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Thursday, October 16, 2014 

Even Marvel doesn't think we've seen the last of Logan

The UK Guardian wrote about the Death of Wolverine tale that's been published only for publicity's sake, and says even Marvel's staff doesn't think this is his last gasp. Well no wonder: if Sabretooth is still around, then it only figures Wolverine will return to battle him some more. Hey, those two were made for each other! The article says:
Wolverine’s death is distinguished by two things. The first is how poorly it’s been handled. The Death of Wolverine mini-series, which concluded today, is a salad of references to Logan’s past (Madripoor! Kitty Pryde! Ogun! Lady Deathstrike! Weapon X’s Doctor Cornelius!) masquerading as character development. It reveals little about Wolverine’s heroic qualities and adds less to them: the tasks a superhero death tale needs to accomplish.

The second is more intriguing.

Usually when Marvel or DC Comics kill off their characters, they do so with a promise that this time they really, really mean it, and the hero will not return. The promise is empty, and readers know it, but still the performance persists, since the publisher can’t undermine its allegedly epic event.

This time Marvel nodded to the emptiness of the promise. The bonus material included in the first Death of Wolverine includes an interview with Len Wein, the character’s creator and a former Marvel editor-in-chief. “Let’s be honest – he’s not staying away,” observed Wein. “He’s the most lucrative character Marvel has these days. There’s no way a major corporation is going to decide, ‘You know, let’s knock off the guy who makes us the most money.’”

Wein’s interviewer replies that for readers, the gap in the comics world created by a character’s temporary absence is “half the fun sometimes”. Snakt.
Not any longer, I'm afraid. In fact, it was getting old decades ago. And this may not be the first time they've admitted it's ridiculous to think a popular superhero could be out of the picture for long. Supporting "civilian" cast members, on the other hand, they're the easy targets for extinction no matter how bad the writing, as evidenced by Karen Page's execution in 1998 at the hands of Bullseye in Kevin Smith's take on Daredevil, and Moira MacTaggart's in X-Men around the same time. And let's not forget what DC did with Sue Dibny and Jean Loring in and after Identity Crisis.

The Guardian goes on to list the most memorable deaths in comics, like the original death of Jean Grey and that of the Silver Age Flash, but there's also some examples that are simply awful, like that of the modern Superboy:
Superman’s death was gimmicky. Superboy’s was sublime.

In the inevitable sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, two Superboys fought to the death, each representing an era of comic books. One was the corny Superboy, the one from the 50s and 60s, a teenaged version of Superman. The other was an attempt at shaking the dross off the Superboy franchise: Conner Kent, a clone made from bits of Lex Luthor and Superman. The “original” Superboy, known as Superboy-Prime and coexisting with Conner thanks to a tear in the fabric of reality, was disgusted by the morally ambiguous heroes of the early 00s and went nuts, threatening (of course) all of existence in the process. Conner, previously beaten by Superboy-Prime, ignores his feelings of inadequacy and sacrifices himself. The twist: Conner-Superboy doesn’t even stop Superboy-Prime.
What a load of defeatism. Maybe DC didn't hype the story of Kon-El's momentary death, but the paper's explained perfectly why Infinite Crisis and the nonsense that followed was so awful: because it was laced with negative takes on heroism, and they make it worse by denouncing Superboy as "corny" but never criticizing the writers and editors for not making the stories according to their ideas of what constitutes entertainment. It was little more than a rehash of Zero Hour, where nearly the same plot took place with Hal Jordan and the denigrated Hank Hall, first part of the Hawk & Dove duo.

The story was obviously self-referential without being funny, and nothing more than Geoff Johns and company's excuse for pretending they weren't responsible for bringing superheroes and co-stars down to that low level.

The next example that blows is Death of the New Gods:
It’s a story that’s long and unfairly forgotten. The New Gods were a space opera created by Jack Kirby, the most important American comic book artist/creator, as a weird, baroque and grand meditation on the endless struggle between good and evil. Kirby never got to finish his epic, and in 2007, DC gave the task to Jim Starlin, another legendary creator who excels at big space stories. Starlin set out to extinguish the New Gods, avatars of good and evil both, in a story that suggested divinity itself can be subverted and betrayed.

All that is well and good. But the Death of the New Gods is worth the cover price to see one of them, the effervescent Mister Miracle, plunged into irredeemable despair over the loss of his beloved wife, Big Barda. While the Justice League investigates their home and plots next steps, an inconsolable Mister Miracle has an anguished interior moment of reflection on how lost and alone he is now. (“Never going to hear her voice again. Touch her. See her. Speak to her.”) Readers who have lost a loved one will find it immediately familiar: nothing anyone says matters as much as the magnitude of the loss. Having a god feel the same way is somehow comforting.
Nope, it's not, because despite the name, they were anything but immoral deities, and this is something Starlin did that makes me feel extremely disappointed. Sure, the Death of Captain Marvel from 1982 was done well, but this story from DC was so reeking of editorial mandate for the sake of stunt, far more than Mar-Vell's death ever was, it had no impact, and that's because Infinity Man was apparently responsible for the deaths of the New Gods. In that case, it wasn't natural causes like Mar-Vell's passing was, which only makes it all the more stilted, and extremely disrespectful to the memory of Kirby.

Finally, they cite Jason Todd's original death from 1988:
Finally the Joker won, assisted by the bloodthirsty horde of comic fandom.

Interpretations of Batman differ as to whether the Dark Knight would actually take on a lighthearted teenage boy as a squire, especially since the comics never really brought home how dangerous Batman had made life for Robin. The late-1980s storyline A Death in the Family changed that forever, as a giggling Joker used a tyre iron to beat the second Robin, Jason Todd, to an inch of his life. Right as it seemed like Robin might survive, a bomb blast set by the Joker killed Robin and his long-lost mother. Yet that wasn’t the sick part.

DC Comics ran a strange gimmick: a telephone hotline readers could call to vote for Robin’s fate. Batfans, by a thin but disturbing margin, voted in favour of watching a malevolent clown brutally murder a teenager. Decades later, DC would unravel A Death in the Family and bring Jason Todd back. But retroactive continuity is unable to save comics fandom from its own violent voyeurism.
I'm afraid they may be right here. From all the hints I'd found over the years some people voted multiple times, it's obvious this wasn't even a fair vote, and shouldn't have taken place to start with. Again, if they really, truly had to wipe out Jason, they should've been able to do it on their own, without encouraging compulsive and primal urges in people.

Surely the most bewildering part of Jason's fate was how the Joker smashes him up with a tyre iron, which could've broken his skull and bones, yet he apparently survived that, and his body wasn't exactly blown to pieces by the explosion either. Now I understand what they mean by voyeurism. But did Batman make life dangerous in the worst sense for Robin? No, the scriptwriters did. But given how it was pretty much like that in the Golden Age, I don't see why they think the late-80s was any different.

This too is a story that dampened my admiration for Starlin, who should've known better, but it's so-called fans who make me mad at how they could phone in multiple times to influence DC into veering for sick, twisted "fun", which is what Death in the Family was, in a manner of speaking. And if the Guardian thinks this is something to admire, I must shake my head. Even if Starlin did his best to handle it all with dignity, it doesn't excuse the fact the whole story was stained by the publicity stunt involved, and editors who didn't have what it took to make a decision on their own.

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