The format is DEAD!

Heads up! Its Wednesday, October 13, 2010, I'm ready to chew nails, and this is the Side. There's nothing really exciting me in the news right now, although the rally in Philly looks like it was a good time. Between the streaking and books getting chucked at the Pop Star-in-Chief it looked like a hell of a party. Of course I had nothing to do with either of these.

The book did miss after all.


Death of major fictional characters is always a sticky thing. There's got to be purpose to it. You've got to be ready for the hate mail from the people who love the character. It can be a major undertaking. Nowadays there's a new question facing writers/creators:

"When are they coming back?"

Its different with villains. Villains get to return for the grave pretty much whenever they like. Its an accepted literary double-standard going back to old school gothic literature and the concept of the undying evil. Their return makes them more powerful and mysterious having conquered death and this in turn makes the hero greater since heroes are often defined by their villains. Heroes don't get the luxury of coming back all willy-nilly, or at least they shouldn't. Death is supposed to be the ultimate sacrifice for the hero. And there are occasions where heroes can come back, but it seems like in comics those occasions are getting to be about as rare as Bill Maher being a douchebag.

Sure there's different levels of 'dead'. There's the mysterious death in which a character is presumed dead by their absence. Typically this is after something like an explosion or something folks don't typically live through. There's the recoverable death when the character has something bad happen to them that should kill them, but they receive some sort of care or treatment that the audience doesn't get let in on until later. For example, the hero gets shot, everybody thinks he's dead, because he wasn't moving or maybe even wasn't even breathing, but he was taken to some super medical type place where they saved him. And then there's dead dead. That's the type of dead where there's no question that this character is done in.

Death has become a bit of joke in comics. They used to say Marvel had a revolving door in heaven for as many characters have come back from the dead. Jean Grey of the X-Men is the poster girl for this. Its not really an X-event until she dies. Twice. But not DC has absolutely eclipsed Marvel with "Blackest Night" and "Brightest Day" shenanigans. These two events pretty much confirmed what DC readers have been thinking for a bit. If they think there's some money to be made they'll bring back any character they want despite the significance of their demise. We kind of went along with things when they resurrected Oliver Queen. We rolled our eyes a bit when they brought back Hal Jordan. We knew it was getting flat out stupid when they brought back Barry Allen. Now we have the message that death is pretty much meaningless. This makes me wonder about the next issue of ACTION COMICS in which Lex Luthor will be meeting Death. Sure, she seems chipper enough, but I have to wonder it being made meaningless by Geoff Johns has left her a bit bitter.

There are types of stories in which death is viewed much differently. In some stories the afterlife is a very real place which characters travel to and from. Death gets weird here. They've recently started showing old episodes of DRAGON BALL Z on Saturday mornings and they've gone back to the first time the hero, Goku, died. At this point he went off to train in the afterlife which was cool because it involved a monkey. But he had to get is training done in a year because that's when his friends were supposed to bring him back so he could fight the next big threat. Odd stuff, but that story has its established rules about life and death. Yes, you can get resurrected, but certain criteria have to be met and it can only happen once.

Then there's other stories like the TV series SUPERNATURAL in which both the main characters have been killed and have come back. In this story Heaven and Hell are both very real places and folks from both come to Earth. Stories like this already have an open door to the afterlife. However, heroes traveling there and back is treated very significantly. Its also important as to what goes on while that character is in the afterlife. Typically the characters could not return from the afterlife under their own power and required a "higher power" to bring them back, the exception to this was John Winchester climbing out of Hell. Still, the criteria is fairly well established.

With all these rules and nuances of death of characters, there's nothing wrong with letting a character stay dead. There'll be some folks in the audience upset, but that's only if the character has a following. In fact if there's an outcry about a character dying, that's probably a good thing because that means the writer made people give a damn about the character. And there's still plenty to do with characters that die if done properly. By 'done properly' I mean the dead has to have some significance. Going back to comics now.

*Hal Jordan, great dead guy. Served as great lesson and cautionary tale about power and morality. Even popped up here and there as a spirit.

*Barry Allen, great dead guy. Was the 'saint' of the DCU having sacrificed himself to save the universe. Popped up here and there thanks to time travelly goodness.

*Ted Kord, awesome dead guy! This character left a really incredible legacy that was picked up on and run with fabulously in titles like BIRDS OF PREY and of course BLUE BEETLE.

Death in literature has meaning. It has to have meaning. If it doesn't then life has a bit less meaning. If you don't care about a character dying, then you didn't care about that character living, and that's a sign of bad writing. So the whole resurrection shell game going on in comics really needs to come to an end, because it cheapens things. It cheapens something that's really very important. Death is supposed to be final for a hero. The ultimate sacrifice. The hero risking death to do what's right isn't risking too much with the resurrection safety net under him.


Alrighty, that's all for today. You are free to go on about your daily lives and pine away until Friday when I post again.

1 comment:

Trick Question said...

Hey Nozz.
Need to talk to you when you get a sec.