Monday, March 06, 2006

Everything You Know is Wrong Pt. 2 - Death & Comics

Ah, Death in Comics. That perennial hot button issue sure to whip any red-blooded fanboy in a frenzy. Talking about Death in Comics is about as dangerous as yelling "Naked Jessica Alba Photos" in a crowded Comic Convention, so I'm going to proceed with caution here and urge you to do the same. My platform is simply this:

Death in Comics is fine and dandy. It's you who's fucked up. I mean that in the nicest way possible.

I think when it comes to these kind of debates, the best thing to do is take a step back from the realm of comics and have a look at storytelling in general. We comic readers tend to suffer from a bit of the tunnel vision from time to time. A little perspective is probably in order.

But first, a story:

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Meet Isis and Osiris. A couple of well-meaning Gods who wanted nothing more than to rule their ancient land in peace. Things are going pretty well, too, until Osiris gets murked by Set (his own brother, no less). Set not only kills Osiris, but then cuts him up into little tiny pieces and scatters them throughout the world.

The End.

I'm just kidding, of course. The story continues. But imagine if it hadn't? What a shitty story, am I right?

What actually happens is, Isis then travels the world collecting her lover's pieces (talk about your ride or die chick) and with a little help from her friends, brings Osiris back to life. They currently live in Palm Springs with their three beautiful tabbies and occasionally hear from their son Horus, the Sun God.

Now, wasn't that better? I think so.

My point is this: Death and resurrection have long been cornerstones of myth. From Osiris to Persephone, Elijah to Lazarus, Jesus to Superman, and so on and so forth, this theme of rebirth just seems to pop up all over the place. It's a story that's been told for centuries, and continues to be told today. In comic books, in temples, and even in nature. Every year Winter comes along at the same exact time, and every year Spring is sure to follow.

But you mean to tell me that the minute Hawkeye catches a bad one that suddenly enough is enough? Come on now. Let's get serious.
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Okay, maybe I'm being too broad. No one is saying that death is a bad storytelling device, right? It's just that death has gotten out of hand in comic books. Fair enough. Let's shift the focus back to comics, so I can tell you why you're still wrong.

More and more, I find that fans are clamoring for a stringent "Dead Means Dead" policy. I can understand why. It's very direct sounding and it rolls off the tongue nicely. It's the sort of thing that looks good on a T-Shirt. Something we can all get behind. Well, I can't. Not entirely, anyway.

Consider this: If dead always meant dead, then who would we be left with today? I contend that most of your favorite superheroes would have been long gone before you were ever even born.

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Sorry, kids! That's it! The End! No more Superman stories! Dead means dead, after all! Hope you held on to those back-issues!

Now see, that's no fun, is it?

Is this truly what you wish upon future generations of comic book readers? A world with no Professor X? With no Green Goblin? With no Superman? Kind of selfish, don't you think?

You know who I blame? The comic book guys.

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Yeah, you.

The long-term comic reader.

Those cynical bastards who have been reading Spider-Man since Amazing Fantasy #15, and cry bloody murder anytime they come across a plot thread that vaguely resembles one from 1974. They've been there and they've done that. (Ironically, most of them have never been anywhere near there and they have most certainly never done that.) They're bitter and they're jaded, and have been in the game for far too long to recall a time when a costume change or a return from the grave was cool as hell.

Superhero comics are, for the most part, like an amusement park ride. Thrilling little jaunts that exhilarate our inner child and ultimately end up right back where they started. Sure, there are plenty of twists and turns here and there, but the course is pretty much set and nothing ever really changes. And on some base level, we all know this to be true. Much in the same way we know that Charlie Brown will never kick that goddamn football, and the Coyote will never catch that goddamn Roadrunner. He'll just fall off that cliff and keep coming back. The only thing that allows these rides to continue to captivate us is our willingness to allow them to do so.

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If you're tired of the ride, maybe it's time to stop blaming the ride.


PlatonJK said...

high fives all around.

i'd also like to point out that these deaths take place in fantasy land. its not like you'll be reading a non-fantasy type of comic where characters will die and come back.

Jack Cross-type characters will never die and come back to life because it'll make no sense, its not based in the land of superman and spiderman.

its like people forget superman is from Krypton not Hoboken, NJ.

Brother Afron said...

Jack Cross won't die and come back, but Jack fucking Bauer has and will again.

My only real problem with the death and rebirth in comics is the way its usually executed. I mean if Captain X dies and comes back, dammit sonebody should be asking him what death is really like. There should be real reprecussions to how it affects the characters.

phenompyrus said...

Interesting points, but my arguement is this: Do not kill off the characters who are so big that they need to come back someday. Obviously if you kill Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, or Wolverine, they will come back. But why do this to begin with? Kill of the characters who can stay dead and have interesting stories moving on or inventing new characters in their wake. DC has this donw pat with the legacies that each of the heroes have after they die. I just wish that the deaths were done MUCH better. Was it really neccessary to bring back: Colossus, Psylocke, Hawkeye, Jason Todd, Poison Ivy, Bucky, Green Goblin, or Magneto (this can be argued)? No, b/c the books can move on with these deaths and still be great reads.

AFKAP of Darkness said...

the reason Jack Cross won't die and come back to life is because he's the star of a small miniseries that apparently very few people read.

let's get him in an ongoing series for 20 years and see whether he eventually fears the Reaper...

buckshot said...

I guess I just think "staying dead" is kind of overrated. If I really wanted to read about staying dead, I'd pick up the obituaries or something.

But these are comic books, and I think death is a fundamental part of their storytelling. It's not really the resurrection of "dead" characters that cheapens them. Cheap writing cheapens them.

I am anti-bad writing.

JRennoldz said...

I don't mind death then ressurections of characters AS LONG AS it's done right and serves a purpose. Bringing back someone just to boost sales or add that token "pizzaz" to a title is bullshit.

Um, the return of Jason Todd was handled brilliantly and served a purpose in the grand scheme of things for both Bruce and the DCU as a whole. On the other hand, the Phoenix: Endsong crap was on some bullshit. Keep her ass dead!

My only problem is when a character is killed then brought back to life over and over and over again.

MrHood75 said...

Can we at least all agree that Hawkeye's death was stupid and served no purpose? Can ya grant me that much? Please?

JRennoldz said...

The vaunted Hawkeye Fiasco will forever live in infamy as the worst death/revival of a Marvel cat in recent memory.

With that said, all of HOM was whack. Only issue 7, the "no more mutants" one was mediocre and served a purpose.

PlatonJK said...

i used jack cross because i couldn't think of another character in a comic outside of the super hero universes.

ella m. said...

I'm with JRennoldz on this one...most of my aversion to death/rebirth in comics is due to it's most often bing used as a source a cheap emotional impact or quick sales gimmick.

I wasn't mad at the deaths (and subsequent returns) of Jean Gray/ Phoenix...but that were handled worlds differently than Hawkeye/Colossus/ whichever X universe character is marked for death this week.

neo said...

Good points. Made me ponder and think for a little bit. I will admit I'm that kind of fan that clamors for death is death..but I stand by what phenom said..don't kill off the obvious big boys and then have them come back in some manner that is mind-boggling to say the least..that's all I ask.

I think another issue which also goes in line with death is super hero aging? Should this be introduced also? Maybe this will help the death is death perspective somewhat?

JiggysMyDayJob said...

Ok I have minor beefs with characters dying and coming back to life. I say why don't you just give them a injury, sit them on the bench for a while. Then them back for a great comeback?

Do it like wrestling, Undertaker gets looses the belt and leaves in shame gone for a few months (a year or more in the comic world), and then comes back with a new image and kicks ass.

I mean you don't always have to kill them to give me a break or hell even give them an injury so they can't fight crime anymore ala Batgirl. I dunno just some ideas.

Buckshot your blog was great man it was a joy reading, you should be a writer