his own series. He didn't get a *reaction shot* in Justice League.

And that's disrespectful I think to both of them. Because it proves once and for all that Ice's death wasn't about Ice at all. Any one of the characters could have died there for the same effect. Booster or Beetle, leaving the other in Bea's position maybe? It didn't really matter. If Ice's death were about *her* then all of her loved ones, not just Bea, but Guy and her family, and others she was close to, should have been placed in primary focus.

Her mother's grief got more respect and attention in *Warrior* than in Ice's own comic. And hell, given Guy's own general impact in that series, he should have gotten something there too. It's not like he was only in four issues or something...I wanted to see something with Bea and Guy putting aside differences and grieving *together*.

"I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League" was the first time, aside from *maybe* the Christmas issue of Warrior, that the death ever seemed to get the closure it deserved. And that's not even in continuity!

Most recently, in Rann-Thanagar War, Jennie-Lynn/Jenny-Lynn Hayden was killed as well. I didn't particularly like the character. But I thought her death was mishandled too. She did at least have the most prominent former love interest around...and her death will have an impact on her loved ones. She also was killed dramatically in a big it meant more than a

But it was still unfulfilling. She didn't really die like a hero. She didn't get to die in an act of noble self-sacrifice like Ice or Superman (temporarily), she didn't get to die with martyred dignity, clinging to her beliefs to the end, like Ted.

She died like Sue Dibny really, a victim set up to set events moving for the others around her. Which would have been okay...if she weren't a hero herself. And *heroes* aren't supposed to die like that.

She should have knocked Kyle out of the way of that blast and took it herself. Or Alan. Or Donna. Or one of the others. But she died pointlessly. And thus it was empty and unsatisfying. And Mr. Gibbons is so *good* on Recharge.

Oh well. At least it wasn't Guy or Kilowog dying instead. Though if one of Kyle's exes had to die. I'd have preferred it to be Donna. As she'd be back anyway.


  • At March 17, 2006 8:51 PM, Blogger CalvinPitt said…

    I am in total agreement about there being good and bad deaths.

    Colossus sacrificing his life to save mutants from the Legacy Virus? Good. It's noble, peaceful, in character for a man who enjoyed the peace of farm life.

    Spoiler dying in War Games, because Dr. Tompkins let her? Bad. Yes, Steph was overzealous, and could get in over her head, but it still seemed like a cheap excuse to make Batman have to run from the police, while feeling betrayed by Dr. Tompkins.

  • At March 17, 2006 10:34 PM, Blogger ShellyS said…

    I guess it depends on how you define a good death or a heroic death. I don't think a character has to sacrifice themselves to save someone else for a death to be heroic. Just going into battle against an enemy can be enough, or going up against any danger with the odds against you while trying to save Earth/the universe.

    And sometimes, deaths are meaningless, and that's a way to make a point, too. Death in real life is often that way, so why shouldn't comics reflect that?

    I'm more concerned about losing characters I love. I really liked Sue and Ralph and while her death started a whole storyline, I wish someone else had been the victim. With Ted, I liked him, but he wasn't a favorite, so his death got the emotional reaction from me without angering or annoying me.

  • At March 17, 2006 11:24 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Calvin: Yeah, basically, I've never cared much for or against Steph, but I thought the way she was cost Batman yet another Robin and yet have it NOT be his fault ultimately was annoying.

    It might have been better, if she died because of the mission, rather than Thompson killing her. At least then, for once, Batman would be accountable. It'd mean something then.

    Shelly: I see what you're saying, but I also think that you can't really go by which characters are fan favorites or not, because everyone likes different characters. I don't want my favorites to die either. But sometimes they do.

    And sometimes death is meaningless in the real world, but comics *aren't* the real world. And these aren't real people, they're heroes. I don't know, I don't mind the occasional family member, loved one, fiance, or random guy on the street having a meaningless death.

    But I feel like a hero's death should mean something more. But I'm tetchy that way. :-)

  • At March 18, 2006 4:21 AM, Blogger James Meeley said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At March 18, 2006 4:23 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Thanks James! I kept thinking her name was Moonchild or something like that.

    Figures. :-)

  • At March 19, 2006 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think Mark Waid has even said killing Ice was a bad idea, but then again, Waid has a lot to answer for, IMO, the way he views the opposite half.

    It really, really, REALLY stuck in my craw that they killed Shayera Thal. I knew it was coming, too. I prepared myself. I know it's just a comic and it doesn't matter and some dork will probably resurrect her five years from now. I still cried. Because it didn't resolve her story, she didn't go out like a hero, she was cleared off the deck because they need only one Hawklady in the comics now.

    I dunno. Screw DC comics.

  • At March 19, 2006 6:06 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Dan: It actually doesn't bother me much that Ice died. It was how she died and the manner it was treated in JLI that bothered me.

    I actually really liked the way it was tackled in Warrior though. Smith was actually really good at using small moments to show how important she had been to Guy and how much he feels her loss.

    But in JLI, it was pretty gratuitous.

    And yeah, Shayera's death was stupid. Probably editorial mandate but they could have done it so much better. I guess they figured the Hawk People were confusing enough...and without Katar...

    Which is really annoying, come to think on it.

  • At March 19, 2006 6:47 PM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    I still can't help but thing, reading Warrior that Beau Smith would've handled the actual relationship jsut as well.

  • At March 19, 2006 6:49 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Probably. What can ya do, though. :-(

  • At March 20, 2006 3:18 PM, Blogger Marc Burkhardt said…

    I was never a huge Jade fan, but never held anything against her. Guess I liked the character design (Jerry Ordway?) but never thought anyone really developed her actual personality.

    That said, I was bothered by the way she died. If, as you said, she had pushed Kyle out of the way then that would have seemed a properly heroic exit for a character that has been around for 20 years or more.

    But she was just kind of floating there and got zapped. That just shows the writer was more concerned with getting Kyle from point A to point B than treating the Jade character with any respect.

  • At April 03, 2006 9:05 PM, Blogger ShellyS said…

    Oh sure, characters I like die. That's part of good storytelling. But sometimes, when you're reading or watching something for a particular character and that character is gone, so goes the reason for reading/watching. The death of a character on TV's Highlander led me to stop watching the show. It simply wasn't the same show without him.

    Which doesn't mean creators need to keep such things in mind. But as a reader, I can't help but thing about it. The loss of Supergirl led me to not read comics for nearly a decade. if Roy Harper is gone, I likely will cut my comic reading to only a small group of favs. Something about having the heart cut out of my enjoyment of the medium.

  • At April 03, 2006 9:11 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Marc: Yeah, it just seemed cheap

    Shelly: I know what you mean about Highlander (though the sixth season was a downhill slide anyway, with or without was symbolically a loss that there was no way the show could really recover).

    That's why I tend to prefer to have the option of resurrection available. Even if it never *actually* happens there's still the chance if the right author wants to do it. that's occasionally a comfort at least.

  • At April 04, 2006 11:01 PM, Blogger ShellyS said…

    I'm often caught between the death should be final vs resurrection. The DCU, as well as Marvel's realm, have enough unrealistic aspects, such as magic and power rings and whatnot that resurrection makes sense. It's when everyone comes back that death loses its meaning, IMO.


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