Anghus Houvouras on why he couldn’t care less about the upcoming Death of Wolverine…
When I first start reading comic books, the idea of a character dying seemed so epic. Our superheroes always seemed immortal. The idea that one of them or their supporting cast could cease to exist was a grim reality that had an impact because it was so rarely employed.
The first comic book character to broker heavily in tragedy was Spider-Man. Like other heroes, his inspiration came from the death of a loved one. His Uncle passed along a philosophy of power and responsibility before being murdered due to Peter Parker’s inaction. The character was birthed from misfortune and dealt with the untimely death of a number When Captain Stacy died in the pages of Spider-Man, the victim of collateral damage as Spidey battled a foe, it meant something. It showed that there could be casualties in the fight for truth, justice, and the American way. When Gwen Stacey died, it showed that the being a hero means endangering the ones you love the most. Her death might still be the most significant in the history of the medium. In the same era, you had Jean Grey sacrificing herself to prevent her transformation into the Dark Phoenix who threatened existence itself. In spite of the size and scope of the event, these weren’t ‘event’ comics. They simply happened within the framework of the ongoing series. There wasn’t a special issue to commemorate Jean Grey’s death. It was merely the next issue in the series.
Death in comics were nothing new, but there was a day and age where it lasted. Bucky Barnes, the Swordsman, Jean Grey, Thunderbird, Gwen Stacy, Captain Marvel, The Doom Patrol… they died. Death started to become more frequent in comics in the 1980’s. Crisis on Infinite Earths brought an intergalactic genocide and didn’t just kill characters but eviscerated countless universes. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen had inspired darker comic stories, and death became more widespread. Killing off characters was a technique implemented with far more frequency. Villains like Scourge were employed in the Marvel Universe to take out scores of unused characters. When death began to lose its novelty, they started bringing them back to life. Marvel and DC were rattling old bones and emptying coffins with marked regularity.
The brought them back. They brought them all back. Even Gwen Stacy, which seems like the worst idea in the history of comics. My point is, that death had one mattered in a little in comics. Now it’s practically a joke.
They’ve killed Superman. They killed Captain America. They killed Robin twice. They actually brought back Superman from Earth-2, Alexander Luthor, and Superman Prime ruining one of the greatest comic book endings ever penned. These heroes sacrificed everything to save the universe, and twenty years later they cart them out for a pathetic attempt at stoking nostalgia with the heinous and embarrassing Infinite Crisis.
The simple truth is, death doesn’t matter in comics anymore. Maybe it never did. But now it just feels embarrassing. When I read a story that Marvel or DC is going to kill one of their characters, I just cringe. Do people really fall for this stuff? Our newest victim is Wolverine.
Wolverine is a character who i think works in small doses, and yet he’s been in a dozen different titles ever since he catapulted into popularity in the X-Men books in the 1980’s. He’s an X-Man, he’s an Avenger, he’s in X-Force, and he has a whole bunch of rapidly multiplying solo titles. The character has been overused and over saturated for a decade. Once a character becomes criminally overused, the only way to reset their narrative is to have them die and wait for their inevitable resurrection.
This model pains me. The comic industry has not only made character deaths pointless, they still use it as a major marketing point. Wolverine’s death is supposed to be an event. The contrived events that have left him in a vulnerable state were ludicrously staged through the time travelling shenanigans of the utterly awful Age of Ultron. Marvel’s event comics seem to exist solely to set up other event comics. The regular series doesn’t even seem to factor into the major events of their fictional existence.
So Wolverine will die. The series will sell a bunch of issues. Ancillary titles will benefit from stories mourning the loss of everyone’s favorite Canadian killing machine. For some, there will be a void I suppose. Those who miss the character in the sixteen monthly books he regularly appears in. Then, one day down the road, he’ll be coming back. It might be a year, or two. He’ll most assuredly be coming back before X-Men: Apocalypse hits theaters. Marvel and Disney will never let a cross-promotion opportunity like that get away.
All this sound and fury for a death will last a little less than 24 months.
I realize that comic books are fiction and this endless cycle of ‘live, die, revive’ is woven into the medium. But it’s becoming far more frequent and far less original. Are there any new tricks in mainstream comics, or are we going to just repeat this cycle again and again?
R.I.P. Wolverine. See you when you get back.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.