Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Hot New Comic Book Fad: A Character Death That Stays DEAD

Sean Kleefeld's latest post talks about comic book "events" -- and focuses particularly on the oft-used phrase -- "AND NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!"

One passage in particular caught my eye:

"Let me ask you this: how many of you really believe that we'll never see Steve
Rogers in the Captain America uniform again? You're being lied to. "

Are we ever going to see a death that matters in comic books again?

I had lunch a few weeks back with a friend who echoed the same sentiment, adding that the only character death that has effected her recently was that of David in Strangers In Paradise. Of course, SIP was not a superhero comic, and there was much less possibility of David turning out to be a Skrull, or brought back when angry Katchoo punched a hole into time.

But, if Comics really wants to wow the crowd & shake their readership out of their cynicism, might I suggest a truly shocking, world-shaking gimmick -- a death that stays dead.

Of course, nobody would believe DC or Marvel if they announced they were actually killing a character off (permanent-like), so Dan Didio or Joe Quesada swearing on a stack of Bibles would possibly have to be involved. However, I firmly believe that truly killing off a character and sticking with it, even months or years into the future, might be the hot new comic book gimmick to get the readers talking.

The cover blurb might read: "THIS ISSUE, SOMEONE DIES -- AND STAYS DEAD!"


  1. I sure hope Steve is coming back, I miss him.

  2. I thought the reasons for bringing characters back from the dead were related to copyright. Something like, "We can't let such and such character go into public domain or be sold to another company, because we're still using such and such character."

    So when I see characters come back from the dead, all I think of is money.

  3. But wouldn't non-continuity books satisfy the copyright requirements? Or, as irritating as they can be, issues with time travel or flashbacks?

    Just sayin'.

  4. The copyright issue isn't quite what publishers would have you believe. For the characters to fall into public domain, they would have to be unpublished for long enough to establish the company gave up its copyright. Copyright seems to be used as a friendlier excuse for bringing a character back than "people buy books with this character."

    I'm too jaded on superheroes to comment on superhero deaths.

  5. Joe Q already tried what you are proposing with his "dead means dead" policy. But as he learned, it doesn't work.

    When characters belong to an author, he/she is the sole arbiter of what is "right" to do with them, and you can be reasonably sure it isn't going to be undone in a way that cheapens the work.

    But in a shared universe, the people in charge of the characters are constantly shifting, so the decisions they make about the characters can't be inherently "right". The stories have to be compared against the quality of other stories, and some deaths are really poorly written or just a waste of a good character. If one writer kills off a great character in a crappy story, should another writer with great story ideas for that character be blocked forever?

  6. I may be off on this, but isn't Barry Allen dead? Still?

    I mean, I know he's "sort of" still around in the speed force or whatever the hell that is. But, I find one of the most endearing (and sad) elements of that great character is he has stayed dead. I miss him, and he's clearly still dead because Wally is so popular, but he does still seem to be in the "not living/reborn/reanimated" category.

  7. "Of course, SIP was not a superhero comic, and there was much less possibility of David turning out to be a Skrull, or brought back when angry Katchoo punched a hole into time."

    Considering the frankly absurd lengths SIP went to in effort to stretch out what was essentially replaying the "will they/won't they" of the first three trades into as many issues as possible, neither of these twists would have been a surprise.

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  9. Sometimes characters are just popular. This has been done forever in mythology, literature, well, storytelling in general.

    Still, the recent resurrections of Jason Todd, Captain Marvel, and Bucky do fulfill your requirement of "at least for a few years". Gwen Stacy has remained dead for a long time. Peter David brought back Uncle Ben only for him not to be the real Uncle Ben. Even Peter's parents reappeared "after a long disappearance" in the early Amazing Spider-man stories.

    These characters were resurrected because they felt a good story could be told around them.

    I don't think it's solely a copyright issue, though it does have something to do with it. I'd say it's more due to the nature of the business. Some characters are popular and have a draw. These characters need to maintain some consistency, even when character development demands change. So, characters in long running serial stories (not just comics, but soap operas, serial novels, etc) seem to go through cycles.

    Well Steve Rogers come back? Sure. Just not necessarily soon.

  10. They really only need to use the name to keep it out of the public domain, hence the Monica Rambeau version of Captain Marvel.

    As john m osborne notes, bringing back "dead" characters is nothing new. It happens all the time in soaps. And it frequently has something to do with popularity -- Arthur Conan Doyle brought back Sherlock Holmes after killing him at Reichenbach Falls due to increasing pressure from Strand readers and editors...

  11. Anonymous6:31 PM

    The trouble with that is that no matter how many Bibles they swear on and no matter how many cover blurbs they produce, nobody who has been reading comics for longer than a couple of years is going to believe that said character is actually going to stay dead, even years down the line.

    I mean, look at Marvel - at one time, they had a small stable of characters whose deaths had a lasting impact on other characters and for whom there was no indication of resurrection. Among those characters were Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, and Bucky. Bucky has since returned from the dead along with Harry Osborne, and reportedly Joe Q wanted to bring back Gwen with "Brand New Day," which goes to show that the higher-ups don't really consider any character to be completely off-limits for revival.

    Honestly, I can't think that anyone would buy into a "dead stays dead" argument until a good few years after the fact.


  12. I'd like to see them offer some kind of guarantee that a character stays dead. Like "If we bring this character back from the dead, mail in this issue, and we'll send you FIFTY DOLLARS."

  13. I'm going to say that Uncle Ben and Bruce Waynes parents are the only really dead characters. I don't mind resurrections. They give you a break from the character so that when they come back they get a bit of a fresh start.

    I think that Marvel and DC should borrow a page from Dragonball Z and when characters die they just go to another "dimension" where they hang out and exercise and stuff. Then eventually someone will collect the Dragonballs and bring people back.

    Why not?

  14. I have gotten in the habit of running a regular "This Week in Comic Book Death" posting at my blog since, as you've noted, it's really become ridiculous. There's also THE EVER-ENDING BATTLE project (of which I'm also part) that's been looking at this trend for a while. Check out either at (all my Mortality tags) or -- Thanks!

  15. Barry Allen's death has been impressive in that he's stayed dead for over 20 years. But I hear there's a plan in the works to bring him back. Of course, once Bucky is brought back, what's the point in keeping anyone dead?

  16. Everybody knows no one stays dead except Bucky.

  17. I'm still kind of bitter about Jean DeWolff, but as Peter David has pointed out several times, nobody seemed to care about her before he offed her.

    But I did, damn it! *sob*

    Don't even get me started on Ultimate Jean DeWolff.

  18. I don't think a permanent death (or two, or three, or a dozen) would do anything to break comic readers out of their cynicism. Readership, the vocal sort you see at messageboards and so forth, seems firmly entrenched in cynicism, and avoids no opportunity to point to a nostalgic, halcyon past where the ills of contemporary comic writing never occured (or when they occured, they certainly did for pure, wholesome, artistic reasons), the personalities involved supremely altruistic, and capilistic success was not a driving force behind the entire industry.

    Even if a character stayed dead, you'd have fans who want them back. Even C or D listers can get a few fans together who'll rant long and hard about how important their character was and how poor a move it was to kill them off.

    If comics were to receive a truly academic examination, and the study of the form eventually got to the point where we could read peer-reviewed, university press published monographs (as we can about professional sports), I doubt it would be sufficient to rouse the readership from its cynicism.

  19. There is no requirement for publication to maintain copyright. It is simply 95 years for any current WFH under protection in the US.

    A character can not fall into the public domain form lack of use.

    By contrast, trademark does require active protection and use.

  20. I actually think that the hot new fad would be a character that stays ALIVE. The reason so many of these characters come back from the dead is that so many of these deaths were ill-conceived, short-sighted, poor decisions made to boost sales. They're brought back because they never should have died to begin with. If Marvel or DC killed one-tenth as many characters, they'd probably have a much easier time sticking to a "dead means dead" policy.

  21. when i started reading comics i was younger than im twenty years older than batman (assuming bats is thirty)i havent got a problem with this though the whole continuity thing is bascically nonsense..because even though time passes the heroes alway stay the same age...can someone tell me how long batman has been batman...if you take into account that hes got through four or so robins in that time and that nightwing is now forever in his early twenties then what are we talking about here..ten years...twelve years? so basically batman became batman in 1996 did he..and in five years time because everybody will stay the same age then he became batman in 2001...see what nonsense this all is? so if batman became batman in 96..then the justice league formed in say then barry alan hasnt been dead twenty years hes been dead about four years surely?
    and then theres the stupid idea that i believe roy thomas first used in the horrible all star sqadron of tying the JSA to the late thirties...a ridiculous concept that got carried over into the post crisis one earth dc universe. lets nail one lot of heroes to a specific time while leaving the rest in the usual flexi time they operate in...
    surely by now we have to start thinking that say black canery is the granddaughter of the original canary and not the daughter...and yet this just doesnt seem to be the case. and while they concocted some limbo nonsense to keep various jsa members in their late fifties i have to look at jay garricks wife and wonder how long she can remain in her late eighties.
    so does it really matter if they kill a character and then bring them back anyway? if you try and apply continuity to the whole range comics then your on a hiding to been 48 years since spider man first got bitten and yet in reality how many years have gone by in his world? five six years? i dont know how old hes supposed to be now.....
    see its all silly when you think about it

  22. Anonymous2:50 AM

    Comics are a joke right now. And by "comics", I mean superhero comics. At least the mainstream ones belonging to the two companies.

    So maybe I just mean to say that DC and Marvel are dead and they just don't know it?

  23. Anonymous4:24 PM

    The only death that seems to have any staying power anymore is Skurge the Executioner, who died in Simonson's run on Thor. It's been deemed an important enough event that the Thor: God-Size special that came out a bit ago established that bringing him back from the dead would destroy the universe.

    That's just badass, right there.