Emotion In Comic Books

Steve Rogers' presumed death. Art by Steve Epting.

Image via Wikipedia

It’s summer time, meaning both major comic book outlets, Marvel and DC have their annual crossover events in full motion. DC is providing a truly special event in Flashpoint, whill Marvel is putting out the lackluster Fear Itself. With summer crossover events, some characters will likely be killed off in order to add gravitas and emotion to the story. This year comic book deaths have gone into overdrive as Marvel have killed off The Human Torch, Bucky Barnes and Ultimate Spider-Man, and the question I ask is, what’s the point?

Comic book deaths rarely generate any type of emotion. This is largely because the dead character will likely be revived in a year or two, as the publishers can’t resist keeping a character dead as they can’t profit from dead characters. Take the death of Captain America in 2007. Originally perceived to be a story representing post 9-11 hysteria, the world was shocked when Steve Rogers was gunned down. This was an actual comic book death that had emotion. It was realistic and gritty.  Steve Rogers had fought for his civil rights during Mark Millar’s mega-event Civil War, only to be gunned down after surrendering on the steps of the courthouse. It was a comic book death that literally symbolized that America was being governed by hysteria and chaos…

Yet all that drama and gravitas was retconned in 2009 in Captain America: Reborn. Marvel took their most effective character death, and retconned into a time traveling adventure. Instead of being dramatically gunned down, Steve Rogers was trapped in time after being hit by a special time bullet. In a single stroke any emotion surrounding his death had been destroyed. The same can be said for his former partner, Bucky Barnes, who took up the mantle of Captain America when Steve was gunned down.

Recently (spoiler alert) Bucky Barnes was struck down and killed by the Red Skull‘s daughter Sin. Marvel expected fans to be shocked and they were, at how poorly Bucky’s death had been executed. For one of Marvel’s most popular characters, Bucky’s death has hardly been featured in any comic books since Fear Itself #3. Not even the recently re-launched Captain America comic series mentioned his death. It seems Marvel literally killed Bucky off to get Steve back in the suit.

DC is no better though. Bruce Wayne was apparently killed in Grant Morrison‘s mega event Final Crisis, only to be brought back to life through time travel. To add to the sell-out, Bruce will be returning to the mantle of the one and only Batman, as Dick Grayson reverts back to Nightwing in the DC universe  New 52 reboot come September. DC have also pointlessly recently resurrected the Golden Age Flash Barry Allen. What confuses me behind this retcon is that the modern Flash Wally West had become a far more engaging character than Barry ever was.

Why can’t DC and Marvel limit the amount of comic deaths so that the death of a character becomes more significant? If both publishers keep promising character fatalities to promote their events, any integrity of the books will soon diminish. DC is pushing the panic buttons by rebooting. It’s a safe choice, but things look bad for Marvel. They could be going down a slippery road. They butchered the once outstanding Ultimate Universe by handing it over to Jeph Loeb, who killed off nearly every character for shock value in the disaster known as Ultimatum. Mainstream Marvel has killed off their most interesting character just to coincide with Captain America: The First Avenger.

Marvel need to slow down with the comic book deaths, or it won’t be too long until fans start calling for a total reboot. The existing universe can still be salvaged, but both outlets can’t keep using character deaths to promote their events. It’s become nothing more than a cheap gimmick.

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