Monday, May 06, 2013

Death and Comics – The Week Not in Review

My wife’s grandmother dyed last week; she was 96 years old and has had a good life, so nothing to be sad about per say, but a life to be celebrated. My mother died last February. She was 90 and also had a good long life. Also my dog died November 2011 and she was cheated the most as she only had 7 plus years. Big dogs die young as a rule.

My Mom
I personally believe in Einstein that energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another. So I like to think their energy still inhabits the universe and for the record, that about as close to being religious as I will ever come. So why am I being such a Debby Downer on a comic book blog; well this is a filler post in some ways.

Due to Helen’s (my grandmother in law) funeral there is no way I will be reading any comics this week and/or having enough time to do a week in review. We are down to 4 core writers so getting coverage in short order is tough thing for us to do. I’ll let them cover up Tuesday, but while contemplating death I figured out something about death and comics. Not a grand revelation or a epiphany, yet is a thought that struck me about comics in general.

Comics are missing the boat because the cape and cowl set don’t ever deal with death. Death is part of the life cycle. If we lived forever how different would we act? Would progress grind to a halt because we are happy with what we have? Would ambition be gone or would it be in hyper-drive? Would we have marriages? Would days seem like grains of sand or a beach, each singe day is just a thing and nothing to be treasured?

Kiki - Our big dog (she was 165 pounds)
Death defines us by giving us an endpoint. It also makes each us re-evaluate our life in some manner when someone close dies. We learn to value people more because we know we can’t have them forever. We make choices in our lives because of their finite nature. Comics miss everything about death and as such they diminish the books and fail to serve their readers.

I used to say that everything I have learned and worth learning I learned from comic books. My above average knowledge of all sorts of subjects, much of my vocabulary, my sense of justice, my sense of right and wrong all solidified or comes from comic book reading. The idea that sometimes doing the right thing can cost you personally, but you still should try and do it.  All of these came from my reading of comic books. Hell I will pull some fact of left field on a subject and my wife will ask how the hell did you know that and at least 75% of the time, the answer is a comic book.

Is is three or four new Supergirls since this?
Yet with all they have taught me, they never showed me what it is like to have to truly deal with death. In fact they have trivialized it so much then the death of Johnny Storm was never of a question of whether he was dead, it was a question of when he was coming back. Since the companies refuse to age their characters and have the next generation take over as Green Arrow, Batman, Iron Man, Captain America or whomever we know death is something which does not exist in the spandex set. It destroys the value of the characters because they will last forever and the story that was just told has no meaning because the next writer is free to re-write anything they want about the character. Flash is a great example, his death to save the Universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths resonated with me. As Wally took over being the Flash it was great to watch him grow into the role. It was when Mark Waid starting writing the book Wally started to actually become the Flash in more then name. In “The Return of Barry Allen” storyline we had a gut wrenching story as we wondered if Barry was coming back or not. Barry was still dead at the end of the story. When that was wiped away all of the richness of the Flash legacy was destroyed. Today’s version is a 2D character next to the 3D character of Wally.

Death defined Wally, it allowed for growth in a character, it did wipe away Barry’s history, yet it still gave is a clean slate on what to build. Life and death are the alpha and omega and comics only tell the tale of the Alpha.

So now it has because such a standard in telling comic book stories that when the Angel was killed, he was resurrection in the same issue he died in. The writer remarked something alone the lines of why not, he was coming back someday anyway. Death has no impact and the characters have no endpoints and therefore something is less in the dramatic structure of the stories. The ability to make something seem alive and new is ripped of its true vitality if death is not a part of the equation. Immortality is not our world and something we cannot relate to or understand. It is an important way that creates a distance and inability for us to be able to relate to the characters.

I always told my children, you can’t be smart without stupid people. The characters can’t feel truly alive without death.

Hopefully next week we will be back to normal.


  1. John Byrne did a great job handling death in his Generation series. Sure he had immortality too, but when a character really died, it was gut-wrenching and there were long lasting repercussions. The problem with some comic deaths is that they are often meaningless in terms of the purpose (sales gimmick or can't think of a decent story). Ronnie Raymond should never have "died" or been turned into a drunk. Jason was a good replacement for Firestorm, but when you throw away a character with potential, then someone is bound to come back and want to reuse them. Barry's death and Kara's had real meaning and significance.

    In some ways comics have been rife with death. Whole universes disappear in a blink of an event and all that came before comes rushing to a "dead" end. It doesn't matter if they're reanimated in another universe or update, what was before is still gone. I don't really like change, but I can see the need for it sometimes. Still, I don't want to see Bruce die prematurely. Then all his struggles are for naught -- Although, if you do keep the death real, then you get the nice Flash legacy and influence. I wouldn't be who I am today if my father had lived to rear me as a child.

    I love Spider-Girl in that we got to see the continuing story of married Peter and MJ. There was legacy in that book too. But when it was finally cancelled (hiatus), they didn't kill her. We just stop the story and leave the potential for more.

    I think these types of posts are always appropriate, Jim. We're comic readers who live in the real world and its the real world stuff that strengthens our connections to one another. Ever since Pam and I realized we weren't going to have any more children, I've been really feeling my mortality. I hope I have decades left, but chances are I'm over the half-way point. I want to cherish the fleeting things of life (like making Batman masks with my son) and re-prioritize things that don't really matter in the grand scheme. I'm glad I have an assured hope of a continued existence, which gives me purpose day in and day out. There IS more than just this life and that's good, because this life is very short.

  2. You are right, Matthew, death is rampant in comics, just nothing that means anything to the characters for the most part. And having limited time does force one to prioritize. Much of what you said reinforces why I wish the cape and cowl set addressed death and made it "real" for the characters as it adds more depth and truth to the characters.