Robot 6

‘Worrying about the life and death of superheroes is pretty meaningless’

wolverine-death

“I think worrying about the life and death of superheroes is pretty meaningless. The search for ‘importance’ by the superhero comic audience is a problem, a disease. The only thing that’s important is story. If it’s a good story, it’s important and meaningful. Saying ‘I’ll bet he’ll be back within a week’ is to proudly affirm that you know Kermit is just a puppet.”

Wolverine writer Paul Cornell, addressing a Comic Book Resources reader’s question about the often-temporary nature of superhero deaths

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25 Comments

Thank you for stating what should have been obvious for years now. I say that without a hint of sarcasm, too.

Perhaps. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t always meaningless… it didn’t use to be this way… if anything, not to the extent that it is now.

“Perhaps. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t always meaningless… it didn’t use to be this way… if anything, not to the extent that it is now.”

But then these are already stories about people who lift tanks, who beat up impossible villains, fly into space under their own power – why should death be treated as something they can’t cheat, or something that can just be used as part of a story? Certainly, some deaths should stick, but otherwise, it’s superhero comics. Death can and should just be another plot device, another impediment for a hero to conquer.

Watching the reaction to Peter Parker’s death was truly bizarre. Were there real, adult people who honestly thought he wasn’t going to be back? Or was all the rage directed at Slott just the equivalent of pro wrestling fans booing the heel because that’s what they’re supposed to do as members of the audience, even though they know perfectly well that it’s not real?

(Keep in mind I’m only talking about the people who were mad at Slott because Peter Parker was dead and, ostensibly, never coming back. I’m not talking about the people who were mad at Slott just because they didn’t think the story was good; I’m referring specifically to the ones who thought — or acted as if they thought — it was a permanent change, as if there is such a thing in superhero comics.)

I would argue that, at this point, it’s very hard to give a damn when a superhero dies, not simply because the repetition of this meme makes it “meaningless” but because it makes it banal. It’s one more cliche that we’ve all seen dozens or hundreds of times at this point. It’s possible to find something new or clever to say about superhero death — and if anyone can do it, it’s Cornell; I think he’s great — but it’s not easy.

And it’s not just that; it’s the pure cynicism that’s been attached to so many superhero deaths in the past. Many of them have been pure marketing stunts (Superman), some have been editorial edicts opposed by the creative team (Phoenix, Iron Fist), and some have been done purely for shock value (Gwen Stacy — technically not a superhero, which is presumably why she’s the only character on this list who’s actually managed to stay dead, despite the occasional clone showing up).

I enjoyed Batman’s death a few years back because it made for a great story — Dick as Batman and Damian as Robin was the highlight of Morrison’s entire run and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I thought Superior Spider-Man was a good hook even though I didn’t really follow it. So it can be done.

But for every “death of…” story that succeeds, there are easily a dozen that fail. If people are cynical about superhero deaths, that’s because they’ve been paying attention.

If people complained about Muppets in Space, maybe it wasn’t because they knew Kermit was a puppet. Maybe it was because Muppets in Space sucked.

I just hold the belief that the killing of Super Heroes has become trite and banal. It’s be overdone so much by Marvel AND DC that I find it very boring. How can a death have any weight to it now when everyone knows the inevitable return will be imminent?

I like Paul, but he is dead wrong (couldn’t resist the pun).

Comic publishers TREAT superhero deaths as a big deal, at least in terms of how stories are promoted. Naturally, fans then expect that the death will be a big deal, and naturally will feel betrayed when the death is overturned, and naturally will become jaded when this happens a lot.

Just imagine if Marvel promoted an entire Spider-Man storyline based on the fact that THIS ISSUE, SPIDER-MAN CLINGS TO A WALL!!! For real, folks. And DC based a whole huge crossover to the fact that SUPERMAN LIFTS A CAR. Yep.

We all know that Spidey climbs walls and Superman is strong and Wolverine will come back from death. It’s so trivial, it’s so boring, it’s so by-the-book, that it’s mind-blowing that publishers still treat it as a big deal.

And that not even going into the merits of the position that easy return from death has been a part of the superhero genre only since the 1990s, with Jean Grey’s return in 1986 being a precursor.

Cornell pretty much summed up my opinions there. Add continuity as a whole into the mix and it’d be spot on.

I like that this sentence only targets “SuperHeroes” and “SuperHeroes comic audience” specifically. Because in every other mediums, the reaction to the termination of any fictional character by the audience and fans is supposedly different?

Well, since the stories are meaningless I guess the comics themselves are meaningless so maybe we should stop buying them. I swear, I think my generation was the last that didn’t entirely consist of sheep. Continuity means nothing nowadays. In my day they told stories…they didn’t kill a character off (even if they fully intended on bringing them back) just to make sales. It’s wrong, it’s shows a lack of talent or imagination, and it’s just plain stupid. But what the hell, go ahead, I mean Marvel already totally screwed over Wolverine’s continuity for the sake of that godawful pile of crap movie so sure why not. The character isn’t real. Nothing that happens to him actually matters. No one should get swept up in any kind of story and ever develop any sort of an attachment to anything or anyone in it. And while your at it stop watching TV or reading novels. Nothing in them matters so don’t bother getting any kind of enjoyment out of them.

Boo to this. Boooooooooooooo I say.

This isn’t why superhero death is a problem. Of course he’s coming back. What’s a problem is that this has become an obnoxious cliche that detracts from actual storytelling. All these deaths/resurrections are practically indistinguishable from each other, so all you’re doing is beating the same horse over and over again with a different mask.

Also, a death story only has poignancy if the death itself is supposed to be meaningful. All Cornell is saying “I’m doing a story that you all know the ending of already, but the upside is this character you like is going to be out of commission for x number of months!”

“Comic publishers TREAT superhero deaths as a big deal, at least in terms of how stories are promoted. Naturally, fans then expect that the death will be a big deal, and naturally will feel betrayed when the death is overturned, and naturally will become jaded when this happens a lot.”

Then stop letting Marvel do your thinking for you.

“I like that this sentence only targets “SuperHeroes” and “SuperHeroes comic audience” specifically. Because in every other mediums, the reaction to the termination of any fictional character by the audience and fans is supposedly different?”

Pretty much, other mediums tend to be more finite compared to US superhero comics. There’s the outrage, then the story is over and you’re done. In comics due to the longevity you either get the eventual/immediate return of the popular character or the desperate hope that the fan favourite character will come back at some point.

And I’m completely unsurprised that the commentariat has completely missed Cornell’s point, which I’ll nonetheless try to restate here: Give a damn about the story you’re reading, not the nerd tapestry.

Elysium Bliss

June 18, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Problem with that statement is the whole death thing has been done to “death”. In fact it’s terribly overdone! I mean We’ve just come out the other end of Nightcrawler and Peter Parker’s deaths, we’ve seen Xavier, Thor, Rogue and Scarlet Witch die… again. It’s become so mundane nowadays that when a decent death story does in fact come along nobody really cares. We’ve all been forced to utter numbness with the oversaturation of the “Death of a Hero” storyline.

always dig it when writers shit-talk their audience for being naive enough to hold publishers accountable to their claims

the pomposity of the average superhero writer flummoxes me. if “good stories” were what most people who buy superhero comics cared about the mainstream industry would have sunk before it even began. it’s a Wolverine comic, it’s not William fucking Faulkner or even a Sam Peckinpah flick. if you point to the lore and the character conflicts and the little artifactual details that pepper those universes and say “none of this shit matters” then you have effectively terminated the appeal of 99.999% of good superhero comics because it sure as shit isn’t “good stories” that get people to buy Green Arrow comics every month

Wait a second… Kermit the Frog is just a puppet?!?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

@JWD: “In my day they told stories…they didn’t kill a character off (even if they fully intended on bringing them back) just to make sales.”

When was your day?

Because “One of these characters will DIE!” gimmick covers go back pretty far.

@Michael P: “And I’m completely unsurprised that the commentariat has completely missed Cornell’s point, which I’ll nonetheless try to restate here: Give a damn about the story you’re reading, not the nerd tapestry.”

To which the reasonable answer is “Paul, I love you, but why should this time be any different from all the other times I’ve tried to kick that football?”

I’d very much LIKE to give a damn about the story I’m reading. But the past 20 years of reading the same story over and over again, and it being pretty terrible most of the time, have taken a toll. You want me to shut my memory off and forget all those other times, well, that’s not how it works.

The contradiction in Cornell’s statement is absolutely absurd. First he criticizes comic readers for looking for meaning in these death stories, then he says that the quality of the story is what should matter. Any good story should have meaning, depth, and certain amount of weight to them – regardless if they contain a death or not. He also misses the point of readers reactions to comic book deaths. We as readers realize that they are publicity ploys by large corporations to increase sales, and in many recent cases, the writer’s craft is not skilled enough to create a meaningful story – not even an entertaining one. I’m not taking any shots at writers, just their editors and publishers. These stories don’t read as stories but as advertisements.

Nuff Said

UNLESS………………………..

It’s the Walking Dead! XD <3

Dammit…he was talking about superheroes…yep, it’s TOTALLY pointless.
UNLESS!!!!!!!!!!
IT’S INVINCIBLE <3 :P

I can recall a number of significant deaths in comics – the reason they were significant was not the actual death itself, but the stories each death generated that enriched the character, or explored and enriched the character’s supporting cast. I always knew that most of them would be coming back, and I certainly wasn’t outraged by their deaths.

The Marvel Universe’s Captain Marvel’s death (brilliant story that also led to a brilliant CM run by Peter David)
Superman – I loved the Death and Rebirth of Superman, Reign of the Supermans etc.
Captain America – Steranko and Brubaker did an amazing job both times. Brubaker made me care even more about Bucky and gave him a chance to be a fully round out character.
Batman – we all knew he wasn’t dead, but the impact on the supporting characters was cool.
Blue Beetle – I loved how the DC Universe reacted to the death and it’s catalyst for Infinite Crisis.

I always knew most of them were coming back, but it’s like Cornell states, it’s about how it’s handled and whether it enriches the character or supporting cast.

Oh, and the original Guardian from Alpha Flight – loved that death (even though he was a favourite of mine) and how he “came back.” It also opened the door for his wife to take center stage and become the eader of Alpha Flight and a strong female character (who unfortunately is largely forgotten out there by fandom as such a good role model.)

If readership searching for “importance” in Comicbook stories is a disease as Mister Cornell says, then he and his editors and the marketing department are the ones infecting us with it. Every time they push a story as being earth-shatteringly important, as something that changes the fabric of the Marvel Universe forever, they push this sentiment in the readership. They created this beast, and I for one find it kind if disappointing that Cornell blames it on us.

The thing I really hate is when people try to push one of the awful things that proliferated in the 1990s as something that has always been a part of superhero comics. To wit: cheap death, “events”, and bad girl art.

“When was your day?

Because “One of these characters will DIE!” gimmick covers go back pretty far.”

Yes, but they usually didn’t come back, Thad.

When Gwen Stacy, Elektra, Lady Dorma, Barry Allen, Supergirl, Dove, Aquababy, Paul Kirk, Guardian, Captain Mar-Vell, the original Doom Patrol (minus Robotman) and Adam Warlock died, the general feeling was that they had died for real.

It was only when Jean Grey came back (or, more specifically, when they retconned that Phoenix had even been Jean in the first place) that the floodgates were opened and even then it would take a few more years for it to become a “trend”.

Even when “cheap” death and return happened in older comics, like with Professor X, it wasn’t because the writer wanted to make an “event” out of it. They really thought the X-Men would be better off without someone as powerful as Xavier dominating the comic, and later realized it was a mistake. It wasn’t a “stunt”.

So don’t tell me that this is how superhero comics have always been.

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