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Robert Kirkman and Image Comics have spent the past week sending out teasers for the upcoming 100th issue of the superhero series Invincible, promoting “The Death Of …” before, today, promising “The Death of Everyone.” Wouldn’t it be great if it actually delivered on that promise?
I’m not saying that in the sense of “I hope everyone dies and then the book ends, ha ha ha,” because — well, I don’t want the book to end. But I do want to see Kirkman and artists follow through on the threat to kill off each and every one of the characters pictured in the teasers, in large part because I want to see what would happen afterward. Would there be a new central cast with little to no connection from what went before? (That’s something I call the Ultimate Spider-Man maneuver. Actually, wasn’t there some “It’s the new Invincible — and he’s black” teaser image a while back? Maybe that was more than Bendis-tweaking after all …) Would there be a book about the lack of Invincible? Would the book just change its name and do something else, instead?
What I like about it is the idea that a creator-owned superhero book is freed of what we generally think of as set-in-stone rules about the genre: that the status will always return to quo eventually, because there are important copyrights and IP concerns to think about, that nothing too big can really happen without some kind of get-out clause because the consistency of the universe has to be considered, and that stories that do attempt some kind of grand scope have to happen across multiple books because, hey, crossovers.
Superhero comics should always — no matter the character, I think — be about imagination and possibilities as much as anything else; it’s one of the reasons why the Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four remains such a touchstone for superhero fans and creators, because it’s a book that was always trying something else, whether it was new characters, new ways of telling stories, new kinds of stories to tell. But, as the genre has gotten older, and gotten more popular, it’s also become more conservative, more concerned with the idea that it has a “legacy” to fulfill and expectations to meet. That’s understandable — especially as the genre has become the cornerstone of not only the comic book medium, but increasingly the summer blockbuster movie and therefore the Hollywood studio system — but at the same time, feels like a loss in some sense. Whatever happened to the idea that anything can happen in the next twenty pages?
That’s what gets me about the Invincible tease. If I’m entirely honest, I think it’s likely a fake-out, and that we’ll be likely to get one death that sticks, as opposed to six (Kirkman’s Invincible trends somewhat conservatively, in terms of storytelling choices; in its own way, it’s as much a victim of nostalgia as anything from Marvel or DC — well, maybe not DC), but just the possibility, the idea that everything really could be up for grabs…? That’s the kind of thing that makes my nerdy heart sing. I want to believe. I really do.