Death in Comics – Meaningful or Pointless?

Comic book deaths are a revolving door. Any main line character in either Marvel or DC that dies will always come back to life. Two years has become standard for you typical superhero. Captain America, Batman, Jean Grey, Green Lantern, Thor, and even Superman have all died and were sequentially resurrected. Was it always like this? Did death ever matter? Have any heroes stayed dead? Or is the emotional impact of the story the most important?

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Deaths in comics have run a gamut from impactful to meaningless, with a few even sticking. At first, death was used to either retire a character, or become a lynch pin of their origin. The most famous of the latter is Spider-man’s Uncle Ben and the Wayne’s. Both served to be pivotal moments in both hero’s lives that drives them. The other purpose, retirement, is just as interesting. These deaths are either meant to be heartfelt self sacrifices to pave the way for the next generation, a la Barry Allen in Crisis on Infinite Earths, or because of convoluted rights issues like Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell).

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These deaths worked, the characters stayed dead. It wasn’t until the biggest death in comics, Superman, that everything changed. Continuing their legacy, DC decided to kill Superman, honestly for a variety of reasons. It what amounted in an all out brawl, Superman died battling Doomsday to a standstill, protecting Metropolis. The comic sold like gang busters. This made national news. Four pretenders to the throne took his place in the Reign of the Supermen arc. This culminated in the return of Superman, who now sported a mullet.

Until then, characters didn’t return from the dead. Dead meant dead. Maybe it was their plan all along to bring him back, though it was likely just a means to garner more sales. Now, death was broken. At first, characters who had long been dead started to come back. Then some characters died with the intent of returning after so many years. Yes, Jean Grey had already died and returned by this point, but there was some convoluted reasoning as to why it wasn’t really her as the Dark Phoenix.

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Nearly every event comic is punctuated by a death. Both publishers threaten a characters demise in hopes of boosting sales. Civil War led to the death of Captain America. Infinite Crisis saw Superboy and a Flash die. The entire purpose of Avengers vs X-Men was to kill Professor X (whose died many times prior), driving a wedge in the X-Men. DC had an entire event dedicated to every character returning from the dead with Blackest Night. Most of these worked, punctuating the story. Others, like Wasp in Secret Invasion or Bucky in Fear Itself seem like they were farted out. Don’t even mention Ultimatum

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There was an adage spoke amongst comic book fans, “You don’t bring back Bucky, Jason Todd, or Uncle Ben.”  Well, they’re two for three as both Bucky, Cap’s WWII sidekick, and Jason Todd, Batman’s second Robin, are alive and kicking. Uncle Ben even returned for a time during House of M so, whatever.

Characters don’t need a major event book for them to bit the dust. Many have fallen in their own titles. The Human Torch died during Rick Remender’s FF run. Green Lantern famously went crazy before Superman’s return. Thor though, he died in Ragnarok. If there was ever a character that it was okay to kill and bring back, it was Thor. Spider-man was dead, ish, during the Superior Spider-man story. It’s complicated. The most profound superhero death for me was Ultimate Spider-man. He died saving everyone, and more importantly, he’s stayed dead. Miles Morales has taken over the Spider-man role in the Ultimate Universe.

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Death in comics is a complicated thing. Nearly every major superhero you’ve heard of, has died at one point. I accept characters returning, I just want a little more forethought in planning how they come back.

What comic book deaths impacted you the most? Have any ever made you rage quit a book? Comment below!

I have no idea? 

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11 responses to “Death in Comics – Meaningful or Pointless?

  1. I remember when John Byrne was doing his run on Namor, that a character actually said “Nobody dies forever”. These so-called deaths are just a cheap way of boosting sales, and I always feel it leaves the reader feeling short-changed. The only exception would be the X-Men’s Days of Future Past, where everyone did actually die for real, albeit in an alternate timeline…

    • I think so too. I think DC wanted Superman to die for real but they were too scared to stick to their guns. The only place I’ve seen death stick is the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Them suckers have stayed dead.

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