Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dead Means Dead

The death of Captain America is a subject I’ve been thinking about recently. While the death of Cap garnered national attention the aftermath has been “when is he coming back? That got me thinking. What makes a well-done death?

It’s really a topic I can ramble on about for ages and I just might so read on at your own peril.

So what are the best Marvel deaths? I think it’s obviously the deaths that have lasted.

All two of them.

1. Gwen Stacy
Gwen’s death was one that stuck with me as a geeky fanboy who couldn’t believe Peter’s hot blonde bombshell girlfriend could possibly be thrown off a bridge by Spidey’s Arch-Villain the Green Goblin. The death was so impactful in so many ways. It actually made a bad guy seem like he wasn’t just a bumbling, ranting fool who’ll always screw up and be stopped by the hero before things get too bad. The Goblin actually threw a woman off a bridge. He didn’t threaten Spidey with it and give him time to rescue her, just chucked her off like a sack o’ stones. And if that wasn’t bad enough Spidey did manage to shoot some webbing onto her before she hit the water. But instead of her bouncing back into his loving arms. It snapped her neck. I mean that’s classic Spidey. He tries to save her and accidentally snaps her neck in the process. Meanwhile the Goblin watches and cackles like a guy in a green goblin suit who just threw a girl off a bridge. While writers have dipped their ugly disgusting toes into the death of Gwen Stacy story none have had the balls to outright bring her back. If they did… Ya know what? I’m not even getting into it.

2. Uncle Ben
This is the death of all deaths. Amazing Fantasy #15, the first appearance of Spider-Man and the event that shaped Spider-Man. We all know how Uncle Ben went down and how it resulted in “with great power comes great responsibility.” Like the Wayne’s death created Batman, Ben’s death created Spider-Man as we know him today.

Getting back to the Death of Captain America. What makes Cap’s death different from the 2 mainstays?

Cap is coming back. It’s not even a debate. It’s only a matter of when and how.

There’s no debate when it comes to Gwen and Uncle Ben. Bringing them back would only set up their eventual deaths. Again.

It would only result in “shock” and gaggles of pissed off fanboys. Their deaths are integral to the mythology of Spider-Man. They’re keystones in the book. They really can’t be changed. (Well, they could but it would suck.)

So my question is what purpose did the death of Captain America serve? Sure it was well done but at the end of the day is killing a character worth it if the only reaction is one of “when’s he coming back”? Shouldn’t a death really be death?

It should shake a reader to his core. It should be so good that you can’t even think of a way to bring him back without dramatic repercussions. It should be so good that even new writers wouldn’t have the balls to bring him back. Writers would line up to bring Cap back. Someone might line up to bring Uncle Ben back but they’d be scared as hell about it. JMS dabbled in the Gwen Stacy story and that resulted in one of the crappiest Spider-Man stories of all-time. Ugh.

Dead means dead. There’s nothing truer in comics if the story is done perfectly. If not done perfectly… then its costume redesign time.



Jared said...

By "comics" you obviously mean "Marvel and DC continuing super hero comics" because there have been lots of "meaningful" (i.e. really dead) deaths elsewhere. "Strangers in Paradise" just ended it's run with a death. Lots of death in "Stray Bullets". "Cerebus" ended with a death. "Doonsbury" has had a couple of deaths. Plenty of death in "Age of Bronze". That's just off the top of my head.
The problem is that you're looking for death amongst a staple of continuing characters. You search for meaning where there is none. By definition they can't die because they are defined by their powers and costumes. Their "personalities" are an afterthought. Sure they can make a good death story but just don't expect it to be permanent.

RandyG said...

Yeah, maybe I should've specified Marvel. Honestly it's more of me just wondering aloud... I'm not sure I could write the death of a character when I know there's no possible way he will stay dead. Maybe I'm expecting too much from a mainstream comic. I dunno. It's the old idea that superhero comics are just one big long Act 2. I'm looking for a story with the balls to be an Act 3 and it ain't happening.