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Monday, April 02, 2012 

Greg Rucka simply didn't get it when he worked on No Man's Land

I found an old interview with already overrated Greg Rucka on The Trades (via Comics Should Be Good) from the beginning of 2002, where they talk about his work at the time for DC Comics on the Batbooks, and at the end, they bring up the killing of Sarah Essen Gordon. He himself initially didn't support the idea of killing her off (it was Chuck Dixon, sadly, who did), but even so, what he says about offing characters really bothers me:
How much flak did you get for Sarah's death? (Sarah Gordon, the Commissioner's wife, was killed by the Joker near the end of the "No Man's Land" story.)

Oh, man...

I got some angry, angry e-mail, actually. But, you know, I had a huge fight with Denny [O'Neil] about that, because I didn't want to kill Sarah. My argument is always that you never kill the characters that people don't really care about. You have to kill the characters that people are going to be upset over. To which Denny was like, "Well, you can't kill Bullock." Oh. Well, damn! (Laughs)

But if you go back and you look at the Sarah stuff, and then I reread some of the early stuff in "No Man's Land," all of a sudden it became very logical. It was like, from the start of "No Man's Land," we kind of indicate that she's going to die. There's some foreshadowing there that was unintentional. She takes a bullet in the "Claim Jumping" storyline, which was a full nine months before she's going to die.

So once I had accepted it--and I did go through the five stages of grief: I was angry, I denied it, I did everything--when Devin [Grayson] and I sat down to write that story, it really did click. So, when people came and said, "I hate you!" I was like, "Good." That's the purpose.

It would have been a horrible thing to have killed Sarah and have nobody care. That would have been just so wrong. Devin and I both said to each other when we sat down to write it, we're now going to write an issue that, God willing, will make people cry. And I don't know if it did. But it's a worthy goal. If we could have moved people to tears about it, that's a worthy goal.
Okay, so he may not have been in favor of slaying Sarah Essen. Not at first, anyway. But I still find it maddening in the extreme that on the one hand, he thinks nobody's going to care if they kill a character the audience ostensibly doesn't consider important, as though we've already made up our minds that every and any character who wasn't written properly is instantly expendable based on their supposedly being boring and other negative applications. And just because this is as dark a line as the Batbooks serves no excuse for this.

That he got such a negative backlash and seems okay with it is also troubling. Why should any professional writer truly want the audience to despise them? As mad as I am that he willfully embraced this direction in a story with a vile plot involved (the Joker threatened to mass exterminate tons of kidnapped infants), that honestly doesn't mean I want to dislike him, and shouldn't. But there we have it, he seems to think, in a manner of speaking, that this is just fine. But it's not. If I could ever become a writer, that's not what I would want to get into the business for. Real pros want readerships to enjoy their work and admire them for it. Not at all costs, obviously, but they certainly shouldn't get into it for the purpose of alienating them with a story built on the kind of shock tactics No Man's Land was.

Maybe if Sarah Essen had just died in a car accident or from natural causes, I'd be frowning a lot less, since simpler forms of demise are very few and far between in mainstream comics (and at least one very good one, the death of Aunt May Parker in Spider-Man, was retconned in the embarrassing "Final Chapter" in 1998). But this is tragically the standard by which both DC and Marvel have been going by for many years now, and has only led to boredom. And this could be the exact reason why there was a negative reaction to Sarah's death: because it followed such a cliched pattern, regardless of any heroism involved, and O'Neil seemed to consider a man like Harvey Bullock so much more important than a woman like Sarah, that who could really approve? As much as I like O'Neil's work on Batman during the 1970s, I think he really became a disappointment later as editor in the 1990s, mainly because he allowed plots like this where the Joker was basically turned into a cardboard cutout whose schemes are built more around mass murder than anything else to be greenlighted, and the line-wide crossovers didn't help either.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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