Written by Mat Frank
Wolverine, Spiderman, Captain America, Superman, Batman, Professor X, Bucky, Jason Todd, Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Scott Lang.
These are just a few characters off the top of my head that have died in comics that are now living and breathing as if they had simply taken an extended nap. It’s sort of a joke in comic books when characters die. It typically follows this pattern: The (insert one of the big two publishers) announces there will be a death. This is followed by months of teasers and endless promises that this is real, this will change everything; the writer might even claim he’s ‘going to turn off twitter and the internet for a few weeks after the issue is released’. Looking at you Dan Slott. The issue is released, the character dies in dramatic fashion. Fans become outraged and many threaten to boycott the book. The character is revived a year or so later to great fanfare, usually synced up to a movie being released, now you appreciate what you didn’t have for a minute there.
For any of us who have been avid readers of this medium we know that the character, be it Bruce Wayne or Steve Rogers, will always return. The publishers long ago realized that the people under the masks are just as important as the masks themselves. So while they can occasionally swap someone in for Cap or Batman (Dick Grayson Batman pre-new 52 and Bucky Cap were some of my favourite stories) they will always have to go back to the character that started it all for a multitude of reasons if not the least of them being that they have a major motion picture coming out and it damn sure better be Bruce under that cowl or they might not sell as many toys or mess up the franchise ‘synergy’.
So the question posed is this, does death even matter anymore in comics? Yes and no. If you prefer DC and Marvel, it’s a definite ‘no’. Death at the ‘big 2’ is nothing more than a way to retire a character temporarily and drum up some interesting book. Now if you step into the realm of Image, Valiant, Boom!, etc, then it’s a different ball game. Marvel and DC are perpetually locked in a cycle telling the same stories with the same characters rather than letting say a Spiderman actually die and slot in a brand new character in his place. This has led to numerous ‘reboots’ and reality restructuring (Secret Wars???). The reasoning is because some of these characters rake in millions, if not billions for these publishers, why wouldn’t they want to keep these characters around? But recently it has become more and more difficult to ignore that it’s the same character, albeit in different scenarios, trapped in a cycle. If you were to venture out to somewhere like Image, you get all flavours of characters and stories. You can have a Walking Dead where a beloved character like Glen can die in the brutalist of fashions. You can have an Invincible where Rex-Plode can die in an ultimate act of sacrifice. By letting death have meaning these books are able to evolve, creating new characters, going in different directions that they would be unable to do so with an obligation to not rock the boat TOO much. If irredeemable was built around keeping the Plutonian alive the whole concept would just fall apart, he can only devastate the earth so many times.
There are great stories and great creators at both publishers but if you want death in your character’s stories to mean anything then you’ll need to look elsewhere. Not to say that these characters can’t have amazing stories but you’re only going to get different flavours of vanilla. There is no stakes when your characters die and a year later their minds can be replaced into their body or someone goes into a sleep like stasis after ‘dying’ in an epic battle, or their consciousness gets teleported back to the pilgrim days…Comic books…