Friday, June 24, 2011

What Kills A Hero?

Editor’s Note: Today we have another post from Clayton. This one is on Death in Comics, and as you might imagine, it’s a hard topic to talk about without discussing a few spoilers. Now with so many deaths and resurrections in comics, I’m not sure that it’s possible to spoiler such an event, but just in case that sort of thing bothers you, feel free to skip today’s post. - Jim

If you have a favorite comic message board, you’ve no doubt seen at least one thread about the overuse of death of characters to goose sales. Currently, Ultimate Spider-man is sparking this debate several places. This begs the question: what prompts a company to kill characters so much in this day and age?

True, there is the poor sales angle. If a character is deemed by the powers that be as an unsellable commodity, the logical thing to do is either ignore the character (The Scarlet Spider comes to mind), or to kill them off in one of those “special events” as then the character can become a number in the body count total ( like Pantha in Infinite Crisis, or the Wasp in Civil War).

Others may be killed off for “shock value” or to kick off a certain storyline (like the Ted Kord Blue Beetle from DC, or the Scott Lang Ant Man from Marvel). Originally, this death worked well as a plot device in comic (like when DC killed off the original Mr. Terrific back in JLA 171, the death of Gwen Stacy), but in today's market, the only reaction it gets is a bored yawn. It is just an overused ploy that doesn’t seem to boost either sales or interest anymore. More often than not, the death is now accompanied by some grisly show of violence, like the death of Ares at the hands of the Sentry in Marvel's Siege.

But heroes return from fictional death all the time, so we can take some solace in the idea that in comics death isn’t permanent. But does that really mean a hero can’t be killed? Can other things kill a character? I have seen many heroes and villains die long before their “comic book death.” Most of them have fallen prey to wasted potential or bad editorial decisions.

Next week, Jim and I will examine a few examples where characters have truly been killed.

Have a great weekend!


JP Cote said...

'Tired' and "Overused' are two perfect adjectives for death in comics these days (man, when did I get old?). 'Ineffectual' could be another because what does death mean anymore in comics? But it goes hand-in-hand with the escalated level of violence in a number of comics now. It all leads back to a huge lack of creative writing that dominates the pic-o-dramas. The visuals are often stunning with the fantastic art but the stories? It eerily reminds me a bit of the Liberian warlord General Butt Naked and how he would use action hero movies to show his children soldiers how an actor killed in one movie would be alive in the next movie. This was his example of 'resurrection' or 'rebirth' that would happen to them if they died in battle. A little deep maybe but there are some unintentional parallels.

MattComix said...

Cheap. Stupid. ..and creatively bankrupt. That's death in comics.

Death has become little more than a sales fluffer, editorial convenience (because go forbid you just put the character on a bus or write them out with dignity) and a way for the companies to try and make themselves look "edgy" as if they actually still existed in an era where comics hadn't already gotten to the grimdark bloody death-well a billion and 1 times since Gwen Stacy and Jean Grey.

Uncle Ben will come back and kill everyone in a 331 part crossover event under auspices of bringing the heroes into "today's world" Because the only thing modern comics loves more than gratuitous death to goose sales, is pretentious plays at heavy-handed political commentary drowning these colorful characters in "shades of grey" meant to make the medium seem "sophisticated".

These guys complain that they don't want to be able to break rules and not be custodians, yet insist on working with characters who existed before they were even born. They act like Sid from Toy Story mutilating his action figures or tying firecrackers to their butts just to watch them explode.

The industry need a lot less Sid's and a lot more Andy's.

GACN said...

Did Gene Colan ever work on any version of Spider-Man?


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