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Comicscape - July 7, 2004

Death's Revolving Door: Your Reactions

By Tony Whitt     July 07, 2004


The CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS claimed its share of casualties, including the then Supergirl, Superman's cousin Kara.
© DC Comics


OPINION:




I had hoped to do a column this week on Free Comics Day or on SPIDER-MAN 2 - both of which I experienced yesterday (Saturday, July 3) but you had so much to say about last week's column on the Revolving Door of Death that instead I'm turning the floor over to you. Next week I'll look at this year's free comics event and review the offerings, and the following week I'll give you my thoughts on the latest superhero action flick all of which I hope will be followed by me taking a week off to rest and recuperate. Deal? Deal.



John Mullin writes, "I thought bringing Jean Grey back was a major mistake and a loss of credibility - as you

Back in July 1984, ALPHA FLIGHT #12 (vol. 1) brought us the death of the team's leader, Vindicator.

say, the emotional impact of death is gone. Though I admit, it did shock me when Vindicator of Alpha Flight (James McDonald, I believe) died. I've been out of the comic book scene for a long time so I don't know if they brought him back. I wouldn't be surprised if they did. (They did see below. TBW) The problem is, I don't think the editors of the titles and the execs in the comic company care about the credibility issue; they only care about sales. I don't blame them, it's a tough market, but I argue that destroying their credibility causes sales to suffer in the long run. Instead of bringing back characters from the dead, why don't they try being creative enough to introducing new ones? And I mean cool new ones, not some of the lame characters tied into the X-Men universe (I've seen them, but since I am not really interested I can't name them all)."


David Monteith agrees that "Yes, there was an element of emotional manipulation in [IDENTITY CRISIS], but doesn't all powerful writing that moves us use the same thing? Is that not the lynch pin of effective story telling? Hell, it's what advertising is all about. This is a valid claim but holds no significance in the context of this conversation due to the fact that it's an age old and trusted story-telling technique. When I first read the premise of the story, I did indeed feel completely and totally underwhelmed. Yet another death that will be remedied in a couple years - but wait, there is usually no reason to bring back supporting characters, and this was a supporting character with a pedigree. Ralph was defined by his relationship with Sue, and her departure brings a whole new lease of life for the character. It's the first time in years that comics have truly surprised, moved, and shocked me. This twist, although predictable once the cover of the comic was opened, was truly a breath of fresh air. The fact that so many characters die and return removes any pathos from story telling, there is no real sense of drama, there is no feeling of true threat. The most awe-inspiring storytelling comes when you don't know if your favourite character is safe or not. Let's take away the safety net and return drama to these proceedings." Amen to that!



Dan Cutler writes, "I was surprised when you said that many [comic book] deaths are meaningless and/or don't have that much dramatic impact. I am a huge X-MEN fan and completely agree with you that Jean's death was probably just a set up for her to come back some time down the road and cause Scott and Emma problems. But one death you didn't mention was that of Colossus. That was not only a huge surprise, but also extremely dramatic for all X-Fans. I think we were all saddened to see the big guy go and know that there is no coming back from this one." You're quite right, Dan, I completely forgot about Peter and you weren't the only one who mentioned him, as the next response shows. He definitely fits into the category of fallen heroes who should not return but in the modern resurrection-happy comics market, who's to say it couldn't still happen?



Evan Schwartzberg writes, "Death's door definitely does not stay closed for long in comic books or in any sci-fi/fantasy medium. We've been seeing people try to return the dead to life (Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN) and the undead (Bram Stoker's DRACULA) for a hundred years. Even the New Testament is a resurrection story. So is it any wonder that comic books follow this lead? But your point is: Does this revolving door lessen the impact of a story that deals with a character's death? The answer is yes and no. With a major character, most readers know the character will probably be back at some dramatic point. This will be a milestone event, or more cynically put, to boost sales. But in the end, we know that Superman would not remain dead. No major icon can. Marvel cannot kill off Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four permanently, just as DC cannot kill Batman (heck, even with a universe of Green Lantern replacements and

From March 1968, X-MEN #42.

three others on earth, Hal Jordan won't stay dead). I say cynically, but that is what we expect. Some books have made the journey to the afterlife a regular plot device. How many X-Men, besides Jean Grey, have made the "journey"? We've seen Professor X (X-MEN 42), Havok (X-FACTOR to MUTANT X [sic]), Magneto (presumed dead too many times to list) and other 'returns'. These are major characters that fans do not want to see die and don't expect them to. They are heroes after all and larger than life. They should be able to overcome everything. By permanently killing a character, we would feel it deeply, but the truth is, you cannot kill a franchise. We may accept seeing someone other than Tobey McGuire as Spider-Man, but not someone other than Peter Parker (Ugh, clones!).



"That brings me to minor or lesser characters. These can and usually do stay dead. A series can live on without Colossus (Peter Rasputin) and his family or John Proudstar (Thunderbird). Interesting characters, yes, but enough to carry a series? No. That is why they become expendable. We can feel for them as well, but we know they are support. Their deaths will and should remain permanent. Gwen Stacy and [the Jason Todd Robin] are such characters. Very important to the characters within their books, but the book can survive without them. I believe that the real problem arises when too many minor characters make the 'return journey.' James MacDonald Hudson, Vindicator, dies in issue 12 of ALPHA FLIGHT. A great moment. The team needs to mourn and move on. New dynamics develop. He could have remained dead, but sales begin to lag, and he was brought back. And terribly at that. The Marvel Universe would have continued without him very well.
So yes, a death in a comic book can still be dramatic, but we the readers need to believe that the character will remain dead. I don't believe that Jean Grey is gone forever and I don't want her to be, so Morrison's story did not really stick with me, but I do remember Colossus' sacrifice to end the Legacy Virus." Even if I didn't... *Blush* But you have a definite point, Evan even a popular character can become expendable later on, especially if they're part of a team that has more than enough heroes to replace them.



Steve Coldwell writes, "I felt a need to drop a line in regards to your column, specifically the 'speculation out there that, had it been a hero who died instead of the loved one of a hero, it would have had a more profound impact.' One factor that, I believe, plays into this reaction is the reader's familiarity with, or their history with the DC Universe. Personally, I was expecting an obligatory 'major supporting cast member' to be killed in IDENTITY CRISIS #1. I was expecting someone who tied into DCU history, but was completely expendable, la Snapper Carr. As a long time reader of the 1980's-1990's JUSTICE LEAGUE (including JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE), the death of Sue Dibny hit me like the proverbial ton o' bricks. To me, it had more impact than any comic death in recent memory, and left a cold pit in my stomach long after I put the book down. However, I can't possibly imagine that it had any impact whatsoever on the casual DCU reader, who may have picked up the book because of the hype. Non-DC'ers who picked the book up because of the coverage in WIZARD were most likely left asking 'Sue who?'" And that's a pity, really, as I know what you mean I'd read a good sixty or so issues of that run a few months back, and Sue was developed strongly enough that her death did mean more, to some. I wonder why IDENTITY CRISIS couldn't have shown a bit more of that same character that so many came to know and love?



Bryant Williams writes, "I grow tired of seeing characters killed in comics only to see them returned to life once the next creative team takes over. The reason that it bothers me the most is because it has become obvious that some the characters are not killed in order to give the readers a good story, but as an attempt to give a particular issue or story a greater sense of urgency or importance. One example is the death of Harbinger in SUPERMAN/BATMAN." Good point, Bryant the abduction of Kara in that issue was certainly dramatic enough, but throwing a death in ratchets up the dramatic volume. Problem is, you can't kill Superman (again), Batman, or Wonder Woman. So, who's left? Harbinger. I have yet to find a group of rabid Harbinger fans who are angry about her treatment by Loeb and company, so I'm assuming this probably was a safe bet.



And finally, Charles Fadem gives a very thoughtful analysis of why we react (or don't react) to death in comics the way we do: "If people in real life could spin webs, shoot beams from their eyes and run faster than a speeding locomotive, comics would be of little to interest to anyone. In real life, death is something I think we generally wish to avoid, much like real danger, or fear for our lives. In comics however, these same elements create excitement, not anxiety. They are events we not only look forward to, but demand in each and every issue. The format of the comic book transforms some of the most terrible parts of real life into wondrous, magical things. Death should be no different.



"Throughout history, most cultures have created and still maintain to this day some conception of life beyond death. Whether it is reincarnation, the halls of Valhalla or the dichotomy of heaven and hell, human society has always fantasized about a world beyond the living. Comics have mirrored that fascination in nearly every way conceivable. The 'revolving door' theory of death in comics is certainly a machination of humanity's nature to fanaticize. The question remains however, does this very impermanent conception of death help or hurt comics?



"Does anyone remember when Star Trek attempted to

Kirk says farewell to his friend in STAR TREK II's climactic scene.

kill Spock? The fiery protests that it sparked demanded his return with a passion that science fiction and fantasy fans are well known for. The fans got what they wanted in Spock's speedy resurrection and in comics the public drama is little different. If a beloved character 'dies,' it creates an uproar that leads to their inevitable return, such as in Superman's infamous death and resurrection. In the past, a comic book death provides an opportunity that death does not afford us in real life... the ability to reinvent ourselves.



"In comics, when a character 'dies,' typically he or she is reinvented upon their return and usually for the better. The famed X-men 'Mutant Massacre' is a prime example of this. The franchise had grown tired, its characters dated. Suddenly, there were no X-men. They had all been killed, leaving behind third-tier characters such as Forge and Banshee, burdened with rebuilding in the aftermath. Slowly and inevitably, one by one the X-men reappeared around the globe in some cases with completely new personalities, (and new uniforms of course.) As they slowly reassembled, they brought a brand new, contemporary dynamic to a beloved franchise, reinvented through 'death.' We may be seeing a similar effect on the Avengers in the coming months. In comics, death is in itself a rebirth.



"In comics, rebirth is something that is certainly always welcome. If there is one fear in a comic-lover's heart it is that their most beloved characters will become outdated, out of place in the times and conditions that surround them. It is a fear that our favorite heroes will be left behind... their books relegated to hiatus or cancellation. Marvel's Ultimate line gave us one of the most unique ways to circumvent a 'death' for character reinvention. But before Marvel's Ultimate line was conceived, the only way to truly reinvent a character was through the 'revolving door of death,' providing the inevitable excitement of rebirth and perhaps a healthy dose of heroic revenge upon those villains who forced it. Therein is the irony of death in both comics and real life: How we respond to living life after the death of someone we love, fictional or otherwise, makes us who we are as fans, and as people.



"It is our reactions in columns such as these to the death of any comic character that tells our best comic book creators how to breathe new life into our favorite books. Our reaction to death in comics is as integral to making you and me who we are as fans, as it is to making comic book characters who they are as heroes."



Whew. Well, I'm sure that someone will feel the need to try to top that, but I'm not going to be the one to try! If you do still have thoughts on this topic, send them to me via the web site contact address here or to me directly. And remember, if you should happen to make reference to a title of a comic series please use CAPS when giving the title. I do the HTML coding on this column every week, and having the titles in caps already makes my life much easier. Finally, as always, don't forget our discussion boards! Next week, I will do a post-mortem of Free Comics Day and review some of the books on offer.



NB: Because of some holiday or other, the shipping schedule has been delayed a day though why a holiday falling on a Sunday should affect shipping during the week, I've no idea. Thus, these are the books you can expect to see on the shelves tomorrow:



THIS WEEK:



For the kids, Marvel is offering a four-shot, both literally and figuratively: Johnny brings Namor into the...well, it used to be the Silver Age, in MARVEL AGE: FANTASTIC FOUR #4; the MARVEL AGE: FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 1 digest trade paperback collects this issue as well as the first three for $5.99; in MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN #7, Spidey fights a mechanical brain gone berserk (remember that one?); and the MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN VOL 2 digest trade paperback collects issue #s 5-8 (yeah, I know, it's weird the way they do these) for $5.99. I'd say skip buying the individual issues and just buy the digests, especially if Marvel's going to print the same stories coming out that month and in the next month in the digest anyway...



Meanwhile, over at DC, the older kids can look forward to the good guys turning evil in JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES #33, and the younger kids can look forward to LOONEY TUNES #116 just because!



Kevin

Cover to STARJAMMERS #1.

J. Anderson, author of those new DUNE books that people either love or hate, brings back that group of pirates you either love or lover in STARJAMMERS #1. Kull wahad!



If that doesn't "profoundly stir" you, then Dark Horse's output this week should, as they offer up BPRD: A PLAGUE OF FROGS #5 (Of 5); MILKMAN MURDERS #1 (Of 4) ; OH MY GODDESS! #110; the STAR WARS: CLONE WARS ADVENTURES VOL 1 trade paperback for $6.95; and USAGI YOJIMBO #76.



The second printing of ACTION COMICS #775 ships this week for $3.75, just to remind us who the Elite is in case we didn't know it before reading JLA #100 this past week. Gee, it's a bit late now, isn't it, fellahs?



Did you forget to change the cat litter again? No, it's just ALPHA FLIGHT #5 you're smelling.



Bat-Fans, I hope you didn't spend too much on fireworks! Your choices include the BATGIRL: YEAR ONE trade paperback in a new printing for $19.95; the BATMAN: BRUCE WAYNE FUGITIVE VOL 1 trade paperback for $12.95; BIRDS OF PREY, which goes biweekly (get your minds out of the gutter, now) with issue #69 (out of the gutter, I said!); DC COMICS PRESENTS BATMAN #1, which pays homage to the "cover-driven" story buy it and you'll see what they mean; DETECTIVE COMICS #796, featuring the new Robin; and SCRATCH #2 (of 5), which features Sam Kieth and is written by a werewolf. Wait. Scratch that, reverse it.

If you were all that mightily impressed by Chuck Dixon's first storyline on AVENGERS, you can relive it in all its glory (cough! hack!) with the AVENGERS VOL 4: LIONHEART OF AVALON trade paperback for $11.99.



The

Cover to FIRESTORM #3.

first story arc comes to a conclusion in FIRESTORM #3, but don't fret if you're one of the many who managed to miss the second (or first!) issue of this series, the inevitable collected edition certainly won't cost much if it collects only three issues, right?



Yet another "Avengers Disassembled" tie-in in CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON #5. Sigh. If you're well and truly sick of these, go get the tie-in-less CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON: MADBOMB trade paperback for $16.99, instead.



Want to see the events that led up to Wally West losing his memory (a dramatic plot device that came and went as fast as he does) in #s 192-200? Then pick up the FLASH: BLITZ trade paperback for $19.95.



The girls are still at it with that ol' demon in WITCHES #3 (Of 4). Anyone else think this might have been a lot stronger if Dr. Strange didn't have their back the whole time?



Ethan Harrow's life is in danger in HARD TIME #6. No, I mean more so than usual.



The team fights the newest incarnation of the Frightful Four in FANTASTIC FOUR #515. And you thought their biggest problem was the media...



You've been missing them ever since the 40s - well, actually, only since the 70s - but the Invaders are finally back in their own book, with INVADERS #0! (At least no one ever did any of this "issue 0" crap in the 40s or 70s...)



The second story arc ends...and that's all they're telling us about SUPREME POWER #11. Geez, you'd think this was a season finale for BABYLON 5 or something, huh?



Rob Rodi tells us the true story of Thor's half-brother in LOKI #1 (Of 4) and no, he won't reveal that Loki is a closet homosexual. Will he? Anyway, in the meantime, Ragnarok comes (again!) in

THOR #82, presumably to tie in with some major comics event or other.



The new story arc beginning in MONOLITH #6 features cameos by Batman, Oracle, and Green Lantern. And you're saying you still haven't read it? Shame on you!



By the way, if you're wondering what all this "Avengers Disassembled" fuss is about, presumably the OFFICIAL HANDBOOK TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE: AVENGERS 2004 is going to explain it all, if you're willing to shell out the $3.99 for it. Or not.



Speaking

Cover to POWERS #1.

of Brian Michael Bendis, Marvel's new Icon Imprint brings you the first issue of an all-new, all-creator owned POWERS #1. Fingers crossed that this is one imprint Marvel will be able to keep running...



For the more adult readers out there, Vertigo offers up SWAMP THING #5, in which the eponymous character has it out with his human daughter (and not over whether she can borrow the Swamp-Mobile); the TRANSMETROPOLITAN VOL 9: THE CURE trade paperback for $14.95 is unleashed upon an unsuspecting world; and Pia Guerra returns to Y: THE LAST MAN #24 just in time for Yorick's search for a priest to make a confession to. He'll have better luck if he's Episcopalian...



Peter's not too thrilled over May's choice of allies or costume in SPIDER-GIRL #76, and it's still up in the air which one pisses him off most. Hope it's the allies I dig that costume!



From Wildstorm this week comes Geoff John's THE POSSESSED 'Cliffhanger' trade paperback for $14.95; another trip in the Way-Back Machine to the 1980s for THUNDERCATS: ENEMY'S PRIDE #2 (Of 5); TOM STRONG #27, about which nothing can be said mainly because I have no information on it; and WILDCATS: VERSION 3.0 #23, which I also know nothing about, and really don't care to. Sorry.



Keith Giffen pits the eponymous hero against the Fallen One, Galactus' first herald, in THANOS #12. That's overdoing it on the personifications of death there a little, isn't it?



Carnage continues to rampage the villain, not the state of being in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #62, while Spidey meets his movieland counterparts in the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN VOL 10: HOLLYWOOD trade paperback for $12.99.



And finally, EXILES #49 is a standalone issue featuring the Impossible Man(!), while it's "The End of History," Part Three in UNCANNY X-MEN #446 - which isn't meant to be a comment on Claremont's writing. No, not at all.




Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think by e-mailing us here!

Comicscape is our weekly Comics column.


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