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Saturday, May 24, 2014 

What's wrong with the death of Wolverine

One of IGN's writers spoke about why he thinks the impending death of Wolverine matters. He says that:
Comics are like a stage play. You see all kinds of stories played out by familiar characters in constantly changing settings. You know Batman about as well as you do your best friend, so reading a Batman comic is like watching your friend star in a play. And when your friend commits suicide for love at the end of Romeo and Juliet, do you scoff at his performance because you know once it’s over, he’s going to get up alive and well? Do you think his performance doesn’t matter if he’s going to give another performance the next night? I think not. All that should really matter is if the performance was convincing, engaging, and that it stirred up your emotions. So why not treat superheroes the same way?

We all know that death is like a revolving door in superhero comics, just like it is in a play, so why even bother bringing it up? Instead of writing off an upcoming death as pointless before reading it, we should wait and judge the death by how well it was performed. Aha, the game has changed. With this attitude, it all falls on the writer and artist to give the character a well-deserved sendoff.

Whether you should care about the upcoming Death of Wolverine story or not falls solely on the shoulders of Charles Soule and Steve McNiven. This is their show -- they are the directors, set designers, and actors all in one. It doesn’t matter if Wolverine has died once or a dozen times before because it’s only this performance that matters, as far as reading this story goes.
But that's the problem: it's not only the writer and artist's show - it's the editors too; they doubtless had something to do with this. The reason the death of Logan wouldn't matter is because, at this point, many of these deaths are only being done for the sake of 15 minutes of publicity from a press that cares far less about resurrections and marriages, the latter something that's occurring far less in mainstream, if at all. If only dying counts as interesting, and much of the hero/recurring cast member's past stories and future story potential don't, then what's the point of killing them off when most people won't even care to remember them years later, mainly because the publishers don't want readers to do so?
Granted, there have been poorly done deaths in comics. The most notable one has to be the Death of Superman. Don’t get me wrong, this was a legendary event that will forever go down as the most notable death in the history of comics. But when you consider the shallow depth of Doomsday’s character and the lack of moral challenge it posed to Superman, it just doesn’t hold up in terms of being a compelling story. They literally just punched each other to death.
I do get something wrong here. There was nothing "legendary" about Superman's momentary death and Pyhrric victory, nor would I consider it the most notable. IMHO, the most notable would have to be the death of Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree, since he died of natural causes in 1982's graphic novel by Jim Starlin. If more character deaths had been done that way, and not at the hands of villains, or worse, honest supporting cast members turned evil by editorial mandates, then we'd have much better writing to go around and less tabloid news coverage.
Luckily, there have been some brilliantly done deaths that still bring a tear to my eye just thinking about them. If you want to see two heroes fighting to the death done right, look no further than the death of Ultimate Peter Parker when he gave his life protecting his loved ones from Green Goblin. Captain America getting shot in the fallout of Marvel’s Civil War event was a tragic, surprising twist. Batman breaking his “no guns” rule to take out Darkseid showed his determination to save the day. These were all written in a way that tested the character’s resolve to be a hero, and therefore they were deeply impactful and meaningful.
I don't see what's so awesome about Batman gunning down an alien lifeform. Why not one of the human criminals he usually clashes with, in self-defense? Wiping out Darkseid is too easy, and brings to mind some of the hypocritical takes on Superman, like the stories co-written by Greg Rucka in 2005 where he says he views human life as valuble, but seems to consider galactic alien life less so, following Wonder Woman's neck-breaker on Max Lord, which was meant to save him from the brainwashing effects Lord was imposing. And that's how he thanks her?
And yes, two of those three heroes didn’t actually die, but we were led to believe they had been, and guess what? It still worked, and their return didn’t take away from the emotions we felt when they died. Even better, we got to see what void was created when they left. That’s why I’m looking forward to reading The Death of Wolverine. He’s been such an integral part of modern superhero comics -- launching the Avengers into a blockbuster franchise, starting a new school for young mutants, and starring in so many books that it’s become a joke to say that being everywhere at once is his secondary mutation. Seeing how both villains and heroes react to his passing will be a highlight of this event, and it’ll make the reader reflect on what Wolverine means to them, too.
Gimme a break. Adding Wolverine to the Avengers was way too easy and obvious. And while it's become a joke that he'd guest-star in so many different books, in defiance of continuity to boot, that's mainly the fault of writers who can't resist using him for the sake of presumed sales draws, and editors who don't care about integrity. As for reactions by both heroes and villains, why should it be hard to guess what they say?

Besides, the biggest problem with killing off Logan is that it's a cheap substitute for character drama, which they're clearly not interested in anymore. They could have him develop a new relationship with a new girlfriend, write that she's in trouble with the mafia or something, and how he helps her fight back. But that's not what Marvel's modern staff wants to do any longer, since they deliberately trashed integrity long ago for the sake of ever diminishing sales through publicity stunts and company wide crossovers. They no longer want to develop convincing character relations like what used to be seen in the Bronze Age.

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There is a distinction between characters and actors playing them, as well as a difference between a series and a one-shot story. Yes, you know the actors playing Romeo and Juliet will be alive after the play ends, but the characters will not. Shakespeare did not write a sequel in which Romeo and Juliet (or Hamlet, or Othello) turned out to have survived, or a reboot in which their deaths never took place. And each time the play is performed, or the movie is rerun, it ends the same way.

In media other than comics, death is not always a revolving door. Some TV characters were apparently killed and later turned up alive, but most stayed dead. And the death of a series character (Colonel Blake on M*A*S*H, Detective Simone on NYPD Blue, Lt. Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation) was "real" to the audience in the sense that that character would no longer appear on the series.

With the constant deaths and resurrections in comics, though, there is no emotional impact. It is not a logical outcome of the story, it's just a publicity stunt that will soon be undone when they press the "reset" button and start over.

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