Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Dead and recovering nicely

The title of this post is a phrase used often by my wife, Kate, although, I think Peter David may have used it first.

Death in comics - does it even matter anymore? Sure they cause sales spikes when they happen, but no one really believes anymore that when a comic book character dies that they'll stay dead. Bringing back every character who died diminishes the impact that present and future deaths in comics has or will have. The number one question comic shops get when a character dies is: "How long is he or she going to be dead or is said character still dead?" I think comic book deaths / returns are largely short term thinking / planning in action.

Comic book deaths will keep happening as long as these "events" spike sales, but my question is at what cost? The same is true of comic characters returning from the dead - it'll keep happening as long as it brings sales and attention to a title. History always repeats, but while these death events cause initial sales increases I think that they also turn off a number of the fan base and I'm not convinced that there will be new people in numbers needed to replace those that just leave in frustration.

Does anyone really think Steve Rogers will stay dead? If the Captain America movie happens in 2009 then Marvel would feel it to be neccessary that Steve Rogers has to be back as Captain America. I like the idea of another character being Cap, carrying on the legacy (like DC used to be especially good at until they saw how well returning original characters to their superhero counterpart did for sales). If Brubaker is still writing the title at that point (hopefully) he'll probably make Steve Roger's return make a kind of sense because while I don't think Bucky should have returned, Brubaker handled that well and that's led to some really good stories. Steve Roger's eventual return will sell gangbusters and may even be a good story, but it'll just further add people who don't believe that a character will stay dead the next time it happens.

Let's look at some other recent / not so recent deaths / returns. Flash; well the most recent issue by Marc Guggenheim was really good, I don't think that a character needed to die for the upcoming change to happen. Of course as it has been speculated elsewhere, maybe that character that died isn't the "real" one from our universe now that there are 52 Earths. That gives them a good out for the return of that character, but again it'll just diminish another comic book death. Thor returns this week and having read the preview copy it was a solid first issue (hopefully JMS can keep up the momentum), but here's another character that's returning. Marvel's Kree warrior, Captain Marvel died years ago in grand fashion by Jim Starlin, but a few months ago during Civil War they brought that character back in a horrible book called Civil War The Return written by Paul Jenkins (I like his Inhumans and Sentry) and then he just stood around in the last issue of Civil War and didn't even say anything. Marvel says that Captain Marvel will return later this year in a mini series or series, but I can't imagine any creative team that can salvage this character being back. Phoenix seems to come back every other year, but that one I can overlook because of the whole "rising from the ashes" nature of the Phoenix, although isn't it kind of like killing Kenny on South Park? Bringing back Hal as Green Lantern was actually really good because his character had a stupid death, but bringing back Barry Allen (as the Flash or just bringing him back at all) during or after Countdown as is being rumored would be the height of lameness (speaking of Countdown someone else is supposed to die in that series later this year, could it be Jimmy Olsen? - as if DC would really keep him dead). Aunt May - well she may be dying again out of Spider-Man: One More Day, but for any long time reader of Spider-Man she had a good death in Amazing Spider-Man #400. Aunt May returned a few years later in a really stupid story with an explanation that I defy anyone to try to explain and she's added nothing to the book since then (although I like the idea of her and Jarvis, the Avengers butler, being together).

I'm sure I've forgotten some other superhero deaths / returns (okay Aunt May isn't a superhero, but she is somewhat of a high profile character) and probably things aren't going to change because how many more original things are there left to do in superhero comics, but I still stand by my original thought here that fans largely just roll their eyes when a character dies in comics and there's no emotional impact.

I hope that when I die that I'll come back (except I don't want to be a zombie)! Any comic character deaths / returns that you've found especially annoying and or do you agree with this never-ending post?


Todd C. Murry said...

I think it’s too simple to paint marvel and DC (at least in their current iterations) with the same brush. The Flash death was all unearned sentiment (unearned being the key word). DC couldn’t be bothered to do the work of making us care – 13 issues of barely tolerable writing and art and confusing continuity, ending with a guy in a Flash suit dying (which, despite what anyone has said, reeks of last minuteism), does not merit the Pieta level gravitas we had to witness. DC is Tami Faye Baker, running mascara and all.

Marvel, on the other hand, might as well be a Chuck Mitchell looking, cigar chomping salesman, shaking your hand saying “I’m lyin’ to ya’, but your gonna buy my crap anyway.” Except for Brubaker, that is, that seems to view this whole “comic book death” thing in more of a DePalma movie or even James Bond-like way… it’s a way to mess with your head. Brubaker seems to want to poke the carcass of audience expectation with a stick and see if it twitches. I think it is key in my acceptance of this fake death that it is occurring within the context of a well written book about double crosses and double-double crosses and that seems to know I know that this, and is staring me in the face anyway.

Besides the Brubaker stuff, both approaches are cynical, but I prefer Marvel’s knowing carnival hucksterism to DC’s garage sale sincerity.

Ralph Mathieu said...

Todd, as ever your comments are very insightful. Your perspective on how Marvel looks at their character's deaths is especially interesting (particularly your take on Brubaker) versus DC's.

I do think that Marc Guggenheim made the last five issues of the newest Flash comic interesting even with the whole Bart being Flash a misfit (not his fault) and while I think his last issue was good I don't think that Bart had to die, although his funeral made for a good issue of Countdown (finally) this week (deaths often lead to good, easy drama).

kreeson1 said...

Thor is the god of thunder, Flash the god of speed,Spiderman and his supporting cast, a modern retelling of various trickster gods, and Steve Rogers,Captain America, the god of American Patriotism. The gods,in modern storytelling, are purely human inventions to be created, destroyed, and recreated to suit the needs of the storyteller and the audience.