Editorial: Big Dog’s Thoughts: Death in Comics

A gray fist rose high above his weary opponents head. Sharp bone protrusions stuck out from the knuckles of the behemoth. Most of his body was covered in these protrusions. Each of which had cut the intrepid hero at one time or another. Superman knew that he didn’t have much fight left in him, but for the sake of the people around him, he had to try. It could only end one way, he had to acknowledge it. If he didn’t, the destruction engine known only as Doomsday would continue onward.

He raised both hands, clasped together in a single strike. Glass surrounded the battlefield, which once were called the streets of Metropolis. The previous blows had made such impact that windows shattered from the sheer sonic vibration after each impact. He swung upward with all his might behind it. Doomsday had been one of the few opponents that could take the brunt of Superman’s power and shrug it off. Doomsday’s massive fist came plummeting towards his target. The sheer amount of rage in him made sure that he would never pull punches. As both made contact, blood flew from Superman’s body. The noise was deafening around them. It was as if the two had fallen in complete silence. No one heard the camera’s shutter as Jimmy Olsen took the picture of Superman’s final strike. No one heard the gasp in Lois Lane’s breath as she watched the man she loved fall to ground as a rag doll being dropped by a careless child. All but Lois waited to rush to Superman’s aid. She grabbed the bloody mess of her friend and fiancé, holding him closely to her. She tried to fight back her tears, but wasn’t overly successful. She wanted to kiss him right then, but in front of the crowd would compromise too much. Even in this moment, she was ever mindful of his duel identity and its ramifications. She pleaded with him to hold on, hoping the paramedics could help save the Man of Steel.

Weakly, he asked her, “Doomsday, is he.. Is he?”

“You stopped him! You save us all! Now relax until…, ” but it was too late. For this is the day that a Superman died.

Credit to Dan Jurgens for the story and the bits of script I took. I did my own synopsis of that final blow. I swear I didn’t have the Roger Stern book, ‘The Death and Life of Superman’ in front of me.

What’s the point of all this? Well, unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week, or if you read Marvel Comics, then you know a member of the Fantastic Four died in issue #587. I’m fairly certain that the who was ruined for a lot of you before you ever read the comic. Regardless of that, I’m going to take the high road and not mention it. Google is out there for those who can’t wait. Deaths in comics these days seem so rapid fire that I can’t even keep up with them. It seems like nobody but Uncle Ben stays dead these days. Maybe Thomas and Martha Wayne, but as VaderFan would say; “Give it time.”  Other than that, the idea of killing off a hero for a publicity stunt seems irresistible. Why not? Playing God with character’s seems like a great idea right? I mean who wouldn’t want to tell a harrowing tale about the final battle of a beloved character?   My biggest pet peeve about these sorts of stories is that the hero never truly stays dead.  There’s always some sort of resurrection story waiting in the wings, even if not from the writer who killed off the character in the first place.    Some people might argue that’s a good thing!   Read on and let me (hopefully) explain myself.

In the article that tells of which Fantastic Four member finally dies, Roy Thomas (a writer and former Marvel Editor) said:

“Whether it‘s Superman, the Thing or Bucky, if someone wants to bring them back to life later, you can‘t bury them deep enough or tear them into enough pieces. Death is not a permanent condition in the comic book universe.”

Sadly, he’s right. The death of a hero means that we wait anywhere from a few months to a few years, but eventually the character comes back from the dead in time for a big promotion of some sort. In a lot of ways, if the intention was keeping the character gone, then this undermines the writer that told he story. If it was all a publicity stunt to rile fan response, it a gimmick played too often.  

During Superman’s death, people who hadn’t read comics in awhile or ever were horrified to find out that the Man of Steel would be losing his life. There was an outcry from people who said that a World without Superman was unthinkable, which inevitably was the point. All three of the Big 3 went under drastic change in the 90s. Why? Because people said that they wanted these changes to come about. Batman wasn’t enough like the Punisher in their estimation. Wonder Woman needed to quit being this sweet innocent little secretary type, which anyone who actually read the comic knew she wasn’t. Superman needed to DIE because he’s outdated.  In all three cases they answered the fans call, and in all three cases people were in horror to see their wishes come true. All of a sudden, people couldn’t deal with a killer as Batman, the constantly angry Wonder Woman, or the myriad of people claiming to be Superman.

It was around the time of the Death of Superman that I started reading more DC Comics. I got into comics around the time of X-Cutioner’s Song throughout the X-titles. More or less it introduced me to heroes with problems abound there. DC Comics were altogether different though, because there seemed more cohesion to the world around them. Superman died and it effected the books around DC. It made an impact that was long stretching. Had Superman not died, Coast City would never have been destroyed by one of the four that came to take Superman’s place. Technically three, as Steel never claimed he was Superman. In any case, Coast City was home of Hal Jordan; Green Lantern! He was in space when all this happened. What he found when he returned was a giant engine placed there by a mad man looking to ruin Superman’s reputation forever. It lead to Jordan trying to say goodbye to lost friends and family, the Guardian’s denial of that goodbye, and him going on a killing spree due to pent up rage for what had happened. The straightest arrow, cracked very loudly and he took his vengeance out on fellow Lanterns and the Guardians. He became Parallax, a being that was able to absorb a great deal of power from the main power battery on Oa. It lead to him trying to restart time to undo the horrible things that had happened. After man different stories, eventually it lead to Jordan dying a hero again as he saved the world from the Sun-Eater and reignited our Sun in the process.

What I’m getting at with all this is that actions have consequences, even in comic books. When a hero dies these days, it’s treated as a novelty. The problem is that the novelty of it has worn so thin it’s beyond a joke.  When I read Superman’s death, it was crafted so well that I felt the punishment that the man was taking.  The story showed that the impact of his fall should be felt and have these sweeping ramifications behind it.   Had DC Comics never brought him back at the end of ‘Reign of the Supermen’ I think it would have been okay.   While I wanted to read more Superman tales, I could see where this story stemmed into any number of different possibilities.   As we all know, his death wasn’t going to be a permanent thing.   The idea of losing Superman in the DC Universe is an unthinkable act.   Not that I don’t understand that point of view.  Big Blue is my favorite character for a reason after all, but in the end the archetype of what he stood for would have been around, and there’s always other ways to make sure Superman stories still make an impact. 

Comic companies get this idea in their collective heads that if the character stays dead, then they can’t tell any more stories with them. I can’t believe imagination has gone so far in the toilet that they can’t make the hero still have impact even beyond death. It’s as I talked about with the Justice Society in an editorial from sometime back; I think they have a place in this day and age, but the World War II vets of the team also need to have their day called at some point.  I love the idea of always having them there. Certainly the inspiration that they give is worth having around. No one, least of all me, will ever say otherwise. By extension of the Big 3, the moral lessons that their Golden Age contemporaries still give make them relevant, even in this day and age.  However, like any old soldier, eventually their time comes up and they move on and pass away. Is it sad? Yes, it is! That doesn’t mean that they stop telling stories.   My grandfather was a World War II vet. He died February of ‘07 and I know that he and I will never sit at the table and trade barbs at one another ever again. Never will I be able to go out to his old garage and smell the scent of parts being cleaned with a variety of agents. No more going out for seafood , only to realize that we had promised to go to a Mexican Restaurant with the rest of the family. If all this is true, then what remains? The stories of times when these things were common day. With our heroes, this ties back into the same idea.    All you have to do is tell the story, pre-death of the character!   It’s not that hard.   In the case of the Justice Society, tell some Golden Age stories!   You want to tell a story using Barry Allen’s Flash?   Okay, tell it before he made the sacrifice in the Crisis.   The one true Crisis, not the pretenders after the fact.    All the stories these days have brought back all these character because people believe that it limits them not to be able to write their favorite character in a series.   What sort of crazy idea is that?   If you determine how many years the character has been around, then you’ve got a perfectly good window of opportunity to tell the tale without screwing up the importance of what made their sacrifice necessary. Even if we take it to mean that 1 comic equals a day, then a 1,000 comics would be three months and five days short of three years time. We get twelve issues a month, not including specials. You’ve got a lot of tales you can tell under than premise don’t you think? Especially considering the fact that many stories get told over the course of several issues and happen in their reckoning over the course of a day or two. This isn’t hard to figure out!

The glory of a character can’t die, even if the death story has been told. That’s the magic of writing. Continuity is such a scary word to writers, yet they’ve managed to pull this off in several comics before. I don’t want to see the Death of Captain America again, I don’t want to see Superman die again. Don’t kill of anyone just for the sake of it! These characters mean something to the fans. Companies do have responsibilities to these fans to make sure they don’t just play havoc with their favorites just because they can. Make the story powerful and poignant., something worthy of the hero that’s being used.  A lot of these characters have been around since before the fans were, some have grown old with characters introduced in a life time.  In future editorials I want to talk about fan’s serving the creators and the other way around as well. For now, I want to make the powers that be understand that we as fans care. You owe it to the legacy of the characters and their creators to treat them more respectfully than just another gimmick.  Don’t pull something on us because you think it’ll drive up the purchase of the comic.   It shows a lack of care for these creations that made you want to get into comics in the first place.   It also tells me that you need to walk away from the books, because you obviously have no imagination left for what could be some of the best stories.    I take my lessons from Dan Jurgens for Superman’s demise and even Ed Brubaker for the handling of Captain America’s death.  Had they stayed down, the impact would have been far sweeping.   The characters died defending their ideals to the end.   Superman doesn’t like to kill, but he recoginized the hard choice he’d have to make and in the end he knew that for the good of everyone, he would have to push those boundries.    Cap’s death could have had so much more impact if they would have left it alone.   He died defending people’s rights.  Was it some glorious death scene?  No, it was a blatant assassination.   Does it suck?  Yeah, it does!   You know what though?  This has happened all over the world, and since Marvel is the type of company that tells closer to the real world drama stories, I accept it a lot better than if they’d pulled this on Batman.   His death meant people having to understand the ramifications of killing the American Dream.    The 90 pound weakling that fought the good fight, defending your right to be who you wanted to be.   If one ounce of his death meant a sweeping change at Marvel, then I say they should have followed through.    In the end, with this death in the Fantastic Four, I truly hope the writer tells such an impacting story.   The first family in Marvel should have some impact on that front.   I don’t know necessairly that it means as much to me, but for those bigger fans of Marvel it should mean something.   I wish him the best of luck telling his story and hoping that whatever happens it makes the waves it should, though I know that someone else will eventually come along and undo everything.   Hopefully not the writer that instigated the story in the first place.  Time will tell on that front.

All boiled down, my point is that deathsploitation isn’t the answer! Try life, I hear it’s all the rage.