Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

An Unpopular Opinion: Death in Comics

I have another unpopular opinion and this centers around the argument I've seen about comics that basically says, "Make Death Mean Something Again!"

And honestly, I heartily disagree. (And *Again*? Are we reading the same comics in that it ever meant something to start with?)

Yeah, it gets ridiculous when Donna Troy or Jean Grey comes back from the dead for the fourteen-millionth time. But that's *comics*. Death is but a side-step in comics. And that, I think, is what it should be. Comics are about fantasy after all. Make believe. And getting a loved one back from death is the ultimate fantasy I think. And what's wrong with that?

Death and resurrection opens the doors for a lot of interesting stories when done right. For example, the only time I've really found Oliver Queen interesting in his own right was in Quiver.

Currently there's all this buzz in DC about how death is going to stop being a revolving door. That now the door will be shut. Those you see corpses of are going to stay dead. (Even though, I don't see how shot in the head trumps getting blown to atoms in the "severity of death" column, and that didn't stop Ollie).

First of all, I cry bullshit already. You can't tell me most of the dead characters won't be back as soon as some writers and editors get a nifty story idea where they will be useful. Whether it's clones, reincarnations, regenerations, or other means, they'll be back as soon as it'll sell a book.

Second of all, if it were true, I fail to see why this is a good thing. See, I think all comic characters *should* have the dim possibility of resurrection at some point in the future. For one thing, it makes character death more palatable for folks that love that character. And every character is loved by someone. There were folks arguing frantically after IC3 that Risk didn't have to have been killed when Superboy ripped off his arm. *Risk*. When I read IC3 my sole interest in seeing Risk's arm yanked off was: "Blond man in green! Ack! Wait, no, if it were Sand, he'd have combusted and reformed. Whew." But he does have some fans somewhere. Every character does.

And if you're the fan of a less popular or less known character you know you run the risk of having that character be killed on you. Many people worried about whether Cassandra Cain would make it out of Batgirl alive. I, personally, was quite worried about whether Guy Gardner would make it out of Rann-Thanagar (thanks to that stupid Wizard Quiz). And I know Diamondrock holds out hope that Azrael will turn up wandering around amnesiac in Europe somewhere.

It's good, I guess, to have suspense for the characters...but when they actually die it's pretty cold comfort. We've grown attached to these guys and we really cling to the notion that they might come back somehow, someday. Even if it takes 20 years.

And hey, is there anything cooler right now than the possibility that that Flash that appeared at the end of IC might be Barry Allen?

Third of all, honestly, whenever someone says "And this time it's for real" about death...the story tends to suck. Killing Jason Todd (who by the way is back, and while it took me a while to warm up to the idea, seeing him in Nightwing is kind of awesome) was a brilliant idea in terms of lasting effects on the DCU but honestly, "Death in the Family" kind of sucked in execution. Had some nifty ideas but as a story...well, it could have been much better.

I'm not holding out hope for the upcoming Fantastic Four story either. It's like if they're advertizing the death of a main character like that, the shock value/emotional resonance of the death is pretty much the only draw to the book. And that should never be the *only* reason to read anything.

Besides, these advertized "and this time it's real" deaths are the first ones overturned anyway. And usually with good reason as they tended to suck.

Fourth of all, does anyone seriously buy that the "closed door of death" is ever going to apply when Donna Troy bites it again? If Hal Jordan manages to fly into a wall hard enough to knock his brains out literally, he won't be back? If god forbid someone actually had the balls to kill Diana or Bruce or Clark, they won't be back?

Nope. The "closed door of death" is going to be arbitrary as fucking ever. And that makes it pointless.

What makes Donna Troy intrinsically more deserving of resurrection than Ted Kord? Both were pretty damn useless when they were alive, on the outskirts of other peoples' books (Wonder Woman/Titans, Birds of Prey), both have rabid fans and charm. And honestly, given that he actually has a marketable code name, he could have fronted a series or mini at least as well as she could.

Why did Aquaman get to come back after Our Worlds at War, when Hippolyta stayed dead?

And if the closed door really is closed...well, the only people who'll die now at all are gonna be the Risks and the Bushidos and the Panthra's and the Wildebeests and the Freedom Fighters without name recognition, and the Titans of the East, and Cassie Cains (now that she's not Batgirl) and Ices...

And how is that any *more* suspenseful than knowing the possibility for resurrection is dancing around the corner? It's like watching the old Star knew that when Kirk, McCoy, Spock and Ensign Ricky went down to the planet, who was gonna bite it.

But see, I ended up watching the Search for Spock before the Wrath of Khan...and you know what? It lost *nothing*.

Death in literature isn't about death. It's about the living. It's about grief and mourning and love and loss. It's about funerals and stammering eulogies and sorrow and rage. It's about statues and armbands. And antagonists very briefly finding common ground in shared love for a lost one.

And even knowing Spock's gonna regrow on the Genesis planet, doesn't change the fact that when Scotty plays Amazing Grace on the fucking bag pipes, or Kirk's voice hitches on the word human, when the casket is ejected into space...

Besides, this is a universe in which we're all fine with suspending belief about Clark's glasses hiding that he's Superman, with otherwise sane people dressing up in garish costumes to live the life of vigilantes, of super-powers, aliens, gods, demons, Atlantis, Mars, and all that crap...but we can't pretend that death could occasionally be reversible?


  • At March 18, 2006 7:01 PM, Blogger Scipio said…

    Vibe merely rests.

  • At March 18, 2006 7:13 PM, Blogger James Meeley said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At March 18, 2006 7:22 PM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    James, did you even read what she wrote? The whole point of the essay was that resurrection doesn't lessen the emotional impact or suspense of a death.

  • At March 18, 2006 7:25 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    vibe: yep!

    james: Using Superman proves my point actually. Superman's death was an amazing, powerful moment.

    But even at age 10 seeing the adults gasp in the comic section of the bookstore, I knew he was coming back.

    That didn't change anything.

    Besides, what risk is it when the only heroes that will really face death are the Spoilers and Vibes and Phantom Ladies and those sorts?

    And when I read it a few months back, I was more retroactively worried about Ted Kord anyway, even though I'd already read Countdown. Superman was always gonna be back...the Blue Beetle not so much. How is *that* really suspenseful though?

  • At March 18, 2006 7:26 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Oh and:

    Ragnell: Yep! My point exactly. :-)

  • At March 18, 2006 8:46 PM, Blogger Sleestak said…

    Jonah Hex's death was one of the most disturbing in comics. Anyone who has never reda it should.

    I'm still waiting for Zombie Jonah Hex to step off that dias and start shooting fair-goers.

  • At March 18, 2006 8:51 PM, Blogger CalvinPitt said…

    I have no problem with death being reversible, in theory. I'd love to see Spiler resurrected, and wouldn't give a damn how it happened. I think that Joss Whedon bringing Colossus back was total crap, but I'm sure more people loved it. Like you said, there will always be someone happy to see a character return from the grave.

    I have this feeling I would like to see a "1 death" rule. Any character can come back from the dead once, after that, you have to provide an explanation for why they didn't actually die, not an explanation as to how they were cloned/reborn/resurrected.

    Just a thought.

  • At March 18, 2006 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This reminds me of the funeral scene from Top 10.

    "...And so, merciful Lord, accept this, our science sister into thy bosom...until such time as, in thy infinite wisdom, she may be cloned, reincarnated or otherwise revived. This we ask in thy name. Amen."

    Anyway, I agree with everything you just said. You took the thoughts out of my head and expressed them in a way far more eloquent than I ever could have. I hate it when that happens!

    Death in comics never really bothered me. You just know the characters will return eventually, even if the return is just replacing them with a virtually identical character.

    The point with a good death is to showcase the character him or herself (heroic, desperate last stands against impossible odds is a commonly occurring one), to further the plot in a necessary way or to show the reactions of the characters around them. Bad deaths, as I think you've said, are out of character and/or happen just to make a villain seem more menacing. This is the kind that's usually reversed the quickest. Barry had a really great death, which is why it's taken two decades before he returned in a significant way (that's if he actually has retuned).

    I doubt we'll be seeing Sue anytime soon in the regular DC universe, but there's always flashbacks and elseworlds. "I can't Believe it's not the Justice League" is a good example.

  • At March 18, 2006 9:01 PM, Blogger Brett said…

    Soap opera deaths are what I am tired of. The deaths have no meaning beyond the one issue they occur in. Real deaths of real non-super people often have massive impacts on those around them, in comics the impacts rarely last more than the next issue. Then it is off to stop the menace of Batgorilla with all the death stuff forgotten.

    I wouldn't mind them doing it if they treated death halfway seriously, but you know they can't. If Sue were to die in the Fantastic Four it should be the end of the comic. Reed would just shut down and the kids would freak. Should just end the comic there. Check back in him in five years or so. You know the impact will be for about two issues, then the danger of Mr. Menace will form the 'new' Fantastic Four and it will all be over.

  • At March 18, 2006 9:02 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    sleestak: I haven't read that one, but I'll look it up.

    And zombies are cool. :-)

    Calvin: A 1 death rule sounds good to me. I mean, they can always retcon later to make a death only an "assumed" death anyway. And they can keep characters in storage for a while pre-resurrection and just wait until a good story comes along.

    It's just, I'd really like the possibility to be available. :-)

    That said I've never liked Colossus. :-P

    Anon: Hee.

    Yeah, I don't mind that we'll never see Sue again. I just like the thought that the possibility exists that maybe someday we could. Even if it's never actualized. :-)

  • At March 18, 2006 9:13 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Brett: Yeah, I can understand that too. Which is why I have *no* idea how this Death in the Family new thing could possibly be good.

    Honestly, it sounds like a trainwreck to me.

    And she's so not staying dead. That would kill Reed too, in the end.

  • At March 19, 2006 1:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    According to Newsarama (re: Sue Death 2006), ยท The upcoming Fantastic Four: A Death in the Family will be self contained and will not have elements flowing into the monthly Fantastic Four series.

    And there's the problem. Marvel has been using death to sell books rather than to make poignant story points for quite some time. Either the death is glossed over (Hey, Spidey died during The Other?), used without proper consequence (the death of Foggy Nelson will have a HUGE impact on DD we won't see until they spring him from prison) or for shock value (a la Sue in this apparent self-contained mini).

    Like all powers, things have to come with some responcibility. =)

  • At March 19, 2006 2:10 AM, Blogger James Meeley said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At March 19, 2006 5:06 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    james: We'll probably have to agree to disagree here. You've got some good points, but I stand by my opinion. :-) I'm quite irrational about it, I'm afraid. :-) But that's the way of it.

  • At March 19, 2006 11:49 PM, Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said…

    Here's the problem I have with Death, the High Cost of a Revolving Door: I want to be moved when a character dies heroically. I don't think that's too much to ask. For years, I could go back and reread X-Men #137 and be affected all over again by Jean Grey's noble sacrifice. And then Jim Shooter decrees that he wants ALL the original X-Men back, so it turns out she was really just wrapped in a mattress at the bottom of the Hudson for ten years. And she never heroically sacrificed herself anyway, it was some "alien energy" what-the-hell-ever! GAH! That ludicrous ret-con robbed the entire Dark Phoenix saga (and it was a SAGA) of all its meaning. So, do I mind "ambiguous deaths" (i.e., "Well, I guess we'll never find the body...")? No, I have no problem with that. But when there's a corpse (Jason Todd), or it's a long accepted part of continuity that the character is dead (Bucky), LEAVE THEM DEAD! Otherwise, it's just lazy writing by writers who have run out of original ideas. Now, if you'll excuse me, my 17th level bard needs a Raise Dead spell for the 257th time...

  • At March 20, 2006 10:26 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    hale: I understand what you're saying. And really, I don't want death to always be overturned because that would be stupid.

    But I think companies should stop worrying about how seriously death is taken and just write moving and/or interesting stories. If they've got enough good ideas for the character that outweigh the advantages emotionally to kill the character off they should go ahead and bring them back. If they can do it without losing the meaning of the self-sacrifice to begin with, that'd be better. Substitutions like Jean's only work when the death is quick and meaningless like the old Titans against Superboy. It doesn't work for deaths like Ted Kord's. (It's Crono in the damn Ocean Palace instead of Aeris getting stabbed by's reversible and one's not.)

    But I'd like the *possibility* of ressurection to be acknowledged by te company...none of us actually believes the whole "And This Time We Mean It" shit, so just *say*, "Until we feel like bringing them back, if we ever do."

    We're comic fans, I think we can deal with that line of explanation.

  • At March 20, 2006 1:01 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    ken: I see what you mean, definitely. And the trend of killing minor heroes just to show how evil a badguy is, or intense the situation, seems like really sloppy wrting. Like I blogged about before, there was no real reason that Katma or Ice needed to die when they did. Or even Jade. Their deaths weren't about them even in the way Ted or Sue's was about them. And that just sucks.

    I appreciate the need for cannon fodder, but I also think it should be used sparingly.

  • At March 20, 2006 11:41 PM, Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said…

    kalinara said...
    hale: I understand what you're saying.

    Only you really understand me, Kal. The rest of them...they laughed at me! Called me mad! Well, who's mad now? Eh? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHH cough hack HAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!

  • At March 20, 2006 11:59 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Yessss, only I underssstand, so you must do exactly what I say. Mwahaha.

  • At March 22, 2006 11:00 AM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    Anything which happens in any story - including death - is utterly arbitrary: it happens because the creators say it happened. The trick, then, is making the audience care about what happens, making us think that what happened in the story was "natural," not forced.

    Resurrection can be done effectively, or it can be a cheap plot gimmick or marketing stunt. So can death. So can anything else. A "death is final" declaration by editorial fiat is no more or less arbitrary than a "nobody ever dies" rule: in both cases, it's an artifical limit imposed on what sort of stories can be told. The only difference is that, based on our real-world experience, we expect death to be final - but as you say, how often do superheroes have anything to do with reality?

    Superman is the universe's most powerful solar battery, but he can't come back from the dead?

    So while I prefer stories where dead people stay dead - i.e., where death is meaningful, not a temporary setback - what's most important to me is the skill with which the writers and artists execute any given story.

    Or to look at it another way: Death should have its price. So should rebirth. So should love. So should anything a comic book creator expects his or her audience to actually give a damn about. And that comes down to the skill of the creators, not some arbitrary editorial demand.

  • At March 22, 2006 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Amen to that.

  • At March 22, 2006 11:53 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Ferrous: *nod* The important thing is that the writers and editors care about what they're doing. For all that some folks were unhappy, I really liked Rebirth for the way Hal was ultimately brought back. It was a struggle, not easy, and you could tell that *Johns* felt it was meaningful, so it came across that way.

    There are quite a few others that are more hackneyed, but then the nice part of resurrections is that in the end, if it's bad, you can always kill 'em again. :-P

  • At March 23, 2006 9:14 PM, Blogger The Local Crank said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At March 23, 2006 11:42 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I'm very rewarding to my followers. :-)


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