Isey’s ruminations in response to my post yesterday got me thinking more about death in comics. Death has been a part of superhero comics for a long time, and has been handled in varying ways. Sometimes it’s been done well, but more often it just seems like a last desperate attempt to do something shocking with a character that isn’t as relevant as they once were.
One of the earliest superhero deaths was that of Lightning Lad, way back in 1963. He remained dead for a less than a year and was then resurrected by super-science. There was never really any question that he would be back, though; even the end blurb of the story he died in alludes to his eventual resurrection. Gwen Stacy is another famous death from the 60’s, and one of the few that hasn’t been overturned. Later appearances have inevitably been clones.
These days, death and resurrection seem to go hand in hand, just another plot device among many. I can’t say I entirely disapprove of characters in superhero comics dying, but I do think it should be rare and meaningful. The death of the original Captain Marvel is a good example of a superhero death that was well handled and made for an excellent story. Much of the story is actually focused on how his friends and fellow superheroes deal with his death.
Barry Allen is another character whose death I can’t disapprove of. The Silver Age Flash went out in the most superheroic of ways, saving not just the world, not even just the universe, but an entire multiverse from destruction. His death in Crisis on Infinite Earths ended and era and passed the torch to his sidekick, Wally West, who took up the mantle of the Flash.
More often, though, character death seems to be a way to try and raise the stakes by knocking off a few heroes to show that the threat should be taken seriously. Avengers Disassembled killed off Hawkeye, Vision, Ant-Man, Jack of Hearts, and Agatha Harkness among others to try and drive the threat of the Scarlet Witch’s madness home. It’s worth pointing out that the first three of those characters have all been returned to life since, and the remaining two could be easily brought back at any time based on their established powers.
It’s always possible that part of why I accept the deaths from longer ago is the simple fact that they occurred before I was reading comics. To me, Wally West was the Flash and Gwen Stacy had always been dead. I’m sure readers of the time were as dismayed by their deaths as I was when Nightcrawler died (he’s also back now, by the way). Time heals all wounds, and distance lends objectivity.
Ultimately, death is a part of the story now, for good or ill. I guess I can’t complain too much, since it seems even the most ignominious of superhero deaths have a silver lining. Without Avengers Disassembled we would never have gotten the sublime Young Avengers. And my all-time favorite superhero team owes its existence to one of the most derided of crossovers, the story that killed off the Fantastic Four and Avengers all at once, Onslaught.
Heroes Reborn, on the other hand, was pretty much 100% hot garbage.
Source: Thalen Speaks
Death in Comics