When I heard Wolverine was getting de-powered of his healing factor, I just saw it as another “phase” the character will get through (Marvel did something similar when Magneto stripped Wolvie’s skeleton of admantium almost 20 years ago). But now I see it’s going to the next level and a “Death of Wolverine” storyline is on the horizon for this fall. You know what my reaction was? Nothing. “Good”, some of you will say, “he’s just a comic character-why should you care?” But that’s where I argue, some people have more emotion invested in characters they follow than real people in their lives; and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for those that don’t have that connection anywhere else in the “real” world. What I’m talking about is having the prospect of a major character’s death waved in my face and not giving a shit about it. No worries whatsoever, and you know why? Because I know he’ll be back. Is a major company really going to do away with a marketing all-star? Hell, the storyline adapted for the latest X-film was changed to make Wolverine the crux instead of Kitty Pryde, to appeal to paying moviegoers who know him better.
You know the drill. “Reverberations” will be felt over this “tragic loss” as tie-ins galore focus on how friends and foes alike move on in a world without old man Logan. There’ll be plenty of this to go around as Wolverine, formerly of the shadows, has in the last 10 years become the everyman of the Marvel Universe and seems to know & hang out with everyone. Just when you get tired of this angle, there will be some false sightings and clues that-gasp!-maybe he isn’t dead. Finally, there will be a triumphant resurrection/return that will generate six more months of sales and storylines. Tearful reunions and the settling of scores will abound, with all sorts of poignant “I thought you were dead, man…it’s good to have you back” scenes. There. I’d like to say I’ve saved you a lot of time and money but sadly, this scheme will still get plenty of support. Some inevitable news hype (the death of Superman, anyone?) will attract some curious bystanders. For younger readers, this might be their first time on the “death-go-round” so this actually might seem new & novel to them. Trend-following collectors (the worst reason to do it, modern speculators still need to learn that with today’s print runs and insider info, nothing you pick up today is destined to become another Action Comics #1) will gobble it all up, right down to every last one of the indulgent dozens of variant covers. Unfortunately, true fans of any books will suffer too, feeling obligated to continue picking up copies of books they’re loyal to, even if they know they’re being taken for another ride.
For me, as a kid of the 70’s & 80’s, death in comics meant…death. When the first Captain Marvel died of cancer (as a result of a prior fight with a foe called Nitro), it was a big enough deal that Marvel devoted one of its’ first graphic novels to the story, Jim Starlin’s classic The Death of Captain Marvel. When Jean Grey, de-powered of the Phoenix force, sacrificed herself in Uncanny X-Men #137 to save the universe (a decision decreed by then controversial Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Jim Shooter that was actually a justified and ultimately well-received call), the cry of “Nooo!!!…” was heard throughout fandom as we all felt the pain of Scott Summers/Cyclops loss of his one, true love. Going further back, there was the death of Gwen Stacey (technically a supporting character, but of such shock value and impact at the time that it has to be acknowledged) in Amazing Spider-Man #121, where we saw the hero does not always get to save a loved one. However, that karmic wheel fully turns as the next month in issue #122, we see even villains are affected as Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin, get his for what he perpetrated (also conveniently solving the problem of an enemy who knew Spidey’s secret identity running around freely). A recurring item in Captain America after his modern age return was lament/survivor guilt over the loss of his partner Bucky Barnes during their final WWII mission, with a few storylines over the possibility of Bucky still being alive leading to disappointing dead ends for poor ol’ Cap.
But even all of these sacred cows were eventually undone to varying degrees. While still not permanently back with us, Mar-Vell has rejoined the current Marvel Universe for some new adventures due to some temporal anomaly goodness. Jean Grey was dead about 5 years (a time in which Cyclops managed to find a woman named Madeleine who was her exact doppelganger and shack up with her…uhh, awkward, anyone?) when an explanation to how she could have “survived” was conceived and she was able to re-join her original X-Men teammates in the founding of X-Factor. Gwen Stacey returned as a clone (ugh-go ask any diehard Spider-fans about how many storylines involving clones have tainted that franchise’s legacy) and Norman Osborn returned to haunt Marveldom with his financial & political power like a poor man’s Lex Luthor. Everyone now knows that Bucky returned as the Winter Soldier but yes, I will concede that this one went very well. We here at Geek Hard have made no secret of touting The Winter Soldier storyline as one of the greatest Captain America arcs of all time. Over 40 years in the making (60 if you actually went back in real time to the end of WWII), Ed Brubaker gave fans something plausible we could all agree with; and in return, Bucky became one of the most interesting and dynamic characters at Marvel in the last 10 years. He was even called upon by his government to step in for his old partner & mentor and wear Cap’s costume/carry the shield when Steve Rogers was – you guessed it – tragically killed, only to return in his full glory a few months later.
Hawkeye. Iron Fist. Colossus. The Vision. Yes, even Spider-Man. They’ve all died and come back. Really? Did you think Spider-Man was going to be inhabited by the persona of Doctor Octopus forever? These are just off the top of my head and is by no means a comprehensive list. If you’re a collector, you can probably think of three or four characters who’ve went this route from the titles you follow alone. Granted, there are a lot of minor characters out there who are deceased and haven’t returned (r.i.p. Nomad) – yet. But if you are even semi-established, the pattern has been set: enjoy your cup of coffee in the afterlife or wherever because it’s only a matter of time before your number is called for a return trip.
I’ve been picking on Marvel here, but DC is just as guilty of the same trick and with some of their heavy hitters. Besides the aforementioned death of Superman in the Doomsday storyline, the original Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen), Green Arrow (Oliver Queen) and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) were restored after being gone for varying lengths of time while chosen successors or progeny took up their mantle. After a much decried-by-fans death of Supergirl in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series, she eventually joined the list of returnees. While not actually “dying”, Bruce Wayne out of action as Batman (twice – once, with his back broken by Bane; another as he found his way back from being lost in time) generated two lengthy storylines in the Bat-family of books as other characters needed to step in and fill the void with Batman “gone”. The death of Robin in Bat-books has been relegated from a climactic event to a cottage industry. The second Robin, Jason Todd, was brought back from being murdered by the Joker to prowl today’s DC Universe as the Red Hood. The fourth Robin, Bruce Wayne’s son Damian, was killed fighting alongside his father against the forces of his mother Talia. How long will he stay off the board as a member of a family that has had access to a resurrecting Lazarus pit for centuries?..The first Robin, now Nightwing, Dick Grayson (yes, he somehow still goes by “Dick” in 2014) was killed of sorts (after fan protests cancelled original DC plans for this during the Final Crisis series of a few years back, look it up) when his secret identity was exposed to the world and almost physically dying during the recent Forever Evil series/event. Now, in the new Grayson series, he’s an agent for an organization called Spyral – let’s see how long that lasts. The only DC character of note that I know of who has died and remains dead is Ted Kord, the second Blue Beetle, who was executed by Maxwell Lord. (Whoops, scratch that – I’ve just finished reading Forever Evil #7 and towards the end we’re introduced to a young man named Ted Kord; nope – really…thank-you new 52!) When the last Atom, Ryan Choi, was murdered by Deathstroke, it paved the way for the return of Ray Palmer, the first Silver Age Atom, back from the “death” of self-imposed exile. We haven’t seen him for a while but in “the new 52” era, isn’t it simply just a matter of time?
Smaller companies play the death card too, just less frequently due to having smaller character stables to draw from. It’s just made to seem a bigger deal, “permanent” or otherwise, if one of the “big two” pulls this (again) because their properties have more prominence in the public eye.
So I’m left to wonder: if I cut my comics teeth in an era where the death of a character at least kind of meant something and was supposed to have a lasting impact, how does today’s reader who grew up knowing nothing but this “temporary” variety feel about this continuously being used as a story device/marketing ploy? With all of us now de-sensitized and feeling no threat of a true risk of loss for any cherished characters, the only ones who’ll be left to “pay the piper” will be the companies that keep pulling this stunt. Hopefully, we all eventually come to the same conclusion and show we’ve wised up/are sick of it by collectively deciding to walk away and spend our valued dollars elsewhere.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!!!