Opinion: Death Not so Scary in the Comic Book Universe

Spoiler: What does the death of a beloved comic book character mean to long-term fans? Meh.

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By Bob Gough - 1/25/2011


O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

This biblical verse was included in Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians in reference to the Christian belief in the resurrection of true believers after death.

“True believers,” as defined by modern comic book founding father Stan Lee, can also take heart that no matter how nasty a comic book character’s death may seem, not even if their atoms are widely dispersed throughout the cosmos, no one stays dead for long.

So when Marvel Comics recently announced it would be killing off Johnny Storm, the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, those of us who have been around comics for a long, long time should be forgiven for saying “Eh, so what?”
Everyone in the Fantastic Four has “died” at one time or another in the group’s nearly 50-year history. Reed Richards, Mister Fantastic, got himself gone – lost in time or space at least a half-dozen times due to his experiments or some world-threatening crisis.

Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, just recently “died” which turned out to be a timeline trick. Ben Grimm was considered dead when he didn’t come back from the Beyonder world with the rest of Earth’s super-heroes after the Secret Wars. Other misdirects, imaginary tales and other deux ex machinas abound.

Other comic characters, most notably Superman and recently Batman, have “gone to join the choir invisible” only to come back a few months later after the publishers got the sales boost they were looking for.

And that’s what it’s all about, let’s be honest. Hype is how comic book companies, or just about anyone sells comics.



So if we discount the hype, all that matters for fans who have been through so many of these dramatic demises that we’ve become numb to them is the story. Is it a good death? Do the other characters react well? Do villains gloat appropriately? What are the collateral consequences (even if we know those consequences will be short-lived)? How about the resurrection? Is it handled well? Is the character brought back with any improvements or enhancements?



In Terminator, future Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger quote the line: “I’ll be back.” And he was even though we all saw the little red light in his eye go dark after his steel skull was crushed. And Johnny Storm, or some other Human Torch, will be back. Hell, Jim Hammond the original Human Torch died and came back at least twice!

So I guess we’re all supposed to grab our faces Macaulay Culkin-style and yell “OH NO, THEY KILLED KENNY…I MEAN JOHNNY!” but really, Marvel Comics, how many more times will the Torch be “extinguished”?

It doesn't really matter as long as you make it entertaining.
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11 Comments
LEEE777 - 1/25/2011, 11:41 AM
Yeah... I dunno why Marvel are bothering... no way Johnny's gonna be dead for long! : P

Fingers crossed Ultimate Spidey stays dead heh heh!


Very cool @ BOB, big thumbs!
mrcomicguy - 1/25/2011, 12:27 PM
thanks - I just am a bit jaded I know. But when you've seen as many of these big death scenes as I have over the past 45 years of comics, it becomes old hat.
Orphix - 1/25/2011, 1:56 PM
We should do a pop quiz.

Can people name any famous comic book character who has been properly dead for over 10 years?

Thunderbird springs to mind - but there must be some others.
dellamorte1872 - 1/25/2011, 2:26 PM
GWEN STACY...she aint coming back. BUCKY BARNES may have been "found to be alive as the WINTER SOLDIER" but he had been dead to the 616 for a loooooooooong time!
Orphix - 1/25/2011, 3:09 PM
Gaston @ Of course. My Marvelcentric mind let me down there.

Dellamorte @ Gwen is a great choice - mainly cos of the repercussions it has on Spidey. So following that line of though I guess Uncle Ben is also a talismanic deadie.

Having said that their deaths also define the character - the main reason they are such an important part of the comic book universe is because they are dead.
kerry67 - 1/25/2011, 3:23 PM
Karen Page has been dead for a while. I'm noticing a trend here. Dead only sticks to you if you're a supporting cast member.
Orphix - 1/25/2011, 3:48 PM
Kerry @ I think the general rule is that if you're a lady don't fall in love with a superhero...

...else you are gonna end up seriously 'brown bread'.
CorndogBurglar - 1/26/2011, 9:43 AM
Bucky was dead for a lot longer than Barry Allen if i'm not mistaken.

anyway, its a double edged sword. Either you do the death in a cheap way, (explosion with no body, clones, robots, evil twins, etc.) or you do it in a classy, realistic way (Captain America).

Either way, when the character comes back, its gotta be done in a ridiculous manner that ruins the entire death. Captain America's death was the best example of this. He was killed in as realistic way as you can kill a comic character. Three bullets to the chest. But then they had to cheapen the whole thing by bringing him back with the whole magic bullet nonsense that completely ruined it.

I'm over death in comics. Its pushed me away from mainstream comics because every story has to have someone die now, and it never matters because the characters always come back.

I wish someone with some balls would come along and finally put their foot down with some kind of "dead means dead" rule. and unlike Quesada, actually stick to it. otherwise, death in comics will continue to be nothing more than a joke.
CorndogBurglar - 1/26/2011, 9:45 AM
Uncle Ben isn't coming back anytime soon either.
Checkmate - 1/26/2011, 6:41 PM
I wonder if they'll keep him dead for awhile, probably not, fans'll have a fit.
marvelguy - 1/28/2011, 1:49 AM
Remember they have done Gwen Stacy clone stories that question her being alive. Now Capt. Stacy has stayed dead and is right there behind Uncle Ben. Oh, Bruce Wayne's parents have stayed dead. Johnny will be dead for a year. I'm sure Franklin will bring him back.

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