Opinion: Death Not so Scary in the Comic Book Universe

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.

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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