Robot 6

The slow death of superhero deaths

Batman Incorporated #8

Batman Incorporated #8

Here we go again. A major news outlet has enthusiastically run the exclusive story that a major comic book character dies in a comic released today. Superhero deaths and their inevitable resurrections have been a staple of comics for decades thanks to the sales bump they tend to get from press coverage. But the giddy acceptance of superhero deaths is starting to crack.

Since the heady days of “The Death of Superman,” mainstream news has loved a dying superhero icon. In 1992, Superman’s death was such a big deal, newspapers were writing hand-wringing editorials about what it could mean for the state of America. Right from the start, DC Comics only guaranteed he would be dead until March 1993, but somehow that got lost in the din of cultural symbolism and frenzied collectability. People really thought he was dead, even if they sensed it was financially the stupidest thing DC could do. Needless to say, Superman came back. And ever since, it seems Marvel and DC have been chasing that same media buzz by (temporarily) killing off their marquee characters, whether it be Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man or even the Human Torch. But with each passing media blitz, an interesting thing is happening: Mainstream outlets are beginning to become just as jaded about superhero deaths as we longtime readers are.

When Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley insisted to The New York Times in 2007 that Captain America Steve Roger is “very dead right now,” those last two words didn’t go unnoticed. “Still, these are comic books, where characters have a history of dying and returning,” noted the newspaper of record.

Four years later, the New York Daily News couldn’t get halfway through its coverage of the Human Torch’s death before cynically pointing out, “Fans can also be optimistic that The Human Torch will eventually return. Comics have a long history of killing off heroes — victims of either a good story or a good sales ploy. Captain America came back two and a half years after his demise and Superman didn’t slow down much after his much ballyhooed death in 1993.” A CNN story, with quotes from writer Jonathan Hickman and editor Tom Brevoort, seemed to presume the character’s return was a foregone conclusion (which of course it was). “I would argue that a well-told story of a character’s demise is not necessarily undone by them coming back later,” Brevoort said at the time, essentially confirming what many assumed.

The latest superhero death coverage features a direct quote from the writer of the story admitting, “You can never say never in a comic book” on whether the death is permanent.”

So if everyone gets that superhero deaths are a joke, why do we all keep playing along? Because fortunately (or unfortunately) for sales-stunt strategies, there really are a segment of readers that actually fall for it. I kid you not, a comic book retailer bet a friend of mine money that the Human Torch was dead for good right after the release of Fantastic Four #587. This is a comic shop owner who is surrounded by hundreds of comic books for hours every day! I think my friend has just about burned through the credit from that wager. To be fair, this retailer is newer to comics. And newer readers, that rare breed, are probably the only people who fall for this before joining the rest of us jaded old fogies. And of course it gets the attention of collectors betting on a good eBay turnaround, and rubberneckers curious to see what all of the fuss is about. That latter group may make a halfhearted attempt at trying to buy the issue but will probably never return.

But it seems like the rate of those getting progressively more savvy and/or cynical might be outstripping those subsets. There may actually come a time when both the mainstream press and their audiences just don’t feel like playing along anymore. The trope of superhero deaths will probably never go away (although I hold out hope for the end of cheap returns). But might we one day see the end of superhero deaths as media stunts?



Oh but there is a difference between major characters dying and a secondary one such as Damian. If someone post-Morrison resurrects him, he will live. But what if they don’t? He’s the kind of character that can easily sail the waters of limbo for many years, until some future writer re-clones him.

This is the other side of the comicbook cynicism – The Big Two may kill a character with a fan-following and forget him/her for a decade. This is a cyclical occurrence too.

But overall, I don’t know, the stunts are usually quite well-planned from the story perspective. Brubaker killed Cap so that Bucky could get into the spotlight, and Hickman took Johnny out for a reason too. In a way I’d prefer if they talked to the newspapers about “The Awesome Story” rather than “A Gruesome Death!” But I fear that the newspaper wouldn’t be interested in a story about a cool comicbook storyline.
It wouldn’t capture mainstream attention in the same way as death! death! death!

“But might we one day see the end of superhero deaths as media stunts?”

One can only hope. Just plain lazy writing, although I’m hoping Morrison’s got something interesting up his sleeve.

All I can say is comic book deaths have been good for my bank account. Nightcrawler’s pointless death got me to drop Marvel books and the death of the DCU got me to drop DC books. That said I think when the creator of a character kills a character as part of a planned story arc (such as Damian) or if the death is a temporary part of a story (such as Cap or Torch) it’s different than when it’s a pointless shock death as it was in NC’s case, or Banshee’s or Nomad’s.

Well in Batman #666 didn’t the future Damian say he had no soul, so maybe he lives, but doesn’t have a soul, something lost in the exchange to return to Earth? That right there is a good lead in when it comes to how to bring him back.

Death in comics has been an issue. It’s the least creative way to take a character out, while it’s arguably the most profitable way. You don’t make corporate comics for the sole purpose of having fun, it’s a business. While they continue to go about these deaths, you have have fans up in arms on the internet, but who still turn out to buy the comic they are so upset about. While stores will see a boost, it’s going to be temporary. Some of the one time customers may even try to sell their “collectible” comic for a profit of what, $3?

Being the caretaker of corporate IP’s isn’t as easy as it seems to be. It’s no longer the Swinging 60’s where Stan and Jack were cranking out ideas, or Superman was doing some off the wall stuff with his powers. Today you have board members, share holders, and the House of the Mouse to answer to, though they may take a passive role.

Though the thought is much maligned go the Soap Opera way of taking people out. Comas. Being stranded. Amnesia. Stuff like that. As cheesy as that can be, I’d rather read that then how some character up and died.

They handled the death of Archangel very cleverly in X-Force, having Warren Worthington III die but have Archangel immediately resurrected as a blank slate by the celestial life seed.

Rick Remender also cleverly brought in an alternate Nightcrawler to replace the deceased 616 version and ‘resurrected’ Eric O’Grady as an LMD.

So, there are still interesting ways to handle death in comics.

I didn’t really see a whole lot of coverage about this. This had happened so much in comics it isn’t listed as much more than a blurb off to the side or brief mention.

Spider-man getting fired from the bugle garnered more attention it seemed outside of the comic world, while robins death got more attention inside the comic world

I think you fail to recognize that some death stories are actually good – Death and Return of Superman was a great story. He went out in one the best fights in American comics (still not quite up to the Japanese standards, but it was close), posed the question of what would happen would happen in a world where Superman died, pastiched the then tropes of the time with his “replacements” (See! it was meta! the internet LOVES meta! Meta automatically makes everything good according to the internet!), and then used those replacements to show why the DCU NEEDS Superman. A lot of what made the story work was that it was so well plotted; before Doomsday even started fighting Superman, the writers were plotting his return, so that by the time his death happened, they had a way to bring him back.

Some death stories are great yet have a mediocre return story, like Jean Grey, but the problem there has more to do with bringing characters back, not killing them off. Then you have mediocre deaths like Hal Jordan’s, where the return story is freaking spectacular.

Personally, I think there should be an moratorium put on comic book deaths for a while–a ‘demise-embargo’, if you will. What do you all think? Way I see it, if that was employed, then it would get writers to REALLY stretch their creative thinking a bit more.

I think the moratorium should be placed on ressurections, not deaths. At some point having all characters miraculously survive every dangerous situation across the line would completely destroy the credibility of the dangers themselves. Like A-Team shootouts. At some point that bullet has to hit someone. The returns though, while some have worked, are just too cheap and soap opera-esque.

Robot 6 has written about eight articles on the issue over the past three days, so I wouldn’t say you’re THAT jaded about it

You may want to recount.

Fair enough. Five articles in the last two days

@anon I think you fail to realize some of us are talking about the diminishing returns on effectiveness of causing the media to react

@Steve Robot6 isn’t CNN, FOXNews, or MSNBC

Superhero deaths can’t die soon enough. It’s cheap heat and it’s become a damn crutch that passes for drama. This is the sad and sorry legacy of the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Jean Grey which is really where all this really started.

The Death and Return Story for Superman is just simply where the mass media angle came into it because it just happened as Mark Waid put it “nothing else was going on in the world that day.”

For me Death of Phoenix is my all time favorite comic book storyline. Without the death of Jean Grey it wouldn’t have had as much an impact as it did. X-Men fans were allowed to hold onto the feeling that the storyline left us with. It wasn’t done to sell more comics (as we all know it wasn’t even going to be the original outcome), it was done as part of the story. If not for X-Factor, she may never have been resurrected.

Eh…. the whole soap opera approach to death and characters constantly rebooting to the accepted silver age origins and status is one of the reasons that I’ve stopped following most comics. Why really care about spider-man, batman or really any of these creations when in a few years whatever things they’ve done or accomplished will be swept away in favour of nostalgia and status quo?

It’s why I’ve begun to appreciate foreign comics, manga and even book series like Wildcards. Characters die and stay dead. A story is told, things change and things stay changed.

Sadly for the big two death is a handy ‘one two punch’ for an issue and vanishes as soon as another writer comes on board.

Human Torch came back so fast I didn’t even realize he had “died.”

I never understood all the superhero deaths. With the exception of Jean Grey, they don’t leave enough time for grass to grow on their graves! I’m still mad Jean was dead for nearly a decade, though. But then again, I hate Emma Frost.

Incidentally, I’m working on a book right now that looks at superhero deaths (as well as journeys into the afterlife), and my working thesis is that a superhero *must* die and return in order to be a “full-fledged” member of the genre now.

If anyone’s interested in reading a short version of my notion, they should check out the upcoming WHAT IS A SUPERHERO? from Oxford University Press where I lay out the cornerstones of that argument.

One commenter on my comic book blog for the Cleveland Plain Dealer nailed how Robin will return: LAZARUS PIT.

Pretty obvious when you think about it.

(Please check out my humble blog I get lonely)

I don’t know, what do we expect? These Heroes have been running around for 60 + years and will continue to do so for the next 60 years. They won’t die ever. Spidey will still be 25 years old when we approach the year 3000, an occasional death has to occur in order to give him something we can relate to. From time to time we need to care for Spidey, otherwise he’d be boring as hell.

I used to be a huge comic book fan. As a kid I couldn’t get enough X-Men, Superman, and Batman.

Now though the industry has changed. Whereas you used to be able to subscribe to “Uncanny X-Men” or “Spider-Man” or whatever book you wanted, that would be a fool’s folly these days.

Halfway through your 12-issue script to X-Men there’s gonna be a company wide crossover that’s going to require you to buy ten other books just to keep up with the story.

These giant company wide ‘events’ that Marvel and DC throw at us every month or two are, I think, far more annoying than character deaths and resurrections.

I can make jokes about a character dieing and coming back in a month. What kind of joke is there to make about comic publishers trying to milk their die-hard fans wallets dry by promoting these giant crossovers every other month?

Oh well. Eventually the comic book movie boom will die down and the comic industry will be on the brink of bankruptcy once again because they chased all their hardcore fans away for the quick buck from the casual fan. It’s foolish and greedy business and eventually it’s going to bite the big two right in their big, well fed asses.

I am totally cool with people dying in comic books as long as it serves a purpose and that purpose isn’t nullified by their later resurrection. So the Human Torch dying and returning was fine, because it was significant and served the purpose of the story. It helped they planned it all along. I imagine Morrison has thought through this as well. Some deaths though, are not so well thought through. RIP every X-man who’s died since Jean Gray.

this on going death thing with dc and marvel comics only shows that the creations can’t even come up with anything original any more. that also go’s for the story’s line’s as well. theres nothing unique or groundbreaking about them at all. nothing but pointless plot lines to death. whats more sad is the only ones who do stay dead are the band new hero’s dc comics comes up with and then kills them right off bat at the start or half way into the book, going are the days of a good story in comics. but the truth of the matter is now days the two big comic company’s are only in the business of make that cold hard cash nothing else.

No matter how burnt out some of us feel–justifably–over comic deaths, I think we can all agree as long as we aren’t getting another “Ultimatum,” we’re gonna be okay.

You sure that Damian died? It was indeed implied, but are you 100$… sorry, I mean 100% sure that he died?
It looks more of an assumption rather than something confirmed. (probably some smartass will point out my mistake and put link to interview, but whatever)

The thing is that yes, comic book business collapses. And when it will fall, it will fall that no one will notice. Or care.

Perhaps the title of the article should have been “The Slow Death Of Super-Hero Comics” I think this may be the single biggest reason why comics have been losing readers. The “Big Two” may be doing what television, video games and the Web couldn’t do: kill the “funny book” business. No, I don’t think it’s dead yet, but The Big Two aren’t doing themselves any favors by continuously killing off and then resurrecting characters. We have come to expect that villains may return from time to time through several ingenious methods, but killing off Superman, Batman or Captain America–only to bring them back is absurd.

I have been angry over the return of Jean Grey FOR YEARS! So much so I wouldn’t buy an X-Men with her in it. But if I “needed” it to complete one of Chris Claremont’s “Epics”, I would buy an issue–but REFUSE to
read her dialogues, essentially taking the position that she simply didn’t exist.”The Dark Phoenix Saga” was one of the best comic book stories ever and a representative of the heights the Super-Hero genre could obtain. Then what happened? A handful of journey-men all of a sudden felt the “loss” of a character nobody really cared about before Claremont, Byrne and Cockrum pulled her out of Sue Richards’ shadow! These individuals then went whining to their editor and instead of sticking to his guns and principles, he
caved in and allowed Jean to return–and mainstream super-hero comics haven’t been the same since.

Aside from escapism or latent wish-fulfillment– the reason why many of us still read super-hero comics, is for the excitement! We cheered when Superman saved himself from a near death experience at the
end of SUPERMAN SPECIAL #5 (1977) OR when Spider-Man lifted tons of machinery or even when The Batman whipped out a can of “Bat-Shark Repellant”! Because we felt, even if we knew the publishers wouldn’t dare kill them off, we still FELT that within the stories–they could die. Now, that is simply no longer the case; even if the hero dies, his or her return is not only probable but inevitable! Since Bucky Barnes and Barry Allen escaped the Grim Reaper, can Gwen Stacy be far behind?!

It has become a joke and not a very good one.

The cynics among us have said that maybe I and others like me have simply outgrown super-hero comics. The problem is that some of us didn’t leave because we discovered that we like girls or records. It’s be-cause the product isn’t living up to the standards it once set. When the slicked up, Photoshopped,
nice paper comics of today, have even LESS credibility than their Golden or Silver Age counterparts–when dead meant dead–that’s when DC and Marvel have a big problem on their hands.

And expecting younger, new readers to take the place of the generation that preceded them is just a little too optimistic. Because the preceding group will warn the newcomers not to take anything, and I do mean, ANYTHING that happens in DC or Marvel Comics too seriously. If they don’t already know this which may be one reason why so many younger fans prefer Manga!

I’m not entirely pessimistic because I am hopeful the editors will get the message before it’s too late. I may love Frank Miller’s original DAREDEVIL tenure but I ENJOY SIN CITY a lot more. That’s because
Elektra is walking around as if she had never met Bullseye but I know “Marv” is still dead–I hope.

Yeah, Lazarus Pit was my very first thought … to the point that I wondered if it hadn’t been the idea from the moment the character was introduced.

People talk continually about how resurrections “cheapen” deaths. Not as much as broadcasting the death six months ahead of time, having countdowns to when a team member will die and encouraging every one to speculate on which one it will be, and hyping it up to pull in the bucks on the Big Death issue. I call it “necromarketing”. And I find it disgusting.

I read the comic where Gwen Stacy died. I was amazed, shocked, couldn’t believe it. That’s the way it ought to be. When Damien dies, I’ll have known about it for months in advance and when the page comes, if I do bother to read it, there will be no surprise, no punch, no “I can’t believe they did that!” That’s why his death will mean nothing.

I’m in favor of more heroics and less snuff porn in my comics.

I sincerely hope that Super Hero deaths stop recieving mainstream coverage. There are many fans, like me, who just want to read the book and find out what happens as it happens. In the case of this weeks news, it was literally unavoidable. Mainstream press did not issue any spoiler warnings, and Wednesday’s issue was spoiled for me, whether I liked it or not, Monday morning. It really stinks.

Characters used to “die” all the time in the early days. When that charcater popped up later there would alway sbe an elaborate explanation as to why they didn’t. It’s just now these things are made public spectacles. I think the more annoying part is that the ariter spends all this time “reflecting” on the impact of this person’s death. I find that emotional stuff tedious when I know this caracter isn’t going to stay dead. I understand that we have to see the other characters mourning the death of a friend or it won’t seem real. But it isn’t real. I can’t care about a character death that’s really just a sabatical. And that’s how I see a character death; as a sabatical until some writer wants to use them again.

I will say, that from a story perspective the death of Johnny Storm actually drove all the changes Hickman made to Fantastic Four. The whole Future Foundation, white costimes (which I love) and all the new side characters in Fantastic Four (an FF) came from that plotpoint. So in this respect it was a meaningful un-meaningful death (wrap your heads around that for a while). In fact, it’s because of Johnny’s death that we now have two ongoing Fantastic Four books, which has never been sustainable for as long as this has. Collosus’ death and ressurection were both meaningful and done well. But then there was sufficient time between these two events for there to be some meaning.

A lot of these other deaths are the opposite. I still maintain Jean Grey’s death during Morrison’s run was pointless. Bucky and Thor’s deaths in Fear Itself were beyond pointless. And ressurections of characters because they have a movie coming out (which is very common place) while not pointless, makes you wonder why they bothered killing the character to begin with (creatively anyways). In the end things like this are about sales. And it’s funny how almost 20 years later, the Death of Superman still hangs over all this like a shadow. That story is what made super hero deaths a cash cow and people are still under the sway of that era that a “death of” issue is worth money. Of course it really isn’t, if everyone owns it.. But what’re you gonna do? This is the business we have chosen right? So like everyone else, I’ll bet there with my dollars to buy the next “Death of…”.

What happened ready comics for fun and not over thinking things?

this is one of the reasons i loved barry allen flash he died in crisis on infinite earth and stayed dead for 25 years. look we will know no death is final when uncle ben comes back

“What happened ready comics for fun and not over thinking things?”

Audiences matured. Our tv shows are more complex than they used to be so should comics.

Maybe everyone should stop reading everything but DC’s The Legion of Superheroes. Dead is definitely dead in that series, at least — and it looks as if there’s another one (or more) coming soon.

‘Tv shows are more compled.’ Yes, we have 10,000 reality shows. All varieties of boredom. Geez. It makes the old A-Team shows look like higher art. :)

There are a lot of things you can do in comics that aren’t chiefly death related. Unmaskings. Weddings. Various reveals. Sad dramatic stories to goofy fun-type stories. They just need to exploit those more.

Origin stories are good except for mysterious Canadian super-heroes. They don’t need origins.:)

If the person that killed Damian is his clone, could the clone be the Batman in Batman #666? That way Damian can stay dead but the clone will fill his place.

Just sad. Though the concept is already considered as cliche, if not blatantly abused.

What I kind of hate about the whole thing is that somehow we’re suposed to believe that the deaths somehow matter to the other characters in the stories. If I’m a superhero and a teammate dies how I am supposed to grieve when every single one of my teammates has already died and returned? I know this is comic books and there’s a suspension of belief, but would anyone in the Marvel or DC even bother going to funerals anymore?

If it makes for a good story, I don’t see any reason to be cynical about it. The Death of Captain America was a great story, so was the death and return of Johnny Storm.

You could be a cynic and think “they’ll just be back,” or you could treat them as they are, a way to tell an emotionally powerful story about the loss of a hero. The issue after the death of Johnny Storm was beautifully done, with powerful moments for each member of the Fantastic Four.

You don’t get scenes like that in superhero comics because the stories never end. The only way to do that is kill them temporarily, even if everyone knows they will be back. I don’t see anything wrong with it, as long as it is done well.

I’m tired of these big superhero deaths as well. For once it would be nice if we had some change. If a writer wants to write character out of the book they should do it more creatively like having the character take a leave of absence from the team or something. (It’s a little harder to do with characters like solo heroes but for teams this would work very well)
And even if I was disappointed by the way Remender’s UXF ended at least he was creative with Archangel’s death/resurrection

I still can’t believe they killed Professor X… how many times now?

I really enjoyed when Quesada had “the dead is dead” rule in effect at Marvel. Which of course DC never had. I enjoy the big feeling I can get from a well written death, so I wouldn’t want to see deaths end just not have “for now” specter hanging over the story…..

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