Death In Comics and Why It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

***SPOILERS FOR COMIC BOOK READERS AHEAD***

Wolverine is going to die. Yes, you read that right. The man with the healing ability, who has been alive for over 200 years and even survived having a nuclear explosion go off in his face and having his skeleton ripped out, will be dying sometime in the near future. Does this matter? No. Why? Because Wolverine will be returning without a scratch about a year after his death. It happens every time a major character dies nowadays. They die, they’re “missed and mourned” and then the return story line starts to ramp up. It happened with Captain America at the end of Civil War and with Batman at the end of Infinite Crisis.

Some people argue that death in comics is important and the fact that it never sticks isn’t important. It’s hard for me to agree with this because I see death in storytelling totally differently. While the impact it will have on the world and its characters is extremely important, the impact it has on the reader/viewer (in the case of television and whatnot) is the most important aspect. It’s hard for me to enjoy, or even take seriously the death of a comic book character when I know that within a year they will return.

Death as a plot device when you know it will be meaningful. How does it accomplish that? By being permanent. That’s not something comic book do well. For years characters such as Barry Allen and Jean Grey were dead. For decades they’re deaths echoed through their universes. Their deaths were powerful, meaningful events that took place. Then they both came back. Eventually everyone will come back. There’s very little that remains in comic books and it’s frustrating. How can someone be affected by the death of their favorite character when they can be comforted by that they’ll eventually return, probably sooner than they think.

Death wasn’t always perceived this way in comics. When Superman was killed by Doomsday back in the 90’s, people were shocked. It was a landmark event. People couldn’t help but think “you can’t kill Superman, can you?”. It turns out you can, but not for very long. Over the course of twelve months Superman eventually returned. But that still didn’t ruin the affect it had on people. Death in comics was a strange, new land. But it could never be permanent. And as such, the more it happened, the less it meant. People in the comics business saw the numbers and sales that the death of Superman brought it. So it’s natural to assume they wanted a piece of that action.

But it’s hard to invest in something like that when you know it’s a cash grab. It’s just like those “event” stories that are set across ten different series so we have to buy them all to get the full picture. It’s something of an insult to our intelligence to act like we would care about something that will be reversed within twelve month’s time.

I would love nothing more than if both universes went on a cleaning spree, cleaning out their overstocked character list and creating space for everyone to breathe. But alas, nothing is permanent in comics, except its characters.

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2 thoughts on “Death In Comics and Why It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

  1. There actually are characters who can die permanently. Black males are at the top of the list of characters who don’t get to be resurrected, of course. But mostly, it’s minor characters who don’t have a lot of history behind them. So, when Mettle was killed in Avengers Arena, his death is almost certainly permanent. He had a dedicated fan following, but not a large one, and future writers are more likely to simply make up their own teen heroes than to bring him back from the dead. Synch and Skin from Generation X are another couple of examples. Those two have stayed dead for around 15 years now – that’s a pretty long time.

    So, characters do stay dead. Just not the ones who show up in other media.

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