Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Can't Any Hero Stay Dead?

Death in the comic book world is a revolving door. Eventually all characters end up stagnating, or if they experience and any significant character development and changes those changes eventually get removed or wiped out. Death in comics has been used often as a way of generating interest in the hopes of increasing sales. In the old days those particular comics would become more valuable and collectors would want them because they chronicled significant events. The problem is that you kill off enough characters and suddenly there aren't any toys left to play with. This was particularly the case with villains. You standard villain would get defeated and often "appear" to die, only to pop back up a year or so later with some whacked out explanation of why they really didn't die.

With the heroes though a death has seemed to carry more weight. Because if a hero dies usually it's involving some heroic sacrifice saving others, and the more lives saved the bigger the sacrifice. So having heroes return after a death typically cheapens the story where the death occurred. As such hero deaths were more permanent. This even allowed the companies to create legacy heroes that would take up the name of the fallen hero, so that way the hero remains active (which means the parent company maintains the trademark) and it honors the fallen hero. These days though more and more of the hero deaths are simply being overturned.

Joss Whedon a couple years ago brought back Colossus (he had sacrificed himself to save all mutants from a deadly virus, although when he came back no real explanation was given of how he had survived). Green Lantern went nuts and killed millions before eventually being killed by Green Arrow. This was done because sales on Lantern's comic were tanking and this was a way to bring in a new guy to be Green Lantern. Recently they brought Lantern back through some crazy explanation of he had been possessed (and to make it fair they had the new guy get possessed and go on a killing spree also, sort of a we can't have the newer guy look better than the original). Green Arrow died and came back. So did Superman. Supergirl died and was erased from the universe back in the 80s only to come back about three or four years ago. Basically these days there's the feeling that no story has any lasting repercussions.

That said, there were some characters that were deemed untouchable when it came to being dead. In Spider-Man's world that was Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin. In Batman's world it was Jason Todd (the replacement Robin that DC had a 900 phone in vote to kill off back in the 80s). For Captain America it was his sidekick Bucky who had been blown up (in the 40s) by saving Cap and preventing the German's from launching a missile destined for America. Of those Green Goblin came back about ten years ago and recently Bucky has come back and so has Jason Todd. So I don't know why I'm surprised to learn that they're now bringing back Barry Allen (he's the Flash in case you didn't know) who died 23 years ago sacrificing himself to save the entire universe (no small feat). At this point I don't think there's any hero dead that hasn't come back. It's impressive that they've managed to created a world in which death has no lasting consequences and is simply something that affects people like the common cold. "Hey Lobsterman, I haven't seen you in a couple years, what you been up to?" "I was dead, but I got better."

The only good thing about this is the fact that the current rumors have my favorite green superhero J'onn J'onzz (a.k.a. Martian Manhunter) getting killed in DC's new mega series Final Crisis. With the way things are currently running this probably means that in another year or two he'll be back in some way shape or form.

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