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Tuesday, May 01, 2018 

How death in comics should or shouldn't be done

Comics Verse has offered up an argument for how death should or shouldn't be handled in superhero comics, and wisely acknowledged that Identity Crisis was a serious abomination that harmed morale and integrity for the DCU. However, there are flaws accompanying the more positive parts too. First of all:
My oh my, when it comes to death in comics, we are a bloodthirsty bunch, aren’t we?

Scan message boards and social media before and during a big crossover event or an important single title arc. You will not doubt bear witness to those crying out for murder! “The Three Characters I Think Will Die in CRISIS ON A PLETHORA OF EARTHS.” “Who Do You Think Will Die in HIDDEN CONFLICT?” Or most dark and disconcerting, “Who I Think Should Die In MUTANTS MUTANTS EVERYWHERE!”

To be fair, though, it is not just fans. Writers, artists, and editors consistently seek to sell us the next big thing by promising death. Back when IDENTITY CRISIS came out, I can remember Brad Meltzer mentioning one anecdote over and over. In a multitude of interviews, he recalled how DC handed him a list of characters he could feel free to kill in his story.

Granted, it was a murder mystery. However, he was not the last person to relay such a tale. Time and again, the head writer on a big storyline mentions something similar. It rarely is presented as “this character’s death was necessary.” Instead it’s more like, “You’ll never believe who, or how many, they let me kill!” The deaths are rarely inciting events or climaxes; they are just there for color.
First, they're correct that the deaths are handled more in the ways of a celebration, and that's disgusting. However, I must disagree the story was a "mystery", because Meltzer and Morales slipped red lettering into the word balloon where Jean Loring was ambushed. A scene whose setup with somebody binding and hanging her was ignored and contradicted at the end to boot, and it goes without saying that putting in such a gimmick makes the "mystery" fall apart as a result, because in multiple re-readings, you definitely know who the "culprit" is, or, more specifically, who the story forcibly frames at the end when it should've been obvious Jean's not the culprit. Either way, to turn her or any other decently written co-star into a monster would be offensive any time.

I have no doubt there's a certain segment of, shall we say, pseudo-fandom out there giving fandom a bad name by embracing barbarism, and that doesn't help comicdom's reputation at all. Worst: much of that very pseudo-fandom now comprises a lot of the contributors to mainstream comics, and they don't belong.
Now, it seems like big stories and promised carnage go together like steak and eggs. It has even bled over into adaptations of comics. One of the most common complaints about the MCU is that not enough characters have been killed.

I’ve grown tired of it. It is a bizarre “cart-before-the-horse” approach to event writing. It is a dumb, simplistic way to establish stakes.
I got fed up with it long ago. That was probably the thinking behind the initial decision to kill off the first Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, in 1983 at the end of the original solo book's 5-year run, which Ann Nocenti, in one of her early writing efforts, etched out and she later regretted it, and fandom panned it. Fortunately, common sense prevailed at the time, and Mark Gruenwald, who oversaw some of those projects, had Jessica's fate reversed several months later in the Avengers. But what if it had been co-star Lindsey McCabe, who together with Jessica, later made several appearances in Wolverine's first ongoing solo? I've got a sad feeling they'd force it to stand no matter how tasteless, and it makes little difference how you look at such a scenario - it not only wouldn't help in the long run, but to deny the right to resurrection for a civilian co-star would only make them look uncreative and cowardly. Resurrection is part and parcel of science-fantasy, even for the simplest "civilian", and if they're worried about "looking unserious" by performing resurrections, it'll be the ONLY thing they're worried about. All they have to do is avoid mixing in subjects from real life, and then they'll be able to work it out well enough.

Now here's where the article takes a turn into the clumsy:
A story does not have to be a murder mystery to feature a comic death, though. Looking way back to FINAL NIGHT, someone needed to restart the sun. DC also felt like it needed to redeem Hal Jordan to get out from underneath H.E.A.T.’s relentless “bring back Hal, Kyle sucks” nonsense. These two elements together led to a heroic sacrifice for Jordan. It was a convenient solution to some existing problems.

It was also an elegant and logical one. Jordan, in becoming Parallax, had become obsessed with fixing things. He started by trying to “fix” the decimated Coast City. Next came ZERO HOUR and his desire to remake the timeline “right.” Jordan sacrificing himself to reignite the sun reflected his state of mind and mission at the time AND redeemed him.
Well I'm sorry to say, but because Hal was depicted murdering busloads of GLs in Emerald Twilight (which they don't mention there), that's why they didn't redeem or exonerate him. If they could've found a way to show it was an actual villain responsible - maybe a character in disguise - that might've worked. But in the end, the best thing to do would be to de-canonize the whole catastrophe and refocus on Hal Jordan without any of that blasphemy still part of his continuity.
On the other hand, you have the death of Pantha in INFINITE CRISIS. Superboy Prime punches her head off because…? I mean, the reason is to show he’s formidable but, if he had just knocked her out, it would prove the same. Pantha and Superboy share no significant connection. She had not been presented as an important figure at any point during INFINITE CRISIS up until that point. She existed just to be a prop being thrown at Prime so CRISIS could have a body count.
Okay, at least here, they've got something going. If memory serves, Infinite Crisis was also the crossover miniseries where Deathstroke murdered Phantom Lady from the Freedom Fighers, and I don't think I have to point out this made him into a murderer, as though it weren't bad enough he'd had an inappropriate statutory affair with Terra in the New Teen Titans, no matter how consenting the teen psycho was. Let's also recall Geoff Johns was one of the prime engineers of that loathsome crossover miniseries that just went on a whole killing binge for the sake of shock value. As of now, I have no idea if the deaths of Pantha and Phantom Lady were actually reversed. Presumably, they were, but if they're still abandoned in the Land of Forgotten, then DiDio's worthless gathering of untalented writers haven't done much to redeem themselves.
Killing a character with nothing left that no one cares about is empty violence. Killing a character who still has vibrancy carries disappointment with it. I don’t think comics should be consistent bummer factories, of course. But if you are setting out to end a character’s life, a little bit of bummer-ness is called for.
Better still, why not work hard at figuring out how to make people care about a character from a dramatic development and interaction perspective? If anything, the whole notion a minor character whom nobody cares about takes up too much room in a vast universe is just plain stupid. If you don't have a use for them, just quietly drop them from use and let them fade into obscurity. There's no need to go miles out of your way to emphasize death and rape just to get the audience's attention, because in the end, they won't appreciate your tactics and that's but one reason why their early examples of SJW-pandering (the Asian Atom, Black Firestorm, Latino Blue Beetle and female Manhunter) were more or less failures, no matter how hard even the apologists pretend otherwise.

They also make a good case here that deaths should be kept rare:
The more often characters die in comics, the less it means. Killing two characters in a year is bound to get you more dramatic fallout than killing two dozen. It just stands to reason. The more you utilize any storytelling trope in a short period of time, the less effective it becomes.

The same can be said within a story arc as well. A massacre, with some inevitable exceptions, is more likely to give a reader heavy eyelids than it is to get their hearts racing.
That's another good point. But better still, why waste time emphasizing even so much as 2 character deaths in a year? That's still way too much, and trashes the more challenging idea of working on character drama.
When Jason Todd died, Batman grew increasingly violent and erratic. Hal Jordan’s sacrifice in FINAL NIGHT led to his redemption in the eyes of many heroes.
You know, if that's happened with Batman over the years, it was a huge mistake. As for Hal, the story may have done that, but do we as the audience have to find it plausible? No, and it wasn't anyway.
Not to pick on Cyclops again, but old Slim has experienced a similar indifference to his return. His is less a case of “why did you bring him back?” though. Instead, people are more wondering, “Why bring him back without fixing what was wrong with him before he left?” Fans did/do want Cyclops to be alive again, but they are done with Summers as the new Magneto. Readers have yet to embrace his resurrection because he’s not a character to reinvest in, from their perspective.
If Cyke's still guilty in the current Marvel canon of murdering Xavier, that's the bad news. But that's why the whole story from Avengers vs. X-Men a few years ago should be stricken from continuity altogether. It's no better than turning Jean Grey into a killer of millions of Shi'ar, and in fact, it can practically raise valid questions why nobody may have complained when Jean became a slayer in 1980, but when Cyke kills just one, people suddenly have a problem. The same can apply the other way around too - why is it bad when Hal Jordan becomes a mass killer of GL Corps members, but when Jean Loring supposedly kills just one, the apologists for Identity Crisis are perfectly okay? (Similarly, why are they okay with Sue Dibny being killed, and later raped in flashback, without any female persepctive and the script's minimization of serious issues? If they think it's entirely acceptable to write up a story that's practically offensive to rape victims, it only demonstrates their immorality).

Interestingly, look what other character was a victim in Civil War:
That’s not to say women can never die in comics, or that minority characters can never be victims. It’s just that creators have to be thoughtful about it. There is no reason Black Goliath needed to be the one who died in CIVIL WAR at the cyborg clone Thor’s hands. There just isn’t. If someone needed to die to prove how dangerous the character who would eventually be called Ragnarok was, there were any number of characters who could have done so. A little-seen African American hero is a bad choice. It violates this rule and, in practice, also violates my rules #2 and 4.Thus, any dividends the death might have played were derailed by the politics of it immediately and kept off the tracks by other creators never making the death matter in the universe.
This proves even racial minorities aren't immune to cheap, sensationalized deaths. But, do you see SJWs complaining? Not at all, because that's not their true agenda. Bill Foster could've fallen victim to this just a year or two ago and they still wouldn't care, because truly, they don't care about racial minority characters so much as they do care about undermining story merit and integrity for superhero worlds.

In the end, what matters is that cheap stunt deaths have got to stop, and any character who was abused to this end should have his/her fate reversed, and writers/editors shouldn't worry about "cheapening" a story that was already pathetically cheap to begin with. And the audience shouldn't complain either, because it doesn't help to allow bad scribes to get away with bad stories that won't improve the superhero tales long-term and embarrass them in retrospect, and also because resurrection is part and parcel of science-fiction. Similarly, turning goodies into baddies for shock's sake has got to stop as well, and any done in the past have to be reversed as well, because they're no more helpful than shock value deaths. They also destroy creativity, and that's not something superhero comics should have to be known for.

In fact, DC and Marvel shouldn't have to be corporate-owned any more, because it's clear at this point it's doing them more harm than good, as no accountability's being made for mistakes made with the products. If the publishing arms are ever bought by smaller, more responsible ownerships, that could work out for the better. Let the corporations keep the movie and toy merchandise rights if they want, but let the comics themselves be taken care of other sources with better understanding of business.

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