Most of my comic reading experience until recently has been in minor lines—Star Trek, Star Wars, The Transformers, G.I. Joe—compared to the overlapping and overwhelming worlds of DC and Marvel’s comic characters over the last 50 (and more) years. For all their fan-filled fantastic stories, those same lines involved people at war in some capacity: battles raging throughout issues with deadly consequences. And, the one important thing that drew them all together was that—with the very rare exception of a few—when a character was killed off, said character stayed dead in a most un-alive fashion. But, that appears to be a rare case within the DC and Marvel worlds.
Even though I had not experienced some of the major events when they first came out—the Marvel Civil War, Marvel’s Secret Invasion, DC’s Batman R.I.P., etc,—one of the scenes I did witness within a month of the issue’s release was the death of Ultimate Spider-Man (Peter Parker). This rocked my world a bit, as I’ve fast became a large Spider-Man fan (especially the Ultimate incarnation), but what hit me most was the Ultimate Fallout issues following his death, in which it’s shown that he’s truly not returning. Normally, I wouldn’t even think that such a thing would be an issue, but I’ve discovered that within DC and Marvel, the death of a hero is not necessarily the end-all to their existence.
Around the same time, I started reading FF, also known as Future Foundation, the Fantastic Four comic title following the death of The Human Torch (Johnny Storm), mainly because of Spider-Man’s involvement on the team. Relatively soon thereafter, Johnny comes back to life and rejoins the team; not exactly a bad development, but not a good one, either. While Johnny’s return has allowed a great hero—and lovable character—to return to existence once more, it brings forth the annoyance that I have concerning this type of situation.
The death of the Torch—just like the death of Captain America, or the death of Batman for DC—was a huge event in the Fantastic Four titles and Marvel’s comic world. They were planned out extensively, they were tested and bounced around their respective creative teams’ brainstorming sessions, and they had huge impacts on the fans. As a fan of Johnny Storm and Bruce Wayne, I was shocked to learn about their deaths, and in such a way that made it seem as though it was going to be permanent—but then it was turned around on me, and I had to deal with the fact that they were alive, again, despite the overwhelming odds.
These planned out and executed death storylines go for shock value, to have fans riveted to the pages of their issues to find out just what happened, and how. But, if you take away the finality of the end-result—the characters’ deaths—then the shock value loses its desired function. Characters will die so much that it comes to the point where fans will go, “Oh, they’ll just bring them back a few months later,” which happens all too often.
An example: in an issue of Secret Avengers, during the Fear Itself company-wide event, Black Widow goes to a newspaper to tell them to not print the story that Bucky Barnes (then known as Captain America) is alive instead of dead. One of the newspaper employees goes on a tirade about how too often heroes have been known to be dead only to come back to life a little later, and that the chances were great that Barnes was still alive. This, good readers, is what I like to call Marvel poking fun at themselves, because it is exactly the situation I am describing: no one stays dead.
It’s not that I want characters to die and never come back—on the contrary, I drastically wish that Ultimate Peter Parker would come back to life, despite the fact that Miles Morales is doing a superb job of taking on the role with the guidance of Spider-Woman. But, people read comics because they enjoy the characters and the settings that take place; they identify in some fashion, even empathize, with the characters portrayed in the storylines. In some cases, people come to enjoy comic book characters the same way people enjoy book characters; delving into their lives, becoming attached to them, liking—or hating—them with an intense passion that one would normally only feel for another human being. Death in a fictional world, like the real one, needs to feel like it gives a great measure of cost and finality, with consequences and fallout that brings about new experiences, decisions, and paths.
Think of it this way: if you’ve read the Harry Potter series and enjoyed it as much as I have, then there were times when the death of a character just ripped at your very being. My heart wept for certain characters, as though a part of me had died as well. This is the way I am with a lot of series that I get emotionally invested with; the death of a major character, especially one I can relate to, hits me hard—if done right. There’s no coming back for that character, and as a person, I have to move on and explore the rest of the story in the wake of that literary tragedy. But, in mainstream comics, that sense of loss isn’t present, and I find that rather sad and lacking devotion to proper character and plot development.
So, to any comic creators out there—especially within the major companies—please consider the impact a death of one of your characters has on the fans...and then consider just how much of an impact that character’s return has. Don’t follow the way of the established, strike out and show that even major characters can die. After all, if Fred Weasley and Albus Dumbledore can die in the Harry Potter series, and Mara Jade, Jacen & Anakin Solo, and Chewbacca can die in Star Wars titles, then surely so can Captain America and the Human Torch.