Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Editor's Note: Today, guest columnist Matt Linkous returns with some thoughts to add to our What Kills a Hero series. - Jim

Most fans of iconic superheroes tend to feel that there's nothing wrong with any of their favorite characters that some solid writing, dilligent editorial guidance, and dynamic art couldn't fix. Even though some of these characters are long-lived, they're not necessarily tired or "old hat" because of that. When creators hired to work with them do their jobs right, these characters can be awesome. Of course, that means it feels like a slap in the face when your favorite hero or heroine gets bumped off in some big, bloated event.

Then make way for the arrival of the new character bearing the old one's name. There's always a storm of controversy, but also a sense of excitement. Eventually, the new hero matures and grows into his or her new role. The new character is typically around just long enough for a generation of readers to grow attached to him or her as "their" part of a hero's legacy. Given time, even old fans of classic versions of a character may begin to accept the new guy, even if there may be lingering resentment of the stunt that wrote their old favorite out.

Lately, though, the Big Two have proven that while they may introduce new characters, they won't stick with them. Eventually, the new guy is going to be killed off or simply demoted so the old hero can come back. Events like this leave the new hero's fans out in the cold. They were promised a brave new world and loyally supported the new character in fandom and with their wallets.

The old hero's return usually isn't everything it's cracked up to be, either. Bringing an old hero back always seems to demand a ridiculous drawn-out story involving deaths, an improbable return, and maybe an imposter running around. The resurrection story then becomes part of that character's history and backstory, ultimately changing the character.

While it can be fun to see superheroes cheat death, it's happening so many times in the Big Two that it saps the drama and tension out of future encounters. Both companies have even had characters on the page acknowledge death as little more than a revolving door in their universe, which just hangs a huge lampshade on how cheap death in comics has really become. It makes the characters themselves often sound more like posters on a message board than actual superheroes for whom these fantastic situations are reality, not genre rules.

How many times have fans been though deathjerks just in the past 20 years of modern comicbooks? Barry to Wally and back again, Hal to John to Hal to Kyle and back again, Peter to Ben Reilly and back again, Bruce to Azarel to Bruce to Dick Grayson and back again, Steve to Bucky and back again... and that's just for starters. Even B and C-List characters like Blue Beetle and Firestorm have been put through the deathjerk cycle, sometimes many times in the space of just a few years. Sometimes deathjerks create an uncomfortable situation where a non-white or non-male successor to a hero's name has to be bumped off to pave the way for the return of the original (white, male) version.

That's a whole other blog post, but whether intentionally or not, these stories are often ugly and unnecessary.

- Matt


Trey said...

I think deaths might actually be handled better if there was more in world aknowledgement by characters that thy're world operated on different rules than ours. If the worlds aren't even close to realistic in terms of the permanency of death, characters should realisitcally react to it quite differently than people in our world--yet they usually don't.

nude0007 said...

I long ago thought they should just make almost all superheroes immortal and un-aging. Then when one got seriously wounded we would know they were coming back sooner or later. A replacement could be used sometimes, if the heroes presence was considered a deterrent to crime, usually by having a few friends don their costume for a short time, taking turns with other heroes and logging reports on their adventures. The problem with this is that the comics companies would never do it as they have become obsessed with huge, universe shattering events and multi-part stories just made to be turned into a graphic novel. The idea of writing stories that are interesting without being earth shattering or life-altering. Stories that show our hero is smart, ingenious, inventive, moral, kind, or caring never even get considered. The implications of people dying and coming back are not even considered in almost any way. The characters often don't even give it a second thought unless it is about their mission or purpose. What bs!
Eloquent comments Matt.


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