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Subj: Someone always has to die. That's the law around here.
Posted: Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 07:35:21 pm EDT (Viewed 119 times)
Reply Subj: This is why killing characters is almost always stupid
Posted: Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 05:50:45 pm EDT (Viewed 20 times)
> What is the point of adding the excess baggage to simple characters? You know everyone is coming back. Doug, Jean, Colossus, Kurt, Magik, everyone. They all come back. These characters are going to be dying and coming back long after we all die and don't come back.
> Hardly any death has any real emotional impact anymore, and too often they don't have nearly enough impact on the characters themselves. I'm firmly with Erik Larsen on this one. It's almost always idiotic to kill off characters.
As far as the "right here, right now" of modern superhero comics go, you're largely right, although it wasn't always like this. While most half-decent villains will (and should) eventually came back, back in the day, you could kill off a supporting-cast character or a lower-tier superhero, and stand a reasonable chance of the death sticking, especially if it had significant emotional impact, or "historical importance" as a moment in the stories of more important characters.
Starlin's misleadingly-titled 2003 miniseries 'Marvel Universe: The End' pegged the moment when this all changed for Marvel as a 1976 Avengers issue which brought back Wonder Man, a character who'd died in his debut appearance back in 1964. I'm not 100% sure if it's historically accurate, but blaming that worthless character for being the source of the problem just feels right, doesn't it? In Starlin's story, this is played as the moment where the barrier between life and death is broken, and works on a meta level at the same time. This had been a resurrection that was not demanded by fans, and his being Very Dead being integral in the origins of two other characters, but they went and did it anyway, setting a pattern followed by every subsequent poorly-thought out resurrection of a character that really could have stayed dead, and writers bringing characters back because they could, without asking if anyone wanted it to happen, asking if they should, or asking themselves what they're going to do with that character once they're back.
Moving us back onto a more X-Men-related character, it was the return of Jean Grey in 1986 that got more attention and controversy. Phoenix's death was a popular and acclaimed story that was within recent memory, the guy who wrote it was still at Marvel, and yet they went and undid it anyway for the sake of reuniting the original X-Men so they could become X-Factor. In terms of "doing enough with the character to justify their return", Jean remained part of the core cast of a team book ever since she came back, at least until her next death in 2003. (I could go into a whole argument that turning her into Phoenix in the first place was one of those "what are you doing, Claremont?" moment that shouldn't have happened, but that's probably some kind of X-blasphemy and people will hate me for it.)
But even back in those days, there was still the notion that you could kill off a lower-tier superhero and they might actually stay dead. If you killed off a civilian supporting-cast character, they were probably going to stay dead. And, looking at the characters you named, Cypher was killed in response to fan-demand. Magik died because her story could only really end one of three ways; she becomes a monstrous villain, she 'fixes' herself and in doing so loses everything that makes the character who she is, or she dies. And so she 'died', with her 'death' being a negation of her timeline, reverting her to a child, who went on to die of a super-virus, an almost real-world-type death, and a well-regarded issue, so something you'd think might get be left to stand. At the time, there was certainly a credible chance of them being allowed to stay dead, and let's face it, they were brought back not due to fan-demand, but out of Marvel's belief that they needed to "get the whole band back together" for their New Mutants relaunch. See also: the resurrections of Nighthawk and H*llcat in the run up to the execrable Defenders relaunch in '00.
The trouble with resurrecting characters for those purposes is that you have to put in all the time and effort to bring the character back, for the sake of them being able to star in a book that isn't likely to last long, with or without them. Was there really any point to the Necrosha crossover beyond "bringing back Cypher so her can be in New Mutants"? (and of all the dead characters we saw again in Necrosha, surely everyone here can think of at least 10 other characters we'd rather have back. Even if you just listed Maggott ten times, you're still right).
Can anyone truly argue that the last New Mutants book would have tanked sooner without Magik and Cypher? It's like bringing Jean back because the X-Factor lineup needed her, taught everyone the wrong lessons about bringing characters back, and subjected us to resurrections not many people were vocally demanding, and of characters who would often be right back in limbo within a year or two anyway, so may as well have been dead still.
I'd go as far as to argue that Colossus and Nightcrawler both probably could have stayed dead. It would have been in defiance of fan-demand, but Colossus had hardly done anything of any note since 1994, while since he left Excalibur in 1998, the only times Nightcrawler mattered were in storylines where they were actively trying to make him suck (or that one thing that was so bad it was good. You know what I'm talking about). A team book is an ensemble cast, and ensemble casts have certain characters that remain essential, and others that they can go on without, and not noticeably suffer.
The fact that we didn't need Colossus back is probably best shown by how, once the initial "nostalgia pop" was over, we'd run through re-tellings of him doing his old routines like "throwing Wolverine" and "getting back together with Kitty like it's still 1982", no-one really knew what to do with him, leading to a series of bizarre and drastic status quo shifts to try and make him more interesting. He's been a Juggernaut, a Phoenix, and one of Cable's paramilitaries, all in the space of about 3 years.
In 1992-3, the death, funeral and return of Superman served as a long-form trilogy that enjoyed sales success and mainstream attention, and reminded everyone that not only can you kill a character as a sales-stunt, you can also make their pre-planned return into an event as well. And comics have been copying ever since, in blind ignorance of the fact that while this may well do big business when it's a household name like Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne, it's not going to make as much of a splash when it's Johnny Torch, Nightcrawler or Rogue returning from their deaths.
The X-books in particular seem to have forgotten that if you insist on using this "death and return" formula, a key element of it is making the readers feel like the dead person is mourned and missed. And the more and more that the X-Men just lurch around from one fight to another without stopping to breathe, the less and less each death matters, because no-one's taking the time to stop and care.
When the Spider-Man books brought back Aunt May in 1998, despite no demand for it, and her death being an acclaimed and beloved issue, I think that really marked the point where, if even civilian characters could come back from being Very Dead, and if Marvel were bringing back characters that the fans wanted to stay dead, we were living in an era where "death in comics" was utterly meaningless. With that in mind, yes, you have a strong argument for not bothering to kill anyone.
But on the other hand, it's all in the quality of how well it's done, isn't it? And if no-one ever died and there was no sense that anyone was in any actual danger, there'd be no sense of threat, nothing really at stake in any of the super-battles. So it's not "stop doing that", it's "do better".
Well, that, and "They should only kill characters I don't like, and only resurrect characters I do like."
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