Anghus Houvouras on the perpetual resurrection of comic book characters…
Death. It’s a constant in the world of comic books. Something employed by Marvel and DC with marked regularity. A creative crutch that’s as synonymous to the medium as cliffhanger endings and over sexualized females in barely there costumes.
It’s such a tired, meaningless cliché. Characters are killed off and brought back with such frequency that I think Marvel and DC should be banned from using the word dead simply because we all know that it’s not going to last. Death is a well which never seems to empty. One that comic companies are pleased as punch to dangle like a carrot when trying to hype whatever event comic they’re peddling this month.
Take the excruciating, drawn out Secret Wars event from Marvel that concludes this week. There’s been a death teased by Marvel that will supposedly have a lasting impact. (Here’s a hint: It’s Reed Richards). I feel ill prepared to lecture anyone on grammar, however I’m pretty sure death doesn’t mean ‘temporarily removing a character to restore relevance and/or create a sales spike.
At least in the Golden Age & Silver Age dead characters had to decency to stay dead for an appropriate length of time. Bucky Barnes was dead for decades before they decided to dust off his corpse for the Winter Soldier storyline. Jason Todd’s brutal death was creating angst for Batman for a good 20 years before the Red Hood showed up.
Let’s talk about that for a second.
In terms of superhero logic, why on earth would you adopt the mantle of the guy who murdered you? Yes, I realize the Red Hood was the Joker’s nom de plume before he took a toxic bath and embraced his role as the crown prince of crime. Still, adopting the identity of the guy who beat you to death with a crowbar feels a little creepy. It would be like JFK surviving his assassination attempt and then asking everyone to call him Lee Harvey Oswald. Or he survived the attempt on his life, decided to become a masked crimefighter and decided to call himself ‘The Grassy Knoll’.
Still, Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd had time on their side. There was a lasting impact because they remained in the ground long enough to take on a certain level of permanence. At least as much as you can get in the world of comic books.
Death has become irrelevant in comic books not just because they don’t stay dead, but because they don’t stay dead for any relevant length of time. Wolverine was gone for a fortnight before Old Wolverine was teased to be joining the Marvel Universe like a can of New Coke instantly making audiences thirsty for the original.
I think Marvel and DC need to come up with a new word when they decide they’re going to ‘kill’ a character. Because the word isn’t dead. Death is finite. Comic Book deaths are anything but. My friend James Garcia suggested ‘benching’, which feels apt. Instead of bullshitting comic fans about a character being dead, you just admit that you’re benching the character for a while until people become interested again. Benched, Sidelined, putting the character on the I.R. (Injured Reserved). Any of those would be more appropriate than ‘dead’.
Then again ‘The benching of Wolverine’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it now, does it.
So no matter who ‘dies’ this week in Secret Wars #9, it matters not. No doubt Reed Richards (or whoever gets benched) will be back after a painfully brief amount of time and the perpetual resurrection cycle of our favorite comic book characters will continue.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker and the co-host of Across the Pondcast. Follow him on Twitter.